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Our Cases

Earthjustice attorneys represent public-interest clients concerned about threats to the environment and hold accountable those who jeopardize the health of our planet. Thanks to the generosity of our many supporters, we provide expert legal support free of charge to groups large and small. Several of the most important legal battles for this year can be found at the 2014 Legal Docket.

Our complete legal docket includes about 300 active cases. Learn about some of our recent and historical cases:

Tar Sands and the "Alberta Clipper" Tar sands development in Alberta Canada is creating an environmental catastrophe. Toxic tailings ponds can be seen from space and plans have been made to strip away forests and peat lands in an area the size of Florida. The process of extracting oil from tar sands is extremely resource-intensive; it requires large amounts of energy for heating, mining, and pumping and uses 2.5 to 4 times the amount of water required for conventional crude oil extraction. Greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands production are three times those of conventional crude oil. Tar-sand oil contains 11 times more sulfur and nickel, six times more nitrogen, and five times more lead than conventional oil. These toxins are released into US air and water when the crude oil is processed into fuels by refineries.
Horse Butte Bison Intervention The Montana Stockgrowers Association and two other plaintiffs have filed a state court lawsuit seeking to order the capture, hazing, or slaughter of bison (also known as buffalo) by a Montana state agency in the Horse Butte area just outside the west boundary of Yellowstone National Park. Earthjustice has intervened in this case on behalf of conservation groups and local landowners to stop the stockgrowers from reinstating a bison slaughter.
Missouri Breaks National Monument Instead of extending the National Monument the especially protective management to which it is legally entitled, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adopted a resource management plan (RMP) that treats the Monument as if it is indistinguishable from general multiple-use BLM lands. This is perhaps most evident in BLM's designation of a spider web of thousands of miles of trails and routes for motorized vehicles that BLM admits will damage the objects whose protection motivated the Monument's creation. Earthjustice represents a coalition of four environmental groups challenging the Monument's RMP.
West-wide Energy Corridors

In January 2009, on its way out the door, the Bush administration finalized a vast network of energy corridors that promote coal-fired and other fossil-fuel power plants. The West-wide energy corridors are approximately 6000 miles long and cover 3.2 million acres of federal land in eleven Western states. By designating corridors that service old dirty sources of energy while neglecting areas with potential for clean, renewable energy sources, the Bush administration curtailed the ability of the federal government to shift the country away from our dependence on fossil fuels.

The federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 required federal agencies to designate corridors for oil, gas, and hydrogen pipelines and electric transmission facilities on federal land. In designating these corridors, the Bush administration ignored input from states, local governments, and thousands of citizens that suggested alternative routes that would not only support renewable energy, but also avoid trampling through iconic western landscapes including Arches National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The federal agencies responsible for designating these corridors also refused to engage in consultation under the Endangered Species Act to determine how these corridors would impact threatened and endangered species throughout the West.

On behalf of a coalition of conservation organizations and a western Colorado county, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging these corridors. The lawsuit seeks to redirect new transmission lines so that they link clean energy areas to consumers, and revitalizing the West-wide energy corridors, which have the potential to be an essential component of the of the overall renewable energy plan for the West, integrating state and regional policies to tap into the West's vast potential for wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources while protecting the region's iconic wildlife and public lands.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission Rulemaking

The Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission is promulgating regulations to implement statutory changes enacted from the 2007 legislative session. These new regulations are expected to substantially change the state permitting process for oil and gas development in Colorado. For the first time, the regulations will systemically address public health, environmental and wildlife concerns. 

Earthjustice has been asked to represent the conservation community in these proceedings, to make the case for regulations that are open and transparent and protective of the environment, and to counter an intense campaign by the oil and gas industry to weaken the proposed rules.

Gray Wolves in the Northern Rockies

Gray wolves have come perilously close to extinction in the Rocky Mountains. Only in the past decade has the wolf population rebounded from a population of less than 50 to more than 1,500 wolves today. Visitors come to Yellowstone every year to get the chance to see and hear wolves in the wild.

In September, 2008, the Bush administration moved to reinstate federal Endangered Species Act protections for wolves, by asking a federal court for permission to withdraw its March 2008 decision to drop protections for wolves in the northern Rockies. On March 6, 2009, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar affirmed the decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove gray wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species in the western Great Lakes and the northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho and Montana and parts of Washington, Oregon and Utah.

Once again, Earthjustice has turned to the courts to protect the grey wolves of the northern Rockies from attempts to deprive wolves of necessary legal and habitat protections. On June 2, 2009, Earthjustice filed suit on behalf of conservation groups challenging the decision to delist the wolves. In August 2009, Earthjustice sought an emergency injunction to halt wolf hunts in Idaho and Montana.

Protecting Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs National Monuments from Off-Road Vehicles

President Clinton created the Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs National Monuments in 2000 to protect their spectacular landscapes, unparalleled geological formations, artifacts from more than 10,000 years of human history, wildlife, and the solitude and remoteness essential to the character of these lands. To protect these valuable resources just north of the Grand Canyon, the Presidential Proclamations specifically prohibited the use of motorized vehicles off of any roads.

Instead of extending the National Monuments the especially protective management to which they are legally entitled, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) adopted resource management plans (RMPs) that treat the monuments as if they are indistinguishable from general multiple-use BLM lands. This is perhaps most evident in BLM's designation of a spider web of thousands of miles of trails and routes for motorized vehicles that BLM admits will damage the objects to be protected by the proclamations. 

In addition to failing to comply with the Monument Proclamations, BLM also relied on a settlement agreement between the Department of the Interior and State of Utah to unlawfully disavow its statutory authority to fully consider the protection of wilderness-quality lands in the monuments. As a result, the solitude, remoteness, and wildlife habitat so important to these lands may be degraded or destroyed by motor vehicle use and other activities permitted by BLM. 

Earthjustice represents a coalition of five environmental groups challenging the monuments' RMPs.

Critical Habitat for the Palila The palila -- a bird endemic to Hawai'i -- depends on the native Hawaiian dry land forest, particularly mamane trees, for food, shelter, and breeding, and the destruction of mamane forests by sheep and goats and other browsing animals in the early twentieth century prompted a sharp decline in palila numbers and habitat. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service reacted by recognizing palila as endangered in 1967 and designating Palila critical habitat on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea.
Orion North Timber Sale

The Orion North timber sale would have clearcut the heart of the last major roadless watershed in Thorne Arm, on Revillagigedo Island near Ketchikan in the Tongass National Forest. The watershed provides important old-growth habitat connecting Misty Fjords National Monument with the valuable coastal habitat along Thorne Arm.

Gulf Longlines & Sea Turtles

Earthjustice has filed suit to protect sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. These turtles are a key part of the ecosystem in the Gulf, where they forage and live throughout the year. They also are a valuable legacy for Gulf residents who take pride in observing and enjoying the sea turtles' continued choice of their local beaches to nest. But they are being captured and killed in large numbers by fishing vessels that deploy miles of line and thousands of hooks along the ocean floor. The turtles drown or suffer serious injury when they grab the bait off these hooks.

Populations of these sea turtles are vulnerable; one turtle species in particular—the loggerhead—has suffered more than a 40% decline in its population over the past decade. Therefore, the Endangered Species Act requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to strictly limit the number of turtles that can be caught and harmed by these fishing vessels. But the Service has known for several years that these turtles are being caught by the hundreds, at levels that greatly exceed the allowed limit. The situation is so dire that in January 2009 the local fishery management council asked the Service to close the fishery altogether. Even though the scientific data are clear, and despite the fact that the Service has both the authority and duty to prevent further death and injury to sea turtles, the Service still has failed to act.

In its lawsuit, Earthjustice is asking the federal court in Florida to order the Service to close the fishery until the Service gathers the information needed to assess how best to protect the turtles and avoid further decimating their populations.

Challenging Smoky Canyon Mine Expansion Permit This case challenges a permit allowing expansion of the Smoky Canyon phosphate mine into roadless areas of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest in southeast Idaho. The mine is already listed as a federal Superfund site due to toxic pollution of area waters from past mining activity. Expanding the mine will likely create additional pollution in southeast Idaho springs and streams.
False Killer Whale Longline Defense For years, the National Marine Fisheries Service has illegally ignored its own data, which show the Hawai'i-based longline fleet currently is injuring and killing false killer whales at over twice the level the population can sustain. In 2004, under pressure from an Earthjustice lawsuit, the National Marine Fisheries Service finally re-classified the Hawai'i-based longline fishery as "Category I" -- a designation for fisheries that annually kill and seriously harm marine mammals at unstainable rates -- due to its excessive incidental take of Hawai'i's false killer whales.  Pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act, this recategorization should have triggered the prompt establishment of a take reduction team to devise a plan to bring the fishery's incidental take "to insignificant levels approaching a zero mortality and serious injury rate." NMFS has failed to do so, claiming inadequate funding. At the same time, NMFS has never applied the congressionally-mandated factors to allocate resources where insufficient funding is available for all required take reduction actions.
Idaho Roadless Rule

Late in the Bush administration, the U.S. Forest Service issued the Idaho Roadless Rule, a regulation establishing special rules to govern management of undeveloped roadless areas in Idaho's National Forests. Idaho has the most roadless public forest lands of any state in the lower-48 United States, with more than nine million acres. These pristine lands belong to all Americans. They provide outstanding opportunities for hunting, fishing and hiking, as well as essential habitat for rare wildlife species such as grizzly bears, gray wolves, caribou, and wolverines. However, while the 2001 Roadless Rule protected these lands, the Bush administration's Idaho Roadless Rule creates new loopholes that open the door for road construction and logging across 5.3 million acres of roadless areas -- an area more than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park -- and leaves more than 400,000 acres of roadless areas entirely unprotected.

Representing a coalition of national and regional conservation groups, Earthjustice challenged the Idaho Roadless Rule in federal district court in January 2009. This lawsuit takes aim at the rule's impacts on endangered and threatened species and its authorization for new development activities in previously protected roadless areas. Earthjustice will ask the court to invalidate the Idaho Roadless Rule and restore the 2001 Roadless Rule's protections for Idaho's irreplaceable wild forests.

Stopping the Subsidization of Oil Shale Industrial Development in the West

Earthjustice, on behalf of 13 conservation groups, filed two lawsuits in federal court in Colorado on January 16, 2009, challenging last-minute efforts by the Bush administration to subsidize oil shale industrial development across wildlands in Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah.

The first suit challenges the Bush administration's decision to give the green light to oil shale leasing across two million acres of public lands. The suit challenges the Bureau of Land Management's decision to cut the public out of the decisionmaking process by failure to permit the public to challenge the action in an administrative "protest" before finalizing the decision. Conservation groups also charge that the BLM failed to even consider protecting wildlands and habitat for the imperiled sage grouse while permitting some leasing to go ahead.

The second suit challenges the Bush administration's decision to issue new rules for managing oil shale. These rules provide huge subsidies to those hoping to start a domestic oil shale industry by cutting the rate US taxpayers will get from the sale of oil shale to less than 1/2 what it is for conventional oil and gas. The groups charge this violates the law's requirement that taxpayers get a fair return for the shale removed from America's public lands. The groups also challenge the agency's failure to divulge the environmental impact of subsidizing the industry.

Western Oregon Plan Revision Precipitated by litigation in the 1980s-1990s, the Northwest Forest Plan has governed federal public forests in Washington, Oregon, and northern California since its adoption in 1994, but its protections were under attack throughout the Bush administration. The last shoe to drop in the attempt to dismantle the Northwest Forest Plan was its wholesale revision with respect to 2.6 million acres of Bureau of Land Management ("BLM") lands in Oregon. The Western Oregon Plan Revisions, known by the acronym WOPR, will quadruple old-growth forest logging and eliminate or substantially shrink all wildlife reserves, including the streamside buffers and key watersheds that are integral parts of the Northwest Forest Plan's salmon and clean water protections. While WOPR covers Oregon, its impact is region-wide, as it marks the end of the ecosystem-wide strategy that has protected northwest rivers, salmon and steelhead, northern spotted owls, marbled murrelets, and other old-growth dependent species.