Midwest Regional Office
Ending reliance on fossil fuels
Since we opened our doors in Chicago in 2019, we’ve been working in collaboration with frontline communities to stop pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure that threaten the health of the Midwest and lock us into a future of pollution and damage to our planet. We advocate for the closure of coal plants — and compel cleanup of coal ash sites across the region. We work to stop the petrochemical buildout.
Ensuring healthy communities
We’re honored to partner with communities and Tribes to fight for clean air, water, and soil, and to protect the precious places they depend on. Together, we seek to achieve environmental justice — and work toward a future where race or income will not determine exposure to environmental harms.
Protecting precious places
We’re fighting to protect pristine wilderness areas and waterways and protect important historic and cultural resources for our Tribal partners.
Highlights of our work:
- Earthjustice is representing the Bay Mills Indian Community in its fight to protect tribal interests threatened by Enbridge’s Line 5 oil pipeline, which crosses Wisconsin and Michigan, including more than 200 rivers and streams. It also currently runs along the lakebed of the Straits of Mackinac in the Great Lakes. In response to the increased pressure to address the nearly 70-year old pipeline’s risk to the Great Lakes, Enbridge wants to build a massive tunnel project. We are helping Bay Mills oppose the tunnel project permits, because the tunnel project and the continued operation of the pipeline threaten sacred places, fisheries, and other tribal interests, and lock in the use of fossil fuels. In November 2020, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer revoked the easement for Line 5 to cross the Straits because it poses too great a risk of catastrophic oil spills. But, the fight to stop the tunnel and continued operation of the pipeline continues.
- Across the country, Earthjustice attorneys are challenging pipelines as a legal partner for communities whose right to clean air, safe drinking water, and unspoiled lands are being denied by the harmful excesses of the fossil fuel industry, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline, the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, White Earth Band of Ojibwe, Honor the Earth, and Sierra Club against the Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota, and many more.
- With Equity Legal Services, Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing & Opportunity Council and Natural Resources Defense Council, we are using a range of litigation and advocacy strategies to end chronic floods and sewage backups in the city of Centreville, Illinois, that has resulted from decades of neglect of this low-income Black community’s basic needs. We’re working to ensure that responsible government entities develop a comprehensive plan for creative working sewage and stormwater infrastructure.
- We’re working to prevent the development of the Twin Metals copper mine at the edge of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northeastern Minnesota – the nation’s most visited wilderness area. The proposed mine would harm the water quality and ecology of these protected public lands and waterways — which include more than 1,000 lakes and hundreds of miles of canoe routes.
- We continue to work to stop the contamination of the Middle Fork of the Vermilion River, Illinois’ only National Scenic River, from coal ash stockpiled by the electric generating company Dynegy. We’ve pursued federal and state legal challenges against Dynegy, seeking to compel cleanup of the toxic coal ash in unlined pits, which are currently seeping heavy metals such as chromium, lead, and arsenic into the groundwater and river.
- We’ve also worked with a broad coalition of partners in Illinois to support passage of groundbreaking legislation that will require stronger rules for coal ash cleanup and for companies to set aside the funds needed to pay for those cleanups. We are now working with the Illinois Pollution Control Board to ensure that this legislation is faithfully implemented.
- In part because of our advocacy, we’ve already seen dozens of coal plants retired by Midwest utilities with plans to replace them with clean energy. In one recent case, we convinced Indiana utility regulators to reject a new gas-fired plant proposed as a replacement for an existing coal-fired plant by Vectren. We’ve been pushing for Vectren to increase investment in clean energy technologies such as solar and battery storage as it retires aging and uneconomic coal-fired units.
- We’re advocating for the closure and cleanup of five coal ash ponds in Indiana at the Michigan City Generating Station. After Northern Indiana Public Service Company (NIPSCO) proposed a cleanup plan that includes moving coal ash across the state to a lined landfill, we’re pushing NIPSCO to, at minimum, implement careful measures to control toxic dust released during transportation, clean up contaminated groundwater, remove extensive areas of coal ash fill from the site, test nearby waterbodies and aquatic life for coal ash contamination, and ensure that protective groundwater standards will be in place for the lifecycle of this toxic waste.
- We’re opposing a massive petrochemical storage project in the Ohio River Valley proposed by Mountaineer NGL Storage. We brought lawsuits challenging permits to construct three solution mining wells that would create underground caverns to store toxic and explosive chemicals. Rather than fight us in court, Mountaineer’s president requested in 2020 that the state of Ohio cancel the permits in order to redo the process from scratch. As the company persists in the project, Earthjustice continues to work to protect the health and water quality of the region and ensure the voices of Ohio River Valley communities are heard.
- We continue to fight to protect the Menominee River and the homeland of the Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin from irreversible harms of the Back Forty mine, a massive mine and ore-processing center proposed to be built on the banks of the Menominee River. In January 2021, a Michigan judge denied the Back Forty project a wetlands permit, ruling that the mine “is not in the public interest” and will damage nearby cultural and historic resources. Earthjustice will keep fighting to ensure the Menominee Tribe’s waters, lands, and sacred sites are protected for good.
- We co-authored a report called “Poisonous Homes: Environmental Justice in Federally Assisted Housing,” which shows that the approximately 77,000 Americans who live in federally assisted housing are at risk of being poisoned by dangerous toxic contamination. The report laid out recommendations for U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to address these issues and will be continuing our advocacy.
Contact Midwest Office
311 South Wacker Drive, Suite 1400
Chicago, IL 60606
Debbie Chizewer Managing Attorney
Thomas Cmar Deputy Managing Attorney, Coal Program
Maryam Arai Deputy Director II, Major Gifts
Trish Bosch Litigation Assistant, Coal Program
Jennifer Cassel Staff Attorney, Coal Program
Christopher R. Clark Supervising Staff Attorney
Sameer Doshi Staff Attorney, Coal Program
Dulce Mora Flores Litigation Assistant / Legal Practice Administrator
Matt Horst Donor Marketing Coordinator
Megan Hunter Staff Attorney, Fossil Fuels Program
Jessica Knoblauch Senior Staff Writer
Shubra Ohri Staff Attorney, Coal Program
Lauren Piette Associate Attorney, Coal Program
Adam Ratchenski Associate Attorney
Mary Rock Associate Attorney
Daniel Schreiber Senior Social Media Specialist
James Yskamp Staff Attorney, Fossil Fuels Program