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Climate Stability and Justice for All

Report Prepared for Justice Partners
Rows of wind turbines in the water.
chuyuss / Shutterstock
Offshore wind turbines.

Earthjustice and our partners use litigation and advocacy to realize our shared vision of a clean energy economy that leaves no one behind. As time is running out to avert the worst consequences of climate change, our victories must do more together than the sum of their parts. To maximize our impact, we align our climate and energy work with three main objectives: making way for clean energy solutions that reduce demand for dirty, antiquated power sources; keeping fossil fuels in the ground by blocking extraction and the infrastructure needed to distribute them; and forcing the fossil industry to internalize its true costs and clean up its toxic mess. When our advancements build on one another, we earnestly accelerate the transition toward a just and secure future. The wins reported here demonstrate just some of the progress Earthjustice has made toward our objectives in the last year, in partnership with our clients and with our steadfast supporters. Thank you for helping Earthjustice do this important work.

100% Clean Power

Earthjustice is driving changes through courts and in public utilities commissions to accelerate clean energy mandates that reduce fossil fuel demand. These enforceable legal mandates give manufacturers, their would-be customers, and stakeholders the certainty needed to invest in 100% clean energy, buildings, and transportation.

Zero-emissions Buildings on a Modern Grid

Worker soldering an air heat exchanger. Blue short cropped hair, glasses, black mask, device in ear, grey collared short sleeve, grey arm covers, gloves. Machines in background.
Roberto Pfeil / AP Images
A worker solders an air heat exchanger, the heart of a heat pump, at a factory in Germany.

Our Right to Zero campaign, launched in California, has made remarkable progress in accelerating the transition to a clean economy. In one such victory, we secured $80 million in incentives for heat pump water heaters, with half of that budget designated for low-income customers. In another California win, Earthjustice drove the adoption of new building codes that prioritize heat pumps over gas appliances.

Successes from California, an enormous economy, drive market changes and inform our work across the country. In Maryland, Earthjustice is working in coalition with advocates for climate justice and seeing big results. In the last year we secured enhanced capacity for community solar in the state, as well as offshore wind projects that will generate enough energy to power roughly a million homes. In the same region last year, Earthjustice and our partners celebrated a big win in our opposition to Baltimore Gas & Electric’s incentive program, which encouraged customers to switch to gas heating.

In New York, Earthjustice played a key role in establishing the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act. The law mandates an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a carbon-free electric grid by 2040, along with a mandate to invest clean energy resources in frontline and otherwise underserved communities. It requires a shift to a zero-emissions electric sector by 2040 and setting strict greenhouse gas emissions limits to be achieved by 2050 with smaller targets to be reached by 2030. The CLCPA has teeth; we have used the law to successfully stop two climate-harming, unnecessary, and dangerous proposed gas plants in New York — the Danskammer plant on the Hudson River and the Astoria plant in Queens.

Clean Transportation

Federally, we are fighting to secure strong Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) vehicle and freight-focused standards. The agency’s late 2021 announcement of tighter fuel economy standards is a first step in our goal of compelling a federal requirement for the electrification of all new cars and light-duty trucks by 2035.

Among many wins at the state level, California’s Advanced Clean Truck Rule is gaining major traction, with adoption of the same or similar measures in nearly a dozen more states, requiring medium- and heavy-duty truck makers to transition from diesel to zero-emissions vehicles. Last December, after persuasive advocacy from Earthjustice and our partners, the Colorado Transportation Commission approved a first-of-its- kind planning rule that will limit greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector for years to come.

We have also secured commitments to electrify school and metro bus fleets across the country, through the Advanced Clean Truck Rule, the EPA’s Clean School Bus Program, and city transportation plans.

A Level Playing Field for Clean Energy

At Earthjustice we know that clean energy is always a better value proposition than fossil fuels. We work to ensure that clean energy can compete, that it is accessible to all, and that the rates people pay are just and reasonable. Recent courtroom victories include defeating a discriminatory fee on solar customers in New Mexico; securing fair rates for energy customers in Colorado; and reining in fossil fuel bailouts by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

We sued when the Southern California Gas Company misused advocacy funds, and in February our litigation resulted in a $10 million fine for the utility. The gas company was authorized funds to advocate for more stringent efficiency rules. Instead, it used the funds to oppose stronger standards, such as a building code that would transition the state to all-electric new construction. When we hold fossil fuel companies accountable for misconduct, we make utility markets more fair and more accessible for clean energy.

Putting Fossil Fuels in the Past

The climate crisis is here and is an existential threat. But the incumbent fossil fuel industries driving the worst of climate harms won’t go down without a fight. Earthjustice uses the power of the law and strength of partnership to compel the changes we need to abandon fossil fuels and preserve a livable planet.

No New Leasing on Federal Lands

Of our nation’s total climate emissions, 25% comes from extracting, transporting, and burning fossil fuels sourced from public lands. Earthjustice and our clients are working to block a string of new projects and hold the Biden administration accountable to its climate and environmental justice promises.

Mexican gray wolf standing in the snow.
Tom Pennington / Getty Images
Tugboats tow the semi-submersible drilling platform Noble Danny Adkins through the Port Aransas Channel into the Gulf of Mexico in Port Aransas, Texas.

In January Earthjustice blocked an 80-million-acre oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico in a pivotal win. The D.C. District Court decision held the Department of Interior accountable for grossly underestimating the climate impacts and risks to Gulf communities before deciding to hold the largest oil and gas lease sale in U.S. history.

Our courtroom victory in late 2021 blocked ConocoPhillips’ Willow Master Development Plan in the Alaskan Arctic, a leviathan project that would have produced over half a billion barrels of oil. And in May, consistent advocacy from Earthjustice and our partners succeeded when the Biden administration canceled a pending oil and gas lease of over 1 million acres in the Cook Inlet in Alaska.

We also celebrated a victory for the climate, public lands, and wildlife in March, when the U.S. District Court in Montana invalidated sales of over 600 oil and gas leases, covering hundreds of thousands of acres of sage-grouse habitat protected under the Bureau of Land Management’s 2015 sage-grouse conservation plan.

Blocking Transport of Oil and Gas

Oil and gas infrastructure locks us into decades of dirty energy and climate-heating pollution. Stopping these proposed buildouts is flagship work for Earthjustice, and our team is growing to continue building on our successful track record in this area. Earthjustice is working to challenge a host of proposals for new oil and gas infrastructure across the United States.

Following years of litigation, in November we celebrated a favorable court decision in New York that shut down the 124-mile-long Constitution pipeline project for good. The next month we secured a definitive end to a proposed massive crude oil export project near Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana. This terminal would have stored and supplied crude oil for Very Large Crude Carriers — oil tankers as big as the Empire State Building — in service to the United States’ growing role as a leading fossil gas exporter.

Sharon Lavigne stands in a field of vegetation.
Brad Zweerink / Earthjustice
Sharon Lavigne, with RISE St. James, stands at the proposed site of the Formosa Plastics facility in St. James Parish, Louisiana.

Obstructing the Rush to Petrochemicals

Petrochemical facilities use fracked oil and gas to make plastics or chemicals like pesticides, fertilizers, paint thinners, and more. As clean energy gains traction, fossil fuel companies are turning to petrochemicals to drive demand for their product. Each project can emit millions of tons of greenhouse gases annually. Chemicals and plastics threaten both human health and the environment from the extraction of fossil fuels to processing at petrochemical plants; during transport; when used, for example, as plastics leach cancer-causing chemicals; and when they are disposed of by incineration or dumping in the oceans and nearby communities.

Over the coming years, more than 150 new or expanded petrochemical facilities are proposed in the U.S., primarily in the Gulf South and Ohio River Valley. Earthjustice works to stop proposed petrochemical expansion in every forum we can.

We are continuing to represent RISE St. James and other clients and partners to challenge permits for South Louisiana Methanol. And last year, our lawyers and partners shut the door on a proposed methanol refinery in Kalama, Washington. The project would have consumed more fracked gas per day than all of Washington state’s gas-fired power plants combined.

We have so far succeeded in blocking development of the massive Formosa Plastics complex, another chemical plant just a few miles from the South Louisiana Methanol site. If built, this massive plastics facility would be allowed to emit over 800 tons of toxic air contaminants annually and over 13 million tons of greenhouse gases per year.

Youth play soccer in a green field. Contrasting background of Phillips 66 refinery.
Hannah Benet for Earthjustice
Kids play soccer near the Phillips 66 refinery in Wilmington, California.

A Stronger Presence in the Gulf

In May Earthjustice opened our 15th office nationwide, the Gulf Regional Office, located in the self-proclaimed energy capital of the world: Houston, Texas. We are building on deep partnerships with community and environmental justice groups like those in St. James Parish who are fighting, on multiple fronts, to defend the health and security of their communities. For decades fossil fuel and petrochemical companies have saddled Black, Latino, and low-income communities in the Gulf South with industrial pollution, excess vulnerability to climate disasters, and the desecration of lands relevant to their heritage. This office will be a critical part of the larger fight for a just climate future.

Strong Standards for a Clean Environment

Earthjustice’s commitment to a healthy environment for all demands stricter health standards to cut pollution and protect the communities closest to fossil fuel infrastructure. These protections save lives and also force power plants to internalize their costs, which makes the case for renewables clear.

The 2011 Mercury and Air Toxics Standard requires meaningful reductions of pollution from power plants. By the Environmental Protection Agency’s own estimate, the rule prevented up to 11,000 premature deaths. When the EPA moved to weaken this standard in 2020, Earthjustice sued on behalf of a coalition of civil rights and environmental organizations. Earlier this year, in the face of our ongoing litigation, the EPA moved to restore these regulations to their full strength. In March, the EPA also finalized its rule reinstating California’s Clean Air Act waiver, which allows it to set greenhouse gas standards more protective than federal standards and adopt zero-emissions standards for light-duty vehicles.

We are protecting public health and accelerating the end of coal power by fighting in court to defend and enforce the 2015 Federal Coal Ash Rule, which holds coal companies accountable for cleaning up their sites. In January, the EPA began cracking down on coal companies, refusing permission to delay their cleanups, setting the precedent for the hundreds of U.S. coal plants and the coal ash ponds and landfills they manage.

Support for Clean Energy Abroad

A train moves down its track as the hazy city skyline is seen in the background in Jakarta, Indonesia.
Tatan Syuflana / AP
A train moves down its track as the hazy city skyline is seen in the background in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Earthjustice supports partners fighting fossil fuels and creating clean energy solutions and environmental justice in Africa, Australia, Latin America, Indonesia, and other key locations around the world. Last fall our partners in Indonesia won a court order requiring the government to establish national air pollution standards that would protect human health in Jakarta, one of the most polluted capital cities in the world, and to consider strategies to cut emissions from transportation in the city and nearby coal-fired power plants.

In November we helped partners in South Africa secure a court order that halted Shell Oil Company’s offshore seismic survey along the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal Provinces. Seismic surveying, often called seismic blasting, is a precursor to offshore oil and gas extraction and can be incredibly harmful to marine mammals who rely on sound for navigation. And in March, with longtime Earthjustice support on this issue, our partners won a landmark ruling finding that the government had violated the South African Constitution by failing to address the air quality in one of the country’s most polluted regions.

What Partnership Makes Possible

It takes the power of the law and the strength of partnership to compel the changes we need to preserve a habitable planet. The fossil fuel industry has immense resources to resist a transition to a clean and just future, but Earthjustice levels the playing field. We work alongside the communities closest to these issues, always free of charge, always working for the public interest. Together, we will continue securing wins in court rooms, in press rooms, and in Washington, D.C. Thank you for joining us in this fight.

By Lucy Ramos
This special report was prepared for Justice Partners in Summer 2022. Justice Partners are passionate and engaged supporters of Earthjustice who are serious about making the world a better place. Learn more.