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Sept. 15, 2021

Landmark Legal Cases to Build a Justice-centered Environmental Movement

For five decades, Earthjustice has fought thousands of legal cases, representing our clients free of charge.

See some of our proudest accomplishments partnering with communities around the country to end disproportionate impacts of pollution and development and to ensure our clients’ voices are heard in court.

1989 · Louisiana

Under pressure from Earthjustice and community groups, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission denied a permit to build a uranium enrichment plant in Homer, Louisiana.

The agency found that the facility would disproportionately impact low-income communities of color, marking the first time a federal agency had made environmental justice a basis for its decision.

Our Client: Citizens Against Nuclear Trash
1988–2018 · Hawaiʻi

One of Hawaiʻi's spiritual havens is healing after decades of being bombed and shelled.

Earthjustice went to court for 20 years to force the U.S. Army to stop live-fire training operations at the Mākua Military Reservation on Oʻahu.

A culturally and ecologically important area, Mākua is home to scores of ancient Hawaiian artifacts, cultural sites and nearly 50 endangered plants and animals.

Our Client: Mālama Mākua
Work by Earthjustice’s Mid-Pacific Regional Office
1988–Today · Hawaiʻi

For decades, local and Native Hawaiian communities, represented by Earthjustice, have fought to restore Hawaiian streams.

During the plantation era, sugar companies treated stream water as their property, diverging from the ancient Hawaiian principle that water is a public trust for all. Even as the plantations closed, the water didn’t return. Instead, companies hoarded stream flows and profited from selling hydropower and water to the public.

The first battle began on Oʻahu in the 1990s over the Waiāhole Ditch’s diversions of windward streams. The struggle then moved to Maui in the 2000s to restore Nā Wai ʻEhā (“The Four Great Waters”).

A landmark case brought by Earthjustice that reached the Hawaiʻi Supreme Court affirmed the legal principle of water as a public resource.

In 2014, a historic settlement restored continuous flow to all four of Nā Wai ‘Ehā for the first time in 150 years.

Our Clients & Partners include: Hui o Na Wai ʻEhā, Maui Meadows Homeowners Association, Maui Tomorrow, and Pōʻai Wai Ola/West Kauaʻi Watershed Alliance
Work by Earthjustice’s Mid-Pacific Regional Office

Earthjustice supported the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in the development of the first-ever petition linking climate change and human rights.

The petition was the impetus for the now-global recognition that climate change is a fundamental human rights issue.

Work by Earthjustice’s International Program
2014–Today · Nationwide

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act is one of the few enforceable civil rights laws that covers environmental actions. It forbids agencies that receive federal funding from discriminating based on race, religion, national origin, and gender.

In 2020, a federal court ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency violated the law by waiting a decade or more to investigate civil rights complaints filed by community groups in California, Michigan, Texas, Alabama, and New Mexico. The complaints alleged racial discrimination in the permitting of polluting facilities by state and regional agencies.

Earthjustice continues to work across the country with communities facing similar challenges to expand access to justice and defend the right of communities to protect their health and environment.

Our Clients & Partners include: Ashurst Bar / Smith Community Organization, Californians for Renewable Energy, Citizens for Alternatives to Radioactive Dumping, Maurice & Jane Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, Sierra Club – Lone Star Chapter, and Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s)
Work by Earthjustice’s Northeast Regional Office
2017–Today · Nationwide

In the United States, about 177 million people live in the worst-case scenario zones for a chemical disaster. At least one in three schoolchildren attends a school within the vulnerability zone of a hazardous facility. And from 2004 to 2013 alone, more than 2,200 chemical accidents were reported at hazardous facilities, over 1,500 of which caused reported harm.

Too many communities live under the constant threat of a chemical catastrophe.

Earthjustice is defending the Chemical Disaster Rule, a federal regulation aimed at preventing and preparing for catastrophes at oil refineries and chemical facilities.

We challenged an illegal delay of the rule and won in 2017, and we continue to fight a Trump-era rollback proposal.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency should strengthen — not weaken — chemical facility safety standards to protect the lives and health of communities, workers, and first responders.

Our Clients & Partners include: Air Alliance Houston, California Communities Against Toxics, Clean Air Council, Coalition For A Safe Environment, Community In-Power & Development Association, Del Amo Action Committee, Environmental Integrity Project, Louisiana Bucket Brigade, Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, Sierra Club, Union of Concerned Scientists, Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, and Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment
Work by Earthjustice’s Washington, D.C., Office
2019 · Arizona

A company tried to bend the rules to dig a mile-wide copper mine in sacred lands south of Tuscon, Ariz., until the Tohono O’odham Nation, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Hopi Tribe — represented by Earthjustice — blocked the plan in court.

This ruling could set a precedent making it harder for giant mining companies to exploit ancestral lands for Native American Tribes and pollute precious ecosystems.

This work is part of Earthjustice’s long history of partnering with Tribes, Native groups, and Indigenous communities to ensure their natural and cultural resources are protected now and for future generations.

Our Clients & Partners include: Hopi Tribe, Pascua Yaqui Tribe, and Tohono O’odham Nation
Work by Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Regional Office

Earthjustice’s 50th Anniversary Virtual Celebration

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