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Never Backing Down From the Fight

Report Prepared for Justice Partners
Person stands on the thick roots of a big tree, right hand touching the bark of the trunk, left hand resting on the side of leg. Tree is one amongst many in the Tongass National Forest on the Prince of Wales Island. Large broad leaves frame the image along with other green foliage.
Brad Zweerink / Earthjustice
A drill ship anchored in the Gulf of Mexico, off the Louisiana coast in 2021.

Despite overwhelming odds, and a shrinking window of time to ensure people and the planet can withstand the climate changes that are already occurring, Earthjustice is committed to going up against the most daunting adversaries to demand stronger regulations and environmental justice. We will not back down, and we will not rest. Earlier this year, Earthjustice launched the public phase of our Never Rest campaign — a comprehensive fundraising and awareness effort. Your thoughtful support over the past year has contributed to this campaign, helping us to expand our capacity and extend our reach to meet the multiplying threats that face this planet. We are growing and our current growth includes increasing staff across the country, a new regional office on the Gulf Coast, a new Biodiversity Defense Program focused on addressing the urgent biodiversity crisis, and an expanded docket with more cases and new partners. Below we highlight three such threats: the oil and gas boom in the Gulf of Mexico, the toxicity of PFAS, and the plight of wolves in North America.

Preserving the Waters of the Gulf and its Delicate Ecosystems

The Challenge

Fossil fuels are significant drivers of climate change. The overleveraged oil and gas industry, where investors assume high financial risk, is reacting to shrinking demand by proposing a massive wave of new fossil fuel infrastructure projects, designed to get as much oil and gas to market as fast as possible. The Gulf Coast is ground zero for the oil and gas build-out.

Our Response and Record

Earthjustice and our partners have pushed back against fossil fuel projects in the Gulf of Mexico over the past year. The Gulf has long been denied adequate resources and been exploited by industry. Government agencies and regulators often don’t enforce or create regulation that protects these communities.

Communities such as St. James Parish in Louisiana, also called Cancer Alley, have historically suffered from the damage wreaked by the fossil fuel and petrochemical industries and the disregard by those, such as local governments, who could protect them. To rectify historical disinvestments like these, Earthjustice has hired attorneys in Louisiana to represent local clients, including those in St. James Parish, and will soon open a Gulf regional office in Houston, Texas.

From this office, we will: fight to stop oil and gas development, break down barriers to clean energy, reduce pollution, protect communities and ecosystems, and advance environmental justice. The planned Gulf regional office will expand on this docket and target additional issues that are of unique significance in the region. This will allow our attorneys to be at ground zero of the fight to protect the land, water, and residents of the Gulf region.

On the Horizon

Earthjustice and our partners are currently opposing several Gulf Coast fossil fuel projects, including numerous proposed crude oil export terminals capable of handling Very Large Crude Carriers (VLCCs) — massive international oil tankers that can carry more than 2 million barrels of oil each and spur the global market for American fracked oil. Here’s a look at some of our current open cases:

  • We are challenging Bluewater Texas Terminal’s proposed offshore VLCC export terminal, north of Corpus Christi. We are also opposing an unprecedented EPA proposal to issue Bluewater’s terminal air permits to emit enormous quantities of pollution without any pollution controls.
  • We are also opposing the Blue Marlin Offshore Port, a floating port proposed in federal waters in the Gulf that would run through a protected oyster habitat and some of Louisiana’s imperiled coastal wetlands.
  • Following the Biden administration’s decision to walk back its oil and gas leasing pause, the Department of the Interior proceeded with a previously scheduled lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico this year, offering nearly 80 million acres to fossil fuel companies. To justify this sale, which is incompatible with President Biden’s climate goals, the administration relied on flawed and outdated environmental analysis that significantly underestimates the greenhouse gas emissions that would result from the extraction, and ignores important new information about the drilling risks posed to people, wildlife, the environment, and the climate. Earthjustice’s Oceans team is challenging the leases, which were sold in November but will not be issued for use until January 1, 2022.

Protecting People from PFAS

The Challenge

Earthjustice is working to end toxin exposures to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and phthalates in food packaging and take-out containers. PFAS are in the bloodstream of 99% of people living in the United States, and by design, are “forever chemicals” — meant to persist in the environment.

There are more than 5,000 different PFAS and they are linked to cancer and other serious health effects. PFAS have thus far polluted drinking water and groundwater in almost 1,400 sites across 49 states, contaminating the water supplies for up to 110 million people. More than 200 million people across the country are likely exposed to food and drinking water contaminated with PFAS.

Our Response and Record

2021 has been a big year for our fight against PFAS, with several critical wins:

  • After submitting comments on Washington State’s plan to incinerate PFAS-based firefighting foam, the state’s Department of Ecology agreed to prepare an environmental impact statement and halt the incineration pending further review under the State Environmental Policy Act.
  • We submitted comments to the EPA opposing approval of applications to manufacture 10 new PFAS; none of those chemicals have been approved, likely as a result of increased pressure over the years from Earthjustice litigation, unrelenting advocacy by coalition partners, and letters from supporters like you.
  • After much advocacy and pressure from Earthjustice and other groups, the Biden administration released a roadmap for what they will do to address PFAS.

On the Horizon

The successes listed above has allowed us to bring our expertise to even bigger fights. Here are some of the highlights:

  • New York state fails to require industry and local governments to monitor and limit their PFAS discharges into waterways, including those used for drinking water. Earthjustice is pushing the state to establish water quality standards for PFAS, set discharge limits, and require monitoring for any facility that may be discharging PFAS to surface waters.
  • We continue to challenge the secrecy of EPA reviews of new chemicals, which is a blatant violation of current law. Stopping secrecy at the EPA is paramount to any true regulation of toxics and to blocking approval of new dangerous chemicals like PFAS.

Saving Wolves

Mexican gray wolf standing in the snow.
gnagel / Getty Images
Mexican gray wolf standing in the snow.

The Challenge

Earthjustice has fought for decades for the recovery of wolves in the wild. The gray wolf’s incredible comeback to the Northern Rockies and Western Great Lakes is one of our country’s most captivating wildlife success stories. But the recent rash of hostile regional and state laws and policies, once again put wolves in danger.

Our Response and Record

Though wolves remain under enormous threat in the U.S., we celebrated a few notable wins:

  • In an effort to have a greater impact in the fight for biodiversity, Earthjustice launched our new Biodiversity Defense Program this past July. The program’s first case is defending wolves in Wisconsin from a planned wolf hunt. Looking forward, we will expand our geographical impact beyond the American west, prioritize protecting migratory birds and pollinators, and develop a Forest Management Plan with the Biden administration that will offer long-lasting protections for vital old-growth forest ecosystems.
  • In October 2021, we celebrated a court win that forces the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to put in place a robust plan that includes concrete actions to address the threat of illegal killing of Mexican gray wolf, one of the most endangered mammals in North America.
  • In 2020, following four years of Earthjustice litigation, the courts upheld orders limiting helicopters landing in the Frank Church–No Return Wilderness. The Forest Service illegally authorized the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG) to conduct approximately 120 helicopter landings in fragile wilderness to put tracking collars on elk and wolves. —This was part of Idaho’s effort to aggressively eliminate wolf packs and inflate elk numbers in the heart of the wilderness. Capturing and radio-collaring wolves and elk during these operations — an unauthorized action that was not permitted by the Forest Service — threatens to advance IDFG’s plans to undertake widespread wildlife killing in the wilderness by providing locational information on the collared wildlife.

On the Horizon

We have ambitious goals to provide long-lasting protections to wolves:

  • Restore Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in the Lower 48 states to ensure their recovery in the wild.
  • Defend against hunting, trapping, and snaring of gray wolves in Montana, Idaho, and Wisconsin so populations can rebound and thrive.
  • Ensure the recovery of Mexican wolf populations by fighting for a robust federal recovery plan.

Thank you

At Earthjustice, we realize that the law holds power to make significant and lasting change in the fight to protect this planet and its inhabitants. We wield this power in partnership with our clients, the communities that we work within, and our members and supporters who keep us steady and strong. With your help, we will never back down from pushing for clean energy solutions, protecting wildlife, or eliminating toxic chemicals from our food, air, land, and water. Your commitment and your contributions, as a Justice Partner, provide the resources we need to take on high-stakes litigation and represent our clients free of charge. Thank you for being with us as we collectively build a healthy and just world. 

By Alicia Kester
This special report was prepared for Justice Partners in Winter 2021. Justice Partners are passionate and engaged supporters of Earthjustice who are serious about making the world a better place. Learn more.