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Bowhead whales in the Arctic.

Victories

Amelia Brower / Alaska Fisheries Science Center / NOAA

At Earthjustice, we’re more than just lawyers in a courtroom. We go to court for the future of our planet. With unparalleled legal and policy expertise, we face off against big interests with deep pockets — and win.

Smoke from a coal powered plant.
September 13, 2019

Court rules EPA must control smog that harms breathers in downwind states

Split view of clear and hazy days in Shenandoah National Park.
August 23, 2019

Court rejects polluters’ claims that standards are too protective

Trash collects in a tributary of the Anacostia River outside of Washington, D.C.
August 13, 2019

EPA’s pollution limits for Anacostia, Potomac and Rock Creek are too high

A couple in Dukeville, N.C., looks across a coal ash pond full of dead trees.
Victory Case Study

Recently disclosed data and a major court ruling bring new hope for communities.

12
Years of Legal Work
11
Client Groups
43
States Affected By Coal Ash
91%
Coal Plants Contaminating Groundwater (Of plants filing data)

Landmark Victories

Earthjustice was founded on the belief that everyone has the right to a healthy environment.

From our early days with a handful of lawyers, to today, as the nation’s premier nonprofit environmental law organization with more than a hundred full-time lawyers on staff and a deep bench of unmatched environmental legal expertise, we’ve taken thousands of legal actions on behalf of our planet and the life that depends on it.

We blaze a path forward for those with the odds stacked against them. We were there when our nation's landmark environmental laws — the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act — were enacted. We're still here today, enforcing the law and ensuring the judicial system is available for anyone and anything deserving of justice.

Some of our proudest accomplishments produced these results:

Palila (Loxioides bailleui) in Waimea, Hawaii.
1976 - Today
Stemming The Tide Of Extinction

With the Endangered Species Act, we have acted in the interests of hundreds of plants and animals to ensure their survival, from Southern Resident orcas to spotted owls, wild salmon to Yellowstone’s grizzly bears — and the palila of Hawaiʻi.

Recognizing that extinction is irreversible, the United States did in 1973 what no country had done before, establishing what amounts to a bill of rights for animals and plants: The Endangered Species Act.

The law reflected the resolve of a society mature enough to guarantee a future not just for itself but for the rest of creation, even if difficult choices might be required.

In the decades since, Earthjustice has been at the forefront of efforts to make sure that this critical statute is enforced and allowed to realize its visionary promise.

We won our first victory for endangered species, defending the palila — a beautiful yellow-headed bird in the honeycreeper family, that can still be found on the upper slopes of Mauna Kea — in a case known as Palila (Loxioides bailleui) v. Hawaiʻi Department of Land and Natural Resources. The court’s decision set the important legal precedent that damaging the habitat of a listed species is illegal.

Sustaining endangered wildlife has meant cleaning up waterways, improving pesticide protections, and preserving wild places that provide clean air and water and offer a quiet refuge in our increasingly noisy, crowded world. Wild creatures need these things — we do, too.

Palila (Loxioides bailleui) in Waimea, Hawaii. (Aaron Maizlish / CC BY-NC 2.0)

A swaddled baby.
2000s - Today
Clearing The Air Of Mercury Pollution

When federal courts handed down historic decisions to limit mercury emissions from the nation’s biggest polluters, it wasn't just a bunch of lawyers who won.

Children exposed to mercury in the womb or at a young age are at risk of impaired brain function, neurological problems, and reduced IQ. When mercury is emitted from smokestacks, it settles into soil and runoff that eventually end up in waterbodies.

It takes only 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury to pollute a 20-acre lake to the point where fish are unsafe to eat. Industrial polluters were emitting tens of thousands of pounds of mercury each year.

Earthjustice legal pressure forced industrial polluters — power plants, cement kilns, and incinerators — to cut their mercury emissions after decades of long-overdue steps to limit the deadly pollution.

When it came to mercury pollution, coal-fired power plants were king. But not anymore. Coal plants accounted for half of the total man-made emissions of mercury in the United States. After decades of efforts by Earthjustice and our partners, the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards was established in 2011 as the first set of federal regulations to limit mercury and other air toxics emitted by power plants.

In the years since the Standards have been in effect, they have been widely adopted by industry. And the results have been stunning. Mercury emissions from power plants have declined by 80%. Studies have found that mercury levels in fish, which had been increasing, have dropped.

Despite these results, the U.S. EPA announced in 2019 an attempt to weaken the Standards. Earthjustice continues to defend the Standards.

Babies exposed to mercury can suffer impaired abilities to develop and learn. (Getty Images)

A farmworker harvests strawberries in Salinas, Calif.
1997 - Today
Targeting The Most Dangerous Pesticides

Do you prefer strawberries harvested without cancer-causing fumigants, tomatoes without organochlorines, green beans free of fungicides that could cause reproductive deformities? So do we. Earthjustice legal work resulted in each of these highly toxic chemicals banned or withdrawn.

Food residues of the fungicide vinclozin, a chemical linked to serious birth defects, was finally banned in 2004 after a seven-year legal battle. The work was proof that citizen oversight is key to enforcing our environmental laws and protecting people from untenable risks. The chemical companies and grower trade groups had the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's ear, and it repeatedly bent to their will — until EPA had to explain their actions in the court of law.

Many organochlorine pesticides, including DDT, were banned in the 1970s. But endosulfan continued to be used on tomatoes, cotton, and other crops, in violation of federal pesticide law, despite risks of reproductive and developmental damage in both humans and wildlife. Earthjustice filed suit in 2008 when the U.S. EPA re-registered the chemical. After two years of litigation, the agency finally announced it would ban the chemical.

The known carcinogen methyl iodide — designed for use primarily in strawberry fields — was finally withdrawn from U.S. markets in 2012. Earthjustice’s lawsuit argued that the California’s approval of methyl iodide violated the state’s Environmental Quality Act and Birth Defects Prevention Act, among others. The carcinogen was most threatening to the men and women who work in farmfields where the fumigant is applied.

Today, Earthjustice continues to work on behalf of farmworker advocacy groups, scientists, and health advocates for phase-outs or outright bans of the most dangerous chemicals, including chlorpyrifos, flame retardants, and more.

A farmworker harvests strawberries in Salinas, Calif. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

The Cheswick coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania.
1970s - Today
Exposing The True Costs Of Coal

The first-ever limits of air toxics, toxic wastewater, coal ash, and haze pollution from coal-fired power plants were achieved through years-long litigation and advocacy by Earthjustice attorneys, in collaboration with our partners.

Earthjustice is at the center of the essential fight to transform our country’s energy sector into one that is clean, renewable, and modern.

The coal industry managed for decades to avoid cleaning up its mess by hiring well-paid lobbyists and lawyers to create and exploit loopholes in our nation’s environmental laws. Earthjustice is changing that dynamic.

In the 1970s, one of our earliest victories against coal pollution forced the withdrawal of plans to build “Kaiparowits,” a goliath power plant in southern Utah. We didn’t stop there. In the years since, we’ve stopped plans to build dirty coal-fired power plants throughout the country, from Florida to the heart of coal country.

By exposing the true costs of fossil fuels — air pollution alone from coal plants kills thousands of Americans each year — we have driven many old, inefficient plants to retire, clearing the path for wind and solar.

After years of fighting coal pollution, Earthjustice formally established the Coal Program in the early 2000's, when the country was in the middle of a wave of more than 150 proposed new coal plants. The vast majority were defeated.

Now, we are working to retire the existing aging coal fleet. With more than 200 coal plants to date retired or scheduled to retire, we are winning. But with gigawatts of coal capacity still operating and polluting, and more than 1,400 toxic coal ash ponds and dumps littering our nation, the fight continues.

The Cheswick coal-fired power plant in Pennsylvania. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

Roadless area in the Humbug Spires Wilderness Study Area.
1999 - Today
Roadless Rising: Defending National Forests

Overwhelmingly popular with the public, the Roadless Rule protects nearly 50 million acres of national forests — and has been subjected to relentless legal challenges by industry. Earthjustice has successfully defended the protections for two decades.

Safeguarding vital habitat for 1,500 species of wildlife and drinking water supplies for millions, the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule protects “large, relatively undisturbed landscapes” from damaging new roads and clear-cuts in intact forests. Other economic development, including tourism projects, is permitted.

From the beginning, the Roadless Rule came under attack, challenged in nine separate lawsuits filed by several states, counties, and timber industry interests. Earthjustice, on behalf of clients around the country, immediately moved to defend the Rule in all those cases, eventually devoting thousands of attorney hours to the effort.

The legal maneuvering was fast and furious for more than a decade. Earthjustice fought — successfully — to protect the Roadless Rule, with major victories in 2009 at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and in 2013 at the D.C. District Court.

The Roadless Rule continues to see challenges today, in courts and in the halls of Congress. And Earthjustice and our clients continue to work to defend our country's roadless areas.

Roadless area in Montana's Humbug Spires WSA. (Bob Wick / BLM)