Established in 1971, Earthjustice is a nonprofit environmental law organization that works to defend the rights and wellness of planet Earth. Its efforts are multifaceted in their reach and approach. Earthjustice’s dedicated attorneys and staff work to uphold and enforce laws that protect public health, preserve wildlife and natural resources, fight climate change, and support clean energy. They take on high-stakes cases where the results can have a major positive impact on the environment and set a powerful legal precedent.
Recently, Earthjustice has seen several legal victories in its fight against the Trump administration’s continued assault on our nation’s environment and public health laws.
Below are just a few of the most significant court cases that Earthjustice has won:
Stopping Trump’s Attempt to Open the Arctic and Antarctic to Oil Drilling
On April 28, 2017, President Trump reversed an Obama-era law that protected the Arctic and Antarctic Oceans from new oil drilling. Trump’s executive order threatened to open over 120 million acres of ocean to oil and gas drilling—or 98% of US federal Arctic Ocean waters and more than 30 biologically rich deep canyons in the Atlantic. Drilling in these areas would threaten unique habitats for marine animals and run the risk of an oil spill in a remote area where clean-up would be effectively impossible. From a legal perspective, this executive order overstepped the limits of the president’s constitutional and statutory authority and violated federal law.
Protecting Endangered Yellowstone Grizzlies
Earthjustice intervened, teaming up with conservation organizations, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Alaska Native groups. On March 29, 2019, Earthjustice and its partners won a victory when the U.S. District Court for Alaska struck down Trump’s executive order. This action restored the offshore oil leasing ban and re-affirmed that a president cannot violate the constitution at the expense of the environment.
The Trump administration’s anti-environment policies have also threatened individual species, including the iconic grizzly bear. In 2017, the US Fish and Wildlife Service removed the Yellowstone National Park regional population of grizzly bears from the Endangered Species List. This action effectively ended federal protection for the bears. The states of Wyoming and Idaho then announced trophy hunts of grizzly bears that would have allowed hunters to kill a total of 23 bears outside Yellowstone. These would have been the first such hunts in over 40 years.
Stopping Trump from Selling Our Public Lands to the Coal Industry
Earthjustice acted quickly. The organization represented the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, and the Center for Biological Diversity in their lawsuit challenging the Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision. On September 24, 2018, the US District Court of Montana ruled in Earthjustice and its clients’ favor, halting the trophy hunt of the grizzlies.
In March 2017, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration to challenge an order that opened tens of thousands of acres of public land to coal mining. This action was part of the Trump administration’s efforts to take down the Obama administration’s climate policies, which had reduced public lands available for coal mining. Under the Obama administration, the Interior Department had issued a moratorium on federal coal leasing in 2016. At this time, the Department estimated that existing federal leases produced enough coal to fulfill the country’s needs for 20 years. Trump’s Interior Department lifted this moratorium.
Wasting no time, Earthjustice sued the Trump administration the same day. In doing so, the organization represented a broad coalition of local and nation groups: Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Citizens for Clean Energy, and several others. In response, a federal judge ruled in April 2019 that the Trump administration had indeed violated law by lifting the Obama-era moratorium without an environmental review. This ruling was a major blow to Trump’s efforts to increase fossil fuel production and sell public lands to the highest bidder.
Fighting for Cleaner Air in California
California’s Central Valley is experiencing an air pollution crisis: millions of people are exposed to dangerous levels of ozone and soot every day. In addition, several cities in the region annually appear on the American Lung Association’s list of cities with the dirtiest air. The Valley is also the only region in the entire country flagged for “serious nonattainment” of fine particle pollution standards set over 20 years ago, in 1997. The region’s pollution is largely caused by diesel trucks, factory farms, and drilling operations. The victims are children, elderly adults, and people with respiratory illnesses like asthma. Despite these alarming facts, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been lax in taking action to address the situation.
Earthjustice acted by filing two lawsuits against the EPA to push the agency to establish strong, enforceable ozone pollution controls in the Central Valley. In addition, Earthjustice met with the EPA to discuss new ways to break its “cycle of inaction.” These efforts paid off in October 2018, when the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in Earthjustice’s favor. The court ordered the EPA to enforce deadlines for clean air standards.