2017 Earthrise Successes & Challenges
December 12, 2017
At the risk of stating the obvious, this has been a difficult year for the environment. We have witnessed unprecedented attempts by the federal government to rollback hard-earned environmental protections by undermining previously enacted environmental regulations, pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord, opening up public lands to invasive exploration and drilling, and downsizing National Monuments. The list goes on. The current Administration is systematically and relentlessly taking actions and implementing policies that will have long-term devastating effects on our nation’s, and the world’s, environment and natural resources.
At Earthrise, we are well-positioned to defend against this attack; and we are just as relentless. As the Trump Administration already has learned multiple times, the courts act as a significant check on federal agencies’ unlawful actions. Earthrise does most of its work in court, filing lawsuits on behalf of public interest, nonprofit groups to force federal agencies to uphold their obligations to our iconic environmental statutes, like the Clean Water Act (CWA) and the National Environmental Policy Act. Earthrise’s role in environmental litigation is more important now than it has been in the 21 years of our existence. But our hard work is under direct threat, which is why Earthrise needs your financial support now more than ever.
Here’s what’s happening. We have seen a major shift in the federal government’s willingness to even engage in reasonable settlement negotiations with environmental groups, like our clients, to resolve cases without the significant time and expense of litigation. Scott Pruitt and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have gone even further, by issuing an agency-wide directive declaring that the agency shall refuse to pay attorneys’ fees and costs, even when it does settle a case. This is a sea change from EPA’s position on settlement in the past and contrary to environmental statutes and decades of case law. And it’s not just EPA. Other agencies, like the U.S. Forest Service, are fighting tooth and nail to avoid, or at least significantly delay, paying attorneys’ fees in our cases, even when a court has ruled in our clients’ favor.
This means our cases, most of which take years to litigate already, will take longer to resolve. And it will take even longer for Earthrise to get paid for our work. Because attorney fee recovery is the primary way Earthrise is funded—the clinic receives only in-kind support from Lewis & Clark Law School—we will be more reliant on individual donors like you to carry us through the next few years.
Despite the difficult times, Earthrise continues to fight for the environment and our clients. Here are just some of our achievements from this past year:
- Achieved a precedent-setting ruling in Oregon that will require EPA to make changes that impact Oregon’s over-heated rivers in order to protect imperiled and iconic cold-water fish like salmon.
- Filed a complaint to reverse the Pruitt EPA’s 11th hour unlawful decision to postpone implementation of Massachusetts’ general permit governing municipal stormwater discharges, which is already years overdue.
- Submitted an objection to a U.S. Forest Service decision that would facilitate Navy jet electronic warfare training over areas of Olympic National Park.
- Filed two new Freedom of Information Act cases against government agencies to gain access to unlawfully withheld public records.
- Obtained three significant victories on motions filed in our lawsuit against EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for their failure to protect Washington’s coast from nonpoint source pollution.
- After prevailing in a CWA lawsuit to stop decades of dumping of waste concrete along the Green River in Illinois, we went to trial to obtain an appropriate remedy to ensure cleanup at the site.
- Went to trial in Massachusetts to protect a century-old 100-acre public forest from the Town of Plymouth’s decision to open it up to sand and gravel mining.
- Challenged Oregon’s Industrial Stormwater permit as being too lenient and allowing too many toxic pollutants into Oregon’s waters.
- Filed a complaint to challenge a federal loan guarantee to a Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation on the eastern shore of Maryland that threatens water quality in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
- Successfully settled a CWA lawsuit in Kansas City, Missouri, bringing the polluter into compliance and securing $100,000 in funding for regional water quality projects.
- Filed suit against Cooke Aquaculture related to the near-complete structural failure of its net pen facility, which released approximately 160,000 farmed Atlantic salmon into Puget Sound, among other pollutants.
- Filed suit against the state of Oregon for its chronic and systemic failure to update CWA discharge permits, which has resulted in the second-largest backlog of “zombie” permits in the country.
- Submitted an extensive objection to the Forest Service’s draft decision to permit exploratory drilling (for the third time) near Mt. St. Helens National Monument.
- Sent a 60-Day Notice of Intent to Sue the City of Medford, Oregon under the CWA for violations of the discharge permit issued to the City’s wastewater treatment plant on the Rogue River.
- Initiated an administrative review proceeding regarding a permit issued by Arizona to Resolution Copper Mining LLC, for discharges from what will be North America’s largest copper mine.
So as you can see, we haven’t slowed down. Far from it. But we need all of our supporters to dig deep to help us hold federal agencies accountable for the impacts of their actions on our environment and natural resources. Your support will allow us to continue to take on this Administration, achieve great results for the environment, and provide excellent learning opportunities for students, so that they too can join the fight when they graduate.
Please include a tax-deductible donation to Earthrise in your year-end giving. Even better, please consider becoming a monthly Earthrise donor to help level out our funding stream in these challenging times. Thank you.
With warm wishes for the holidays and the New Year,
Allison LaPlante, Clinic Co-Director
Tom Buchele, Clinic Co-Director