Earthjustice describes itself as a nonprofit “law firm for the environment” that works through the courts to “safeguard public lands, national forests, parks, and wilderness areas; to reduce air and water pollution; to prevent toxic contamination; and to preserve endangered species and wildlife habitat.” The organization’s professed raison d’etre is: “Because the earth needs a good lawyer.”
Earthjustice was founded as the “Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund” (SCLDF) in 1971 by Don Harris and Fred Fisher, two volunteer attorneys for the Sierra Club legal committee. The fledgling organization was fully independent from the Sierra Club, with its own Board of Trustees, staff, and contributors. SCLDF adopted the name “Earthjustice” in 1997, “to better reflect our role as a legal advocate for not just the Sierra Club, but hundreds of others clients as well.” Earthjustice now has regional offices in Montana, Colorado, Hawaii, Alaska, California, Washington State, and Washington, DC. The group also runs a law clinic at Stanford University, where it “offers students an opportunity to provide legal and technical assistance to nonprofit organizations on a variety of environmental issues …”
Earthjustice seeks to place severe restrictions on how U.S. land and waterways may be used. It also opposes most mining and logging initiatives, commercial fishing businesses, and both the practical and recreational use of motorized vehicles in undeveloped areas. The organization brings lawsuits against U.S. government agencies and corporations it believes are breaking or attempting to roll back federal and state environmental laws. “Environmental litigation,” says Earthjustice, “has been key to preserving threatened natural resources and protecting people’s environmental rights.” Claiming that its lawsuits have protected “millions of acres of wilderness,” Earthjustice has provided free legal representation to more than 600 client organizations, including the American Friends Service Committee; Defenders of Wildlife; Earth Island Institute; Environmental Defense Fund; Friends of the Earth; Greenpeace; the National Wildlife Federation; the Natural Resources Defense Council; Public Citizen; the Sierra Club, the Union of Concerned Scientists; the U.S. Public Interest Research Group; Waterkeeper Alliance; and the Wilderness Society.
Earthjustice’s “Responsible Energy” campaign litigates against efforts to extract oil, gas, and coal from U.S. public lands. In November 2004, Earthjustice joined a coalition of environmental activist groups (including the Alaska Wilderness League, Defenders of Wildlife, the National Audubon Society, the National Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, and the Wilderness Society) opposing any future U.S. House and Senate approval of oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). According to Earthjustice, “The administration of George W. Bush has been in a class by itself. It is not only hostile to efforts to protect the environment, but also staffed by a host of people who worked — and in all likelihood will again work — as lobbyists, lawyers, and employees of the very industries they are supposed to regulate.” By contrast, Earthjustice lauded former President Bill Clinton — chiefly for his Roadless Area Conservation Rule, which sought to restrict the construction of roads on public land. The group also praised Clinton for establishing new national monuments, including the Canyon of the Ancients in Colorado and the Grand Canyon-Parashant in Arizona. Earthjustice did not criticize Clinton’s support for the 1995 “Salvage Logging Rider,” a logging initiative that sought to double the amount of logging done on U.S. national forest land by excusing the sale of timber from environmental regulatory laws.
Earthjustice’s “Judging the Environment” campaign seeks to derail conservative judicial appointments by Republican Presidents, on the theory that such appointees are insensitive to environmental protection issues. A chief target of “Judging the Environment” was William Myers, nominated by President Bush in 2004 to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. Earthjustice dubbed Myers “the most anti-environmental nominee in history.” Like Alliance for Justice and People for The American Way, Earthjustice objected to the appointment of Myers on grounds that he had worked as a lobbyist for mining and cattle interests in the Western United States. Myers’ appointment was eventually blocked by the filibuster of Democratic senators.
Among Earthjustice’s additional campaigns are the following: (a) the Roadless Area Conservation Rule (RACR), which seeks “to preserve nearly 60 million acres of wild forests that belong to every one of us”; (b) the Northwest Forest Plan, which Earthjustice says “has protected 24 million acres of public land from relentless clearcut logging practices” since 1994; (c) the Protecting Farmworkers From Toxic Pesticides initiative, which charges that “dangerous pesticides … disproportionately threaten the health of migrant and seasonal farmworkers”; and (d) the Bush Administration Rollbacks Review, which charges that President Bush “is carrying on an unprecedented campaign to destroy the environmental laws, regulations, and policies of this country — and the resources they are supposed to protect.”
Nearly 85 percent of Earthjustice’s income is derived from individual contributions and grant money. The remaining portion comes from investments and court-awarded attorney’s fees. The organization’s chief supporter is Pew Charitable Trusts, which gave Earthjustice more than $15 million between 2000 and 2004. Other major funders of Earthjustice include the Beldon Fund; the Bullitt Foundation; the Columbia Foundation; the Compton Foundation; the David and Lucile Packard Foundation; the Educational Foundation of America; the John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; the Nathan Cummings Foundation; the Scherman Foundation; and the Turner Foundation.