LEX Reception is proud to support Earthjustice in its use of the law to defend people and the planet.

The law is a powerful tool for change. Since 1971, Earthjustice has worked in the courts to protect wildlife and ecosystems, secure safeguards for our public lands, and hold polluters accountable. Today, more than 200 full-time Earthjustice attorneys are engaged in 620 active legal cases to enforce and defend environmental protections, representing every one of our clients free of charge. With unparalleled legal and policy expertise, Earthjustice faces off against big interests with deep pockets — and wins.

Defending our planet’s biodiversity has never been more important

Species across the globe are in crisis, with roughly a million being threatened with extinction in the coming decades. Even species that are not yet on the brink will face huge population declines. 

The extinction crisis means fewer pollinators for agriculture, depleted fisheries, and disappearing places like old-growth forests and wetlands that provide a long-term, low-cost source of clean air and water. This crisis threatens not only the plants and animals that we know and love but all of us. Our fate is inextricably linked with the ecosystems that the world’s species depend on.

Similarly, the climate and biodiversity crises are linked and must be tackled together. Climate change, however, is not the only threat to biodiversity. In fact, habitat destruction is the largest driver of biodiversity loss. The rapid extinction crisis that we are facing calls for a comprehensive strategy that can be deployed alongside efforts to tackle climate change.

That’s why Earthjustice’s Biodiversity Defense Program fights to reshape our relationship to lands, water, and wildlife everywhere by confronting the major drivers of the decline in nature, including habitat destruction and over-exploitation of wildlife.

To preserve species, we need broad coalitions of support, deep expertise, and a holistic understanding of how different environmental challenges are connected – and this is exactly how Earthjustice is making change.

Because this work is immense and intersectional, a key piece of this program’s strategy is partnering with Earthjustice’s 15 regional offices and programs to add litigation and policy knowledge to their work and to build new partnerships.  Leveraging this cross-cutting expertise, Earthjustice is working toward:  

  1. Significant progress on the ground toward preserving, protecting, and restoring species and intact ecosystems, including action on key drivers of biodiversity loss.
  2. The linking up of balanced ecosystems into a network of ecologically rich, resilient refuges that give wildlife the freedom to roam in a warming world.
  3. More protective management of ecosystems, particularly on federal lands, which will result in resiliency to withstand climate change.
  4. Through litigation and advocacy, sharply reducing fossil fuel leasing and development within federal lands and waters.

Toxics and pesticides

Dangers like toxic chemicals or water pollution threaten species’ biodiversity. The cases highlighted below help demonstrate just some of the connections between the expansive areas of work Earthjustice takes on.

Salmon and 6PPD-Q

Salmon and steelhead are keystone species that support entire ecosystems, and their loss has cascading effects on ocean biodiversity as well as the national economy.

Unfortunately, a mysterious phenomenon called “urban runoff mortality syndrome” has been decimating salmon returning to freshwater streams to spawn in the Pacific Northwest. The syndrome can kill up to 100% of salmon in an affected area before they are able to spawn and lay their eggs.

Now, researchers have finally solved the mystery. The culprit is our tires. Or, more correctly, a chemical called 6PPD used in tires since the 1950s to prevent degradation.

For decades, 6PPD has been used in tires as an antioxidant and antiozonant to prevent tire degradation. During normal use, tires made with 6PPD release a breakdown product known as 6PPD-Q, which washes into waterways during storms.

6PPD-Q is the second most toxic chemical to aquatic species ever evaluated. Exposure to 6PPD-Q can kill a coho salmon within hours, and the chemical is responsible for “urban runoff mortality syndrome,” which kills up to 100% of coho salmon returning to spawn in affected urban streams. And 6PPD-Q can have toxic effects on salmon beyond urban areas where streams are located near roads. It is likely that 6PPD-Q is harming aquatic species worldwide.

Only one other chemical is more toxic to aquatic life — the chemical warfare agent parathion — and it’s been widely banned due to its toxicity.

Earthjustice submitted a petition on behalf of the Yurok, Port Gamble S’Klallam, and Puyallup Tribes, urging the EPA to establish new regulations on 6PPD under the Toxic Substances Control Act. TSCA requires the EPA to ban or regulate chemicals in commerce that pose unreasonable risks to human health or the environment. In November 2023, the EPA granted the petition, agreeing with the petitioners that “it is necessary to initiate” risk management rulemaking under the Toxic Substances Control Act “to address the risk to the environment from 6PPD-quinone, a degradant of 6PPD.”

Representing The Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR) and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA), Earthjustice then filed suit against U.S. tire manufacturers over the use of the chemical 6PPD in rubber tires because of its devastating impacts on Endangered Species Act (ESA) protected coho salmon and steelhead trout.

Learn more: Case documents and updates

Bees and Sulfoxaflor

The relationship between humans and honeybees is one of the most striking examples of our reliance on nature. About a third of the food we eat comes from crops pollinated by honey bees, and according to government data, pollinators’ ecological service in the country is valued at $200 billion a year. But honeybees are experiencing a die-off so massive that researchers coined a term to describe it: “colony collapse disorder.”

From April 2022 to April 2023, beekeepers in the U.S. lost an estimated 48.2% of their managed honeybee colonies. This is the second-highest annual loss on record.

Colony collapse disorder has been attributed to a number of causes including mite infestation and pathogens, but the rampant agricultural use of insecticides is also a contributor.  Specifically, a class of pesticides known as neonicotinoids, which came onto the market in the late 1990s.  Among neonicotinoids, sulfoxaflor is one of the most widely used.

Touted as a “next generation neonicotinoid,” sulfoxaflor is like other bee-killing neonicotinoid insecticides: it is systemic.  This means it is absorbed by growing plants and persists in the plants’ tissues – including flowers, nectar, and pollen – making them toxic to insects for days thereafter.

A growing body of studies shows that even in low doses, neonicotinoids like sulfoxaflor impair bees’ ability to navigate. The foraging worker bees that come into contact with the pesticide may get disoriented, flying around until they eventually run out of energy, lost in the field. With a loss of worker bees bringing food back to the hive, the entire colony suffers.  If a bee is able to return to the hive, it brings back tainted pollen and nectar, which poisons the entire colony.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) first approved sulfoxaflor in 2013, but thanks to a lawsuit brought by Pollinator Stewardship Council, the American Beekeeper Federation, all represented by Earthjustice, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision. The Court ruled EPA failed to obtain reliable studies on the impacts of sulfoxaflor on honeybee colonies.

In 2016, the EPA re-approved sulfoxaflor subject to significant restrictions to reduce the risk to honeybees and other pollinators. On July 12, 2019, without any public notice, the Trump administration removed these restrictions on sulfoxaflor and approved a host of new uses for the bee-killing insecticide.

Representing beekeepers once again, Earthjustice sued, and in December 2022, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ordered the EPA to reconsider its decision to expand the use of sulfoxaflor.  The Court concluded EPA violated federal law by approving additional uses for sulfoxaflor without any public notice and by failing to evaluate impacts on imperiled species. The court ordered the EPA to invite public comment and prepare a new decision on sulfoxaflor.  This was a critical win, but as the EPA undergoes its review, the use of sulfoxaflor continues nationwide, and thus the fight against it.

While working on the federal front, Earthjustice and its clients also took the cause to California, a state where nearly every commercial honeybee colony in the country spends at least part of the year – meaning regulations there have significant consequences for bees nationwide.  In December 2021, a California Superior Court ruled that sulfoxaflor could no longer be used in the state because its approval went against state environmental law.  This victory was affirmed in March 2024, when the California Court of Appeal dismissed appeals of the 2021 decision.

Water pollution

Manatees and algal outbreaks

Florida’s Indian River Lagoon is one of the most biodiverse estuaries in North America. It is home to countless species, including half of the fish caught annually in east Florida and the iconic manatee. 

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downlisted the manatee from endangered to threatened in 2017. Since then, the species has suffered significant setbacks from habitat degradation, red tide, cold winters, and now unprecedented mass starvation from the catastrophic seagrass die-off.

Since 2020, over a thousand of Florida’s manatees have died in what has become an officially declared “Unusual Mortality Event.”  Over half of those deaths were attributable to starvation.

Seagrass is the primary food source for manatees in Florida’s Indian River Lagoon, where manatees return each winter to feed. Unfortunately, unchecked pollution — stemming from wastewater treatment discharges, leaking septic systems, fertilizer runoff, and other sources — fuels algal outbreaks that kill seagrass and prevent it from growing back. 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) approved Florida’s water quality criteria for nitrogen and phosphorous, concluding the standards would not “adversely affect” manatees. After the spike in manatee deaths, the agency failed to reinitiate consultation over the inadequate water quality measures at the root of the problem.

These manatee deaths are human-caused, and they are preventable, so Earthjustice sued the EPA in 2022, representing three conservation groups (Save the Manatee Club, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Center for Biological Diversity).  Under the Endangered Species Act, the EPA must consult with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to approve state water-quality measures to ensure they protect threatened and endangered wildlife.

The legal case is ongoing, and Earthjustice remains committed to the manatees and the health of the lagoon ecosystem.

VIDEO: Giving Manatees a Fighting Chance

Endangered species

Gray Wolves, Grizzly Bears, and ESA Delisting

In addition to their cultural significance, gray wolves and grizzly bears both serve crucial roles in their native ecosystems. Earthjustice has been involved in protecting wolves and grizzlies for decades, including the successful reinstatement of wolves as an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2022 and the prevention of a gruesome trophy hunt of grizzlies in 2018 after the Trump administration delisted the Yellowstone population.  The latter victory was affirmed in 2020 when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the Montana District Court’s opinion that reinstated Endangered Species Act protections for the Yellowstone region’s grizzly bear population.

Another recent victory in Idaho demonstrates how protections for one species can be used to help the other. While wolves regained endangered status in 2022, legislative maneuvers have exempted them from protection in the Northern Rockies, including Idaho. Partnering with thirteen conservation groups as clients, Earthjustice filed a 2021 lawsuit to challenge Idaho’s extreme wolf-trapping rules, which would have facilitated the slaughter of up to 90% of Idaho’s gray wolf population. 

Idaho’s challenged trapping and snaring rules, which have become more expansive in the past decade, allowed for year-round trapping and snaring on private land. Grizzly bears have been captured in wolf traps and snares in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, and Canada, and the court found that Idaho’s trapping rules violate the Endangered Species Act because grizzlies are likely to be captured in these deadly traps in the future.

The March 2024 summary judgment ruling in Idaho District Court will prevent the state of Idaho from authorizing this wolf trapping and snaring in grizzly bear habitat during non-denning periods. The decision will stop trapping and snaring in Idaho’s Panhandle, Clearwater, Salmon, and Upper Snake regions between March 1 and November 30 on public and private lands to prevent the unlawful take of Endangered Species Act-protected grizzly bears.

This victory will reduce the killing of wolves, but action is still necessary to defend our iconic predators, and Earthjustice’s relentless advocacy for both wolves and grizzlies continues.

Because Earth needs a good lawyer

Earthjustice has used the power of the law to defend multiple irreplaceable species: Gulf of Mexico Rice’s whales, Florida panthers, red knot shorebirds, and so many more.  For the latest, visit our online library at Earthjustice.org.