In an increasingly litigious world, no environmental cause can get far without legal representation. The Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund was created in 1971 to serve just that purpose; their first case was a successful defense of the Mineral King Valley (now a part of Sequoia National Park) against a proposed Disney resort.
In 1997 the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund became Earthjustice; despite the name change, Earthjustice still performs the same basic, vital function. Nowadays about 180 employees work out of nine regional offices around the country, providing free legal representation to more than 1,000 conservation clients — from community coalitions like the Alaska Center for the Environment to national groups like The Wilderness Society.
Although Earthjustice focuses on much-needed legal representation for environmental causes, it also fields a policy and legislative team to advocate for responsible environmental laws and protect existing environmental legislature. Their international program addresses worldwide environmental issues and human rights, and they also provide public education about said environmental issues.
Although Earthjustice does support and represent even the smallest of community groups, they also go after the big issues that affect us all. For example, their “Right to Breathe” campaign for clean air sent everyday representatives from all 50 states — including citizens, doctors, and tribal leaders — to Washington DC to speak out against air pollution.
You’ll also find numerous blog entries and articles on the Earthjustice website — free education about threats against clean air and about notable victories, including recent new standards from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up toxic emissions from power plants. And if you want to get personally involved, Earthjustice walks you through the process of writing to your government representatives.
A friend once told me that attorneys are like nuclear weapons: If the other guy has one, you’d better get one too. But it’s not like the earth can just go out and hire an attorney, so we’re grateful that Earthjustice so often steps up to fill that need. They have all the inroads and tactics to defend environmental causes that seem beyond the reach of ordinary citizens, such as ongoing negotiations and legislature for the new Forest Planning Rule from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.