Lawsuit Filed Regarding Risk of Earthquake-Induced Radioactive Contamination at Nuclear Weapons Facility in Tennessee

On behalf of several organizations and concerned citizens, we filed suit yesterday in federal district court to challenge the government’s failure to consider significant risks associated with the continued reliance on aging, deteriorating buildings for the production of nuclear weapons at the Y-12 Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Many of the buildings in this Complex, where the government processes highly enriched uranium for use in nuclear weaponry, were built during the Manhattan Project or the Cold War and do not meet modern building codes. As a result, these aging, increasingly decrepit buildings face a significant risk of collapsing, catching fire, and releasing hazardous nuclear contamination in the event of an earthquake—a risk that the United States Geological Survey recently stated is greater than it had previously expected.  The government had decided in 2011 to replace these aging, dangerous buildings with a modern facility, but when costs climbed, the government in 2016 decided to save money by continuing to rely on buildings with known structural deficiencies. Nevertheless, when the government opted to continue using these dilapidated buildings, it failed to examine the risk to the environment and to the public associated with the increased risk of earthquakes and the continued use of buildings that will likely collapse in the event that such an earthquake strikes.  On behalf of the Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance, Nuclear Watch of New Mexico, and several individuals who live near the Complex and would be harmed in the event that an earthquake causes radioactive contamination, our lawsuit seeks to compel the government to take a hard look at this important issue.  A copy of the complaint is here and a copy of a press release regarding the case is here.

Photo Credit: Brian Stansberry

Lawsuit Filed to Stop Army Corps from Permanently Degrading Our Nation’s Most Important Historic Setting

Yesterday, on behalf of the National Parks Conservation Association, we filed suit challenging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ issuance of a permit that allows Dominion Energy to construct and operate a massive commercial overhead transmission line and 17 associated towers—which will reach as tall as 295 feet—to cross the James River in eastern Virginia, marring what is perhaps the most important landscape related to our nation’s founding.  This industrial intrusion will be visible from several national park units—including Historic Jamestowne—as well as dozens of historic properties that are listed on the National Historic Register and/or the Virginia Register of Historic Landmarks.  Despite repeated calls from the public and the National Park Service to deny this permit, or at the very least meaningfully involve the public by preparing an Environmental Impact Statement to analyze both the substantial impacts that will result to nationally important resources, as well as feasible alternatives to the project that could eliminate or at least substantially reduce such impacts, the Corps refused to do so and instead prepared a less detailed Environmental Assessment without even circulating a draft analysis for public review and comment.  Our lawsuit raises various claims under the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Water Act.  The complaint can be viewed here, and our client’s press release can be viewed here.

Wild Horses Victorious in Utah

In a significant victory for wild horses in the West, a district court in Utah yesterday ruled in favor of our clients (the American Wild Horse Campaign, Return to Freedom, the Cloud Foundation, and Lisa Friday) and the Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) in a lawsuit that sought to compel the agency to immediately remove thousands of wild horses from the range. We had intervened in this case to defend the agency’s decision to manage wild horse populations in a more humane manner over a longer period of time. Ultimately, our arguments carried the day, persuading the court that it should not take over the agency’s day-to-day management of this complex issue. This decision, along with other favorable rulings recently obtained by our firm, have cemented a strong precedent that there is no viable cause of action for disgruntled ranching interests to force BLM to remove wild horses from public lands to further skew the allocation of public resources in favor of domestic cattle and sheep grazing. You can read the decision here.

Court Blocks Federal Dam Project That Would Jeopardize The Continued Existence Of The Pallid Sturgeon

Yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana enjoined construction of a $59 million federal dam project that would block upstream and downstream passage of the highly imperiled pallid sturgeon.  Since being listed as an endangered species in 1990, the pallid sturgeon—an iconic freshwater fish species that has inhabited North America for approximately 78 million years—has seen its wild population decimated due to two dams operated by the U.S Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  After neglecting the species for 25 years from the time of its listing as endangered, those agencies decided in 2015 to replace one of the existing dams by constructing an even larger concrete dam across the Lower Yellowstone River accompanied by a bypass channel to purportedly allow some sturgeon to pass upstream and downstream—despite the best available evidence demonstrating that few fish, if any, will actually use the proposed bypass channel.  As a result, the court today found that the agencies’ proposed dam project violates the Endangered Species Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Clean Water Act.  Especially in light of the urgent situation in which only 100 adult sturgeon remain before this species goes extinct, the court found that construction of the new dam would irreparably harm this species by failing to give it a reasonable chance at ultimate survival and recovery.  Our firm represents Defenders of Wildlife and Natural Resources Defense Council in this case.  The court’s ruling can be found here.

Case Filed To Obtain Scientific Data Relied on By Park Service to Kill Deer in Rock Creek Park

Today, we filed a case in the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) recent decision to withhold under FOIA’s Exemption 5 purely factual information concerning the impact (or lack thereof) of native white tailed deer on vegetation in Rock Creek Park. Our clients submitted a FOIA request to the USGS seeking the scientific data collected, and the statistical analyses conducted, in support of a report on the impacts of the native white-tailed deer on vegetation in Rock Creek Park. This research is highly relevant to the National Park Service’s 2013 decision to begin an annual cull of the deer in Rock Creek Park—the first time any wildlife has been killed in this national park since it was created in 1890. In response to our clients’ FOIA request, the USGS withheld a broad array of records—including records that contain purely scientific data—under the exemption for agency materials protected by the deliberative process, even though such information is entirely factual in nature and is therefore not protected from public disclosure under any exemption to FOIA.  A copy of the Complaint can be found here.

Lawsuit Filed to Force Forest Service to Grapple with the Risks and Harms of Artificially Feeding Elk

On behalf of Western Watersheds Project, the Sierra Club, Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, and the Gallatin Wildlife Association, we have filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, DC, challenging a permit issued by the United States Forest Service (USFS) to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission, allowing the state agency to operate Alkali Creek Feedground, located in the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF), until 2028.  Alkali Creek Feedground attracts hundreds of elk from the region’s Jackson elk herd and densely concentrates the animals in artificially high congregations, adversely impacting both the elk herd and the surrounding environment.  In particular, continued feeding at Alkali Creek Feedground risks exposing the herd to an outbreak of lethal chronic wasting disease, the equivalent of “mad cow” disease in deer and elk, which would devastate elk populations and cause widespread, irreversible damage to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.  The USFS’s decision contradicts the widely accepted view in the scientific community that large feedgrounds such as the one challenged in this lawsuit, pose an unacceptable risk to the elk herd, other wildlife, and the surrounding environment.  The lawsuit charges that USFS’s decision to perpetuate the feeding regime on the BTNF despite its acknowledged adverse impacts and risks of ecological catastrophe violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.  A copy of the plaintiffs’ press release concerning the case can be found here, and the Complaint can be found here.

COURT ORDERS FURTHER NEPA REVIEW FOR CONTROVERSIAL PURPLE LINE PROJECT

The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has again agreed with our arguments, on behalf of Friends of the Capital Crescent Trail and local activists, that the controversial Purple Line – an environmentally destructive and massively expensive developer-driven light rail project that would be built in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, Maryland – must be analyzed in a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (“SEIS”) before it may move forward.  Because of the enormous problems and declining ridership plaguing the Metrorail system in the D.C. area – ridership on which the Purple Line is heavily dependent for its justification – the Court has held that the Federal Transit Administration must consider whether other previously rejected alternatives (such as improved bus service) that may be far less environmentally destructive, as well as far less expensive, should now be reconsidered.  If the Purple Line does ultimately move forward, it will destroy many acres of forests, degrade area water ways, harm resident wildlife (including imperiled species) and historic sites, among many other adverse impacts.  A copy of the Court’s ruling that an SEIS must be prepared is here.

D.C. CIRCUIT ORDERS DISCLOSURE OF SMOKING HAZARDS

In our long-running battle with the tobacco industry over its massive, decades-long conspiracy to hide from the public the health hazards and addictiveness of smoking, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit has ordered the tobacco companies to move forward expeditiously with “corrective statements” about the dangers of their products.  In 2006, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, after finding that for decades the companies had violated anti-racketeering laws and deceived the American public about the egregious health risks of cigarettes and the purposeful marketing of them to children, ordered the companies, through television and newspaper ads and others means, to issue “corrective statements” concerning the health effects and addictiveness of smoking and second-hand smoke, the companies’ purposeful manipulation of cigarettes to maximize their addictiveness, and the lack of any health benefits from low-tar or “light” cigarettes.  Since then, the industry has fought tooth and nail to keep the disclosures from becoming a reality.  But now, after the latest ruling by the D.C. Circuit on April 25, it is clear that the Court’s patience is running out.  While ordering what the Court characterized as “minor revisions” in preambles to the statements, the D.C. Circuit said that the “district court can simply issue an order requiring the corrective statement remedy to go forward.”  In the litigation, we represent public-health organizations that were allowed to intervene in the case to ensure that the public’s interests are being protected, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Cancer Society and the American Heart Association.  A copy of the Court’s ruling is here and a press release issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is here.

Ninth Circuit Rejects Efforts by Livestock Owners, Nevada Counties and Nevada Farm Bureau Federation to Remove Wild Horses From Public and Private Lands in Nevada

In a significant victory for our clients, the American Wild Horse Campaign and two individuals who visit and photograph wild horses in Nevada, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit today affirmed the dismissal of an effort by the livestock industry, led by the Nevada Association of Counties and the Nevada Farm Bureau Federation, to compel the Bureau of Land Management to remove wild horses from the range throughout the state of Nevada. The Ninth Circuit found that, as we successfully argued to the district court, the lawsuit impermissibly sought to have the court take over “virtually the entire federal wild horse and burro management program in Nevada” at the behest of a single industry.  Members of the livestock industry have brought similar challenges in other states, and today’s victory will help to prevent an industry takeover of wild horse management and ensure that these federally protected animals remain wild, free-roaming and protected on public lands.  A copy of the decision can be found here.

COURT REVERSES REFUSAL TO LIST PYGMY-OWL, REJECTS HARMFUL ESA POLICY

In a case we brought on behalf of the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife, the federal district court in Arizona has issued an important ruling rejecting the Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) refusal to list the cactus ferruginous pygmy-owl, one of the world’s smallest owls, as an endangered or threatened species, based on the agency’s unlawfully narrow interpretation of its listing duties under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).  The ESA requires that species be listed if they are endangered or threatened throughout “all or a significant portion” of their range.  Although the pygmy-owl is gravely imperiled in much of its range in Arizona and northern Mexico, FWS refused to list the species based on a policy that, in effect, equates a “significant portion” with the entirety of the species’ range.  If this approach had been applied in the past, many of the most iconic species that have received critical protection under the ESA – such as the grizzly bear, bald eagle, and wolf – would never have been protected in the U.S. portions of their range.  The Arizona district court has emphatically rejected that self-defeating approach to the Act on the grounds that it violates the plain language of the ESA and undermines the important conservation purposes of the law to protect and bring about the recovery of species such as pygmy-owl.  A copy of the Court’s ruling can be found here and a copy of the Center for Biological Diversity’s press release can be found here.