Tags Archives: Courts

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First-in-the-Nation Lawsuit Seeks Recognition of Rights for the Colorado River

“Contemporary public concern for protecting nature’s ecological equilibrium should lead to the conferral of standing upon environmental objects to sue for their own preservation.” Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, Sierra Club v. Morton (1972)

The 2015 Gold King Mine waste water spill in the Animas River, in southwest Colorado.  The Animas is a tributary to the Colorado River.

Denver, Colorado–In a first-in-the-nation lawsuit filed in federal court, the Colorado River is asking for judicial recognition of itself as a “person,” with rights of its own to exist and flourish. The lawsuit, filed against the Governor of Colorado, seeks a recognition that the State of Colorado can be held liable for violating those rights held by the River.

The Plaintiff in the lawsuit is the Colorado River itself, with the organization Deep Green Resistance – a national organization committed to protecting the planet through direction action – filing as a “next friend” on behalf of the River. The River and the organization are represented in the lawsuit by Jason Flores Williams, a noted civil rights lawyer and lead attorney in a recent class-action case filed on behalf of Denver’s homeless population.

While this is the first action brought in the United States which seeks such recognition for an ecosystem, such actions and laws are becoming more common in other countries. In 2008, the country of Ecuador adopted the world’s first national constitution which recognized rights for ecosystems and nature; over three dozen U.S. municipalities, including the City of Pittsburgh, have adopted similar laws; and courts in India and Colombia have recently recognized that rivers, glaciers, and other ecosystems may be treated as “persons” under those legal systems.

Serving as an advisor to the lawsuit is the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), a nonprofit public interest law firm which has previously assisted U.S. municipalities and the Ecuadorian government to codify legally enforceable rights for ecosystems and nature into law.

Attorney Flores-Williams explained that “current environmental law is simply incapable of stopping the widescale environmental destruction that we’re experiencing. We’re bringing this lawsuit to even the odds – corporations today claim rights and powers that routinely overwhelm the efforts of people to protect the environment. Our judicial system recognizes corporations as “persons,” so why shouldn’t it recognize the natural systems upon which we all depend as having rights as well? I believe that future generations will look back at this lawsuit as the first wave of a series of efforts to free nature and our communities from a system of law which currently guarantees their destruction.”

Deanna Meyer, a member of Deep Green Resistance and one of the “next friends” in the lawsuit, affirmed Flores-Williams’ sentiments, declaring that “without the recognition that the Colorado River possesses certain rights of its own, it will always be subject to widescale exploitation without any real consequences. I’m proud to stand with the other “next friends” in this lawsuit to enforce and defend the rights of the Colorado, and we’re calling on groups across the country to do the same to protect the last remaining wild places in this country and beyond.”

The lawsuit seeks recognition by the Court that the Colorado River Ecosystem possesses the rights to exist, flourish, regenerate, and restoration, and to recognize that the State of Colorado may be held liable for violating those rights in a future action. The complaint will be filed in the US District Court of Colorado on Tuesday.

 

Media inquiries:

Law Office of Jason Flores-Williams

303-514-4524

 

Thomas Linzey, Executive Director, CELDF

717-977-6823

White Mesa Uranium Mill Problems Provoke Legal Notice [Press Release]

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition:

For Immediate Release, January 29, 2014

Contact:  Anne Mariah Tapp, Grand Canyon Trust (512) 565-9906

Uranium Mill Problems Provoke Legal Notice

SALT LAKE CITY, UT— Ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act at the nation’s only operating uranium mill have prompted Grand Canyon Trust to file a 60-day notice of intent to sue Energy Fuels Resources, the owner of the White Mesa Mill, located near White Mesa and Blanding, Utah.

White Mesa Mill | Photo: Taylor McKinnon, Grand Canyon Trust

In the notice Grand Canyon Trust cites data showing that in 2012 and 2013 the annual average radon-222 emissions at the mill exceeded hazardous air pollutant standards. Exposure to radon-222 is linked to cancer, genetic defects, and increases in mortality. It further alleges that, during that same time period, mill owners operated six tailings impoundments when only two are allowed, and that two of those are larger than the maximum…

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Opposition mounts as first tar sands mine in US gets a green light, by Melanie Jae Martin

Activists in Utah crafted this sign with bitumen found in pools on the ground at an abandoned tar sands mine. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

Thanks for Waging Nonviolence (http://wagingnonviolence.org/2012/09/opposition-mounts-as-first-tar-sands-mine-in-us-gets-a-green-light/) for this article.

Last week, a new front opened in the struggle against tar sands mining in the U.S. If you didn’t know that tar sands mining is in the works on this side of the border in the first place, you’re not alone. Most people don’t realize that tar sands extraction, which has caused tremendous pollution and environmental degradation in Canada, has crossed the border to U.S. soil, where it has taken root in Utah.

Activists on both sides of the border have been working fervently to halt the spread of tar sands in Canada and the piping of tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. Beginning with Tar Sands Action’s mass arrests outside the White House in August 2011, followed by the Indigenous Environmental Network’s protests at the climate talks in Durban that December, activists have made Canadian tar sands mining and the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico a high-profile issue this past year.

Now, direct action campaigns like the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas are continuing the effort to stop construction of the southern leg of the pipeline by disrupting business as usual for the oil industry. The threat of tar sands mining in the U.S., however, complicates the struggle. It forces geographically divergent groups to either divide their efforts or find ways to unite across vast distances. That’s why groups like Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Before It Starts are forming a strategy that can join, as well as compliment, the tornado of opposition that has formed against the tar sands industry.

Before It Starts — co-founded by Ashley Anderson, who began Peaceful Uprising with Tim DeChrisopher in 2009 — is focusing primarily on national outreach, while Utah Tar Sands Resistance is focusing on forging local and regional coalitions. In both groups, activists who have experience in nonviolent direct action are prepared to ramp up efforts when the time is right. Thus far, however, the struggle has mainly been waged in the courtroom.

This two-acre mine is just the beginning of U.S. Oil Sands’ plans for the region. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

The environmental group Living Rivers initiated a legal challenge in 2010 to halt the progress of what’s set to become the first commercial tar sands mine in the U.S. — a forested area in Eastern Utah called PR Spring, which the state has leased a portion of to the Canadian mining company U.S. Oil Sands. Living Rivers has contested the company’s permit to dump wastewater at the mine, but last week, the judge — an employee of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality — sided with U.S. Oil Sands, granting it the right to pour toxic wastewater into the remote wilderness of eastern Utah.

The case hinged on whether or not PR Spring contains groundwater. In the hearing back in May, U.S. Oil Sands argued that the land holds no groundwater, which means that polluting the land wouldn’t contaminate water systems. But according to engineering geologist Elliott Lips, who spoke as a witness for Living Rivers, the land holds numerous seeps and springs, which the toxic tailings would pollute before either continuing to flow into rivers or percolating downward into the Mesa Verde aquifer. Ultimately, the judge was satisfied knowing that the company had conducted its own tests and would have reported water if it had found any.

Raphael Cordray, co-founder of the Utah Tar Sands Resistance, explains that tar sands mining would be incredibly destructive in a number of ways, such as polluting water, lowering river levels and destroying diverse ecosystems. “There’s so much wild land in our state, and that’s something I’m proud of,” she said. “That’s our legacy. And it’s a treasure for the whole world. Some of these places they’re trying to mine are so unique that if more people realized they existed, they’d certainly be considered national parks.”

To catalyze mass resistance, the group plans to lead trips to the site. “Helping people experience the majesty of this land firsthand will show people how much is at stake, and move them to take a stronger stand,” said Utah Tar Sands Resistance co-founder Lionel Trepanier.

Together with activists from Peaceful Uprising and Living Rivers, Utah Tar Sands Resistance visited the PR Spring site two weeks ago, and members returned home ready to ramp up efforts to halt the mining. As a member of both groups, I went along on the trip, because I wanted to see firsthand what the land looked like and whether the mining company’s claims about the absence of groundwater were accurate.

As it turns out, they couldn’t be more false. Water has etched its presence into this land, leaving creek beds that may run low at times but never go away. And clearly, the area holds plenty of water to support the large herds of deer and elk, as well as the aspen, Douglas firs and pinyon pines that make up the dense forest covering much of the land.

The surrounding forest is threatened by U.S. Oil Sands expansion. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

This vibrant green scenery was juxtaposed by the two-acre strip mine just feet away from the forest’s edge. The difference between life and death could not have been more stark. Looking into the face of such destruction, I realized it’s no longer about saving the ecosystem, or saving our water — it’s about saving life on Earth. But that kind of effort isn’t possible without a broad movement behind it.

According to Lionel Trepanier, the groups working on this issue are looking to Texas’ Tar Sands Blockade as a model for building a broad coalition that includes “diverse groups of people like ranchers, hunters, the Indigenous community and climate justice activists.”

“I think we so often assume that someone won’t agree with us just because they seem different from us, when they could be our biggest ally,” said Cordray. “We’re committed to breaking down those barriers formed by fear of reaching out, and approaching people as human beings who need clean water and a healthy environment just as much as we do.”

While still in the first leg of its campaign to stop tar sands and oil shale mining, the group is reaching out with its teach-in and slideshow presentation to a wide range of outdoors retailers, religious communities and groups concerned about environmental quality in the city. When they handed out flyers and spoke with attendees at a recent Nature Conservancy film screening, they were surprised at how many people in the seemingly politically moderate, middle-class crowd were outraged at the prospect of tar sands mining coming to Utah.

An elk herd grazes along the ridgeline near the U.S. Oil Sands mine. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

“People are genuinely shocked this is happening,” said Trepanier. “They just want some direction, some guidance.”

After the Utah Tar Sands Resistance secures a vehicle to use for the trips, they’ll invite people at the teach-ins to attend, and will bring as many as possible to the site. They feel that being in nature together will break down barriers, helping them to see each other not as the labels society assigns them, but as human beings who are mutually dependent on the ecosystem, and on each other.

To raise awareness and empower people to join a coalition that ultimately aims to halt the destruction of tar sands and equally-destructive oil shale mining, Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Peaceful Uprising have been working together on creative methods of outreach. In April, they staged a flash mob dubbed Citizens’ Public Hearing in the office of the state agency leasing out public land for tar sands mining. Dozens of people flooded the office, where a woman playing an elementary school student announced that she had called a public hearing to expose the agency’s misguided decision to let state lands be destroyed. They also performed a similar street play, called Bringing Science Lessons to the Governor, outside the governor’s mansion when he held a luncheon to talk energy policy with four other Western governors.

Members are now building a “tar sands monster,” a Frankenstein-inspired creature who never wanted to be pulled from the earth to pollute the waters, which they believe will make an attention-getting mascot for their efforts. The activists also plan to use online videos of their theatrical endeavors as an outreach tool to get activists across the country thinking about joining them in their struggle when the time is right.

Uniting a diverse range of people such as activists, farmers, landowners and outdoor enthusiasts, many of whom may have not previously thought of themselves as activists, will be important, as this is only the beginning of proposed tar sands operations in the U.S. The state agency (School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA) that leased the PR Spring site to U.S. Oil Sands holds pockets of land scattered around the state, which it may lease for tar sands and oil shale mining.

The Bureau of Land Management is also considering leasing nearly 2.5 million acres of public land throughout Utah, Wyoming and Colorado for tar sands and oil shale mining. Much of this would overlap with indigenous land or is in close proximity to national parks and other protected areas.

In the meantime, Living Rivers will likely appeal the decision to let U.S. Oil Sands dump wastewater into the land. Its success, however, will be determined by the extent to which groups like Utah Tar Sands Resistance can educate and empower the general public. Such a base of support, like the one that has formed in Texas, will not only pose a challenge to fossil fuel interests, but also help to usher in a new era of environmental justice.

From DGR News: Judge throws out Quechan injunction against wind farm project threatening ancestral sites

 

Image by Pattern Energy, with inserts by Jim Pelley

By Ahni / Intercontinental Cry

A Federal judge has thrown out the Quechan Nation’s request for an injunction against the controversial Ocotillo Express Wind Project in western Imperial County, California.

The Quechan filed for the injunction on May 14, just three days after the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, gave “fast-track” approval for the project. The Quechan complaint stated that the Department of Interior, in approving the project, “violated… federal laws, regulations, and policies including the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA); National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA); National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); Administrative Procedures Act (APA); and the CDCA [The California Desert Conservation Area] Plan.”

The complaint went on to explain that the massive 10,150-acre project area contains 287 archaeological sites including geoglyphs, petroglyphs, sleeping circles and other sites of spiritual significance; thousands of artifacts, and at least 12 burial (an exhaustive survey has not been carried out).

Construction of the 112-turbine project would utterly devastate these sites.

Furthermore, the project jeopardizes the delicate desert ecosystem which is “home to the Federally endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep and the flat-tailed horned lizard, a perennial candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act,” says Chris Clarke, Director of Desert Biodiversity. “The turbines on the site would stand 450 feet tall with blades more than 180 feet long. With blades of that length, if the turbines spin at a leisurely 10 rpm the speed of the blade tips will approach 140 miles per hour, a serious threat to the region’s migratory birds — including the protected golden eagle,” he continues.

A day after filing for an injunction, on May 15, Quechan Tribal Council President Kenny Escalanti issued this statement outside the offices of Pattern Energy, the company behind the project.

He also spoke at a press conference alongside environmentalists and area residents in which he calls on President Obama to meet with tribal leaders and halt the destruction of sacred sites.

Robert Scheid, Viejas Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, spoke at the same press conference, calling on people across America to seek a national moratorium on industrial-scale energy projects on public lands. “Viejas leaders have asked to meet with President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar”, reports East County Magazine “to share concerns over violations of laws that are supposed to protect tribal cultural resources; but have received no response”.

With the denial of the Quechan petition, Pattern Energy can now proceed with their construction plans without restraint. And they aren’t wasting any time. A new website documenting the daily destruction of the Ocotillo desert has just been launched: www.SaveOcotillo.picturepush.com.

If the construction is completed, the wind turbines will spin for no more than 30 years.

From Intercontinental Cry: http://intercontinentalcry.org/judge-denies-quechan-injunction-controversial-wind-project/

Suit Filed Against Expansion of Navajo Coal Mine Polluting Four Corners Region

Reblogged from Earth First! Newswire:

by the Center for Biological Diversity

Click to visit the original post

Navajo Mine, by Kelly Michals

After decades of coal pollution from the 2040-megawatt Four Corners Power Plant and BHP Billiton’s 13,000-acre Navajo Coal Mine that supplies it, Navajo and conservation groups filed suit against the federal government late Tuesday for improperly rubber-stamping a proposal to expand strip-mining without full consideration of the damage and risks to health and the environment.

“The Navajo mine has torn up the land, polluted the air, and contaminated waters that families depend on,” said Anna Frazier of Diné CARE. “Residents in the area deserve a full and thorough impact analysis that is translated into the Navajo language to provide for real public participation, not another whitewash for the coal industry.”

Navajo Mine is located in San Juan County, N.M., on the Navajo Nation. Four Corners Power Plant, built in 1962, provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and is the largest coal-fired power plant source of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the United States. (NOx is associated with public-health impacts including respiratory disease, heart attacks and strokes). The legal action, brought under the National Environmental Policy Act, challenges the Office of Surface Mining’s decision to allow BHP Billiton to expand strip-mining operations into 714 acres of a portion of land designated “Area IV North” and the agency’s claim that the mine did not cause significant human health and environmental impacts.

The present Area IV mine expansion was proposed in the wake of Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment v. Klein (Diné CARE), 747 F. Supp. 2d 1234, 1263-64 (D. Colo. 2010). In that case, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled that a previous proposal to strip-mine all 3,800 acres of Area IV North violated the National Environmental Policy Act and ordered OSM to revisit its analysis under the Act.

Unfortunately, OSM’s new analysis only exacerbates the deficiencies of its first analysis. OSM’s analysis justified a finding of no significant impact in a vacuum by focusing only on a cursory analysis of impacts within the mine expansion’s perimeter and ignoring indirect and cumulative impacts from mercury, selenium, ozone, and other air and water pollutants caused by the combustion of coal at the Four Corners Power Plant and the plant’s disposal of coal ash waste generated by the coal mined from the expansion area.

“The way the approval was rushed through and the way OSM put on blinders to the cumulative reality of coal operations at the mine and the power plant is an injustice,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator with the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “It hides the true magnitude of the damage going on with coal in our region and the risks of green-lighting more of the same with no change.”

“Mercury and selenium pollution from coal mining and combustion is driving endangered fish extinct in the San Juan River while it threatens people’s health in nearby communities,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These are massive environmental problems facing the Four Corners region and people — problems the Office of Surface Mining can’t ignore any longer. ”

“Pollution and other impacts from coal mining and coal power plants broadly impact New Mexico’s rivers and streams, in particular the Chaco and San Juan rivers,” said Rachel Conn, projects director at Amigos Bravos. “These rivers must be better protected for agriculture, drinking water and fish.”

“Ultimately, we need to transition away from coal and towards clean, renewable energy from New Mexico’s abundant sun and wind,” said Nellis Kennedy-Howard with the Sierra Club. “As we make that transition, we need to account for the true magnitude of coal’s impact to human health and the environment.”

“When the federal government gets out the rubber stamp in a situation like this, where so much is at stake for clean air, vital waterways, and the people who depend on them, that leaves no alternative but legal action to try to ensure fairness and accountability,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who is representing the groups.

The lawsuit seeks a comprehensive analysis of the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant’s impacts to health and the environment to inform current and future coal-related decisions and help illuminate opportunities to transition away from coal toward clean, renewable energy generated by New Mexico’s abundant sun and wind.

Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (CARE), San Juan Citizens Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Amigos Bravos and the Sierra Club are represented in the case by the Western Environmental Law Center.

A copy of the filed lawsuit can be found here.