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Arguably one of the top law firms in the country specializing in environmental litigation is not for hire. Founded in 1971 as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund but renamed in 1997, Earthjustice is among that rarest of oxymorons, a nonprofit law firm. Legal talent � relishing the prospect of David v. Goliath litigation while acting as counsel for the planet � has been winning steadily against government agencies and major corporations for decades. “The other side, in almost all cases, is very well funded. Oftentimes there are many parties on the other side,” said Trip Van Noppen, a longtime litigator and president of Earthjustice. “Lawyers come here from law firms, governmental agencies, other environmental law groups, they come from clerkships. They want to do environmental litigation and our cases have big things at stake.” Earthjustice employs 55 attorneys at nine offices nationwide. The firm traces its beginning to the Sierra Club’s decision in 1969 to seek an injunction barring federal officials from approving Walt Disney Productions’ plan for a ski resort in the remote Mineral King Valley of Sequoia National Forest in California. The club argued for judicial review under the Administrative Procedure Act. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the club lacked standing, but by then Disney had abandoned its plans. Sierra Club v. Morton, 405 U.S. 727 (1972). “When I ran the legal department at [the U.S. Department of] Interior, they sued us a lot,” said John Leshy, solicitor for Interior during the Clinton administration and now a professor at University of California Hastings College of the Law. “I’ve dealt with Earthjustice for 30 years. I have great respect for them . . . .They do not bring frivolous lawsuits. They will probably hate this, but they are establishment-caliber lawyers.” Paul Turcke of Moore Smith Buxton & Turcke in Boise, Idaho, who frequently represents people who use public lands recreationally � such as snowmobile clubs, guides and outfitters � described Earthjustice as “worthy and respectable adversaries. “Ideologically, they are pretty far away from the people I work for, but we have to respect each other because neither of us is going away,” he said. While several national environmental groups have in-house legal departments and bring suits in their own name, Earthjustice is a true law firm, Van Noppen said. “We are like a law firm in that we represent clients, we don’t represent ourselves, but we are unlike a law firm in the sense we are not generally for hire,” he said. “We choose our cases based on what we think is most important and will get us the biggest result without regard for whether the case will generate a lawyer’s fee of any kind.” Just as the Sierra Club had to utilize a seemingly inapplicable statute to stop the Mineral King development, Earthjustice has focused on using existing laws to confront global climate change. Earthjustice represented national environmental groups in the landmark Massachusetts v. Environmental Protection Agency, 549 U.S. 1438 (2007), in which the high court held that the EPA has the authority to regulate carbon dioxide, the chief greenhouse gas, as a pollutant. With much less fanfare but equal success, Earthjustice is taking aim at the 150 coal power plants on the drawing boards around the United States. A key victory came last July when the Florida Public Service Commission denied permission to construct two coal plants. Earthjustice is suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to require an environmental impact analysis of a multibillion-dollar loan program by the little-known Rural Utilities Service for construction of coal power plants. Montana Environmental Information Center v. Johanns, No. 1:2007cv01311 (D.D.C.). “Until maybe two years ago, people couldn’t see how to use litigation to address climate change,” Van Noppen said. “They thought until there is a global warming law there was nothing to litigate, but when we looked at it we saw we could use existing law to go after those 150 proposed coal plants. It’s pushing the law forward by going to court to make sure the government enforces the law.” Despite salaries that are a small fraction of what private firms pay, and only a somewhat larger fraction of what government attorneys earn, Earthjustice has no problem attracting top talent from the associate to the senior attorney level, Van Noppen said. “I went to law school to practice environmental law,” said Lisa Evans, who joined the firm nearly two years ago with more than 20 years of experience in solid and hazardous waste law. “I was thrilled to join Earthjustice. The enthusiasm in this organization is infectious.”

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