by Sarah Wootton
On a single day, 1.4 million eared grebes fished, swam and squawked in the area. Endangered peregrine falcons -- 11 pairs -- are regulars. The only bald eagle nesting site in northern Utah is less than a mile away. What is this haven of waterfowl? It's the eastern shore of the Great Salt Lake, home to the largest inland shorebird breeding grounds in the world and the site of a proposed 125-mile-long freeway.
Because the planned Legacy Highway would cut right through the wetlands and destroy farmlands, among other shortcomings, the proposed construction is keeping two Law Program attorneys -- Pat Gallagher and Joanne Spaulding -- very busy.
Earlier this year, the highway was approved by the Federal Highway Administration and Army Corps of Engineers.
The Club appealed the approvals.
"It would be hard to imagine a worse location for a new freeway," says Gallagher, acting director of the Law Program.
The trial court agreed that there were serious shortcomings in the agency approvals, but didn't reverse the decisions. Then came a complicated round of post-trial motions and an appeal to the 10th Circuit Court, which sided with the Club in an emergency decision halting construction of the project until March 2002, when Gallagher will present the Club's complete case. In the meantime, the bulldozers have been stopped and, for now, the wetlands and farmlands are safe.
The Law Program, which has six lawyers and two assistants, concentrates on cases that support the Club's priority campaigns. Among other important developments in 2001:
Two Club suits in Houston could help clean up smog and stem sprawl in the city. Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency approved Houston's "emissions budget," but the Club sued, claiming the budget permitted more vehicle pollution than allowed by the state plan. Because of the suit, Houston risked losing its transportation federal funding, and the EPA withdrew its approval of the budget. Recently, the EPA approved another, revised emissions budget for Houston, one that Club activists and lawyers claim still falls far short of cleaning up Houston's air. Club lawyers were gearing up for another suit as this story goes to press.
In California, the Club forced Borba Dairy to redesign its expansion plans after reversing the initial permit granted to the facility. Among other improvements, the facility will install strict groundwater protections and air pollution controls. (See Judge Nixes Approval of Mega-Dairy, Planet July/August 2001)
The Law Program has been assisting the End Commercial Logging Campaign in coordinating challenges to large-scale logging projects across the West. In Northern California, that work recently helped stop two large timber sales and sent the Forest Service back to the drawing board. Its work in 2002 will focus on further challenges to large-scale logging on public lands, as well as protecting roadless areas from clearcutting.
Sometimes a seemingly small step can make a world of difference. In Oklahoma, the Club filed suit against Seaboard Corporation, a CAFO near the Texas Panhandle. While a final decision hasn't been reached, a federal judge agreed that the Club has "standing" to file the suit and that the Clean Water Act protects groundwater in Oklahoma.
And in Michigan, the Club's law work is likely to result in better oversight of animal factories. Under Republican Gov. Engler, Michigan doesn't require animal factories to obtain Clean Water Act permits even when they routinely dump manure into Michigan waterways. In response to a Sierra Club petition, the EPA is threatening to take away the state's permitting authority. In addition, the Club's attorneys have filed two lawsuits against polluting animal factories in Michigan and brought pressure against the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.
With so many ongoing cases on the Law Program's docket, it's not surprising that it anticipates expanding in 2002. Will the lawyers take time to celebrate a successful year?
"We certainly appreciate our successes, but the nature of the Law Program is that we don't have much free time to stop and celebrate," says Gallagher. "It's pretty much noses to the grindstone all the time."
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