Litigation is used to not only protect and enforce the current environmental laws but to bring about environmentally friendly change within our legal system. CBF attorneys argue cases in the federal and state courts within the watershed and file amicus curiae—also called Friend of the Court—briefs in related environmental lawsuits.
Carefully executed litigation serves three primary purposes:
- It spurs enforcement efforts against those who violate laws that were created to protect the watershed.
- It helps define and drive the agenda for public debate over restoration and protection of the Bay.
- It delivers concrete and enforceable progress in resource restoration.
Litigation attorneys and staff also work directly with CBF's Environmental Protection and Restoration Department to file comment letters on federal regulations. CBF thoughtfully chooses litigation cases that result in concrete, enforceable progress toward clean water restoration—including cases against those who violate laws that protect the watershed and communities, as well as cases that solidify and expand legal protections for the Bay. We also focus on regulations that have an impact on human health impacts and on under-resourced communities and communities of color that are disproportionately harmed by pollution and other environmental threats.
Environmental Justice and Litigation
CBF’s Litigation Department works closely with communities throughout the watershed to identify opportunities to address and prevent environmental injustices. Combatting environmental injustice begins with ensuring that communities have equal access to the decision-making process and pushing regulators and polluters alike to take meaningful steps to evaluate potential impacts from proposed and existing projects in vulnerable communities.
Environmental justice recognizes that low-income communities, communities of color, and other vulnerable and marginalized populations bear a disproportionate amount of harmful environmental burdens. Often, infrastructure in these communities receives less scrutiny in the permitting process, leading to the development and operation of facilities that are detrimental to public health and the environment. Through litigation designed to assure equitable enforcement of federal and state environmental laws, CBF hopes to save the Bay—for everyone.
CBF’s environmental justice work has been recognized in the following legal publications:
In May 2022, an article by CBF Vice President of Litigation Jon Mueller and Environmental Justice Staff Attorney Taylor Lilley was published in the Public Interest Law Review. "Forty Years of Environmental Justice: Where is the Justice?" examines the history of environmental justice (or EJ) primarily through the lens of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the White House, and evaluates the progress made in terms of regulations and permitting. It also examines recent administrative and judicial decisions addressing EJ claims and, in conclusion, provides recommendations for ways in which EJ issues can be better presented and addressed.
- Wortzel, Andrea and De Las Casas, Viktoriia (Summer 2021) State Laws Provide New Pathways for Environmental Justice Claims, Natural Resources & Environment, Volume 36, Number 1, American Bar Association
- Farah, Niina (October 4, 2021) Landmark EJ Ruling Sparks Legislative Reckoning in Virginia, E&E News Energywire
Air Pollution and the Chesapeake
CBF's Litigation Department has been actively monitoring and challenging EPA's attempt to roll back many of the air regulations designed to reduce the amount of nitrogen pollution deposited into the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. These regulatory rollbacks threaten not only Bay restoration, but also human health.
You can't always see it. Yet it can travel hundreds of miles before it falls to earth, maybe in your neighborhood, adding to pollution levels in our rivers and the Chesapeake Bay. Where might some of the nitrogen pollution in your local waters be coming from? CBF's story map highlights four coal-fired power plants and one trash incinerator—some within the Bay watershed, some outside it. You might be surprised where their emissions are ending up.
Precedent Setting Cases
EPA's Pollution Limits for the Chesapeake Bay Upheld by U.S. Supreme Court
In 2010, after 25 years of failed agreements between state in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed to work together to clean up the Bay, EPA used its authority under the Clean Water Act to establish pollution limits for the Bay, officially known as a Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL. This TMDL and the state plans to meet it are jointly referred to as the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint. Less than two weeks later, the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), The Fertilizer Institute, the National Pork Producers Council, the National Chicken Council, the National Association of Home Builders, and other lobbying groups challenged EPA's authority and filed a complaint in federal court to throw out the limits. CBF and our allies filed a motion to intervene in the case in support of EPA. Over the next five years, the future of the Blueprint moved from a United States District Court to the Circuit Court of Appeals, and finally to the Supreme Court. On February 29, 2016, the court challenges came to an end with the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to deny AFBF's appeal.
Baltimore City Wastewater Treatment Plant Settlement First Step in Reconciling Pollution to the Bay, CBF Says
November 2, 2023
Today, Baltimore City’s Public Works Department agreed to a $4.75 million settlement payment to address pollution from the city-owned Back River and Patapsco wastewater treatment plants.
October 23, 2023
The Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) joins the Chesapeake Legal Alliance and many others mourning the loss of Ridge Hall, a long-time environmental lawyer and mentor.
September 21, 2023
Following the Talbot County Circuit Court’s dismissal of CBF's challenge to MDE's wastewater treatment permit for the Lakeside at Trappe development, CBF today filed an appeal to the Appellate Court of Maryland.
August 3, 2023
Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) President and CEO Hilary Harp Falk is pleased to announce that CBF has a new top watchdog protecting clean water and the communities that depend on it in Paul Smail, who has been promoted to Vice President for Litigation and General Counsel, Richard T. Pelham Chair.
July 14, 2023
CBF on Thursday filed an amicus brief asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reverse a Commonwealth Court decision that the Borough of West Chester’s stormwater fee is a tax as applied to West Chester University of Pennsylvania property within the borough.
July 12, 2023
In a filing today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia was notified that the parties are dismissing a 2020 lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its failure to require Pennsylvania to develop and implement a plan to meet its commitments to reduce pollution under the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
June 30, 2023
Advocates helped secure important wins for trees in Maryland, while the upcoming Farm Bill and recent challenges to climate action and wetlands protections highlight the need for continued advocacy ahead.
June 29, 2023
Progress toward clean water includes the need for a greater focus on the Bay's 'living resources,' such as blue crabs and striped bass, as well as placing more emphasis on the places and pollution that most affect the Bay's human communities.
June 26, 2023
After nearly 20 years at CBF, Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller is ready for his next big challenge.
May 25, 2023
Today the United States Supreme Court released its decision in Sackett v. EPA. By significantly narrowing the definition of which wetlands and other waters are protected by the Clean Water Act, the decision could damage the decades-long effort to restore the Chesapeake Bay and its waterways.
27 Mar 2018 Episode 78 | 00:19:04
In this episode, former CBF President Will Baker and CBF Litigation Fellow Brittany Wright discuss the dangers of offshore drilling and the current administration's plan to put the Chesapeake Bay at risk.
19 Dec 2017 Episode 71 | 00:12:11
In this episode, CBF President Will Baker talks with CBF Attorney Alayna Chuney about some new developments in the effort to reduce the harmful pollution coming from Baltimore City's Wheelabrator trash incinerator.
11 Oct 2017 Episode 66 | 00:17:27
In this episode, CBF President Will Baker talks with CBF attorneys Ariel Solaski and Alayna Chuney about recent litigation aimed at reducing the air pollution from neighboring states.
10 May 2017 Episode 55 | 00:25.50
In this episode, CBF President Will Baker and Litigation Fellow Alayna Chuney discuss the importance of a healthy environment for all.
01 Mar 2016 Episode 25 | 00:11:26
In this episode, CBF President Will Baker and Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller applaud the Supreme Court's historic decision to uphold the legality of the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.
07 Jul 2015 Episode 8 | 00:20:02
In this episode, CBF President Will Baker and CBF Vice President Jon Mueller dicuss the just-in historic ruling in favor of EPA, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and other intervenors.
12 May 2015 Episode 4 | 00:11:23
In this episode, CBF President Will Baker interviews Vice President for Litigation Jon Mueller about the litigation over the Chesapeake Clean Water Blueprint.