In the Courtroom


CBF's Litigation team uses carefully chosen legal action to advance the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers, lakes, and streams.

Nikki Davis

To Protect, Enforce, and Bring About Change

CBF's Litigation Department uses carefully chosen legal action as another tool for advancing the restoration and protection of the Chesapeake Bay, its rivers, lakes, and streams. Litigation is used to not only protect and enforce the current environmental laws but also 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.

Learn more about CBF's active cases, concluded cases, amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs, and relevant judicial decisions.

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

CBF, Partners, Sue EPA to Stop Out-of-State Smog from Harming Marylanders and the Chesapeake Bay

In November of 2016, the Maryland Department of the Environment (MDE) petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to require 19 out-of-state power plants to turn on their pollution controls in a manner consistent with Maryland law. MDE had estimated that in 2015, about 39,000 tons of NOx reductions could have been achieved in the hot months if the plants had simply run their control technologies effectively. The Clean Air Act sets a deadline for EPA to grant or deny this kind of petition and EPA was obligated by law to hold a public hearing and to timely respond to Maryland's petition. When the agency failed in both respects and showed no signs of acting, MDE filed suit against EPA on September 27, 2017. On October 4, 2017, CBF and six regional and national groups joined MDE and filed suit against EPA. Ultimately, EPA denied the petitions. CBF and our partners appealed the decision. Briefs have been filed but oral arguments have not yet been scheduled. Find out more about the issue.

In a similar case, CBF has appealed a separate EPA decision regarding the Transport Rule, or Cross-State Air Pollution Rule Update. View both 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.

Read the District Court Opinion 
Read the Third Circuit Opinion 

The Bay Needs You

The 2020 State of the Bay Report makes it clear that the Bay needs our support now more than ever. Your donation helps the Chesapeake Bay Foundation maintain our momentum toward a restored Bay, rivers, and streams for today and generations to come.

Donate Today


Do you enjoy working with others to help clean the Chesapeake Bay? Do you have a few hours to spare? Whether growing oysters, planting trees, or helping in our offices, there are plenty of ways you can contribute.

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