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.

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.

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.

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