Current and Recent Cases

ELF continues to work on improving environmental quality for communities and consumers by providing access to information and through the enforcement of environmental, toxics, and right-to-know laws. This list includes cases in active litigation; see also our list of prior cases.

Protecting Communities

ELF v. Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp. et al.

Lead in baby food and children’s food

On September 28, 2011, the Environmental Law Foundation filed a lawsuit alleging the toxic chemical lead was found in a variety of children’s and baby foods. The food categories are: grape juice, packaged pears and peaches, fruit cocktail, and baby foods containing carrots peaches, pears and sweet potatoes. The lawsuit seeks warning labels on the offending foods under Proposition 65.

ELF v. State Water Resources Control Board et al.

Protecting groundwater through the public trust doctrine

ELF, along with Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations and Institute for Fisheries Resources, filed a lawsuit against the State Water Resources Control Board and Siskiyou County for violations of the California public trust doctrine. The State and County have failed to manage groundwater extractions in the Scott River sub-basin in a manner consistent with their duties under the public trust doctrine. As a result, numerous wells extract groundwater during irrigation season, causing a decreased flow in the Scott River and injuring the river’s populations of salmon and steelhead. This lawsuit seeks both declaratory and injunctive relief and hopes to protect the Scott River through better groundwater management by these responsible public entities.

Contreras et al. v. First Student Inc.

False Claims Act

Two former Laidlaw mechanics are joined by ELF in litigation against Laidlaw Transit, Inc. (now First Student Inc.) for violating its contract with the San Francisco Unified School District. The lawsuit alleges that Laidlaw operates unsafe, polluting school buses. The lawsuit is filed under the False Claims Act and seeks payment to the District for substandard services.

ELF et al. v. Laidlaw Transit Inc. et al.

Children’s exposure to diesel engine exhaust

ELF is joined by Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Communities for a Better Environment in litigation against Laidlaw Transit, Inc. and Durham School Services, two of the largest school bus contractors in North America, for failing to warn parents that children who ride diesel buses are exposed to diesel engine exhaust, a mixture of chemicals known to cause cancer. Recent studies have shown that a significant amount of the pollution on a school bus is “self-pollution” from the bus’s own exhaust and a child riding inside a diesel school bus may be exposed to as much as four times the level of toxic diesel engine exhaust as someone riding in a car along the same route. The lawsuit is filed under California’s Proposition 65 (the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986) and seeks a court order to provide warnings about the diesel engine exhaust by the time the next school year starts.

Protecting the Environment

Hillman et al. v. Cal. Dept. of Fish and Game et al.

Suction dredge mining

In 2009, ELF, on behalf of a coalition of Native Americans, environmentalists and fishermen from across the State, was granted a preliminary injunction that required the Department of Fish and Game to stop issuing any permits for suction dredge mining. A month later, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a new bill that required even current permit holders to immediately cease all suction dredge mining. Both acts effectively ban all suction dredge mining on all waters throughout the state of California until the Department of Fish and Game conducts an environmental review of its permitting program, adopts new regulations that protect fish and their habitat from the harmful impacts of suction dredging, and all challenges to those new regulations are resolved.

The miners have brought legal challenges to both the injunction and the legislation. We effectively defeated the challenge to the legislation and the law is still in effect. The challenge to the court order is currently being fought in the appellate court, but we believe that the superior court’s ruling was soundly based and will withstand the challenge.

Meanwhile, ELF with a large coalition of tribes, environmentalists and fishermen from all over California and Oregon are working in the regulatory process to ensure that Fish and Game’s draft environmental report and draft regulations, released to the public in March of 2011, will safeguard fish and other species and their habitat from the destructive impacts of suction dredge mining.

Center for Biological Diversity et al. v. PFL Group et al.

Public trust—amicus curiae brief

ELF submitted an amicus curiae brief in this landmark case, spearheaded by the Center for Biological Diversity. CBD sued power companies for the operation of aging wind turbines on Altamont Pass, which kill thousands of raptors and other birds each year, on the theory that their operation violates the public trust doctrine. In a unanimous opinion, the First Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal held that the public trust doctrine does extend to the protection of birds and other wildlife.

ELF v. Southern California Gas Co. et al.

BTEX contamination of protected aquifers

In California, water is our most precious natural resource. Unfortunately, California’s precious resource is being contaminated with chemicals that cause cancer and birth defects, chemiclas that include Benzene, Toluene and Ethylbenzene (“BTEX”).

Southern California Gas Company operates a natural gas storage reservoir in the densely populated Playa del Rey region of Los Angeles. Wells from this underground gas storage reservoir are leaking and releasing BTEX into the Ballona, Silverado and Gage Aquifers, which are protected sources of drinking water under California’s water quality protection plan. This action seeks, among other remedies, civil penalties and injunctive relief to redress the discharge of BTEX from Defendants’ wells in violation of California’s Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (“Proposition 65”).

Karuk Tribe of California v. U.S. Forest Service

Endangered salmon

ELF is representing the Karuk Tribe of California in its lawsuit alleging the Six Rivers and Klamath National Forests are permitting illegal mining activities in and along the Salmon, Klamath, and Scott Rivers and their tributaries. The lawsuit addresses the proliferation of essentially unregulated suction dredge and other mining in these National Forests. The Forest Service’s failure to properly regulate mining in these watersheds threatens Tribal Trust Resources, threatens the Tribe’s efforts to restore these fisheries to subsistence harvest levels, and violates the federal government’s trust responsibilities owed to the Tribe.

The Forest Service’s actions violate numerous federal environmental laws. The agency is violating their own Forest Plans and the National Forest Management Act by permitting mining in these waterways without requiring a Plan of Operations for each proposed mining operation. The agency is mandated to ensure there won’t be degradation to the natural resources which includes the salmon and their habitat. Further, the Forest Service is not preparing the appropriate NEPA document for each of these operations, let alone for combined or grouped operations, thereby preventing the agency from analyzing and balancing the potential environmental damage from suction dredge mining. Along with these failures, the Forest Service is allowing these operations to proceed without the required consultation with NOAA Fisheries/National Marine Fisheries Service and/or Fish and Wildlife Service, as required by Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act to ensure the agency’s action will not jeopardize the listed Coho salmon and other listed species and/or their habitat. Finally, the Forest Service has not ensured that all discharges from mining operations it has or will authorize or allow will comply with all applicable water quality standards and requirements, in violation of the Clean Water Act and the Organic Act.

Klamath-Siskiyou Wild et al. v. U.S. Forest Service

Timber sale

Working with the Pacific Environmental Advocacy Center in Oregon, ELF is representing several conservation groups in a challenge to the Meteor timber sale near the Salmon River on the Klamath National Forest. The claims involved in this case address the failure to comply with the Northwest Forest Plan's protection of old growth forests snags, and riparian areas; NEPA's requirement to consider a reasonable range of alternatives; NFMA's requirement to maintain viable populations of species, and to comply with state water quality laws; and the CWA's requirement to comply with state water quality standards.

Protecting Communities

ELF et al. v. Laidlaw Transit Inc. et al.

Children’s exposure to diesel engine exhaust

ELF is joined by Our Children’s Earth Foundation and Communities for a Better Environment in litigation against Laidlaw Transit, Inc. and Durham School Services, two of the largest school bus contractors in North America, for failing to warn parents that children who ride diesel buses are exposed to diesel engine exhaust, a mixture of chemicals known to cause cancer. Recent studies have shown that a significant amount of the pollution on a school bus is “self-pollution” from the bus’ own exhaust and a child riding inside a diesel school bus may be exposed to as much as 4 times the level of toxic diesel engine exhaust as someone riding in a car along the same route. The lawsuit is filed under California’s Proposition 65 (the Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986) and seeks a court order to provide warnings about the diesel engine exhaust by the time the next school year starts.

Protecting Consumers

ELF v. Birds Eye Foods, Inc. et al.

Acrylamide in potato chips

With Rose, Klein & Marias, LLP and The Law Office of Gideon Krakov, ELF is suing potato chip manufacturers and California retailers for failing to warn consumers about high levels of a cancer-causing chemical, acrylamide, in potato chips. This lawsuit seeks to enforce California's powerful right-to-know law, Prop 65, which requires that manufacturers warn consumers when their products expose them to cancer-causing chemicals. In this situation, significant amounts of a potent carcinogen, acrylamide, is formed during the processing of potato chips. California voters gave themselves the right to know about carcinogens in food in 1986, however, powerful junk food companies have been lobbying to keep this information under wraps and warnings off potato chip bags.

ELF, et.al v. Cost Plus, Inc., et al.

Lead in balsamic vinegar

This is a series of Proposition 65 cases concerning lead in balsamic wine vinegar. These cases are among the first to bring California's powerful right-to-know law into the grocery store.