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Making a case

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Among the many resistance movements afoot in the United States these days, one that few know about may be the one achieving the best results.

Since day one of the orange cracker's presidency, the very active and well-funded Center for Biological Diversity (CBD) has launched a record 82 lawsuits against the EPA and other branches of government. "(We're) resisting Trump in every way possible ... From the moment he took office, our lawyers have been working feverishly to oppose every attempt he's made to worsen climate change, kill wildlife, endanger public health and destroy public lands."

These include initiatives to protect land, water, air and citizens from strip mining, fracking, various forms of pollution, offshore drilling, pipelines, the border wall, secret dealings, climate change censorship, and other malfeasance. The legal litany also seeks to aid various wildlife, from challenging state-sanctioned carnivore killings and trophy-hunting imports, to the removal of protections for bears and wolves in Alaska and Wyoming; from protecting orcas in Washington and threatened fish in Alabama, to jaguars in Arizona and a giant California fly.

The cause—and case for justice—is clear in the CBD's mission statement: "We believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature—to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive."

These lawsuits have plugged up the process, slowing the pace of regulatory rollbacks—and hence environmental impact and destruction—in a country reeling under the uninformed, ideologically driven rule of far-right conservatives. The CBD message is clear: if leaders can't be counted on to make rational, science-based decisions around land, water, air and wildlife, or to follow the strictures of legislation already in place around these, then, where possible, we'll use the law to make these decisions for them—or at least to frustrate a regressive agenda of radical resource exploitation at all costs to environmental and human health.

Suing governments over their more egregious transgressions isn't a new tactic. What is new is the sheer volume of lawsuits in the courtroom queue. We're no stranger to that here in Canada, having seen a similar explosion of lawsuits over the nine tragic years of HarperCon rule. Most were laudably successful, beating back government attempts to weaken everything from democratic institutions and First Nations' rights to endangered species legislation. The Trudeau government's many policy fumbles when it comes to fossil fuel projects have seen it draw a similar panoply of legal challenges—particularly from First Nations. British Columbia has had similar filings around a range of projects from LNG plants to Site C.

Canada has various organizations going to bat for citizens and the environment, but perhaps the most active of these is Ecojustice, which often represents these other organizations and whose mission is similar to that of CBD—albeit with an approach that seems less outright obstructionist than focused on erecting an operative legal platform for the future: "Ecojustice goes to court and uses the power of the law to defend nature, combat climate change, and fight for a healthy environment for all. Our strategic, innovative public interest lawsuits lead to legal precedents that deliver lasting solutions to our most urgent environmental problems."

According to its website, Ecojustice has won almost 90 cases and currently lists 71 recent filings in the areas of climate change (nine), healthy communities (26) and nature (36)—plus a special mission to advocate for modernized environmental laws (thank you very much). Of these, an impressive 48 were victories, 17 are ongoing, and seven have closed. The six ongoing cases in the Nature category demonstrate the breadth of these challenges and make you wonder just what, if anything, governments actually value: protecting the Gulf of St. Lawrence from oil drilling; protecting wild salmon from piscine reovirus; Species at Risk Act implementation; protecting the highly endangered sage grouse from the oil and gas industry; defending Fish Lake from the Prosperity Mine; banning bee-killing neonicotinoid pesticides.

Given the general negligence of government around these issues, we have to laud the efforts of organizations like the CBD and Ecojustice for having our environmental backs. Too bad we can't just vote for them.

Leslie Anthony is a science/environment writer and author who holds a doctorate in reversing political spin.

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