The urgency of now

When the Cuyahoga River in Cleveland caught fire a half-century ago, it was one of several events that sparked a public outcry so loud and urgent that it moved our country's leaders to take bold action. In the years that followed, members of Congress from both sides of the aisle joined together to enact powerful new laws to protect our air, land, and water.

As we prepared to close our doors at the end of 2020, five decades had passed since the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts became the bedrock of our country's commitment to protect our environment.

The events that inspired that commitment pale in comparison to what was happening in 2020. The planet was literally on fire, rising waters were forcing people from their homes, and species all over the world were at risk of extinction. And as if that wasn't enough, a global pandemic was upending lives around the globe and people across the country were grappling with our nation's history of racial injustice.

Those who held the levers of power in our nation's capital were choosing to be deaf and blind to what was happening around us. Instead of acting to protect life on the planet, they were aggressively trying to dismantle the laws, regulations, and institutions designed to protect us.

In 2020 and beyond, such events demand that we all stand up for our values and fight with everything we have. Our lives, our children's lives, and everything we care about depends on us. We are called upon to be bolder than we have ever been before.

In 1995, when this foundation was created, we set out to make the biggest possible impact with the resources we had. We invested deeply in the people and places where we felt we could make the biggest difference. And when we made the decision to sunset, we did so believing that the challenges we faced were too urgent to hold back.

The milestones recorded in these posts describe just a few of the remarkable achievements of our grantees and their partners; they are a testament to the hard work and tenacity of people fighting to protect what they care about. We've seen what can be done when passionate, committed people stand up and step forward.

The urgency of this time is greater than ever before. As a foundation, we have done all that we can to prepare for what lies ahead and we have passed the baton.

At the close of 2020, the work of our foundation officially ended. But this foundation, like the organizations we have supported, was made up of individual people. Each of us will continue to do all that we can, in every way that we can, to protect this planet that sustains us. We urge you to join us: dig deep, be bold, and don't hold back.

A meadow overlooking the Two Medicine Valley, an area sacred to the Blackfeet Nation that was once threatened by the oil and gas industry and is now protected, thanks in part to legal representation provided by Earthjustice. Photo by Ryan McKee (CC BY-ND 2.0).

Lawyers hold the line

Our country's bedrock environmental laws—and the scores of policies that have been created in the decades since they were established—provide the basis for thousands of decisions that determine how our air, land, and water are safeguarded. Those who feel constrained by these restrictions have sought to undermine these laws for decades. Yet our bedrock laws have held firm, thanks to the persistence of the advocates and lawyers dedicated to their defense.

When the history of this era is written, we will owe a debt of gratitude to those who fought every day to hold the line against people who believe they are above the law. National organizations like Earthjustice have teams of brilliant legal minds battling against every attempt to weaken, defy, ignore, and willfully misconstrue our environmental laws.

Ecojustice, across the border in Canada, fought hard to enact and enforce laws as powerful as ours have been. And across our region, lawyers at Trustees for Alaska, Advocates for the West, Crag Law Center, and other regional public interest environmental law organizations worked tirelessly to uphold and enforce these laws—and succeeded in the overwhelming majority of cases.

We urge those reading this to remember that the air we breathe, the land we cherish, and the water that sustains us depend on these laws and the people who defend them.