Letters From the West

Advocates for the West unleashes Lucas, expands

Laird Lucas

Laird Lucas in Washington D.C. (Advocates for the West photo)

Boise attorney Laird Lucas had already forced Idaho lawmakers to spend millions of dollars to clean up rivers, caused ranchers to stop their cows from trampling stream banks and halted the building of a nuclear waste incinerator before he formed Advocates for the West a decade ago.

Now the Boise-based non-profit public interest environmental law firm, announced Thursday it plans to expand and branch out to Portland and Washington, D.C. It also will lift the management burden off of Lucas and allow him to focus on the court room.

In its 10 years it has mostly been associated with one of its major clients, Western Watersheds Project, whose major goal has been to drive livestock grazing off of public lands. But Advocates never had the take-no-prisoners, in your face approach of Western Watersheds.

Lucas and Advocates’ other attorneys have focused on the issues of the lawsuits against the Bureau of Land Management and others, which were clean water and protection of endangered species including the sage grouse. They have convinced U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill to require the federal government to develop a plan to protect the grouse and the 100 million acres of sagebrush ecosystem on public lands by 2015.

Its attorneys also helped stop Exxon Mobil from shipping more than 200 megaloads of tar sands processing equipment on U.S. 12 through the Wild and Scenic corridor along Idaho’s Lochsa and Clearwater rivers. And Advocates’ Rule won one of the largest penalties, $2 million, ever levied by a court against a polluter for citizen enforcement actions under the Clean Water Act, against Atlanta Gold.

“We have already hired a new staff attorney to work with our senior attorney Laurie Rule in our Portland office,” said Lucas. “We have added a presence in Washington D.C., where our senior attorney Todd Tucci is focusing on public lands policy, including energy development and wildlife protection.”

Lucas, 57, had been a successful corporate attorney before he turned into Idaho environmental crusader. He turned down a partnership with an influential San Francisco firm to go to work for the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies in Boise where in 1999 he persuaded the Idaho Supreme Court to throw out the results of a statewide referendum because the Land Board did not tell voters they were eliminating competitive bids for leases.

Today the Land Board manages all of its assets to secure the maximum long-term financial return, largely because of Lucas’ victories, which mean more money for schools and other beneficiaries.

Lucas, famed Jackson Wyo. attorney Jerry Spence and Boise lawyer David Nevin brokered a settlement with the Department of Energy that halt construction of a $2 billion nuclear-waste incinerator at the Idaho National Laboratory in 2000. Spence told me in 2001 how much he respected Lucas.

“Real lawyers care about what they do and are devoted to the cause of justice, ” said Spence. “Laird Lucas fits that definition.”

Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

Posted in Letters from the West