Rocky Barker: Green legal crusader Lucas gets unleashed

Idaho StatesmanAugust 5, 2013 

Boise attorney Laird Lucas had already forced Idaho lawmakers to spend millions of dollars to clean up rivers, gotten 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 nonprofit, public-interest environmental law firm plans to expand to Portland and Washington, D.C. It also will lift the burden of managing the firm off Lucas and allow him to focus on the courtroom.

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

Lucas and Advocates' other attorneys focused on the issues of the lawsuits against the Bureau of Land Management and others, which were protecting clean water and 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-acre 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-river corridor along Idaho's Lochsa and Clearwater rivers. And Advocates' senior attorney, Lauri 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. That was against Atlanta Gold.

"We have already hired a new staff attorney to work with (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 an 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 it was 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 Idaho schools, colleges and other beneficiaries.

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

In 2001, Spence told me 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: 377-6484

Idaho Statesman is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service