Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF)


Founded in 1973, the Pacific Legal Foundation is the oldest conservative public interest law firm in the United States.

The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) is a nonprofit, 501(c)(3), corporation that fights for “a balanced approach to environmental protection” through legal means. PLF describes their environmental stance as “to promote sensible environmental policies that respect individual freedom and put people first”. 

PLF's early actions supported the use of DDT, the use of herbicides in national forests, and the use of public range land without requiring an environmental impact review. 

In October 2003, PLF Vice President M. David Stirling had an Op-Ed published in which he condemned former President Clinton for endorsing the Kyoto Protocol.

M. Reed Hopper is the senior lawyer in charge of the PLF’s Endangered Species Act Program and is the lead attorney on environmental issues at the Pacific Legal Fund. He has lead or is leading 9 Endangered Species Act cases, 17 Environmental cases and 1 Critical Habitat Challenge as well as an additional 10 assorted environment cases. He is a member of the Federalist Society where he has authored or participated in three legal discussions.  


Oil and Gas Tied Donors

Exxon Mobil donated $155,000 to the Pacific Legal Foundation between 2012 and 2001.

  • The donations were made in the following payments: $10,000 (2012), $10,000 (2011), $10,000 (2010), $15,000 (2009), $15,000 (2008), $15,000 (2007), $15,000 (2006), $15,000 (2005), $15,000 (2004), $15,000 (2003), $15,000 (2002) and $20,000 (2001).

DonorsTrust donated $6,350 to the Pacific Legal Foundation between 2010 and 2004.

  • The donations were made in the following payments: $1,000 (2010), $250 (2010), $1,000 (2009), $1,000 (2009), $500 (2009), $250 (2009), $1,750 (2008), $250 (2007), $250 (2005) and $100 (2004).

Donors Capital Fund donated $178,000 to the Pacific Legal Foundation between 2014 and 2003.

  • The donations were made in the following payments: $55,000 (2014), $50,000 (2013), $50,000 (2012), $7,000 (2010), $7,000 (2009), $1,500 (2008), $2,500 (2005), $2,500 (2004) and $2,500 (2003).

The Sarah Scaife Foundation donated $3.525 million to the Pacific Legal Foundation between 2012 and 1985.

  • The donations were made in the following payments: $120,000 (2012), $200,000 (2011), $125,000 (2010), $50,000 (2009), $175,000 (2007), $175,000 (2003), $250,000 (2002), $200,000 (2001), $100,000 (2000), $300,000 (1999), $100,000 (1998), $300,000 (1997), $200,000 (1996), $150,000 (1995), $200,000 (1993), $150,000 (1992), $100,000 (1991), $110,000 (1989), $110,000 (1988), $160,000 (1987), $200,000 (1986) and $50,000 (1985).

John M. Olin Foundation donated $665,000 to the Pacific Legal Foundation between 2002 and 1985

  •  The donations were made in the following payments: $60,000 (2002), $60,000 (2001), $60,000 (2000), $60,000 (1999), $60,000 (1998), $60,000 (1996), $60,000 (1995), $50,000 (1990), $50,000 (1988), $65,000 (1986), $25,000 (1985) and $55,000 (1985).                                                                                   

Noteworthy Oil and Gas Motivated Litigation

Climate Change isn’t Real – Polar Bears

             In 2007, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the listing of the polar bear under the Endangered Species Act. They claimed that the science on polar bear populations suggest they aren’t threatened. 

This case is an example of the PLF’s attempts to attack climate science. The President of the Pacific Legal Foundation, Rob Rivett, stated “The real concern for us at the Pacific Legal Foundation is these bears were listed based upon simply speculation. Let me tell you how this happened. In essence through computer modelling, the federal government determined that this species would be losing its sea ice habitat and because of the loss of sea ice habitat, they felt it was necessary to put them on the threatened list”. He continued that polar bears’ only ‘threatened’ status is that they are a ‘threat’” to the fossil fuel industry.

This case has been used by various organizations, such as Fox News, to claim that climate change doesn’t exist because the Polar Bear isn’t threatened. 

Delisting the Sage Grouse to Promote Oil/Gas Interests

The Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) has a long history of working with The Center of Environmental Science, Accuracy and Reliability (CESAR) to delist species from the Endangered Species Act.

PLF files petitions using evidence from CESAR published by Dr. Rob Ramey, such as reports that dispute oil and gas development’s harms on Sage Grouse or that criticize the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s The Sage Grouse Conservation Objectives Team Report (COT Report) as not “a scientific document” and “overstates some threats”. 

CESAR isn’t known as a non-biased organization. The author of many reports, Dr. Rob Ramey, was paid $200/hr. to” analyze, review and critique influential studies and reports on GRSG [ greater sage-grouse]” by the Western Energy Alliance, an alliance of oil and gas companies. 

Prior to federal protections being placed on Sage Grouse, a federal judge ruled that federal protections should be reconsidered because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the best science was not used. A spokeswoman for the Pacific Legal Foundation stated, "We believe that this court got it wrong", she continued, “if eventually sage grouse were to be listed then it would diminish the land available for grazing and force many livestock producers out of business".

As of November 2014, there was $9 million spent lobbying the 2015 Sage Grouse plan. This number does not include private efforts, such as the Western Energy Alliance’s petition of the Department of the Interior with $275,000 budget in 2014 to challenge the 2015 sage grouse plan.

There is a large financial stake in this for oil and gas companies to delist the Sage Grouse. When fighting the 2015 Sage Grouse plan, which ultimately passed, Western Energy Alliance claimed that the most conservative plan would  have caused a reduction of $307 million in annual economic revenue, their mid-plan would cost $839 million in annual economic revenue and most restrictive plan would cost $5.6 billion in annual economic revenue.

Conservationists are concerned for the Sage Grouse. Scientific studies concluded that 44% of the most important habitat for Sage Grouse is at risk of energy development, with 9.1 million acres of sagebrush and 2.7 million acres of grassland within the sage-grouse range to be lost to oil and gas drilling in the coming years.