unEARTHED, the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

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Everyone has The Right To Breathe clean air. Watch a video featuring Earthjustice Attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a coal plant's smokestack, breathing in daily lungfuls of toxic air for more than two decades.

Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives. Coal ash is the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned. Dumped into unlined ponds or mines, the toxins readily leach into drinking water supplies. Watch the video above and take action to support federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash disposal.

ABOUT EARTHJUSTICE'S BLOG

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders.

Learn more about Earthjustice.

View Raviya Ismail's blog posts
10 October 2013, 11:32 AM
Health issues growing as wood furnaces become more commonplace
Outdoor wood furnaces for sale in Delaware. (Samuel Houchins)

Many Americans are looking to escape high heating bills and have found what seems to be the perfect solution: outdoor wood boilers. Commonplace now along rural roads, they look like sheds with chimneys on top, and circulate water into homes for heating systems or hot water.

But they aren't as innocuous as they may look. Which is why Earthjustice, on behalf of several health and environmental groups, filed a lawsuit Wednesday over the EPA’s failure to update standards for these units. But we aren't the only ones crying foul. Filing a similar complaint were the states of New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

The issue in a nutshell: these units emit high volumes of particulate matter (which can lodge deep within the lungs causing serious cardiovascular and respiratory harm) carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and carcinogens. We know all these chemicals are toxic soup for our lungs and health. And EPA’s failure to update the standards means that homeowners install thousands of new wood-burning boilers, furnaces and stoves each year that produce far more dangerous air pollution than cleaner units would.

View Sarah Burt's blog posts
07 October 2013, 8:10 AM
Dust and soot become part of the air her family breathes
Desiree and her dog in their backyard, as a train rumbles past on tracks less than a hundred feet from her home. (Chesapeake Climate Action Network)

(This is the second in a four-part series profiling communities that could be seriously impacted by increased toxic air and water pollution resulting from the federal government’s financing of the export of Appalachian coal to Asia.)

This week we meet Desiree Bullard,  who lives in Cumberland, Maryland, along rail lines that are experiencing increased traffic from open-topped train cars full of Appalachian coal heading to the Port of Baltimore for export.

This is her story:

View Terry Winckler's blog posts
03 October 2013, 9:39 AM
Brilliant lawyer, fierce defender of Earth, man of great wit

(UPDATE: A memorial for Phillip Berry will be held at 1 p.m., Friday, Oct. 11 at Shiloh Church, 3295 School St., Oakland, CA.)

The Earth has lost one of its greatest defenders, Phillip Berry, a founder of Earthjustice and former president of The Sierra Club. He died early Sunday.

Berry joined the club in 1950 when he was only 13 and the club had but 5,000 members. He came of age along with the environmental movement and played a guiding role as the club grew to its current membership of 2.3 million supporters.

It was Berry who saw the growing potential for using the law in environmental defense and helped start the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund, which later became Earthjustice, recalled Fred Fisher, a co-founder of the defense fund and its chair for many years.

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View Terry Winckler's blog posts
02 October 2013, 11:53 AM
They fled rising seas that threaten their low-lying island home
Tarawa and Maiana Atolls, part of the Kiribati islands. (NASA Crew Earth Observations)

A family of five is seeking asylum in New Zealand because, they say, climate change is making life too dangerous in their low-lying island homeland in the Kiribati islands. They are going to court later this month to argue their case as climate refugees.

New Zealand has twice refused to let the family stay because they aren’t political refugees, the usual reason people seek asylum in other countries.

This is the beginning of what could be wholesale flight from places slowly being inundated by rising seas linked to climate change. A recent U.N. report makes clear that coastal areas around the planet—from the Arctic to the South Seas—are feeling the impacts; and while many people are making elaborate plans to live with higher water levels, others like this family are planning to flee.

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View Terry Winckler's blog posts
01 October 2013, 10:09 AM
National wildlife refuges closed until funding is restored
National parks, like refuges and other public lands, are closed during the government shutdown. (National Parks Conservation Association)

(Editor's note: What does the federal government shutdown, starting today, mean to you? Tell us in the comments, and check out this news release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.)

Because of the shutdown of the federal government caused by the lapse in appropriations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will suspend most programs and operations, including public access to all National Wildlife Refuges and all activities on refuge lands including hunting and fishing.

"Closing off public access to our national wildlife refuges and public lands is the last thing we want to do, but is consistent with operations called for during a government shutdown” said Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dan Ashe. “This is difficult news for the families, birdwatchers, hunters and anglers, and recreationists who enjoy the great outdoors on the refuges—as well as for the many local businesses who depend on the tourism and outdoor recreation economy they generate. I think it’s most difficult for the thousands of furloughed Service employees who are impacted in carrying out their mission to protect our nation’s resources and providing for their families.”

View Kristen Boyles's blog posts
01 October 2013, 7:13 AM
More than 10 years of court fights rids fields of deadly pesticide
Blueberries were among the crops that saw the last remaining uses of the pesticide AZM. (Braker / Flickr)

Finally. Yesterday—Sept. 30—was the last day that the highly toxic pesticide AZM could be used in the United States. This pesticide, originally developed as a nerve gas, has been poisoning people, particularly farmworkers, and insects for decades.

AZM disrupts the nervous system and causes a range of temporarily debilitating responses—splitting headache, nausea, vomiting, uncontrollable sweats, blurry vision, dizziness, unconsciousness—and even such grave long-term effects as paralysis, and death.

It took more than 10 years of farmworker activism and legal proceedings to rid our country of this neurotoxic insecticide. AZM was last legally used on apples, cherries, pears, blueberries and parsley, with the highest uses occurring in Washington, Oregon, California, Michigan, and New York.

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View Sarah Burt's blog posts
30 September 2013, 8:15 AM
"As a nurse, I see the first-hand impacts of coal dust and air pollution ..."
Lorraine Ortega lives near the Lamberts Point coal export facility in Norfolk. (Chesapeake Climate Action Network)

We're making progress in ending America's dependence on coal thanks to the work of Earthjustice and others to prevent the construction of new coal plants and hold existing coal plants to more stringent environmental standards. Now, hoping to shore up its bottom line, Big Coal is increasingly looking to ships millions of tons of U.S. coal to Asia instead.

Earthjustice is challenging this alarming trend. In July, we filed a lawsuit opposing the federal government’s financing of the export of Appalachian coal to Asia. The U.S. Export-Import Bank approved this financial support for coal exports without considering the increased toxic air and water pollution that could affect communities near the mines and ports, and along the railways that connect them.

In this first installment of a four-part series, we meet Lorraine Ortega who is a member of one such community, living near the Lamberts Point coal export facility in Norfolk, Virginia.

This is Lorraine's story:

View Terry Winckler's blog posts
27 September 2013, 8:49 AM
U.N. report asserts that humans are responsible for global warming
Superstorm Sandy batters the East Coast, on Oct. 29, 2012. (NASA GOES Project)

The good news in today's U.N. report on global warming is that I'll be dead before the predicted ocean rise floods my island home in San Francisco Bay. But here's what I—and you and every other human on Earth—won't escape, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

Responsibility.

It is almost 100 percent certain that humankind's use of fossil fuels like oil and coal is warming and acidifying the oceans, melting glaciers and causing sea levels to rise around the planet, the IPCC says. With scientific certainty, the report warns us to throttle back on carbon consumption or move to high ground—unless of course you live in Appalachia where the high ground is being blown up to get at the coal.

View Andrea Delgado's blog posts
26 September 2013, 9:46 AM
Hazelton coal ash and intolerance create poisonous stew
Proximity and exposure to coal ash poses many risks.

In northeast Pennsylvania, about an hour northwest of Allentown, lies Hazleton, a city with the dubious reputation of enacting ordinances that fueled ethnic tensions and anti-immigrant sentiment.

In 2008, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) pointed to Hazelton’s policies for fostering an environment conducive to hate after Luis Ramirez, a young father of two, was beaten to death in a town 17 miles away. The incident prompted the involvement of the U.S. Department of Justice and led to federal hate crime charges for the attackers along with indictments of extortion, misconduct and obstruction of justice for the police officers involved in the investigation.

Hazleton’s population is nearly 40-percent Latino; yet Rep. Lou Barletta, its congressman and former mayor, is notorious for championing anti-immigrant policies. Most recently, he is known for publicly dissuading the GOP from courting Latinos or providing a path to citizenship, alleging that the majority are undocumented, “low-skilled” and uneducated. Tell that to the more than 50 million Latinos in the U.S., 75 percent of whom are U.S. citizens.

Intolerance is toxic and fragmenting, undermining the integration and safety of immigrants looking to make America their home like generations before them. Community leaders and organizations such as the Hazleton Integration Project are working to foster tolerance and shed the city’s shameful past. But another toxic hazard looms over Hazleton, threatening the well-being of the burgeoning Latino population and the city as a whole.

View Kari Birdseye's blog posts
24 September 2013, 11:58 AM
IPCC report to address the latest physical science of sooty pollutant

Black carbon is the sooty, particulate pollution that reaches deep into your lungs and causes asthma and other respiratory and heart diseases.

Black carbon also plays a major role in global warming—second to only carbon dioxide.

Here’s a great introduction to black carbon that may spur you to action, and even make you smile.

Termed a “short-lived climate pollutant” because it only stays in the atmosphere for days or weeks (unlike CO2 which sticks around for 100 years or more) reducing soot is one of the most effective ways of addressing global warming. That’s why this noxious air pollutant will be receiving some attention this week.

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