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Robert Byrd, the patriarch of the United States Senate, has been the champion and defender of the coal industry for decades, a staunch ally who could be depended on to look out for the interests of his constituents, many of whom work for or own coal operations.

But a massive sea change took place in early December with a statement issued by the senator, urging the coal industry to face the future, to stop blaming regulatory hurdles for its woes, to acknowledge the reality of climate change, and to get busy preparing for a lower-carbon future.

The senator, who has served nearly 57 years in the Congress, seemed particularly miffed that the coal industry had tried to persuade him and other coal-state legislators to block health-care reform unless coal got a free ride in any climate legislation, an idea the senator called "morally indefensible." He also suggested that support for mountaintop removal mining is evaporating in Washington, It's quite a statement, well worth reading, maybe saving. It's a turning point. You can read the statement, or listen to the senator reading it, here.

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorneys Erika Rosenthal and Martin Wagner are blogging live from the Copenhagen climate conference. Here is today's post by Erika.)

In the opening days of the Copenhagen climate negotiations, France and South Africa are looking like rock stars for the commitments they've made to reduce carbon emissions.

On the very same day that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared global warming pollution as a threat to human health, Earthjustice challenged the agency on an air pollution standard affecting folks in Appalachia.

Earthjustice, representing several clean air advocates, is calling on the agency to require coal preparation and processing plants to take any measures to limit the dangerous coal dust kicked up by trucks traveling on plant roads.

For Tim Bailey of Clinchfield, Virginia, a stronger standard could mean he and his family don't have to worry about all that coal dust near their home. It could also mean he doesn't have to set aside so much time a year to pressure wash coal dust from his property.

"Trucks from the prep plant kick up so much dust that a doctor has told me not to let my grandchildren play outside," said Bailey. "The EPA needs to put a stop to this so that we can enjoy our homes again."

(Editor's Note:  This file presents news and information from the Copenhagen climate change conference on Dec. 8, distilled from news outlet reports. Check for updates during the day.)

<Update>: Poorer countries are outraged and threatening a walkout from the conference because of a draft climate agreement that apparently favors the interests of the United States.

<Update>: Here's an angry, if novel, request from the Bolivian president -- industrialized nations should pay "reparations" for the unprecedented flooding his country is experiencing. He links the flooding to global warming and blames the rich countries for the greenhouse gas emissions that caused it. Today, at the conference, Bolivia called for those countries to set a carbon emissions cap of less than 350 ppm.

The New York Times put together this easy-glimpse look at what the major and poorer countries of the world promise—and want—at the conference. The Times also released a new scientific analysis, confirming that global warming is not slowing down. <Update>: Indeed, says The Washington Post, we are on track to have the warmest decade on record.

"Hopenhagen" is a coined term for a planet-wide eco-petition, but it's fast become a description for the positive mood sweeping the city of Copenhagen, and it's been picked up as an angle for various news treatments: "What Is Hope?", and The Los Angeles Times.

Lots of buzz came out of the Obama administration's announcement yesterday that greenhouse gases present a threat to the public health and therefore can be regulated. Here's one reflection by the Huffington Post.

 

 

(Editor's Note: Earthjustice attorney Martin Wagner is blogging live from the Copenhagen climate change conference, Dec. 7-18. This is his first post)

The Copenhagen climate negotiations kicked off today. This gathering of the world's governments is a crucial step in efforts to seal a deal to limit greenhouse gas emissions and fight global warming. Unfortunately, opponents of a serious agreement have dusted off long-debunked arguments about the scientific basis for global warming in a desperate effort to derail the negotiations.

(Update: As expected, today, EPA chief Lisa Jackson announced that greenhouse gases, including from vehicles, are a danger to public health that should be regulated. Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen immediately welcomed the announcement, commenting in part that "our nation must move quickly and efficiently to achieve the cuts in carbon dioxide and other global warming pollution needed to stave off catastrophic climate change." Read his full statement here.)

As the climate change conference convenes in Copenhagen, Lisa Jackson, head of the Environmental Protection Agency, is set to declare today that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions are a danger to public health.

In April, the EPA released an endangerment finding, acknowledging that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. Jackson's latest announcement finalizes that initial action toward addressing global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act. At the time, we said:

The Obama administration has removed a road block in curbing pollution responsible for climate change and signaled a turn toward a clean energy future. We applaud this action, and welcome the President's leadership to overcome the greatest environmental challenge of our time.

(Update: Newspapers in 45 countries ran an editorial urging countries to forget their differences at the Copenhagen climate conference, and come together in an honest effort to address climate change and its consequences. Here are editorial comments from around the world.).

As the international conference on climate change opens today in Copenhagen, expectations are much lower -- call them more realistic -- than what had been hoped for a few months ago.

That's not necessarily bad, if the major countries can come up with political agreements that lead to binding treaties in the next year or so. Moderate success may be measured on the basis of emissions targets agreed to  by the U.S., China and other major polluting countries; agreements on the implementation of green technologies replacing polluting ones; and, at least a handshake by wealthy countries to help poorer, developing countries deal with global warming.

Earthjustice attorneys Martin Wagner and Erika Rosenthal will be blogging from the conference, which runs until Dec. 18.

Last week, unEARTHED reported on a recent study detailing the impact of global warming on endangered species. We’ve also heard of starving polar bears eating each other due to thinning ice, and pika freezing to death as melting snow drifts become too thin to insulate them in the winter. However, swinging the other way in this warming world are wild boars.

Here's an interesting climate change observation reported by the BBC—over the last 800,000 years, up until industrial revolution times, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere never rose above 300 ppm. Since then, and particulary from the 20th century on, CO2 concentration has steeply climbed to where it is today, nearing 400 ppm. Many scientists believe significant global warming consequences are inevitable above 350 ppm.

The historical data cited by the BBC come in part from ice core samples taken in Antarctica and Greenland. Bubbles of air trapped in the ice show cycles of 100,000 years, during which air temperatures and CO2 levels fluctuate in parallel. As humankind grew in population and started heavily relying on fossil fuels, the cyclical pattern was broken. Now, CO2 and temperatures are simply going up.

This bad news is actually good news of a sort as the world prepares to meet next week in Copenhagen to deal with climate change. The recent hacked email scandal is being used by deniers and contrarians to weaken the chances of getting anything done at the conference. A good dose of solid science like this could help keep things on track.

 

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About the Earthjustice 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.