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Blogs

Some top stories from the last week at Earthjustice...

The Copenhagen conference started off with a bang of optimism when the EPA announced that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health. The cooperative spirit quickly fizzled after a draft agreement surfaced that apparently favors the interests of the U.S. and other wealthy nations. There’s more news by the hour: Be sure to check out our daily reports from Copenhagen, and analysis by two attending Earthjustice attorneys, Erika Rosenthal and Martin Wagner.

All the buzz from the conference nearly drowned out a disturbing, and related, piece of news: Shell Oil was granted conditional approval to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea. Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe warned that the approvals outpace the science of what we know about Arctic waters.

On the same day that the EPA released its endangerment finding, Earthjustice challenged the agency on a toxin polluting the air in Appalachia, to the point where kids can’t play outside. It’s coal dust, and we think the coal plants that produce it should do something about it. 

Farm workers and their families will get some long-awaited help to deal with toxic pesticides poisoning the air around their homes and schools, thanks to a new EPA policy. Going forward, the EPA will assess the health risks posed by pesticide drift with the same standards by which pesticides in food are assessed. 

And finally, this week Earthjustice saved taxpayers $1.5 million!—and 4.3 million board-feet of old-growth forest in the Tongass to boot. This also means we kept a little C02 out of the atmosphere. Indeed, one of the least controversial ideas out of Copenhagen is also one of the simplest: don’t cut down trees.

(Editor's Note: This file presents news and information from the Copenhagen climate change conference on Dec. 10, distilled from news outlet reports. Check for updates during the day.)

<Update>: At Copenhagen, the simplest idea for corraling climate change is this: don't cut the trees. Logging in tropical forests releases 1.6 billion tons of C02 each year. When it's in the ground, it's not in the atmosphere. Same principle for old growth forests in the northwest United States and in the Tongass National Forest.

<Update>: Here's an interesting take by the Washington Post on the EPA's announcement that greenhouse gases can be regulated. Says the Post: "The threat of the EPA regulating in Congress's stead should persuade lawmakers to look at climate-change afresh." The announcement was made as the Copenhagen conference opened Monday.

<Update>: The world's two biggest greenhouse gas emitters - China and the U.S. - squabbled in Copenhagen today over who is responsible and who should pay. Here's the latest on this story.

The Los Angeles Times reports that Interior Sec. Ken Salazar is leading a "charm offensive" in Copenhagen to sell world government and business leaders on the United States' increased commitment to renewable energy and combating climate change. Not charmed are Alaskan Natives who protested in Copenhagen over Salazar's approval of drilling by Shell Oil in the Chukchi Sea.

In Copenhagen it's all about the money—and there's not enough of it being proposed by rich nations to help poor nations deal with impacts of climate change, says American billionaire George Soros. He's got an idea.

 

The endangerment finding released by the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week—which states that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are a threat to public health and welfare—sure seems to rub some politicians the wrong way. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), a U.S. Senate hopeful, made an attempt to keep any funding allocated in an omnibus spending bill to the EPA from being spent on regulations based on the endangerment finding.

Tiahrt's amendment to the $446.8 billion dollar spending bill was rejected last night in a 5-9 vote. A similar unsuccessful assault on EPA regulation of global warming pollution was mounted in September by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Her amendment, which would have prevented the EPA for one year from spending any money allocated to them through an appropriations bill on regulating stationary sources of carbon pollution like power plants, didn't even get a vote.

These attempts to block funding for regulations, compared to the enthusiasm expressed by many at the announcement of the endangerment finding, illustrate a central issue: Using the Clean Air Act to regulate global warming pollution from cars, trucks, power plants, factories and other sources is a divisive issue. Moving forward, if and when EPA rolls out proposed regulations for these sources, it'll be interesting to see who lines up on which side of the argument.

(Editor's Note: This file presents news and information from the Copenhagen climate change conference on Dec. 9, distilled from news outlet reports. Check for updates during the day.)

<Update>: Developing countries are in deep disagreement over how best to help those countries most affected by climate change. Tuvalu, a Pacific island nation, is expressing particular concerns.

<Update: The U.S. chief negotiator in Copenhagen today publicly challenged China and the other major developing countries to do their part in attacking climate change by seriously curtailing their own emissions. "Virtually all of the growth in emissions going forward (...) will be coming from developing countries," said negotiator Todd Stern.

Two days after announcing that greenhouse gases should be regulated as a health threat, the EPA's chief came to the conference to explain that President Obama is trying to make up for lost time. The president will do his own explaining in person on the last day of the conference.

Sarah Palin surfaced in a Washington Post editorial, urging President Obama to boycott the conference. Her reasoning is a regurgitation of climate change-deniers' arguments, retorted Al Gore. "The entire North Polar ice cap is disappearing before our eyes," he said. Deny that.

Native Americans, Alaska Natives and First Nations Peoples will convene tomorrow in Copenhagen before the U.S. embassy to "speak out about the U.S. energy industry's war on indigenous lands and livelihoods." They are part of a burgeoning human rights movement at the conference.

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."

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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.