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After cancelling oil and gas leases in Utah last week, Interior Sec. Ken Salazar is strongly hinting that he might do the same with a crown jewel of Colorado -- the Roan Plateau. The Roan is a rippling expanse of natural riches that rises dramatically 3,000 feet above a plain in the state's northwest quadrant.

The Roan was leased off for oil and gas exploitation last August despite massive public outcry from a remarkably diverse group of folks, including hunters and fishers, Republicans and Democrats, locals and people from across the country, and of course dedicated environmentalists. Salazar, then a U.S. senator from Colorado, was among those urging the Bureau of Land Management to not proceed with the lease sale.

Now, as boss of the BLM, Salazar is in position to put money where his mouth was last year -- $113 million in lease payments already divvied up between the state and feds. But it's a pittance compared to the priceless wilderness qualities that would be displaced by industrial drilling operations.

I never know whether to dignify irrational wing-nut attacks on environmentalists in general and specific organizations in particular by mentioning them in print, but the latest is so over the top that I can't resist.

Something called the Capital Research Center recently published a screed titled, "EarthJustice [sic] Legal Defense Fund [sic]: How Environmentalism Weakens U.S. National Security."

A bunch of utility operators are still trying to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to let them pour poisonous mercury into the air - but after today, they are standing alone. The Obama administration said it is withdrawing its support, and in fact, wants the court to drop the case.

Label this a victory for Earthjustice, its clients, and those thousands of citizens eating mercury-contaminated fish and forced to breathe in all the toxic fumes that the Bush administration would allow. Over eight years, that amounted to 700,000 pounds of mercury and other toxic stuff. We sued to stop this awful practice and won, but Bush's lawyers partnered up with the utilities and appealed to the Supreme Court so that it could continue.

Now, if the Court agrees, we can start breathing easier.

Obama has quickly switched from the bump to the boot. All week he's been kicking over Bush-era dominoes, and today's was a whopper. The Environmental Protection Agency is starting to review its 2007 refusal to let California regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. The review affects 16 other states that also want to control emissions. It's a big deal that we've long been pushing for.

But, the biggest domino of all is still standing in the way of EPA really cracking down on greenhouse gases. We're talking about that shameful "Johnson memo" issued by the Bush-EPA administrator of the same name just before Obama took office. The memo told EPA employees to ignore CO2 - the single largest contributor to global warming. Without saying it, the memo also said: Ignore a Supreme Court ruling that authorizes EPA to control CO2.

What an irresistible target for a bump from Obama's boot.

A study in this month's "American Journal of Agricultural Economics" shows a significant correlation between rising numbers of factory farm animals and increased infant mortality. The study found that an increase of 100 million pounds of farm animal flesh meant 123 more infant deaths for every 100,000 babies born. That means our shift in the last half century away from sustainable family farms and toward highly concentrated factory farms has put our babies in jeopardy.

With a stroke of his pen today, President Obama endorsed a keystone element in Earthjustice's national push for energy efficiency.

Obama signed a presidential memorandum calling upon the Department of Energy to adopt energy efficiency standards for dozens of common household appliances. This marks a huge step towards the energy savings and independence he promised during the election, Obama said:

In those cold days of last December -- as Bush feverishly tried to finish crippling the nation's environmental protections -- the new day promised by Obama seemed only a flicker at the end of an 8-year tunnel.

After today's news out of Utah, that flicker is looking more like a flare. Interior Sec. Ken Salazar announced the cancellation of oil and gas leases on 110,000 acres of public land abutting some of the West's purest wilderness. Aside from validating Earthjustice legal action challenging those leases, the cancellation could be interpreted as the first sign of Obama turning back the Bush tide.

When one hears the phrase "Boy Scout," one picture that comes to mind is a bunch of youngsters out in the woods, around a campfire, enjoying marshmallows as well as nature.  One might assume that on top of "trustworthy," "obedient," and "brave," Boy Scouts might also put protection of the Great Outdoors among their values.

A recent investigative series has thrown some cold water on that notion, however, exposing activities of some scouting groups that are cringe-inducing.  One piece has a part of the scouting organization clearcutting lands to make profits, just like the boys in Big Timber have been doing for years.  Another piece has another scouting group killing threatened salmon to fill a lake for recreation, and then using their political muscle to avoid any penalties.

There's no doubt that many individual scout troops are doing important things for the youngsters involved, and that the volunteer parents who make the organization work are conscientious caring folks who are trying to help boys become responsible adults.

And any organization that needs money to keep its work going and that supprts a large bureaucracy  like the Scouts is likely to have its problems.  Heaven knows us folks in the Environmental Movement have been known to not always "be the change" we want to see in the world.  (Please don't make fun of my gas guzzling hybrid SUV.)

The Scouts could use the airing of their dirty laundry to say "Whoops!  We could do a lot better."  Sadly, it seems the national headquarters of the BSA is choosing to hunker in its bunker, issuing a press statement that in part shoots the messenger: "We are extremely disappointed that [Scouts'] efforts have been portrayed in such a negative light." 

That doesn't exactly seem like the "brave" response.

Contradictory actions by the coal industry this week illustrate how treacherous the road is to a clean energy future for America.

On Tuesday, to our delight, developers of the proposed Highwood coal-fired power plant in Montana surrendered and announced that they would instead build natural gas and wind-powered generating plants. The credit for this should go to Earthjustice attorneys Abigail Dillen and Jenny Harbine, whose two years of legal action against the plant obviously paid off.

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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.