Jessica Knoblauch's Blog Posts

unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

Jessica Knoblauch's 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.

Jessica Knoblauch is Earthjustice's Content Producer / Associate Editor and creator of the unEARTHED blog, "Friday Finds," which highlights some of the most remarkable or ridiculous eco news tidbits of the week. Jessica enjoys writing about environmental health issues and believes that putting toxic chemicals into our bodies and into our environment is generally unwise. In her free time, Jessica can often be found at the other end of the leash of her two dogs, Emma and Charlie, messing around in her garden, and eating fine Midwestern cuisine like deep-dish pizza, pork tenderloin sandwiches and, of course, corn.

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06 January 2012, 7:20 AM
Natural gas guessing games, green hog waste, melting mountains
Under current guidelines, pigs and other farm animals are routinely given drugs. (friendsoffamilyfarmers)

FDA gives “okay” to continue drugging livestock
Farmers can continue giving healthy cows, pigs and other livestock routine doses of penicillin and tetracyclines—two commonly used antibiotics—even though the practice threatens public health, reports Forbes. The Food and Drug Administration’s decision to no longer consider withdrawing approval of the common practice comes after years of meat and produce recalls that have been contaminated with antibiotic-resistant bacteria and sickened many. It also comes after the agency’s own guidance showed that drugging animals who aren’t sick is, simply put, a bad idea. No doubt, consumer advocacy groups were disappointed in the government’s decision; however, the FDA’s decision wasn’t all bad. It did decide to ban the indiscriminate use of another class of antibiotics called cephalosporins in healthy animals, citing concerns over the growing threat of cephalospins-resistant bacterial infections found in people. Too bad that cephalosporins account for a tiny and rapidly shrinking percentage of overall antibiotic use on factory farms, as Mother Jones recently pointed out. Nice try, FDA.

Natural gas bonanza claims based on dicey guessing games
Mainstream media reports of a 100-year natural gas supply lying beneath our feet is largely based on hypothetical speculation, reports Slate. Recently, the online magazine found that of 2,170 trillion cubic feet (tcf) estimated to lie beneath U.S. lands, only 273 tcfs--or 12 percent of the total amount--are “proved reserves,” meaning that they actually exist and are commercially viable to drill. That leaves us with only about 11 year’s worth of proven natural gas reserves, not 100 years, as the industry claims. The idea that there's another almost 2,000 tcfs of natural gas out there is considered to be either “probable,” “possible,” or “speculative.” Speculative, by the way, means “based on conjecture or incomplete facts or information,” according to the Encarta Dictionary. Another word for speculative is “risky” or “hypothetical.” As Slate so aptly points out, “By the same logic, you can claim to be a multibillionaire, including all your ‘probable, possible, and speculative resources.’” Just one more thing to consider before we risk our health and environment to drill another well with “speculative” reserves.

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22 December 2011, 1:12 PM
Facebook “likes” sustainability, McDonald’s goes locavore, Seattle bans bags
The corn rootworm is taking a bite out of Monsanto's bottom line. (Purdue University)

Pesticide-resistant bugs eat Monsanto’s crops, lies & profits
Monsanto is taking a page from George Orwell's 1984 with the recent release of an EPA report that chides the biotech company for not adequately monitoring its pesticide-resistant crops, reports Mother Jones. According to the agency’s report, a pesky bug known as corn rootworm is rising up and decimating corn fields in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois and Nebraska. Unfortunately for Monsanto and its farmers, the insect is targeting Monsanto’s Bt corn, which is engineered precisely to resist rootworm. The problem of pesticide resistance is a well-known issue amongst those in the ag and business world these days. In fact, Earthjustice is suing the USDA for failing to adequately asses the environmental and economic impacts of Monsanto's RoundUp Ready crops. But despite evidence to the contrary, Monsanto continues to deny that its products propagate pesticide-resistant bugs and weeds, all while promoting new genetically engineered seeds designed to “fix” the very problem that it won’t admit it created. That is some clever doublespeak indeed.

Greenpeace successfully prompts Facebook to “like” clean energy
After two years of prodding by Greenpeace, Facebook has announced that it will move away from dirty coal and power its operations using clean, sustainable energy, reports the UK Guardian. According to a Greenpeace report, more than half of Facebook’s electricity is powered by coal. That’s bad news for the climate and for clean air, considering that coal plants are the nation’s worst toxic air polluters (though that could change thanks to a recent Earthjustice victory wherein the EPA set the nation’s first-ever toxic air pollution limits for power plants.) In the meantime, though, moving off coal is a great first step to greening one of the most popular social networking sites out there. Now we just need to keep a close eye on Facebook to make sure it lives up to its largely vague green promises.

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16 December 2011, 12:30 PM
Environmental justice backlog, greenwashing Walmart
Popular sodas like Mountain Dew may contain flame retardants. (PaysImaginaire)

American sodas spiked with flame retardants
That mid-day caffeine boost you reach for every afternoon may contain a chemical that causes skin lesions, memory loss and nerve disorders, reports Environmental Health News. Sodas like Mountain Dew and Gatorade contain brominated vegetable oil (BVO), a synthetic chemical  that keeps a soda’s fruity flavors well-mixed inside the can or bottle. Recent studies have found that brominated flame retardants, which may have effects similar to BVOs, build up in people’s bodies and are linked to “impaired neurological development, reduced fertility, early onset of puberty and altered thyroid hormones.” BVOs are found in about 10 percent of US soda drinks. Though drinking the occasional soda is unlikely to cause any health problems, binge drinkers and young children may want to find another way to get through the day with their eyes open.

EPA turns a blind eye to environmental justice cases
Despite an EPA memo outlining environmental justice issues as a top priority, more than a dozen complaints alleging that air pollution is disproportionately harming low-income and communities of color have languished under Administrator Lisa Jackson’s EPA, reports iWatch News. Some of those complaints have sat in the EPA’s Office of Civil Rights for more than a decade, such as one woman’s case in Texas that alleges toxic emissions from a 10-mile stretch of oil refineries and industrial plants have caused her to have several miscarriages. Though the EPA insists that it has made “meaningful progress” on many of the complaints, environmental justice advocates are skeptical, like Earthjustice’s Marianne Engelman Lado, who told iWatch, “The backlog doesn’t seem greatly improved, and it’s not clear what processes they use to evaluate the complaints. Why is that progress?”
 

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09 December 2011, 2:53 AM
Tiny plastic problems, “green” tanning, dry-clean druggies
New Mexico's dairy farms must clean up their act. (USDA)

New Mexico dairies forced to clean up their cow pies
New Mexico recently passed some of the most progressive water regulations for dairy farm operations in the West, reports High Country News. Large dairy operations create huge waste problems—each cow produces about 145 pounds of solid and liquid waste per day—so when Texas transplant Jerry Nivens found out in 2007 that a large dairy was planning to set up shop near his town, he and a band of allies teamed up against the powerful dairy lobby, and won. Four years later, after countless hours of grassroots organizing, New Mexico citizens have done what others in Idaho, Washington and California—all big dairy states—haven’t yet been able to: stop dairy farms from polluting their groundwater with nitrates, antibiotics and deadly bacteria like E.coli and salmonella. The new rules may inspire citizens in other states to follow suit by taking matters into their own hands when Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations of any kind—whether they house chickens, cows or pigs—poison their community.

Oceans get fleeced by clothes with microplastic
Polyester yoga pants may seem harmless with all of their comfy-ness and warmth, but every time you wash them you may be polluting the ocean, reports Grist. According to a new study by Environmental Science and Technology, approximately 2,000 polyester fibers are released for each piece of polyester clothing thrown the wash. And since the home appliance industry doesn’t filter out these tiny fibers, they end up in the world’s oceans where they can potentially harm marine life. Though most of the attention to date has been on plastic giants like the garbage patches found in the Atlantic, Pacific and elsewhere, these tiny microplastics worry scientists because they can be eaten by bottom feeders like clams and mussels, eventually making their way up the food chain, to us.

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02 December 2011, 12:40 PM
Turtle bones get brittle, fat rat dilemma
The supposedly "green" Bank of America has been lending billions to the coal industry. Photo courtesy of Alex E. Proimos.

Report finds allegedly “green” banks finance dirty coal
A recent investigation by a group of non-governmental organizations found that a number of supposedly “green” banks fall into the top 20 institutions to finance coal-mining and coal-fired energy generation, reports the UK Guardian. Taking the first three places is JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup and Bank of America, which together have provided at least $42 billion to the coal sector since 2005. Since coal is one of the dirtiest and most carbon-intensive energy sources out there, it’s fair to say that the new report puts the banks’ supposedly green credentials into question. No matter how many wind and solar projects they highlight in the public eye, at the end of the day lending money to an industry that’s literally burning up humanity's chances to avoid catastrophic climate change is neither a green nor smart investment choice.

PCBs stunt turtle bone growth
PCBs, those long-forgotten but deadly chemicals that were banned by the U.S. in 1979, are causing stunted growth and low bone-density in turtles, reports Discovery News. The chemicals, once used in pesticides and industrial fluids, have been linked to slower growth rates, tumors in mink jaws and deformed heads in zebrafish in previous studies. But a new study, that exposed diamondback terrapin turtle eggs to a PCB dose that's equivalent to what they would encounter in the environment, stunted the turtles growth and left their bones weak. Though the results are preliminary, the study may have implications for humans since our bones grow similarly to turtles and since we too are exposed to low amounts of lingering PCBs. Said Don Tillitt, an environmental toxicologist, “When we see effects like this, we know there are things that are maybe more insidious. It's a good reminder that we have to be on guard."

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01 December 2011, 12:33 PM
A loggerhead sea turtle gets a second chance at life
Sea turtles like Karsten often mistakenly swallow fishhooks, which can result in entanglement, choking and even death. (Jessica Knoblauch)

It’s not every day that a wild animal gets a lucky break, but a few months back that’s exactly what happened to Karsten, a peaceful loggerhead sea turtle that was released off of Sombrero Beach in the Florida Keys after months of rehabilitation.

Karsten was found back in May with a fishhook in his jaw and another in his esophagus. His painful plight is unfortunately all too common for countless numbers of sea turtles who mistake baited fishhooks for harmless food and then drown because they are unable to surface for air. Though turtles have charted the seven seas for more than 100 million years, over the past few decades these ancient and resilient creatures have seen their numbers plunge due to destructive human activities. Florida, for example, has seen its nesting loggerhead population plummet by more than 40 percent in the last decade, in part because of longline fishing.

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27 November 2011, 10:19 AM
“Your whole being is intensified right down through the viewfinder of the camera.”
David Doubilet on assignment. (Jennifer Hayes)

This is the sixth in a series of Q and As on Earthjustice’s oceans work, which works to prevent habitat loss and overfishing, as well as to reduce the impacts of climate change on the ocean. David Doubilet, an acclaimed underwater photographer for National Geographic, talks about his experiences as an underwater photographer and provides tips for budding underwater photographers. View a slideshow of Doubilet's underwater photographs and learn more about Earthjustice's oceans work at earthjustice.org/oceans

Jessica Knoblauch: In your biography, you mention that you try to redefine photographic boundaries each time you enter the water. What did you mean by that?

David Doubilet: Here's a good example of a photographic boundary. For years, as long as I worked for National Geographic, I would or somebody else would propose a story on nudibranchs. These are basically sea-going snails without a shell that develop the most incredible colors in the world as a matter of survival. They feed on very toxic things and then advertise the fact that they are toxic by incorporating this toxicity into their flesh, changing their color.
 
There are so many ways that these creatures are able to survive, but they're snails. And if you want to do a story on these things, you have to first understand what they look like and you have to have some kind of intimacy to them. In other words, you have to be eye to eye with them. Because they live on the ocean bottom, most photographers photograph them looking down on them. It's a little like taking pictures of children and photographing only the tops of their heads.

 

So I thought for a long while and said, "Let's build a tiny studio underwater and treat these creatures like fashion models because the colors they create are more robust and incredibly vibrant than any piece of fashion I've ever seen, and that includes Haight-Ashbury in 1968." So I built a tiny, 10-inch square studio with a curved back wall made out of Plexiglas mounted on a tri-pod. We took it underwater, we took it to the nudibranchs, and with the help of a nudibranch expert we moved the nudibranchs off the sea floor and into the studio momentarily and photographed them in a studio setting.
 
So there are a lot of stories that we always try to add one more step, one more piece of vision, one more piece of technology. Where technology meets dreams, you make photographs.

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25 November 2011, 9:21 AM
“I'm afraid that a lot of the images that I've made underwater are going to be documents of a time passed.”
David Doubilet, on assignment. (Jennifer Hayes)

This is the fifth in a series of Q and As on Earthjustice’s oceans work, which works to prevent habitat loss and overfishing, as well as reduce the impacts of climate change on the ocean. David Doubilet, an acclaimed underwater photographer for National Geographic, has spent decades photographing underwater images and has seen firsthand how ocean stressors have negatively impacted the aquatic environment he loves. Check out earthjustice.org/oceans to learn more about our oceans work. 

Jessica Knoblauch: What made you first want to document the underwater world?
 
David Doubilet: I began to go underwater not very far away from where I live now in a small lake in the Adirondack Mountains. I was at summer camp. I was a terrible camper. I hated the horse; I hated the mountains; I didn't like to hike. And the counselor said, "Why don't you try this mask and go underwater? Put your head underwater and look under the dock." I put on a French blue rubber mask, I put my head underwater, and everything that I knew about in life completely changed. Here was an entire world completely different than the world we live in. It was mind-altering, even for an eight year old, and I knew this was the direction that I wanted to go in.
 
There's a certain amount of hypnotic quality to being underwater. You're in a world that's weightless. You're in a world of blues and greens. And what you see underwater is most of the life on the planet. You have to think of this planet as a water planet, not as a land planet. So Earthjustice may have to change its name in some ways to OceanJustice to really cover our planet as best as possible. It really is the heart and soul of what life is. In this very, very empty, very, very dark universe, here's this one tiny orb that glows blue. And the color of life as we know it is blue.

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23 November 2011, 8:48 AM
“Trawl fishing is like clear-cutting on land, but just in the bottom of the ocean.”
Earthjustice attorney Andrea Treece (Brian Treece)

This is the fourth in a series of Q and As on Earthjustice’s oceans work, which works to prevent habitat loss and overfishing, as well as reduce the impacts of climate change on the ocean. Earthjustice attorney Andrea Treece is part of a core oceans litigation team whose work helps protect forage fish species like herring, anchovies and sardines, which serve as the building blocks of the ocean food web.

Jessica Knoblauch: You focus specifically on west coast ocean issues at Earthjustice. Are there issues in ocean management that are unique to the Pacific?
 
Andrea Treece: The west coast faces a lot of issues that are prevalent across the nation. That actually is a great advantage because we can as an organization get a bigger picture of what’s going on in ocean resource management. We can apply the law in a way that will hopefully set a beneficial precedent for management in the rest of the nation.
 
JK: Earthjustice has litigated heavily against industrial fishing in the Alaska pollock fishery. Why?
 
AT: It’s really one of the first cases that highlighted the ecosystem effects of fishing and how important it is to consider not just how much fish we’re consuming, but whether we’re leaving enough in the ecosystem for everything else to keep on sustaining themselves, including seals and sea lions and a lot of other key predators in the ocean. So it was a great case to try and bring that issue to the forefront and change the way that major fishery was managed.
 

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22 November 2011, 5:12 PM
“If we can make changes that will work in New England, it helps lead the nation on fisheries policy.”
Roger Fleming, with Gompers and Scout, on the Maine coast. (Amy Mills)

Jessica Knoblauch: What first interested you in oceans issues?

Roger Fleming: The ocean was always something that interested me. It was mysterious. It was far away. I’m from the Midwest, so I never even saw the ocean until I was a senior in high school. But I always read about it and I always dreamed of working on ocean-related issues, so I focused on environmental law in law school and took all of the ocean-related law classes that I could. Our planet is a blue planet and yet the oceans receive relatively little attention from an environmental perspective. It’s been a lifelong interest of mine, but it’s also an area where I think there’s a significant need for attorneys to work on the issues and a significant need for conservation.
 
JK: Are there ocean-management issues unique to the east coast?
 
RF: The east coast presents some unique circumstances in that it contains our nation’s oldest fishery. The European settlers came to New England and arguably settled here because of the fisheries’ resources available around the Gulf of Maine. Given that we have had organized commercial fisheries here for literally hundreds of years it brings with it a lot of unique challenges. There’s just that history and that culture engrained in the fabric of New England. There’s even a wooden sculpture of a codfish that hangs over the statehouse in Massachusetts. But that history can make change very difficult. New England is often referred to as the poster child for bad fisheries management, and I think that in part is because the history.