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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.


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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16 September 2011, 9:38 AM
BP cheapos, dirty air downplays, climate change illness
Coral reef at Palmyra Atoll National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of Jim Maragos/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

UN top scientist predicts coral reefs' demise by end of century
Coral reefs, often called the “rain forests of the oceans” due to their rich biodiversity, have been around for millions of years, but these ecosystems may be experiencing their last century, reports The Independent. Climate change and ocean acidification are the main factors causing coral reefs’ demise, says University of Sydney professor Peter Sale, who studied Australia’s Great Barrier Reef for 20 years. And though humans are no strangers to wiping out species, Sale points out that this will be the first time that we’ve actually eliminated an entire ecosystem, one that is home to 25 percent of the ocean’s marine life. In addition, coral reefs support people, about 275 million in fact, who depend on reef ecosystems for food and livelihood. Even more alarming than losing these beautiful, bio diverse hotspots is the fact that reef disappearance tends to precede wider mass extinctions. Says Sale, "People have been talking about current biodiversity loss as the Holocene mass extinction, meaning that the losses of species that are occurring now are in every way equivalent to the mass extinctions of the past. I think there is every possibility that is what we are seeing."

Report finds BP’s cheapness, greed contributed to oil spill
There are a lot of consequences of being cheap: alienating friends, missing out on amazing experiences, wasting time pilfering through shoddy clothes in bargain bins. But recently, a 16-month investigation found that frugality has a dark side with the conclusion that BP’s efforts to limit costs on its deepwater well in the Gulf of Mexico contributed to a blowout that killed 11 people and tipped off the largest oil spill in U.S. history, reports the Washington Post. The report from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement lists “dozens of mistakes, misapprehensions, risky decisions and failures of communication” that led to the BP disaster. In other words, BP put profits before safety. In a statement released on Wednesday, BP agreed with the report’s conclusions, adding that “the Deepwater Horizon accident was the result of multiple causes, involving multiple parties, including Transocean and Halliburton,” At least BP is generous in sharing the blame. 

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12 September 2011, 12:21 PM
Weekly highlights of Earthjustice featured in local and national news
Photo courtesy of laffy4k

Welcome to the first edition of Earthjustice in the News, a weekly blog that highlights Earthjustice press hits in local and national media outlets. We hope this blog will provide you with a window into the world of Earthjustice and the hard-working efforts of our attorneys, policy and legislation counsel, and communications team. Please email me at jknoblauch@earthjustice if you have any comments, questions or suggestions about this new venture. Thank you!

Earthjustice news clips for the week of September 5, 2011
Associated Press – “Govt. Audit: Stimulus Funds for Energy Go Unspent
Sept. 7, 2011 – A new report by the Energy Department’s inspector general finds that one-third of the stimulus money authorized for an energy efficiency program has not been spent in the two years since the economic stimulus law was passed.
Despite the unspent funds, Earthjustice attorney Tim Ballo said that the program is an important way to improve efficiency of older buildings and reduce waste. He also pointed out that though the report rightly focused on problems that occur when stimulus money is left unspent, problems also arise when money is spent too quickly. The AP story was picked up by approximately 150 publications.

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09 September 2011, 4:33 AM
Dalai Lama displeasure, nature’s sunscreen, lice treatment overkill
Bankers on Wall Street may be driving up gas prices. Photo courtesy of epicharmus

Wall Street speculation increases gas prices
Subscribers to the “drill, baby, drill” mantra may want to set their sights on bankers rather than environmentalists as the culprits driving up gas prices, reports Mother Jones. According to confidential regulatory data first leaked to Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Wall Street speculators that hold investments in millions of barrels of oil helped artificially raise the price of gas to $4 per gallon in 2008. To put a stop to that practice, Sanders recently introduced legislation that would “set firm speculation rules for crude oil, gasoline, diesel fuel, jet fuel, and heating oil” designed to “diminish, eliminate or prevent excessive speculation,” reports Mother Jones. Of course, if passed the legislation will do nothing to stem the tide of all of the external costs of gas consumption—like increased asthma attacks and carbon pollution—but at the very least it will put a bee in the bankers’ bonnet of dubious business practices.

Coral could be key to sunscreen pill
In just a few years, sun worshippers tired of slathering sunscreen all over their pasty bodies before heading to the beach may be able instead to pop a pill that comes straight from the ocean, reports Mother Nature Network. Scientists have long known that coral reefs, which need sun for photosynthesis, make their own sunscreen to protect themselves against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. Better yet, the fish that feed on the coral also get the sunscreen benefits. Recently, researchers at King’s College London cracked the code on the amazing genetic and biochemical processes behind this sunscreen compound and eventually hope to create a synthetic version of this compound for humans. Says project leader Dr. Paul Long, “We are very close to being able to reproduce this compound in the lab, and if all goes well we would expect to test it within the next two years.” Surf’s up! 

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02 September 2011, 8:31 AM
Cancerous ink, climate change craziness, industry schooling
Daryl Hannah. Photo courtesy of guano

Daryl Hannah faces off against tar sands pipeline
She may have lost her other eye in a standoff against Uma Thurman (aka “The Bride”) in the movie Kill Bill, but when it comes to facing off against environmental evil-doers, actress Daryl Hannah has chick-kicking staying power, reports Mother Nature Network. Her latest standoff resulted in her arrest outside the White House while protesting the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a controversial network of pipes that would transport tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to U.S. refineries in the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, the State Department gave a green light to the dirty oil pipeline, concluding that it would have “minimal effect on the environment.” Obviously, activists like Hannah disagree. Before her arrest, Hannah told ABC News that “We cannot risk these precious resources and we cannot shackle ourselves to this type of destructive energy future when we have solutions available to us,” adding that “we have American-made, American-grown, clean safe energy.”

Getting inked may give you cancer
Getting an impulsive tattoo may cause you more than just embarrassment when that sub-navel tribal logo starts sagging years later, reports Environmental Health News. New research has found that tattoos contain all kinds of toxic chemicals, some of which have been shown to cause cancer and disrupt your endocrine system. For example, inks can contain phthalates, a commonly used chemical to soften plastics that can mimic estrogen, disrupt testosterone and have even been linked to “feminization of the reproductive tract” and sperm defects. Black tattoo inks can also contain benzo(a)pyrene, a carcinogen so potent that it's often used to grow tumors in animal test subjects. In addition to these new findings, people have known for years that tattoos can cause infections, allergies and scarring, but despite these risks almost half of adults in their late 20s have them. Though the Food and Drug Administration has the ability to regulate tattoo inks, so far it has declined to do so, a decision that may change with this latest tatoo unveiling.

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19 August 2011, 7:15 AM
Genetically modified dilemma, school energy savings
Monsanto's herbicide harms crops genetically modified to resist it. Image courtesy

Monsanto's herbicide harms plants it's meant to protect
Monsanto’s popular herbicide Roundup may be harming more than just weeds, reports Reuters. A recent study by US Department of Agriculture microbiologist Bob Kremer found that repeated and widespread use of Roundup, which contains the active ingredient glyphosate, on crops genetically engineered to withstand the pesticide is harming both the soil and the plants, and potentially reducing crop yields. Unfortunately, Kremer isn’t the only researcher to find problems with glyphosate. Over the years, other researchers have linked glyphosate use to “cancer, miscarriages and other health problems in people and livestock.”
Despite these concerns, the government has continued to green-light so-called Roundup Ready crops like genetically engineered sugar beets, adding to the already long list of staple food items that now dominate American supermarkets. According to the Center for Food Safety, more than half of all processed food in U.S. grocery stores—items like cereals, corn dogs and cookies—contain genetically engineered ingredients. Says Earthjustice’s Paul Achitoff, who is currently litigating against the government’s approval of GE sugar beets and alfalfa:

"The main problem for the public at large is increased chemicals in the environment. But you also have consumers’ as well as farmers’ choices being adversely affected. Nobody really wants Monsanto controlling their diet, but that is in fact what’s happening."

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11 August 2011, 4:41 PM
Food foraging, corporate greenwashing, big rig gas sipping
SpongeBob SquarePants is in hot water for talking to kids about climate change. Photo courtesy of gnislew

FOX News attacks climate change believing sponge
A sea sponge is the latest target of the FOX News climate denial-sphere, reports ThinkProgress. In a recent episode of FOX and Friends, the hosts rip into the popular kids’ cartoon SpongeBob SquarePants for its segment on climate change, which points to humans as the source of Earth's carbon woes. Fox personality Gretchen Carlson and others chastise the cartoon for looking at only “one point of view”—that is, humans are the primary cause of global warming by releasing millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air. Though this view is held by 97 percent of climate scientists, the browbeating does make for a nice segue into FOX’s other favorite past time—criticizing publicly funded agencies like the Department of Education for pushing anti-American agendas like global warming. The DOE’s latest transgression? Handing out Nickelodeon books at an event that pushes “unproven science” about climate change onto children.

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04 August 2011, 2:22 PM
Koch-sponsored legislation, toxic drinking water, News Corp. climate scandal
Energy companies to taxpayers: "Money, please." Photo courtesy of

Dirty energy industry takes handouts despite record profits
Last week, oil and gas companies announced billion-dollar profits in their second quarter, reports the New York Times, even as they continue to receive government subsidies. BP, the infamous oil company that wrecked the Gulf’s economy and environment last year with an unprecedented oil spill, reported about $5.6 billion in profits, and Exxon Mobil earned about $10 billion in April, May and June. While these corporations are busy laughing all the way to the bank, this week President Obama signed a debt deal that won’t cut oil and gas subsidies but will cut about $500 billion from “nondefense discretionary spending,” which includes funds for investments in health and environmental protection, among other things. No need to worry, though. The American Petroleum Institute assured the American public that, “When our industry does well, much of America does well also.” What a relief!

Corporations secretly writing anti-environmental bills for legislators
A number of mega corporations and politicians have secretively been collaborating on ghostwriting “model” legislative bills that legislators then introduce in state capitols across the country, reports the Center for Media and Democracy. Many of the bills pushed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) target environmental regulations, like forbidding local governments from limiting pesticide use, opposing uniform rules on hazardous coal combustion, and putting the regulation of fracking in the hands of the states rather than establishing federal safety and environmental standards. Despite its nonprofit status, which limits its ability to lobby, ALEC members regularly hand bills to legislators, which some argue is the very definition of lobbying. Add that to the fact that the Koch brothers are very big fans and funders of ALEC, and it’s not hard to see that this is a recipe for environmental and democratic disaster.

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29 July 2011, 1:48 PM
"This technology is a one-trick pony."
George Kimbrell, staff attorney at Center for Food Safety, is serving as co-counsel in Earthjustice’s genetically engineered sugar beet and alfalfa work.

Intro: This is the final part in a series of Q & A's on genetically engineered food, which harm the environment by increasing pesticide use, creating pesticide resistant superweeds and contaminating conventional and organic crops. Earthjustice is challenging the USDA’s decision to allow genetically engineered sugar beets and alfalfa onto the market. To learn more, check out our GMO web feature.

EJ: Are GE foods safe?  

GK: In regards to health, this is a novel technology that is an ongoing experiment on the human population. You’re taking a gene from a species that could never cross in nature and you’re crossing it with a very foreign species. For example, you’re taking a gene from say, a flounder, and you’re inserting it into a tomato to make it more cold resistant. A flounder and a tomato are never going to get together in the natural world. It’s very different than conventional breeding where you’re breeding two types of corn to try to improve the different traits in your corn crop. And because we don’t require labeling of GE foods, we really can’t identify any potential toxicity or health concerns that might arise. Basically we have a lot more unknowns than knowns with regards to the potential human health impacts of GE food.

There are also environmental impacts. Eighty-five percent of these crops are pesticide-promoting crops. The companies that make them, chemical companies like Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, DuPont and Dow, sell more of their flagship products, pesticides, by making these crops. These crops don’t help us feed the world, they don’t help us fight climate change, and they don’t help us better the environment. They just increase pesticides. That’s what they do. This technology is a one-trick pony.

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28 July 2011, 12:45 PM
Wrecked summer vacations, revved up gas mileage, watered down chemical regs
The agave plant, typically used to distill tequila. Courtesy of kimsdinner.

Tequila takes a shot at decreasing gasoline use
A new study that looks at the life-cycle analysis of agave-derived ethanol has found that the desert plant produces relatively few carbon emissions, positioning itself as a possible biofuel and substitute for gasoline, reports the Guardian. Though agave is best known for its use in distilling tequila, the sugar-filled plant’s ability to grow on desert lands that aren’t usable for other food crops has garnered the interest of the biofuel industry, which is eager to find a plant-based fuel that won’t drive up food prices, a la the corn ethanol disaster. Scientists are already conducting agave biofuel trials in Australia, and the technology may also have potential for use in abandoned agave plantations in Mexico and Africa. Though experts warn that biofuels can’t be the only strategy used to cut carbon emissions, finding more options to fight climate change is still a success worth drinking to.

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22 July 2011, 10:26 AM
Fishy cleanups, meaty eco dilemmas, dirty soaps
Grey wolves in Yellowstone help keep the elk population in check. Photo courtesy of Arran_Edmonstone

Environment loses in predator versus people standoff
A new study has found that the decline of the world’s largest predators is wreaking havoc on the rest of the ecosystem, reports the Washington Post. Nature abhors a vacuum, and by killing off large sums of the world’s wolves, lions, buffalo and wildebeest, humans have inadvertently opened a door to other, sometimes less beneficial, wildlife. For example, the decimation of lions and leopards in parts of sub-Saharan Africa has allowed disease-ridden baboons to thrive, sometimes venturing into populated areas. And in the U.S., the hunting and killing of wolves in Yellowstone Park has incresed the numbers of elk and deer, which devour the forest food supply, leaving less food for other creatures. Deer also carry ticks that spread Lyme disease, an emerging infectious disease that can affect the joints, heart and central nervous system in humans.

Though the authors of the report acknowledge that it can be difficult to predict the effect that the loss of a large predator will have on the environment, what is clear is that no species is an island unto itself. In fact, the reintroduction of a native species can sometimes have a positive effect on the environment. For example, a reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone back in the 1990s has helped keep the elk population in check, thereby allowing other creatures like beavers and birds to bounce back. Said William Ripple, co-author of the international report, “It’s amazing the effect one species, the wolf, can have on the entire ecosystem.”