John McManus's Blog Posts

unEARTHED. The Earthjustice Blog

John McManus'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.

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15 June 2012, 3:13 PM
FDA must stop dawdling on genetically modified salmon and other food

Californian voters will vote in the fall on a proposal to require most food products to label known genetically modified organism ingredients.

Not surprisingly, big food manufacturers, many who use plenty of genetically engineered corn and soy products, don’t like the idea of the public knowing if their food includes genetically engineered products. They have started their attack on the measure, hoping to see it voted down.

Meanwhile, the FDA is sitting on an application to approve a genetically engineered GE salmon as a “drug” even though the salmon are intended for human consumption. If approved, these unnatural salmon would be the first-ever GE fish intended for human consumption in the U.S. No doubt the makers of the GE salmon would love to keep the GE part secret to their eventual customers if they ever win approval to grow the fish.

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11 June 2012, 12:38 PM
Judge tosses road claim by Inyo County
Inyo County's claimed Last Chance "highway" starts in the center foreground. (Ted Zukoski / Earthjustice)

A 6-year legal battle to save some of Death Valley National Park’s wilderness areas from development paid off this week.

The national park (biggest in the lower 48) is in Inyo County, California. Inyo County asserted it had legal title to several dirt paths in the park under a Civil War-era federal law intended to promote highway construction across the west. This law, which gave local governments legal rights of way to highways that had been constructed within their jurisdiction, was repealed in 1976. Inyo County sued to gain title to the paths and Earthjustice attorneys Ted Zukoski and Melanie Kay intervened in the case to preserve the wilderness.

Inyo County called one of the paths in question the “Last Chance Road,” but it might as well have been called the “Road to Nowhere.” The route was little more than a sandy desert streambed for much of its path, and then it veered to two or three different destinations, depending on which maps you looked at—a point Earthjustice’s Zukoski and Kay made to the judge. Wash bottoms and little-used paths that don’t go any place in particular don’t count as “highways” under the law.

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17 May 2012, 4:08 PM
Bison are returned to their ancestral plains
Bison at Fort Peck, with one of the newest herd members. (Bill Campbell)

Home on the range, where the deer and antelope play? Forget about it. How about buffalo (yeah, I know they’re really bison).

After years of dreaming about getting one of the original Americans back out on the prairie where they belong, we’re a big step closer to seeing it happen.

After killing every last buffalo they could find, and starving the native folks who relied on them for food, 19th century market hunters missed a couple of handfuls of buffalo deep in the high country that would become America’s first national park, Yellowstone. The offspring of this small herd are among the last genetically pure buffalo (most other buffalo scattered across the country carry some cow genes).

Native tribes in northern Montana for years have sought to reestablish herds using Yellowstone stock. Until this year, they were blocked by cattle interests. But then the state agreed to move approximately 60 buffalo to the Fort Peck Indian reservation in far northeastern Montana. The Fort Belknap reservation, located in north central Montana, has asked for some buffalo and will hopefully get them soon.

Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso has worked for years on behalf of wild buffalo. Most of this work has been to ease rules unnaturally restricting buffalo to the confines of Yellowstone National Park. Outside the park, buffalo have for years been set upon by federal and state agents in helicopters, snowmobiles and on horseback—all intent on driving them back into the park.

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17 May 2012, 12:57 PM
Coastal training kills, injures more than thought
A Navy vessel with research ship and orca pod, in the foreground. (Center for Whale Research)

Last week, the U.S. Navy came out with a shocking confession. They now admit that their coastal training exercises kill or harm more marine mammals than previously acknowledged. Apparently, new data led to a recalculation about how many whales, dolphins and seals are hurt by the mid-frequency sonar and explosions the Navy routinely use in training off our coasts.

Earthjustice is challenging a permit by the National Marine Fisheries Service allowing the Navy to train in the Pacific Northwest, off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and northern California. The challenge aims to get the Navy to move its training a short distance to deeper waters off the continental shelf where marine mammal populations quickly thin out, and away from other areas where marine wildlife congregate.

Note of clarification: We agree that warfare is more sophisticated than ever before, meaning the Navy has to use more sophisticated measures to make sure enemy subs and the like don’t get close enough to the U.S. to harm us. Unfortunately, they choose to train in the same coastal waters where ocean food production is high and are thick with marine mammals.

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26 April 2012, 12:15 PM
Says dam removal an easy fix with big rewards
The four lower Snake River dams keep salmon from prime habitat in the snowmelt waters of Idaho.

In a recent video interview, federal judge James A. Redden said four dams on the lower Snake River should go. As he explained, it’s easier to take the dams out than it was to put them in and the change is needed for salmon to survive. This is the same judge who rejected three different weak federal plans which were supposed to protect endangered Snake and Columbia River salmon from the extensive harm caused by hydroelectric dams.

Although Judge Redden stepped down last year as the judge handling the long-running salmon and dams litigation, his views carry considerable weight. Over the past decade he has read more, heard more, and weighed the alternatives and consequences of this controversy more than anyone in the region. Earthjustice has represented the fishing and conservation interests in court before Judge Redden since the mid-1990s.

Judge Redden told Idaho Public Television reporter Aaron Kunz, “I think we need to take those dams down … And I’ve never ordered them you know—or tried to order them that you’ve gotta take those dams down. But I have urged them to do some work on those dams … and they have.”

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27 January 2012, 2:32 PM
Whales, other creatures imperiled by Navy's insensitivity
Grey whales are among the creatures threatened by sonar testing.

Environmental groups and some Indian tribes, represented by Earthjustice, have gone to court to get the U.S. Navy to change the way it trains off the West Coast to avoid harming whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The Navy currently has a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service, allowing it to train from Northern California to the Canadian border. In its training, the Navy uses all kinds of weapon and surveillance tools, including mid-frequency sonar. This is super high-powered sonar blasts used to “see” underwater. The sound waves bounce off objects like the seafloor or enemy subs and the echo is picked up and read by the Navy ships.

The problem is that the high-powered underwater sound blasts can harass, injure or kill whales, dolphins and porpoises, which are already extremely sensitive to sound. These animals send and receive sound waves to “see” and communicate underwater. Their ability to pick up sound is so good that some whales can hear each other under water hundreds of miles apart.

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08 December 2011, 10:49 AM
Much energy generated from sun and wind is being wasted

Currently, America's transmission grid—the power lines and electrical equipment that bring us electricity—has very few devices that store power from renewable clean energy sources such as solar and wind. This is hindering the deployment of these energy sources and limits their usefulness.

Consider solar … the sun shines during the day, lots of electricity is produced on rooftops with solar photovoltaic panels, yet there’s almost no ability on the grid to store excess power to be used at night.

This shortcoming also hampers wind generators. This past spring for the first time ever, we saw a situation in the Columbia River Basin in Oregon and Washington where wind generators were told, 'No thanks, we don’t need your power.' Why? Because there was so much snowmelt coursing down from the Rocky Mountains generating surplus electricity in the Columbia and Snake River hydro dams. The giant utility running the dams, the Bonneville Power Administration, told the wind generators no thanks. The wind was howling at the same time and a lot of electrical potential was lost.

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29 November 2011, 5:15 PM
An untold story behind the successful effort to reinstate protections
With the thousands of acres of dead whitebark pine trees, every year will be a bad cone year for grizzlies. It’s clear they will need help over the long term to survive. (Condon / NPS)

Yellowstone grizzly bears warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. So says the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals which recently upheld a lower-court ruling that rejected a federal government effort to strip the bears of their protections.

When the government “delisted” the bears in 2007, which stripped them of protections under the Endangered Species Act, Earthjustice attorneys went to court to get the protections reinstated. The federal government failed to explain how grizzlies are supposed to make a living now that one of their key foods, whitebark pine seeds, are disappearing. The seeds are disappearing because the trees that produce them are being killed by beetles which are ravaging the high alpine habitat where the trees grow. The beetles are surviving what used to be harsh winters due to global warming.

One of the untold stories behind the successful effort to reinstate protections for the bears is the efforts of Earthjustice Attorney Doug Honnold and NRDC’s Louisa Willcox that largely put the whitebark pine issue on the map. Few in officialdom, or elsewhere, were talking about the decline of whitebark pines before these two went to work on it. Most people had never heard of these trees nor of their value as a food source to grizzly bears.

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04 November 2011, 4:39 PM
Court refuses to denude smelt of ESA protections
The Delta

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court handed conservationists a victory and some good news for endangered wildlife. The court denied a request by an anti-wildlife right-wing group to strip federal Endangered Species Act protections from a rare species – a California fish called the delta smelt.

The right-wing Pacific Legal Foundation, has tried repeatedly to get any federal court to rule that the federal government has no power to extend ESA protection to species that exist only in a single state and have no current commercial value. The smelt just happens to be a species of convenience that fit those terms. PLF has been rebuffed by five different federal courts of appeals and now the Supreme Court.

Earthjustice attorney Trent Orr was involved in the big rebuff of PLF, pointing out to the courts that the anti-wildlife group simply didn’t understand established law. The Supreme Court hardly needed to hear it, having upheld the ESA by rejecting review of five earlier challenges from other corners of the nation.

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04 October 2011, 2:37 PM
Court refuses to hear challenge to rule brought by homebuilders group
Air pollution

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court effectively upheld a unique air pollution rule that requires developers in California’s polluted San Joaquin Valley to mitigate for the added air pollution their new development brings.The rule was created by the San Joaquin Valley air district in a desperate move to do something about the out-of-control air pollution in the region.

The rule requires developers to mitigate for the pollution created by both the construction equipment used to build the project as well as the new automobile traffic generated by the development. The National Association of Homebuilders fought the rule hard, seeing that if the rule stood here, other heavily polluted jurisdictions around California and across the nation might adopt similar measures. Earthjustice attorney Paul Cort, representing the Environmental Defense Fund and Sierra Club, intervened in the Homebuilders’ legal challenge to defend the rule.