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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.

View Sam Edmondson's blog posts
20 July 2012, 12:23 PM
Emotional testimony strikes a poignant chord
Parents, kids, doctors, community members and health advocates attended the EPA hearing in Sacramento, speaking in favor of strong limits on soot.
(Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

"This morning's testimony was so moving, I wish I'd had tissues with me," said one speaker. "It never occurred to me that I would need them at an EPA public hearing."

And yet, I saw more than a few tear-stained cheeks when Lydia Rojas recounted the heartbreaking story of how her 15-year-old daughter lost her life because of a severe asthma attack. Fighting back her own tears, Rojas asked the Environmental Protection Agency officials present to do everything in their power to ensure that strong limits are placed on the amount of fine particle pollution—a.k.a. soot—that's in our air.

The room was packed when I arrived at the public hearing in downtown Sacramento—the second of only two such events across the country focused on EPA's recent proposal to further limit emissions of deadly air pollution. The first hearing happened on Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Over the course of the day, dozens of parents, kids, doctors, community members and health advocates spoke in favor of strong limits on soot. Jose Hernandez, a high-school football player and runner from Fresno, told the EPA panel how the winter-air gets thick with pollution, making practice difficult. In addition to his own shortness of breath, he notices difficulties related to dirty air in members of the youth soccer team that he coaches. "I want to make sure that when I have kids, they have every opportunity for a healthy future," he said. "We need to clean up the air so my child can live up to his or her fullest potential." (See a photo slideshow of the public hearing.)

Paul Cort speaks at the EPA hearing. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

Earthjustice attorney Paul Cort: "The thing that sticks with you most about the hearing today are the stories from people who are describing how air pollution affects them personally." (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)
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20 June 2012, 3:49 PM
Papers come out in support of strong standards to control deadly pollutant

The historical significance of the Environmental Protection Agency's recently proposed new limits on fine particle pollution, colloquially called soot, wasn't lost on a number of editorial pages. Soot is a known killer—the science clearly indicates soot's connections to premature death, heart and lung damage, and potentially even cancer and developmental and reproductive harm.

The New York Times wrote: "New standards are long overdue. In 2006, the E.P.A. reviewed the standards but decided to leave them where they had been set nearly 10 years before… This was a favor to industry groups that did not want to make new investments in pollution controls. The agency's scientific advisory committee, which had recommended tighter standards, was so incensed that it issued a rare public rebuke."

Ultimately, it took a judge's rebuke to stir action at the agency. A court order won by Earthjustice on behalf of the American Lung Association and National Parks Conservation Association was a boot to the EPA's backside—just the encouragement needed to get things back on track after years of scientific denial and foot-dragging.

The San Francisco Chronicle editorial page reacted acidulously to the EPA's announcement: "It only took a court order and five years of delay for them to do the right thing."

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20 June 2012, 12:30 PM
Victory for clean air and public health

There are some straight spines left in the U.S. Senate, which today voted down a resolution from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) that would have effectively exempted coal-fired power plants—the nation's worst air polluters—from Clean Air Act controls that limit mercury and other toxic emissions. This is a critical victory in the decades-long effort to protect communities from the egregious amounts of health-damaging pollutants that coal plants put in our air.

In contrast, Sen. Inhofe and some of his coaleagues—pardon me, colleagues—have bent over backwards for our nation's most recalcitrant industrial polluters time and again, tone deaf to the fact that coal plant pollution sickens and kills tens of thousands of people every year. In fact, the senator said recently that the Environmental Protection Agency's recently finalized protections against toxic air from coal plants are "not about health." Yet that's exactly what they're about: limits on coal plant air pollution are projected to prevent up to 11,000 deaths, 4,700 heart attacks, and 130,000 childhood asthma attacks every year.

But from the senator's perspective, these benefits are "negligible."

"I find it impossible to relate to the senator's view that such benefits are 'negligible,' and thankfully, a majority of senators appear to as well," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Pew, who has worked for more than a decade to obtain the mercury and air toxic standards for power plants, and who is currently defending them from industry attack on behalf of the NAACP, Sierra Club, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, and Clean Air Counsel.

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18 June 2012, 3:50 PM
Bill is dangerous scheme to exempt power plants from clean air laws

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is spearheading an egregious effort in the Senate to exempt the nation's worst air polluters from the Clean Air Act. He is floating a resolution that would block recently finalized limits on the amounts of mercury, arsenic and other health-damaging pollutants that coal- and oil-fired power plants can emit. It's up for a vote on Wednesday.

Today, thankfully, the White House indicated that it will veto Inhofe's dirty air disaster if it manages to pass the Senate.

The senator, shockingly, has described the benefits of these landmark protections as "negligible." But there's nothing negligible about the prevention of up to 11,000 premature deaths, 4,600 heart attacks and 130,000 childhood asthma attacks every year.

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15 June 2012, 2:40 PM
Final standards, due in December, must be strongest possible
Photo: Chris Jordan-Bloch/Earthjustice

Just two weeks ago, the Environmental Protection Agency was dithering on a proposal to strengthen protections against an air pollutant that causes tens of thousands of avoidable deaths every year.

Enter Earthjustice attorney, Paul Cort, who on behalf of citizen groups asked a federal judge to order the EPA to get moving. So compelling was the case that the judge ruled in Earthjustice's favor directly from the bench, ordering the EPA to proceed without further delay. This motivated the EPA to settle the remainder of the suit and release a proposal. The agency also committed to release a final standard by Dec. 14, 2012.

Today, the agency released its proposal, and we have Cort's legal action to thank—a prime example of how citizen enforcement of our nation's environmental laws can produce real results for public health and the environment.

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31 May 2012, 3:43 PM
Federal court gives EPA a week to sign proposal, after Earthjustice suit

Nothing cuts baloney like a court order. Today, in response to a request made by Earthjustice, a federal judge gave the Environmental Protection Agency one week to sign a proposal for tightening standards on soot, an airborne mixture of tiny particles that causes tens of thousands of early deaths every year.

The court's action is most welcome: there's been so much foot-dragging at EPA on this issue, you have to wonder if everyone involved needs a new pair of shoes.

The order jumpstarts a process that will hopefully have significant public health ramifications. Last year, we released a report with the American Lung Association (ALA) and Clean Air Task Force called Sick of Soot that showed a strong soot standard could prevent nearly 36,000 premature deaths every year. That averages to a staggering 700 premature deaths just between now and June 7th, the deadline set by the court.

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29 May 2012, 3:59 PM
Air pollution penetrates the heart of California's wild places
A giant ponderosa pine. Photo: USFS.

Over this past long weekend, spent backpacking in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, I was reminded of a memorable method for distinguishing two of our stateliest trees. Though these two specimens are similar in many respects, the pine cones of "prickly ponderosa" have small spikes that point outwards, while those of "gentle Jeffrey" curve inward. (The bark of Jeffrey pines additionally smells like butterscotch or vanilla, which makes ID'ing them doubly delicious.)

But lo, after a string of days spent with these gentle giants, I returned to some sobering news. The Associated Press reports that smog pollution is weakening the growth of ponderosa and Jeffrey pine stands in California's Sequoia National Park. Ozone, the primary component of smog, inhibits the trees' ability to perform photosynthesis, evidenced by a yellowing of their bundles of long needles.

If you need a refresher, photosynthesis is the process by which plants harness energy from the sun and convert it into cellular energy. That energy is conferred to us animals when we eat plants. So, you know, it's really important.

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02 May 2012, 10:46 AM
As asthma awareness month begins, ozone season looms
Smog makes some kids sing the blues when "School's Out" (the memorable Alice Cooper tune)

“School’s out for summer!”

When I was growing up, Alice Cooper’s 1972 hit usually infiltrated my head sometime around the beginning of May, looped incessantly, and hit a feverish crescendo in the few minutes before the final bell released us to summer break. Now, many years later, a very different line completes the couplet in my head.

“Ozone is a bummer!”

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24 April 2012, 11:22 AM
Join more than 600,000 opposing industrial coal plant pollution
680,000 comments, being hand-delivered to the EPA. Earthjustice Legislative Representative Sarah Saylor (left) carries more than 50,000 comments from Earthjustice supporters.

When you've got food poisoning, what's the last thing on earth you want? A heaping plate of the offending dish, right? Well—new, dirty coal plants are to the planet what shrimp scampi is to a roiling belly.

Industrial carbon pollution from coal plants is making us sick, driving climate change, and intensifying the smog-filled air that triggers asthma attacks in children and seniors. But in late March, the Environmental Protection Agency aimed to settle stomachs when it released clean air standards to curb this dangerous pollution from new plants.

Already, 680,000 people have submitted public comments in support of these precedent-setting protections. The comments were delivered directly to the EPA earlier today, but do not fear if you haven't weighed in yet. We're just getting started.

Comments being delivered to the EPA.

Representatives from many groups, including Earthjustice, carry public comments to the EPA's headquarters. Warmer temperatures intensify smog pollution and its health impacts on Americans, including more asthma attacks in children and seniors.
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17 April 2012, 5:07 PM
Cleaning up pollution actually hurts those afflicted by it, says EPA critic

A remarkable thing happened during a Senate hearing today on the EPA's rule to limit toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants. A critic of the agency's policy argued that reducing air pollution from coal-fired power plants—the nation's worst air polluters—is a bad idea because it will make it more expensive for asthmatics to run their air conditioners on hot days when poor air quality forces them inside.

Seriously? Seriously.

"Look, anybody who has a child with asthma, anybody who is caring for an elderly relative knows that during times of the year, the most important thing you can do is get them into a room that has good air conditioning," said Jeff Holmstead during his testimony. "If you make that air conditioning a lot more expensive, you're gonna have problems."

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