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unEARTHED. The Earthjustice 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.

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14 October 2011, 2:45 PM
House of Reps steers country toward the rocks

Somewhere along the road from their home districts to their offices in Washington, D.C., our Congressional representatives got their wires crossed. The American public sent them forth with a mandate to run the country, but instead, they're ruining it.

Toward the end of September, the House passed the first piece of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor's (R-VA) Toxic Agenda: H.R. 2401, the so-called TRAIN Act—an absolute wreck of public policy. It ties to the tracks and threatens to run over two clean air standards that would prevent up to 51,000 premature deaths every year and generate $420 billion in annual economic benefits by cleaning up dirty coal plants.

Does America support Cantor's agenda? Do we want to board a crazy train bound for a future of dirty air, more disease and shorter lives? The answer, not surprisingly, is No. NO.

Recent polling shows that 75 percent of voters—including 62 percent of Cantor's party—think that the Environmental Protection Agency, not Congress, should make decisions about clean air standards. Large majorities are also against delaying (67 percent) or blocking (76 percent) the clean air standards that Cantor's TRAIN wreck is colliding with.

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12 October 2011, 1:45 PM
Breathing turns out to be a bipartisan business

The title of this post isn't a revelation. If it's surprising at all, it's only because there is one highly visible place where it just isn't true: Congress.

The Republican leadership is working hard to make the legislative branch of our government a kind of Bermuda triangle where clean air standards disappear mysteriously down a smokestack never to be seen again. For example, the House of Representatives last week voted 262 to 161 to outright exempt cement kilns—one of the largest sources of mercury pollution in the nation—from the Clean Air Act.

If the bill in question (H.R. 2681) were to become law, it would ensure that between 900 and 2,500 people die preventable deaths due to air pollution every year. Thousands more would suffer from asthma and heart attacks, cases of bronchitis and other respiratory distress. Despite these unconscionable impacts to the public's health, only two Republicans in the entire House opposed the bill—less than 1 percent of all House Republicans.

OK. So supposing that members of Congress are actually the direct representatives of the people, do you think that less than 1 percent of registered Republican voters in the U.S. support clean air protections? Absolutely not!

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04 October 2011, 1:59 PM
Dirty burning bills up for a vote this week

Quick! Somebody tell Tipper Gore that "clean air" and "public health" are now considered dirty words. Well, at least in the U.S. House of Representatives. If the House had a swear jar, I'd bet such utterances would be as punishable as your garden variety expletives.

Here's why: The House is voting this week on two bills that will trample clean air and public health if passed. H.R. 2250 and H.R. 2681 exempt industrial boilers, incinerators and cement plants from the Clean Air Act and actually encourage many such facilities to burn industrial garbage—think tires, scrap plastics, used chemicals and other waste—without controlling, monitoring or reporting the air pollution that results.

Imagine if you came home from work one day to find your neighbor setting fire to a heap of garbage in the backyard, fumes drifting over the fence into your yard and your home. You'd be outraged, no doubt, and rightfully so. Should the reaction be any different if the neighbor just happens to be a cement plant, a chemical plant or some other big industrial facility?

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26 July 2011, 2:48 PM
Powerful new commercial asks America to stand up for kids' health
Tommy Allred.

Meet Tommy Allred. He lives in Midlothian, TX, a town of fewer than 10,000 roughly 18,000 residents that also hosts three of the nation's most polluting cement plants.

Like millions of kids across the U.S., Tommy has asthma. He developed the condition after his family moved to Midlothian, when he was two years old. First it was pneumonia, then double pneumonia, bronchitis, fever, and inexplicable coughing followed by shortness of breath.

Upon examination at Children's Hospital in Dallas, a pediatrician remarked to Alex Allred, Tommy's mom, in a telling way, "Oh… you live in Midlothian."

A diagnosis of asthma followed, as did numerous trips to the emergency room. Alex said recently, "I honestly did not believe how bad asthma could be—and you don't—until your son or daughter falls to the ground, they turn purple and they stop breathing."

Tommy's condition spurred Alex to action. She has become a passionate, compelling voice for clean air protections. Most recently, she lent her voice to this powerful new commercial from the League of Women Voters.

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19 July 2011, 10:36 AM
More than 600,000 people say power plants should keep it clean
Supporters of strong mercury standards for power plants could fill up Fenway 17 times over. Photo: Jared Vincent/Flickr

How many Americans does it take to clean up dirty coal-fired power plants?


A coalition of public health, environmental and social justice groups delivered that number of public comments to the Environmental Protection Agency today at an event in Boston. This is a historic amount of support for air pollution standards that are projected to reduce mercury, soot and other dangerous pollution from coal-fired power plants—saving up to 17,000 lives every year in the process. Earthjustice supporters contributed more than 45,000 of those public comments, and for that, we're very proud… and thankful.

Just how big is this outpouring of support? Well, that many people could fill Boston's historic Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, more than 17 times over. In fact, 639,000 people is greater than the population of Boston—and many other major American cities. A city of 639,000 would be the 21st largest city in America.

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14 July 2011, 10:28 AM
Cherise Udell, inspiring mom for clean air, defends right to breathe in Utah
Cherise Udell of Utah Moms for Clean Air. Photo: Chris Jordan / Earthjustice

I love my mother with all of my heart. But if for some strange reason I had to choose another, I'd probably go with Cherise Udell.

Cherise is the founder of Utah Moms for Clean Air—a group of hundreds of mothers who "use the power of moms to clean up Utah's dirty air." I had the pleasure of meeting Cherise when she participated in the 50 States United for Healthy Air project, which Earthjustice helped to coordinate. She is a tour de force and a great defender of the right to breathe, but don't take my word for it. Check out this inspiring piece she wrote for the Moms Clean Air Force, cross-posted at Joe Romm's great blog, Climate Progress.

A preview to whet your appetite:

Breathing Salt Lake City's dirty air during a winter inversion is like smoking cigarettes. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment explained that air pollution acted much like involuntary smoking because it had virtually all of the same health consequences of smoking about a quarter pack a day…

The image of my baby with a cigarette dangling from her toothless mouth was enough to move me to action. Utah Moms for Clean Air was born that day.

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13 July 2011, 2:14 PM
Congress pushes boundaries with anti-environmental agenda
Avant-garde, the good kind. Partial view of Marchel Duchamp's sensational 1912 painting, Nude Descending a Staircase.

A thousand political fires are burning in Washington, D.C., as members of the House of Representatives hijack the budgeting process. They aim to torch critical environmental safeguards—from endangered species protections to standards that keep our air and water clean.

Their strategy? Since Congress has to pass a spending bill that funds government agencies—the EPA, Forest Service and others—anti-environmental representatives think they can slip bitter pills into the bill and make the country swallow.

I call it avant-garde governing. First, the architects of this all-out assault on environmental protection are pushing the boundaries of our democracy. Second, they are in a different place entirely from the majority of Americans.

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05 July 2011, 12:18 PM
New research links air pollution to depression, brain changes

Remember the anti-drug commercial where illicit drugs (played by butter) fried a brain (played by an egg)? Over the action, a gravelly voice intoned "This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?"

Those PSAs were a fixture of my childhood. Now, well into adulthood, I wonder if it is perhaps time for a redux. But in the sequel, instead of playing drugs, butter would play the part of dirty air.

Why the update, you ask? Because it turns out that over time, lungfuls of dirty air may affect our memories and even our moods.

This revelation comes from a neuroscience research team at Ohio State University, which published its findings this week in the journal Molecular Psychiatry (find it next to Rolling Stone at the local newsstand, or here). The research suggests that chronic exposure to soot—also known as fine particulate matter, or PM2.5—leads to inflammation in the hippocampus and cell connections therein that are both weaker and fewer. Such changes are connected to decreased learning and memory function, as well as depression.

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24 June 2011, 10:43 AM
On public health protections, administration wants us to play the waiting game

Imagine two tiny figures perched on a politician's shoulders—one scientific, the other political.

The scientist whispers in the politician's ear: "You can save 6,500 lives every year with these health protections!"

The tiny politician counters, "You can save those lives, but who will save you from the powerful industry lobbyists outside your door?"

So with an election approaching, the right thing to do—pursuing environmental policy that will save lives, not placate industry—becomes the thing that isn't done. And the tiny scientist is brushed off. New evidence of that approach came today.

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16 June 2011, 3:23 PM
Controversial air loophole encourages dangerous waste burning

Not all burning is bad. For example, campfires rule—when they are done sensitively. I don't mean with tenderness, but rather with attention paid to the ecosystem and the importance of the fallen wood within it. Those fires bring light, heat and comfort to our small corners of the wild.

But in other corners of the world, bad burning reigns, and the Obama administration has given it a new throne. The Obama Environmental Protection Agency is making the unprecedented assertion that burning industrial waste as a fuel—akin to coal or natural gas—is a form of recycling. This Bush-era line of logic will allow and in fact incentivize burning of industrial waste—things like scrap plastics, used chemicals and industrial sludges—in around 185,000 unregulated boilers across the country. These pieces of equipment aren't subject to pollution controls, air monitoring, or reporting requirements.

Should companies choose to burn waste in one of these boilers—and no doubt many will, as it will be a cheap way to make their waste go away—nearby communities will face increased emissions of mercury, benzene, dioxins and other hazardous air pollutants, and worse yet, they most likely won't even know it. Industry has pressed long and hard for such a gift, but the Obama administration is the first to give it so freely. Today, Earthjustice filed suit against the EPA to challenge this egregious loophole.