Sam Edmondson's Blog Posts

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.

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.

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02 May 2011, 12:05 PM
Air pollution is a national problem that needs fixing

More than half of U.S. residents—154 million people—suffer from polluted air that is often too dirty to breathe. This troubling statistic comes by way of the American Lung Association’s most recent State of the Air report. In 366 counties across the country, residents are inhaling dangerous levels of ozone pollution and fine particles, which are a major cause of premature death.

At the same time that these 154 million Americans are breathing dirty air, many of their representatives in Washington, D.C. are busy trying to dismantle the Clean Air Act. These allies of dirty industry think that limits on air pollution are unreasonable. They think cement kilns, power plants and other major sources of air pollution should be able to pollute without making any efforts to control toxic chemicals and metals that impact our health.

Well, I bet those 154 million Americans disagree. Our lives depend on clean air. Thankfully, more than 80 doctors, nurses, faith and tribal leaders, and community advocates from all 50 states are arriving in Washington, D.C. today to tell decision makers that we all have a right to breathe clean air.

Read the stories of these inspiring Clean Air Ambassadors and leave your own story and message of support for their efforts.

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21 April 2011, 12:41 AM
Celebrating the birthday and accomplishments of an American hero

Today is the 173rd birthday of John Muir. If the legacy of wildland preservation in this country were a river long with oxbows, falls and many notable tributaries, Muir's contributions would certainly be the headwaters.

Muir was the co-founder and first president of the Sierra Club and a steadfast advocate for the protection of wilderness. Through his essays and books—penned late in life after years of exploration—he has exposed millions to the wonders of the outdoors, and particularly the many rewards that await the California mountaineer. But Muir's greatest gift to me is the encouragement given to put the book down and go out and do: "Only those will ever know who give the freest and most buoyant portion of their lives to climbing and seeing for themselves," he wrote in The Mountains of California.

It was in the spring of 1868 that this wide-eyed son of a Scottish minister first came by wanderlust into California's Sierra Nevada mountains—or the Range of Light as he called it—to see for himself. As he climbed into the Yosemite Valley, Muir discovered the towering granite buttresses that would become the rocks of his own church.

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14 April 2011, 12:15 PM
Some House Republicans want to delay life-saving health protections
Congressman Ed Whitfield (R-KY)

Today, another indication comes that some members of Congress don't breathe the same air as their constituents. Politico is reporting (subs. req'd) that House Republicans will soon introduce legislation to delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to reduce the amount of cancer-causing, asthma-inducing, premature death-dealing pollutants in the air we all breathe—some congresspersons excepted, apparently.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), who serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, was crystal clear about motives: "The objective is to delay the implementation of these regulations."

The health protections that House Republicans are trying to delay, which would finally clean up some of the nation's biggest toxic polluters—coal plants, industrial boilers and cement kilns—are already more than a decade late. In that time, unregulated pollution from these facilities has damaged our environment and made people sick. And what Whitfield didn't mention to reporters is that delaying these health protections further will lead to as many as 25,000 premature deaths… every year.

Here's a local yardstick: 25,000 people is nearly the number of students currently attending the University of Kentucky, Rep. Whitfield's alma mater.

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12 April 2011, 4:21 PM
Former Republican senator defends the Clean Air Act

Clean air isn't a partisan issue, although that's admittedly easy to forget if you're following the ongoing congressional clash over clean air protections (which sometimes seems as wide as the gap between the Grand Canyon's north and south rims). The American public certainly isn't so divided. A large majority—which includes citizens who identify as Republican, Democrat and independent voters—wants clean air health protections.

A recent op-ed in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune serves as a good reminder that clean air is important no matter which side of the political divide you happen to walk on. In the Star-Tribune piece, David Durenberger, a former Republican U.S. Senator who voted in 1990 along with 88 of his colleagues to pass strong amendments to the Clean Air Act, refers to the Act as "one of the great public-health achievements of American history—especially for kids."

Indeed, President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act into law in 1970 with strong bipartisan support. And the amendments to which Durenberger lent his support in 1990 were similarly popular. These cooperative efforts between our elected Democratic and Republican leaders exemplify good governing and an accomplishment that has made the lives of all Americans better.

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11 April 2011, 3:10 PM
Decade-long effort to improve life in Port Arthur wins Kelley the "Green Nobel"
Hilton Kelley in Port Arthur, TX. Photo: Goldman Prize

Port Arthur, Texas is home to a high density of oil refineries, chemical plants and hazardous waste facilities that have made the Gulf Coast city one of the most polluted in America. Asthma and cancer rates in the largely African-American neighborhood known as West Side—which sits at the fenceline of Port Arthur's heavy industry—are among the highest in the state.

But thankfully, Port Arthur is also home to Hilton Kelley, a force-of-nature environmental justice advocate whose tireless efforts in his community have reduced the toxic burden that he and his neighbors bear. Kelley's inspirational work earned him a 2011 Goldman Environmental Prize, which every year goes to six outstanding grassroots environmental heroes (one from every inhabited continent). Mr. Kelley, alongside the five other recipients, will receive the North American award at a ceremony in San Francisco later today.

The 50-year-old Kelley was born in Port Arthur but left in 1979 to pursue a career as a stuntman and actor in television and film. On a visit home in 2000, Kelley was shocked by the decline his hometown was experiencing—though Port Arthur had faced poverty and air pollution in his youth, the prevalence of cancer and respiratory illness, crime and economic hardship he saw was devastating. Resolved to help his community, Kelley returned home and learned all he could about industrial air pollution—and how to stop it.

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08 April 2011, 3:09 PM
Affordable, effective technology exists to make our air safer to breathe

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed last month to clean up the toxic air emissions of coal-fired power plants, it wasn't a surprise. The date actually had been set for about a year, thanks to a court-ordered deadline won by Earthjustice and other groups. And for years prior to that deadline, a back-and-forth legal battle raged between a coalition of environmental and public health organizations—with Earthjustice in a leading role—and the coal-fired power industry's lobbyists and political cronies.

In fact, the effort to clean up power plants' emissions of mercury, arsenic and other toxics could legally drink a beer if it were a person. The seed of that effort was planted by Congress 21 years ago in amendments to the Clean Air Act.

So, don't believe the protestations from some sectors of the power industry that they can't possibly comply with these important health protections in time. These health protections have been coming to town for many, many years and would've arrived much sooner had the intransigence of industry not delayed them time and again.

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07 April 2011, 4:21 PM
New report highlights prevalence, cost of asthma and the need for clean air
Photo: Chris Jordan/Earthjustice

People who suffer from asthma often say an attack feels like breathing through a pool of water or with a pillow covering their face. Unfortunately, millions of Americans know all too well what that's like.

In the United States, asthma is a bona fide public health epidemic: 17 million adults and 7 million children suffer from the disease. Every year, our society pays in excess of $53 billion to treat it. Millions of asthmatics, including hundreds of thousands of kids, make visits to the emergency room for medical attention. And in thousands of severe cases, people die.

The scope of this epidemic, broken down by state, is laid out in a report released yesterday by Health Care Without Harm, The National Association of School Nurses, and The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments. The report notes that environmental triggers like air pollution can cause and exacerbate asthma, so it's critically important that we defend existing clean air protections and work for new ones.

No argument here, but many of our elected leaders in Congress apparently don't agree.

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21 March 2011, 2:46 PM
Recent editorial supports reductions in power plants' toxic air emissions

Over the weekend, the editorial page of the New York Times once again defended the right to breathe clean air. This time, the paper focused on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently proposed health standards for power plants’ toxic air emissions, which are expected to save as many as 17,000 lives every year by reducing dangerous pollution.

The editorial concludes that the EPA’s health standard “is something industry can afford and the nation needs.” It’s good to see this influential paper argue forcefully for reductions in power plants’ toxic emissions.

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18 March 2011, 12:01 PM
New York Times blog highlights the costs of uncontrolled air pollution

The New York Times Green blog has a good post today that spells out in no uncertain terms the cost of delaying health standards for coal plants’ toxic air pollution: thousands of preventable deaths.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took the historic action of proposing these long-overdue health standards, which are expected to save as many as 17,000 lives every year. In the Times post, John Bachmann, a former director for science and policy in the EPA’s air quality division is quoted thus: “This could have been done 20 years ago. These delays, as they’ve mounted up, have had a cost in people dying sooner. And it’s not trivial.”

The Times post provides some interesting history, including the failed attempt by the Bush administration to remove coal plants from the list of hazardous air polluters and institute an industry-favored mercury trading program. Coal plants are the nation’s worst emitters of toxic air pollutants such as mercury, acid gases, and arsenic. That they will finally be subject to health protections afforded by the Clean Air Act is a very good thing indeed.

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16 March 2011, 10:52 AM
Protections will save 17,000 lives every year, protect children's health
Administrator Lisa Jackson and students this morning. Photo: EPA.gov

Two decades ago, Congress promised the American public major reductions of the most dangerous air pollutants—toxics such as mercury, arsenic and lead that cause major health problems and can lead even to premature death. Today, after a long struggle in which Earthjustice proudly participated, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency took historic action to clean up the worst of all toxic air offenders: coal-fired power plants.

These unrivaled sources of toxic air pollution—which damage our lungs and hearts, threaten the health and well-being of children across the U.S., and contribute to the toxic burden shouldered by low-income and communities of color—have never been required to limit their emissions of toxic air. Until now.

At a press conference this morning, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced her agency’s new health protections against these dangerous pollution sources and signed the proposal flanked by kids from a local elementary school in S.W. Washington, D.C. Cleaning up coal-fired power plants will create a better, cleaner future for these and other kids across the country. One particularly notable example: when the health protections take effect in 2016, the EPA estimates that as many as 17,000 lives will be saved… every year.

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