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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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04 February 2011, 1:04 PM
Powerful op-ed from Alex Allred, mother of three, takes Rep. Carter to task
Alex Allred.

Alex Allred is a wife, mother of three, author, former Olympic bobsledder (!), and passionate advocate for clean air. Years ago, she and her family moved to Midlothian, Texas. Said Allred, “We moved here partly because we thought it would be a great place to raise our three kids.”

Shortly after the move, however, Alex’s son got sick with flu-like symptoms, pneumonia, and then double pneumonia. “He’d collapse on the floor. I’d pick him up and drive like a maniac to the emergency room.” It happened six times. The diagnosis given was environmental asthma.

The catalyst for her son’s sudden respiratory ailment rested in one of Midlothian’s distinguishing features: a large number of nearby cement plants. Allred ultimately got involved with Downwinders at Risk, a Dallas-based education and advocacy group on whose board she currently serves, and took her concerns over the unregulated toxic pollution from cement plants to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

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03 February 2011, 4:41 PM
Recent reports detail sky-high mercury emissions of the worst toxic polluters

When it comes to mercury pollution, coal-fired power plants are king. Two recent reports—one from the Environmental Integrity Project, the other from Environment America—take a look at the scope of the problem.

EIP has meticulously tracked mercury pollution from power plants for years in their Dirty Kilowatts reports. But this year is an especially important time to focus on this unresolved pollution problem, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is currently on a court-ordered deadline won by Earthjustice and a broad coalition of environmental and public health groups to issue the first-ever health protections against emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants from power plants. The draft health protections are due March 16, 2011.

According to EIP’s report—“America’s Power Plant Mercury Polluters: The Good, the Bad, and the Dirty”—the 50 worst mercury polluters generated nearly half of the power plant industry’s total mercury emissions. These 50 dirty plants emitted 33,280 pounds of mercury—a shocking number when you consider it takes only 1/70th of a teaspoon of mercury to pollute a 20-acre lake to the point where fish are unsafe to eat.

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02 February 2011, 4:46 PM
New survey reaffirms that public wants clean air, health protections
President George H.W. Bush signs Clean Air Act Amendments into law on Nov. 15, 1990. (George Bush Presidential Library and Museum)

Sixty-three percent of Americans want the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency “to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water.” This according to a new survey conducted at the end of January by ORC International.

Rep. John Carter (D-TX)—fast becoming a household name around here—isn’t part of that 63 percent. In early January, Rep. Carter sponsored a resolution to effectively block EPA health protections that will limit emissions of mercury and other dangerous air toxics from cement plants. These protections could prevent the premature death of as many as 2,500 people every year when they take effect in 2013.

Notwithstanding the fact that Rep. Carter has seriously misrepresented the facts in his push to win support for his anti-health resolution, a large majority of Americans generally disagree with his approach. The ORC survey found that 77 percent of Americans—more than three out of every four—say “Congress (should) let the EPA do its job.”

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01 February 2011, 2:43 PM
Also, congressman's dirty deeds and boilers' toxic air
Refinery photo by Pamela A. Miller.

(Clean air is a life saver, which is why Earthjustice is working to ensure that polluters don’t stand in the way of safeguards against air pollution. Here’s a round up of some recent news in the ongoing campaign to protect our Right to Breathe.)

Use the #right2breathe hashtag on Twitter to track campaign updates.

EPA Defends Hazardous Waste Loophole
Back in 2008, the Bush administration exempted oil refineries from safety requirements designed to protect the public from the storage, transport, and burning of hazardous waste. Citizen groups including Earthjustice asked the current EPA to close the loophole, but last week, the agency signaled its support for the Bush-era exemption. This is bad news for communities that live near oil refineries. Wilma Subra of the Louisiana Environmental Action Network said “Communities in the Gulf region already suffer enough from refineries’ toxic pollution. The last thing we need is uncontrolled burning of their hazardous wastes.” A public comment period will open shortly—we’ll keep you posted on what you can do to help close this egregious loophole.

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06 January 2011, 5:02 PM
New reps waste no time in sticking up for big polluters at expense of Americans
A cement kiln in Midlothian, TX operates near a playground. Photo: Samantha Bornhorst

The Republican majority in the new Congress has named the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as its chief adversary and is now preparing to thwart by any means necessary the agency’s efforts to reduce pollution. Today, they took one of their first swipes at the agency.

Led by Rep. John Carter (R-TX), House Republicans are attempting to use an obscure procedure known as the Congressional Review Act to take down the EPA’s recently finalized standards to control toxic air emissions from cement plants—the third largest source of mercury pollution in the U.S.

But this crusade is far more than an attack on the EPA, which under Lisa Jackson’s leadership has become a whipping boy for the congressional allies of big polluters. It’s an attack on Americans and their right to breathe clean air.

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30 December 2010, 1:12 PM
Clean air protections saved more than 100,000 lives this year

As 2011 approaches, scores of online outlets are eulogizing the Hollywood stars, musicians, authors, and other icons who died this year. While it’s only natural to reflect on what was lost, there’s also a powerful story to be told about a huge group of people who didn’t die—though it may not get the attention won by familiar names and faces.

According to estimates from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 160,000 American lives were saved in 2010 by the Clean Air Act’s health protections. That tremendous number—roughly the population of U.S. cities such as Santa Rosa, CA, Sioux Falls, SD, and Springfield, MA—is the capstone in a year-end list of the eleven biggest clean air events of 2010, compiled by the American Lung Association.

ALA’s list highlights some of 2010’s monumental victories, including the first-ever toxic air emission standards for cement kilns—one of the largest sources of mercury pollution in the United States—and new limits on auto pollution.

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16 December 2010, 12:52 PM
Excellent Pittsburgh Post-Gazette series looks at dirty air in western PA
Madi Kiddey and her sister, Abi, play near the Bruce Mansfield power plant. Photo: Robin Rombach/Post-Gazette

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is a little more than halfway through an amazing week-long series called "Mapping Mortality" that focuses on air pollution in western Pennsylvania. Reporters Don Hopey and David Templeton spent a year interviewing more than 100 people, including Lee Lasich, who uses all of her fingers to enumerate the deaths of friends and neighbors from brain and pancreatic cancers in her Clairton, PA neighborhood.

The reporting is stellar, the photos are jarring, and the takeaway, unlike western PA's air, is crystal clear: air pollution is killing people. Pennsylvanians who live in the shadow of the state's sundry sources of pollution—including 40 coal-fired power plants—often exhibit rates of heart and respiratory disease, lung cancers, and premature death that are significantly higher than national averages.

Hopey and Templeton concluded that 1,435 people in the 14-county region they studied die every year because of diseases linked to pollution exposure. Pennsylvania residents such as Ralph Hysong grasp the connections: "In Shippingport people don't die of old age," he said. "They die of cancer or heart attacks or lung disease."

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09 November 2010, 1:12 PM
EPA chief scolds reps for looking at only one half of the ledger

Clean air just isn't as popular as it should be. Though reducing air pollution saves lives and money, some lawmakers seem hell-bent on denying these benefits to the American public. They seem to believe that nothing should hinder polluters' ability to make a buck, not even the prevalence of asthma, birth defects, heart disease, cancer, and other ailments that results from dirty air emissions.

Take, for example, Texas reps Joe Barton and Michael Burgess. You may remember Barton as the man who called the $20 billion BP escrow fund a "shakedown." His ideology is apparently so extreme that he doesn't think the company responsible for the largest environmental disaster in a generation should set aside sufficient funds to help deal with the aftermath of the spill.

Last month, Barton and Burgess wrote to EPA chief Lisa Jackson with concerns that her agency's air pollution rules are all cost, which they outlined in an accompanying chart that pairs air pollution rules with their projected price tags. Thankfully, Jackson responded yesterday (subscription required) with a straightforward admonishment: you forgot to include the benefits.

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01 November 2010, 3:48 PM
Economists say industry-funded studies on air rules don’t make the grade

Thousands of lives and billions of dollars will be saved every year by new air pollution rules from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Polluting industries are lining up in opposition to these life-saving controls. In attempts to kill the rules, they've commissioned "economic studies" that forecast doom and gloom if the measures to reduce ozone, mercury, lead and other dangerous air pollution are implemented. Problem is, the industry-funded studies are polluted by nonsense.

That was the conclusion reached by economics professors from Dartmouth College, the University of California-Santa Barbara and the University of Wyoming after reviewing the studies' methods.

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30 September 2010, 3:02 PM
Uphold the Clean Air Act, groups ask
Photo: Fresno Bee

Across the United States—from California's Central Valley to Chicago, Houston and New York—people are breathing polluted air and suffering. Asthma, bronchitis, heart disease, birth defects and even cancer are the prices paid by residents in scores of American communities where polluting facilities operate.

Worst of all, this suffering is unnecessary. Cost-effective technology to dramatically reduce toxic air emissions exists, but some of the biggest polluters simply brush off obligations to clean up their acts and be better neighbors. This stubborn refusal to comply with the law is having an especially big impact on Latino citizens, as a recent letter to President Obama and Congress points out.

More than 25 million U.S. Latinos—66 percent of the total Latino population—live in places where federal air quality standards aren't being met. Rates of asthma in communities like San Diego's Barrio Logan neighborhood are four times the national average. The letter, signed by community groups representing more than 5 million Latino citizens in the U.S., urges the Obama administration and Congress to uphold the Clean Air Act, which the groups say "means jobs, better health and better opportunities for a brighter, healthier future."

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