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.


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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12 May 2010, 3:37 PM
A short backpack in the valley of controversy
Photo: Nate Hill

This is the first installment in a summer-long series called the "Trail Report" that will celebrate the beauty of hiking and backpacking in the kinds of wild places Earthjustice is working to protect.

Near Yosemite National Park's western border lies Hetch Hetchy Valley. For nearly 90 years, the valley has been submerged by a reservoir that interrupts the mighty Tuolumne River, storing water that is sent to more than 2 million people in the San Francisco Bay Area (it also generates a modest amount of hydropower electricity). On maps, the reservoir resembles the bloated belly of a python that has just swallowed its prey.

The push to dam Hetch Hetchy originated in the early part of the 20th century and was stiffly opposed by the venerable John Muir. Despite his and others' protestations, often downright poetic in their construction, the Raker Act of 1913 authorized flooding of the valley, and O'Shaughnessy Dam was completed ten years later. The passing of time hasn't subdued the controversy surrounding Hetch Hetchy. I've included some thoughts from longtime environmental writer Tom Turner at the end of this piece.

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30 April 2010, 10:04 AM
New EPA rules will cut air toxics, but a loophole leaves some vulnerable
Solid waste incinerator. Photo: EPA.

Americans can breathe a sigh of relief today, thanks to new rules announced by the Environmental Protection Agency that will reduce toxic air pollution in communities across the country. The rules come three years after Earthjustice and others stopped the Bush administration from deregulating toxic emissions from industrial boilers, incinerators, and process heaters.

These sources may sound obscure, but consider that highly polluting materials like coal, discarded tires, used chemicals and other industrial wastes are burned in boilers and solid waste incinerators at hundreds of thousands of facilities in the U.S. Chances are, you or someone you know lives, works, or commutes by one of these facilities, perhaps without even knowing it.

Cancer, reproductive disorders, birth defects and other serious health problems can be caused by the toxic air pollutants from these sources. Now, many of these facilities will be subject to strong pollution controls.

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29 April 2010, 2:42 PM
Dirtiest oil on Earth comes with high costs
Photo: David Dodge, The Pembina Institute. More at

Due to skyrocketing costs, Shell Oil is putting expansion plans in the Canadian tar sands on hold for at least five years. The Globe and Mail reported yesterday that the head of Shell's American operations referred to the tar sands as one of the most expensive oil projects on earth.

The tar sands' high cost isn't only financial. Extracting the thick, dirty crude oil located beneath Alberta's magnificent boreal forests has created an environmental catastrophe. The scar left by tar sands operations on the Canadian wilderness is visible from space. Extracting tar sands oil requires 2.5 to 4 times more water and releases 3 times more global warming pollution than extracting conventional crude oil. And tar sands oil contains a lot more sulfur, nickel, nitrogen, and lead than conventional oil. As a result, when it's processed in refineries, tar sands oil releases far higher levels of toxics into the air.

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12 April 2010, 3:31 PM
The icy architects of Glacier’s stunning scenery may soon disappear
Overview of Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park. Photo: Mark Wagner

Glacier National Park is commemorating its centennial this year. Hoping to celebrate the park's tremendous beauty in person, I recently submitted a request to camp in Glacier's high country later this summer. If I'm lucky enough to obtain the permits, I will find myself hiking high trails in the home of grizzly bears, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, moose, Canadian lynx, bald eagles, and more than 1,000 plant species, to name just a few.

But even more than Glacier's remarkable diversity of wildlife, the park's namesake attractions are what help to draw 2 million visitors annually to its trails and vistas. Unfortunately, Glacier's glaciers are disappearing at an alarming rate due to warmer temperatures brought on by climate change.

This sad fact means that I'll be hiking this summer to do more than just celebrate Glacier's beauty. I'll be paying last respects.

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02 February 2010, 1:31 PM
Budget proposal sparks fresh attacks

Yesterday, a new political theater opened in the battle over whether the Clean Air Act should be used to reduce global warming pollution. At issue is a request contained in the Obama administration's 2011 budget proposal that $56 million—$43 million of it new—be directed to the EPA for use in efforts to cut global warming pollution from mobile sources like cars and stationary sources like coal-fired power plants.

The allocation is less than one percent of the total proposed budget for EPA (which hovers just above $10 billion) and less than 0.01 percent of the total federal budget proposal of $3.69 trillion. Which is to say that the request is less significant than the ideological divide illustrated by the Congressional proponents and opponents of the allocation's mere existence. Since Congress ultimately cuts the checks, the skirmishes that happen in those hallowed halls are critical.

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26 January 2010, 3:08 PM
Indian city will serve consumers natural gas instead
Air pollution in Delhi. Photo: Dave Morris

City officials in Delhi, India plan to replace the three coal-fired plants providing (artificially) cheap power to the city with natural gas facilities. The transition, which the officials hope to accomplish in four years, is projected to dramatically reduce air pollution in a city notorious for it.

The switch won't be painless. Power bills are projected to increase and detractors are certain to vocalize their opposition. But city officials anticipate that concomitant improvements in public health will mollify consumers. Delhi's chief secretary, Rakesh Mehta, thinks "consumers would be willing to pay more for a cleaner atmosphere."

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25 January 2010, 2:03 PM
Legal attack aimed at EPA's power to regulate GW emissions
Massey Energy CEO, Don Blankenship.

The EPA Clean Air Act endangerment finding, under attack in the U.S. Senate by Lisa Murkowski and her lobbyist allies, is also facing opposition in the courts. Last month, a band of industry interests asked a federal appeals court to review the EPA's finding, which is a prerequisite for using the Clean Air Act to reduce global warming pollution in the U.S.

Among the companies and business associations crusading against the endangerment finding is the coal giant Massey Energy—whose CEO Don Blankenship is a fervid denier of global warming, a position he championed without compunction in a recent debate with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. over mountaintop removal mining.

His line of argument was skillfully captured in a tweet by Earthjustice Campaign Director Jared Saylor, who attended the debate. Others, however, realize that our national addiction to fossil fuels must be overcome, and the endangerment finding is a step towards sobriety.

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17 December 2009, 11:48 AM
Sen. Murkowski targets the EPA endangerment finding
Photo by AP

For the second time in 3 months, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) is trying to block solutions to global warming. In September, she attempted to tack an amendment onto an appropriations bill that would have kept the Environmental Protection Agency from spending any money on reducing global warming pollution from major emissions sources, like coal-fired power plants. She failed.

But she's at it again. This go around, she's attempting to retroactively veto the EPA's recent Clean Air Act endangerment finding, which states that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are a threat to human health and welfare. The endangerment finding is the result of a Supreme Court ruling that found EPA has the authority and a legal obligation to use the Clean Air Act to regulate global warming pollution.

Is Murkowski suggesting that EPA ignore the High Court's ruling?

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10 December 2009, 5:19 PM
Senators release framework for global warming legislation
Photo by AP

The Senate's Three Amigos—Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), John Kerry (D-MA), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT)—today released their framework for tackling global warming, our planetary El Guapo. The 5-page document lays out some broad principles for a Senate bill but is slim on specifics.

Crystal clear, however, is the senators' desire for a market-based system (i.e. one in which supply and demand reigns) rather than a system of government regulation: "Monday's endangerment finding by the EPA underscores the importance of Congressional action to address greenhouse gas emissions before the EPA moves unilaterally."

The endangerment finding—which makes possible the regulation of global warming pollution through the Clean Air Act—is a bitter pill to most business groups and industries, whose spokespeople quickly fired off "economy killer" statements when the finding was announced.

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09 December 2009, 1:20 PM
Efforts to tie EPA's hands voted down

The endangerment finding released by the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week—which states that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are a threat to public health and welfare—sure seems to rub some politicians the wrong way. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), a U.S. Senate hopeful, made an attempt to keep any funding allocated in an omnibus spending bill to the EPA from being spent on regulations based on the endangerment finding.

Tiahrt's amendment to the $446.8 billion dollar spending bill was rejected last night in a 5-9 vote. A similar unsuccessful assault on EPA regulation of global warming pollution was mounted in September by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Her amendment, which would have prevented the EPA for one year from spending any money allocated to them through an appropriations bill on regulating stationary sources of carbon pollution like power plants, didn't even get a vote.

These attempts to block funding for regulations, compared to the enthusiasm expressed by many at the announcement of the endangerment finding, illustrate a central issue: Using the Clean Air Act to regulate global warming pollution from cars, trucks, power plants, factories and other sources is a divisive issue. Moving forward, if and when EPA rolls out proposed regulations for these sources, it'll be interesting to see who lines up on which side of the argument.