Terry Winckler's Blog Posts

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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.

Terry Winckler is Earthjustice's Editor and resident wordsmith who edits and produces our blog, online monthly newsletter and quarterly print magazine. His appreciation for all that is wild began as a child when he would spend countless hours outdoors, gazing at fireflies on soft summer nights, or listening to his father's tales of the vast primeval forest in Canada's North Woods. Terry's heroes include saints, do-gooders, champions of the underdog, free spirits and nature lovers. In his free time, he enjoys engaging with his spouse and children, eating fistfuls of peppermint stick ice cream and spinning a good yarn.

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29 June 2010, 4:51 PM
Gulf spill area like a cauldron waiting to be stirred
Tropical Storm Alex

<Update 7/1: All BP oil spill cleanup and containment efforts are on hold as wind and waves from the former Hurricane Alex push through the oil spill area. Although the storm stayed 600 miles to the west, it still had enough punch to not only stop the cleanup but actually push oil deeper into coastal wetlands and onto beaches.>

<Update: Alex has been upgraded to a hurricane and continues on course, veering away from any direct contact with the Gulf oil spill area, but still disrupting containment and cleanup efforts. Tar balls "big as apples" have been pushed deep into wetlands by the storm, reports AP. >

Wind and waves from Hurricane Alex are stirring up more questions than havoc so far at the BP oil spill site, hundreds of miles away. Pundits, scientists and outright guessers just can't agree on what's going to happen to that stew of oil and dispersants when a storm makes a direct hit on the spill scene.

Much of their uncertainty has to do with the chemical makeup of the dispersants, which have been strewn like a giant lab experiment over thousands of square miles of spilled oil, and shot into the oil at seabed level as it escapes. After Earthjustice demanded answers from the EPA, the agency revealed the ingredients, but toxic effects of those ingredients—especially in combination with the oil it binds to—are hard to tie down. And there seems to be nothing but conjecture when it comes to figuring out the added factor of hurricanes.

At this moment, it appears Alex will temporarily halt oil containment/clean up efforts, which are recovering about half of the estimated 60,000 barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf every day. By the time it hits land Wednesday, probably near the Mexico/U.S. border, the storm will have lobbed enough energy eastward to push globs of oily goo deeper into coastal wetlands and along a much broader expanse of beaches in relatively untouched states such as Florida and Mississippi.

But, imagine if Alex's 75+ m.p.h. winds were directly ravaging the spill area, pulling trillions of gallons of that toxic water into its vortex and raining it down over a many-states area.

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23 June 2010, 11:22 AM
BP forced to remove its main oil containment system

<Update: BP has replaced the containment cap on its damaged Gulf oil well, after it had been removed the day before to be inspected, according to AP.>

Oil is once more gushing almost unrestricted into the Gulf of Mexico, after an apparent undersea accident today forced BP to remove the cap which has allowed the company to capture much of the oil that has been escaping from its damaged well.

According to various media reports, a remote operated submersible bumped the cap's vent, disrupting the system set up three weeks. This is just the latest in a series of mishaps thwarting BP's attempts to close the well after an explosion ruptured the wellhead more than two months ago.

According to reports in both the Los Angeles Times and The New York Times, the removed cap is being inspected for any signs of hydrates formation, which can plug the cap. There was no estimate of when the cap might be replaced. A second oil removal system, that takes away up to 10,000 barrels a day and burns it off, is still operating. Total estimated outflow from the well is up to 60,000 barrels daily.

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18 June 2010, 11:26 AM
Report says river flow can be turned up to keep oil at bay
Works that divert 30 percent of Mississippi River

Now that human technology has failed to keep oil out of Gulf coast wetlands, some scientists think the solution lies with one of nature's most ancient techniques—flooding of the Mississippi River.

The scientists have concluded that powerful river flows kept oil from the BP/Gulf spill from invading large areas of wetlands. But as winter runoff diminished, so too did the river flow, and now oil is making a destructive invasion. The strong flow could be restored, however, by simply adjusting dams upstream that are diverting water out of the river bed.

It almost seems too simple, but as a report in Popular Mechanics points out, the Army Corps of Engineers is considering the idea and no one seems to oppose it. PM magazine says the idea was first presented last week to the EPA by Paul Kemp, a former professor of marine science at Louisiana State University and current vice president of the National Audubon Society's Louisiana Coastal Initiative.

Here is how the magazine writes about the idea:

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15 June 2010, 4:10 PM
This is a live blogging report as the president speaks from Oval Office

<Update at 6:05> The Atlanta Constitution expressed disappointment that President Obama "squandered" his "crisis moment." The president mentioned the moon-shot of another generation, but the Constitution said he failed to make one of his own.

A more evenhanded assessment came from The Washington Post, as it wondered whether the president had "turned a corner" with his speech. The New York Times said it was vague on content.

<Update at 5:50> For those of us looking for something drastically different or dramatic from President Obama in tonight's speech, there was little. He did stand strong in pushing for his energy bill, but gave no clue whether it would morph or not morph from being a climate bill. Energy tax or price on carbon? Not a word.  Here is his strongest statement after calling out for comprehensive energy legislation:

The consequences of our inaction are now in plain sight. Each day, we send nearly $1 billion of our wealth to foreign countries for their oil. And today, as we look to the Gulf, we see an entire way of life being threatened by a menacing cloud of black crude.

The tragedy unfolding on our coast is the most painful and powerful reminder yet that the time to embrace a clean energy future is now.

<Update at 5:30> In a speech as short in length as it was broad in reach, President Obama vowed to take on BP and make the company compensate its many Gulf coast oil spill victims; restore the Gulf coast; set up regulatory assurances that this kind of spill will never happen again by making the government a watchdog of the oil industry; and put the country on course to a clean energy future. There are few details to pull from the speech and little that hasn't already been reported on the president's programs.

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02 June 2010, 12:23 PM
Gulf oil spill finally brings out heartfelt sentiments and promises

For the first time since oil started flooding the Gulf of Mexico, President Obama has shown passion and vision about where this unfolding tragedy should lead us -- to end our national addiction to oil and other forms of carbon-based energy.

"The next generation will not be held hostage to energy sources from the last century," the president vowed today in a speech clearly aimed at a rising chorus of critics who, like us, wonder why the president has been so inspirationally absent on what may be this nation's worst environmental disaster. Last Friday, while standing amid the oily carnage on a Louisiana beach, Obama did little more than pluck a tar ball from the sand and show it to the press. What a letdown. What a missed opportunity.

Today was better.

In a speech on economics at Canegie Mellon University, President Obama steered straight to the oil spill and said it exemplified what we must leave behind on our way to a clean energy future. "I will make the case for a clean-energy future wherever I can, and I will work with anyone from either party to get this done. But we will get this done," he said. He gave a string of assurances and promises about how he will shape that future, among them these:

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28 May 2010, 2:03 PM
Long a focus of Earthjustice, Tongass is nation's largest national forest

America's largest national forest -- the Tongass in Alaska -- has been given another year's reprieve from most logging and mining by the Obama administration. Protecting the forest has long been the focus of Earthjustice legal efforts. As reported by the Associated Press:

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28 May 2010, 12:26 PM
Earthjustice files action to discover what's in chemical dispersant
Dispersant sprayed in Gulf of Mexico

Today, the maker of a controversial dispersant used in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill declared, "We have nothing to hide." In fact, that's the headline of a New York Times story on the dispersant.

If that were true, we at Earthjustice and our clients wouldn't have to take formal action to find out what's in the dispersant. British Petroleum, which has used more than 800,000 gallons of "Corexit" to combat its oil spill, won't reveal what is in the compound. Thus, we have been forced to send a formal Freedom of Information Act request to the Environmental Protection Agency, asking for the information.

<Update: Earthjustice Vice President of Litigation Patti Goldman notes that "Nalco put out a release trying to allay concerns about the ingredients in its dispersants, but its statement raises more concerns than it answers. First, it asserts that all of the ingredients "have been determined safe and effective by the EPA." While the Food and Drug Administration makes such determinations for drugs, the Toxics Substances Control Act is so weak that it does not require that EPA make such safety findings before chemicals are allowed on the market. That is why a diverse health, environmental, and labor coalition (including Earthjustice) are calling for an overhaul of that law. Given that EPA is not in the business of declaring chemicals safe and effective, I doubt EPA would back up Nalco's claim. Second, Nalco tries to prove that Corexit ingredients are safe by pointing to their presence in cosmetics, lotions, and stain blockers. That gives me little comfort. Cosmetics and lotions often contain phthalates, which have been associated with reproductive impacts and endocrine disruption. And some stain blockers contain ingredients classified as cancer-causing or neurotoxins."> 

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26 May 2010, 4:28 PM
Draw a permanent line in the sand, Mr. President—end our oil addiction
The extent of the BP oil spill on May 25, 2010.

So, President Obama—under withering criticism from all sides and faced with what may be the worst environmental tragedy in U.S. history—has hit the pause button on further offshore oil exploration, including the Arctic Ocean.

This is great, but only very temporary, news. And it's the least and most obvious thing the president could do.

He could do no less in the face of so much evidence pouring out of the Gulf of Mexico's wounded sea floor, flooding out of investigations into how we regulate the oil industry, coming out of opinion polls that show major shifts in how the Amercan public views this president's actions so far.

Here's what else this president could do. When he comes to Louisiana on Friday to view scenes of mounting environmental destruction, President Obama should go to the same oil-soaked beach where British Petroleum's head guy stood a few days ago. The corpses of sea life have greatly mounted since Tony Hayward stood there and vowed to "clean up every drop of oil" his company has spilled.

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24 May 2010, 2:55 PM
Polls, media show distaste for how spill is being handled

Most Americans (51 percent) disapprove of how President Obama is handling the Gulf oil spill, according to a just-released CNN poll, but that's nothing compared to how they feel British Petroleum has done (76 percent disapproval).

You have to wonder, though, whether the president would fare as well if the poll was taken now, after a weekend of media attacks on the administration for not taking a stronger leadership role in the Gulf spill. The critical drumbeat, led by Democratic strategist James Carville, challenged Obama for letting BP dictate clean-up efforts. Interior Sec. Ken Salazar promised to keep the government's "boot on the neck" of BP, but apparently BP wasn't cowed, because it defied EPA's demand that it use a less-toxic form of chemical dispersant. Today, EPA ordered BP to cut back on using the dispersants. Will BP ignore that order as well?

<Update: The EPA is launching an investigation into BP's refusal to follow last week's directive to use less-toxic dispersants.>

<Update: Today, as BP's CEO walked an oil-soaked Gulf coast beach—and promised to "clean up every drop of oil," the Coast Guard's admiral in charge said he believed the government should let BP stay in charge. The government isn't qualified to clean this spill up, he emphasized.>

And then there's the matter of the Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that Salazar is drastically reorganizing because of its too-cozy relationship with the oil industry. The New Yorker skewers the administration on two critical points:

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20 May 2010, 7:53 AM
The U.S. and governments worldwide must end marriage to oil industry
Salazar, in New Orleans before Gulf spill, announces expedited oil leasing

<Update: The EPA is finally hearing, and acting on, concerns about toxic dispersants used by BP in breaking up its Gulf oil spill. EPA today ordered BP to choose a less-harmful form of dispersant. More than 600,000 gallons have been sprayed by BP to date.>

<Update: BP said today it is collecting 5,000 barrels of oil each day from its Gulf spill—equaling the total amount BP has claimed is leaking—and yet, oil continues to gush from the well. Starting tonight, BP said it will start providing a live video feed from the leaking well at this web site.>

Great question to Interior Sec. Ken Salazar this morning on ABC TV: why can't we get exact numbers for how much oil is spilling from the Gulf of Mexico oil well?

Answer: We're trying, and will start looking beyond what British Petroleum tells us.

Conclusion: No one knows, so whose numbers are we to trust—the 5,000 barrels per day guesstimated by BP, and which the government has endorsed? Or, maybe those of independent scientists who think the spill is 10 or 12 times bigger? Today, for the first time, Salazar promised to do some independent surveying.