Tom Turner's Blog Posts

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Tom Turner's 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.

Tom Turner is an Editor-at-Large and unofficial Earthjustice guru after having been at the organization for more than 25 years. A lifelong resident of Berkeley, he is most passionate about Earthjustice's maiden issue, wilderness preservation, which he believes no longer gets the attention it deserves. Over the past two decades, Tom has told the captivating, influential stories of Earthjustice's work in three books and countless articles that have no doubt inspired the masses. When he's not bleeding ink, Tom enjoys watching baseball, playing jazz and umpiring Little League games. His favorite place in the world is, to quote John Muir, "Any place that is wild."

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27 March 2014, 12:34 PM
Sive and Sax helped shape the world of environmental law
David Sive on the Hudson River, with Storm King Mountain in the background. (Photo © Arthur Paxton 2005)

David Sive and Joe Sax, pioneers in environmental law, passed away within three days of one another in the middle of March: Sive in New Jersey at the age of 91, Sax in San Francisco at 78.

Sive was a litigator; Sax an academic. Sive was a principal lawyer in the case the blocked the building of a power plant at Storm King on the Hudson and established the right of citizens to take environmental grievances to court even if they had no financial interest in the outcome.

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06 March 2014, 11:30 AM
Science be damned! Senator Session relies on opinion
(Meryll / Shutterstock)

Recently, John Holdren, science advisor to President Obama, said that the punishing droughts underway in California and the Colorado River basin are consistent with the mainstream understanding of the long-term effects of climate change.

Not surprisingly he was attacked by Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who quoted a Colorado political scientist as follows: "Drought has 'for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U.S. over the last century.' Globally, 'there has been little change in drought over the past 60 years.' ”

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05 March 2014, 3:51 PM
New Ken Brower book re-stirs old controvery of Yosemite dam
Hetch Hetchy Valley, near Yosemite National Park's western border, (Photo courtesy of Nate Hill)

The number one story in California these days is the drought, which has revived water wars that never really go away here.

Which makes even more timely Ken Brower’s new book, Hetch Hetchy: Undoing a Great American Mistake. Hetch Hetchy is a valley in Yosemite National Park that was inundated by a reservoir in the 1920s to create a water source for San Francisco. At the time, it was the biggest environmental battle ever fought in the United States, filling the Congressional Record for weeks.

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14 February 2014, 1:15 PM
Volatile rail traffic greatly increases explosion, toxic pollution risks
The fireball that followed the derailment and explosion of two trains, one carrying Bakken crude oil, on December 30, 2013, outside Casselton, ND. (Photo courtesy of U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration)

Maybe you've seen the riveting photographs of fireballs and burning houses and oiled and blackened streams and marshes. Train cars carrying crude oil have been derailing and exploding with frightening frequency lately, in Canada and North Dakota and Alabama and Philadelphia.

There are fears that Albany, capital of the great state of New York, may be next in line.

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16 January 2014, 12:17 PM
Pennsylvania Supreme Court latest to uphold municipal rights
A sign indicates the growing tension between agricultural communities and gas companies. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

In mid-December the Pennsylvania Supreme Court found Act 13 is unconstitutional. This is a law that allowed state government to override local communities’ zoning decisions to limit hydraulic fracturing or fracking. The decision stems from a lawsuit by seven Pennsylvania municipalities, a doctor and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Earthjustice submitted a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, representing 22 organizations, including Marcellus Protest, Lehigh Valley Gas Truth and Berks Gas Truth.

Other state courts are facing this issue, too. Earlier in 2013, two New York state courts ruled in favor of towns that have limited industrial gas development through local zoning. Earthjustice is representing the Town of Dryden, one of the New York towns. The Ohio Supreme Court is considering a similar case, in which Earthjustice submitted a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of health professionals.

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22 November 2013, 4:58 PM
Two years after Elwha dam was torn down, the fish storm back
Chinook salmon spawn in Elwha River in September 2013. (NPS)

Two years ago, after a decades-long struggle that involved Native Americans, biologists, Earthjustice, and eventually Congress itself, engineers began to dismantle two century-old dams on the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state. The river is only 70 miles long, but most of it is in the Olympic National Park, and so is in pretty good shape, having avoided the fate of other Pacific Coast streams, that have been badly damaged by logging.

A remnant population of salmon survived to spawn in the four miles of river between the downstream dam and Strait of Juan de Fuca. People hoped this would be a sufficient number—on the order of 4,000 fish—to recolonize the river above the dams, once the dams were gone, the result of the largest dam-removal operation ever undertaken in the U.S. Fish biologists predicted that runs on the Elwha should eventually reach nearly 400,000 fish annually, and this year it’s beginning to look as if they might be right. A veritable flood of all five species of Pacific salmon, plus seagoing steelhead trout, have found their way up the Elwha and its tributaries and found suitable spawning grounds—gravel beds where they lay and fertilize their eggs in depressions called redds. More salmon have returned over the past two months than at any time in at least 20 years.

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13 August 2013, 3:48 PM
Earthjustice challenges industry plans to increase world market
Companies are eyeing overseas markets for America's coal. (Aleksey Stemmer / Shutterstock)

The use of coal in the U.S. has declined over the past few years, and orders for new plants are being cancelled at an increasing rate, owing to pressure from Earthjustice and others and competition from cheaper natural gas. Meanwhile, President Obama has made increasingly stern pronouncements about moving toward a renewable energy regime.

Big coal, hoping to shore up its bottom line, has turned its attention abroad: Exports of coal from the U.S. to the Far East have increased, subsidized by the U.S. Export-Import Bank (a federal institution), and there are proposals pending to establish coal-export facilities in the Pacific Northwest. China and the other importers have far laxer pollution laws than ours; that too is another story. The impact of burning the coal affects us all.

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19 April 2013, 12:24 PM
It took one tough attorney and many years to finally build tunnel solution
An aerial shot of the new tunnel bypass near Devil's Slide. (© 2010 California Department of Transportation)

The first responsibility of a physician is to do no harm. The first responsibility of an environmentalist is never to accept a dumb solution to a problem when a better solution is available.

Case in point: Devil’s Slide south of San Francisco, a stretch of Highway 1 that would crumble into the Pacific every 10 years or so during a big storm. Rebuilding was time-consuming and expensive. The state of California sought a more permanent solution—and seized on one that ignited two decades of opposition resolved only when a doughty Earthjustice attorney finally stepped in.

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16 April 2013, 6:05 PM
Under pressure from Earthjustice and others, senators seek to rein practice in
An almond farmer watches oil wells that have sprouted near almond orchards in the Central Valley town of Shafter, CA. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)
See photo essay »

As reported in the current issue of Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine, oil fracking has become big news in California, where the practice is conducted in the shadows and is essentially unregulated—the Wild Wild West, if you will. (See: Extreme Energy: Out of Control Out West)

That may be about to change.

At least 10 bills have been introduced in the state legislature since the Magazine came out; three would impose moratoriums to halt fracking until regulations can be put in effect. Others would require disclosure of the chemicals being used, mandate groundwater monitoring before and after fracking operations, and classify wastewater from the fracking process as hazardous waste. A state-court lawsuit by Earthjustice is working its way through the system, and a federal court just ruled that failure by the Bureau of Land Management to study the environmental impact of fracking is illegal—but the judge declined to rescind the permits, so the practice continues.

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12 March 2013, 11:19 AM
Documentary outlines modern environmental history

A stunning, inspiring new documentary film, A Fierce Green Fire, The Battle for a Living Planet, had its theatrical premiere in New York on March 1, and was scheduled for screenings across the country in following weeks. (View the full schedule.)

The film is in five acts, each narrated by a different person. Robert Redford starts with the beginnings of the modern movement, highlighting David Brower and the Sierra Club’s successful campaign to block construction of power dams in the Grand Canyon. Ashley Judd tells the story of Love Canal in New York and a neighborhood that had to be abandoned when residents—children in particular—began to become ill, even die, from toxic wastes buried beneath their homes and yards years before. Van Jones recounts the struggles by Greenpeace and the Sea Shepherd Society to end commercial whaling. Isabel Allende tells the tale of the Brazilian rubber tappers’ crusade to save their forest home, led by the martyred Chico Mendez. Meryl Streep ends with a hopeful recounting of the effort to stem global climate change.