Tom Turner'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.

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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28 June 2011, 11:50 AM
An energy company puts its fate into the hands of the kiddies

Talisman Energy Before and After Drilling Coloring Book excerpt

There is a curious technique employed by some companies involved in the resource-extraction game: When you have a controversial activity underway that is getting increasing—and unwelcome—scrutiny from the government and the public, take your case to the under-10 set.

Exhibit A today is a coloring book touting the wonderfulness and cleanliness of natural gas. It is put out by Talisman Energy, a Canada-based exploration company looking for gas deposits in Pennsylvania and environs. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette  has a considerable piece on this big news.

The narrator and lead actor in the book is Talisman Terry, a Fracosaurus. This is a bit curious, because it is “fracking” that’s been getting bad press lately. Terry doesn’t say anything about his species, or genus, or whatever he is, or about fracking itself, maybe because fracking involves injecting high-pressure liquids into coal seams to release pockets of natural gas. There are side effects (aren’t there always?)

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21 June 2011, 5:48 PM
State tries old, discredited legal arguments in new roadless attack
Tongass National Forest

The long and winding saga of the Roadless Rule, adopted in the Clinton administration after an exhaustive public process, just took a new turn, though it smacks of desperation.

To recap, the Roadless Rule was put in place to protect 58.5 million acres of undeveloped and otherwise unprotected land on the national forests. The rule has been subject of nine lawsuits. An appeals court in Denver has yet to rule on a lawsuit out of Wyoming; the others have concluded with the Roadless Rule still standing.

We said nine suits had been filed to challenge the rule. Make that 10. On Friday, June 17, the state of Alaska filed a new suit seeking to overturn the rule in its entirety.

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07 June 2011, 3:04 PM
Fresno Board of Supervisors rejects a nuclear-power proposal

The Fresno, California, Board of Supervisors has decided not to endorse a proposal by the Fresno Nuclear Energy Group to build a “Clean Energy Park,” outside town. The park would boast two big, 1,600-megawatt, French-made reactors, a solar-thermal plant, and a water desalination facility.

The account in the Fresno Business Journal doesn’t mention Japan or Fukushima explicitly, but the shadow in the background is unmistakable. And it must send shivers down the backs of people promoting a nuclear renaissance as the cure for global warming—especially as Germany has recently decided to stop building new reactors and to retire existing plants as replacement power comes on-line. Japan is clearly rethinking its commitment to nuclear power as well.

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20 May 2011, 3:46 PM
New monograph from New Zealand asks and answers some thorny questions

Friends of the Earth New Zealand has just published a short, dense booklet that no one will want to read but that everyone should.

"Cars at the End of an Era--Transport Issues in the New Zealand Greenhouse" by Dr. John Robinson makes a very convincing case that the days of both the private automobile and the era of travel by aircraft will one day come to an end--or at least be severely curtailed--probably sooner than later. This is for fairly obvious reasons.

Both depend heavily on fossil fuels, which are running out and which are primary drivers of global climate disruption. And, Dr. Robinson argues, substitutes simply won't work at the scale necessary. Electric cars would almost certainly need fossil-fueled electricity, they rely on heavy batteries loaded with toxic materials, and they are practical mainly for short-haul inner-city trips, where public transit is at its most efficient.

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26 April 2011, 11:11 AM
Two new articles converge on these impossible problems
Overpopulation photo courtesy The Green Market

I met Bob Engelman a few years back when we were both working on book manuscripts at the Mesa Refuge near Point Reyes in Northern California. Mine was Roadless Rules. His became More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want. Well, who should turn up in my mailbox this morning but the selfsame Mr. Engelman, now writing for The Solutions Journal. He's out with a new piece, which argues that 40 percent of worldwide pregnancies are unplanned and that we could slow and eventually reverse population growth by providing family planning and contraception services to everyone, avoiding the spectre of forced sterilizations and other intrusive government programs.

And the time for this is certainly upon us--and has been for a long while. The redoubtable Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute has a cover story in Foreigh Policy that reports that worldwide food prices are at their highest point in history and that surpluses and idle land that have provided cushions against shortfalls and weather problems are gone.

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21 April 2011, 6:40 AM
Anti-wilderness bill is subject of scorn
Representative Kevin McCarthy (CA-22).

Last week we wrote about an effort by three Republican members of the House of Representatives to repeal the Roadless Area Conservation Rule that protects nearly 60 million acres of unspoiled lands on the national forests and to deny the Bureau of Land Management's authority to declare its unspoiled areas "wilderness study areas" and protect them until Congress can decide whether to give them permanent protection.

Now the hometown paper of one of the congressmen—Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, CA—has lit into him, invoking the memory of that great Republican president, Teddy Roosevelt, who would certainly deplore this foolish, not to say wicked, ploy. We thank and congratulate the editors of the Bakersfield Californian for their graceful and powerful editorial. We hope Mr. McCarthy will pay attention. Fat chance.

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13 April 2011, 1:19 PM
Two of my favorites for your viewing pleasure; these really are great (and green)
Proposed roadless area in Virginia

Forgive me if you already know all about these two sites, but for anyone who doesn't I thought I'd take a minute to recommend both, without reservation.

The first, and I daresay lesser-known, is Wildlands CPR. I came upon this fine institution when I was writing Roadless Rules about roadless areas in the national forests. Wildlands CPR is occupied primarily with roads, the removal of unwanted, unneeded and damaging roads on national forests and Bureau of Land Management lands and elsewhere for the benefit of people and wildlife alike. They also keep tabs on off-road vehicle regulations and debates. It's quite a narrow focus, and quite a worthy program.

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12 April 2011, 11:43 AM
Bill would repeal Roadless Rule and eliminate wilderness study areas

Three mad hatters--Steve Pearce (R-NM), Rob Bishop (R-UT), and Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) are gathering--or trying to gather--cosponsors for what they're callling the Wilderness & Roadless Area Release Act, a law that would open national forest roadless areas and Bureau of Land Management wilderness study areas to development. This would put a bit more than 70 million of wild lands at risk.

Specifically, it would repeal the Roadless Area Conservation Rule and rescind Interior Secretarial Order 3310 issued by Secretary Ken Salazar last December that overturned a Bush era policy and reinstated BLM's wilderness study areas program.

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10 March 2011, 2:13 PM
Bush-Alaska ploy is undone by a federal judge
Tongass National Forest. Courtesy

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule, adopted at the end of the Clinton administration, banned most logging and road-building on the last 58.5 million unspoiled and unprotected acres on the national forests. It was immediately challenged by states, timber companies and other interests in nine lawsuits, one of which is still awaiting final resolution.

In Alaska, the state and the Forest Service cut a back-room deal: The state sued and the government caved, excluding environmental groups and Native Alaskan organizations from the process. This was called “The Tongass Exemption,” and it removed the Tongass National Forest—the biggest and wildest in the system by far—from the Roadless Rule.

And there it sat for most of 10 years. Environmental groups, via Earthjustice litigation, were able to block every new attempt to cut trees in roadless areas, but the exemption hung like an ugly shroud over everything—until last Friday (March 4), when Judge John Sedwick threw it out and reinstated the rule for the Tongass.

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03 March 2011, 2:42 AM
House Republicans trash House office building cafeteria

About three years ago I visited a friend who works for Henry Waxman, the Southern California congressman who was such a magnificent thorn in the side of the Bush administration. My friend proudly took me to lunch in the cafeteria. This was soon after the Democrats reclaimed the House and voted in Nancy Pelosi as Speaker.

One of Ms. Pelosi's early acts was to green up the cafeteria: compostable paper cups and napkins and such, healthful food, other modern and eco-friendly items and touches. You could still get pizza, but the array of fresh vegetables, salad fixin's and fresh fruits was quite extraordinary for a cafeteria and the food was surprisingly tasty.

No more.The new Republican leaders have ditched the biodegradable food containers and restocked the place with foam cups.

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