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Trip Van Noppen's blog

(Trip Van Noppen is President of Earthjustice)

It started in 2005, when baby oysters began dying by the billions in Oregon and Washington. At first, the fishermen weren’t worried, hardened by years of dealing with nature’s fickleness. But, when the die-offs continued year after year, seamen and scientists alike started seeking answers.

Sometimes an all-in strategy can tarnish the entire package.

Take for example President Obama’s recent decision to tout an “all-of-the-above” approach to achieving energy independence and lowering gas prices. It’s a catchy, feel-good campaign slogan perfect for banners and sound bites, but it’s a hollow energy strategy. Worse yet, it opens America up for destructive practices by painting the administration into a fossil-fuel corner.

The "Sacred Cod".

In Massachusetts, a wooden carving of a 5-foot long codfish known as the “Sacred Cod” hangs above the entrance to the State House’s Hall of Representatives, right in the House Speaker’s line of sight. It’s a reminder to all of the importance of the fishing industry to the area, which once overflowed with Atlantic cod and halibut, ocean perch, haddock and yellowtail flounder, but has since been decimated by overfishing, loose regulations and a failure to sustainably manage the ocean ecosystem.

As 2012 begins and election year politics accelerate, you are probably hearing some gloomy predictions about how our environment will fare this year. There is good reason for the concern: many in Congress are dedicated to eliminating long-standing environmental protections. Fossil fuel industry supporters are pulling out all the financial and rhetorical stops in their lobbying and electioneering.

But I’m not gloomy. Here’s why:

This Friday, the Obama administration has the historic opportunity to rein in a coal industry that has been allowed to pour toxic emissions like mercury, benzene and arsenic into our lives without limit.

There’s little question that the administration will set limits – the law requires it and the courts have ordered it. The question, and the opportunity facing Obama, is how strong those limits will be.

Across the nation, old coal-fired power plants are gasping for their last breath, having survived long past their prime because of political favors and weak government regulations. They would have died decades ago if not for a fateful policy compromise in the late 1970s that exempted existing power plants from new air quality standards in the Clean Air Act.

The Palmyra Atoll is a tropical coral reef island in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. It’s warm, tiny and far from the vast, frigid Arctic. And yet these distant, disparate places are as alike in one sense as any two places on Earth.

Each is an early victim of humankind’s addiction to fossil fuels and our constantly affirmed determination to stay addicted.

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