Trip Van Noppen's Blog Posts

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Trip Van Noppen'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.


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.

Trip Van Noppen is Earthjustice's President who leads the organization's staff, board and supporters to advance its mission of using the courts to protect our environment and people's health. Growing up near the Linville Gorge and the Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina, he developed both a love of the natural world and a passion for fighting economic and social injustices. He feels that doing this work at Earthjustice, with its national and international impact, is the opportunity of a lifetime. When he is not working at Earthjustice, he loves to hike, see great theatre and be with loved ones.
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19 May 2011, 10:31 AM
Community representatives make the case for clean air

Nobody gets through a day without breathing. Not executives in the coal-fired power and cement industries, which are polluting our air daily. Not the legion of lobbyists they hire to patrol the halls of Congress in defense of dirty air. And not the members of Congress who, hand-in-hand with these special interests, are marching the Clean Air Act off a cliff.

At the very same time that these women and men draw breath, they are working to derail and delay clean air protections with a vigor that suggests there isn't a set of functioning lungs between them.

To confront this audacity, Earthjustice helped to bring a diverse group of doctors, nurses, faith and tribal leaders, and environmental justice advocates to Washington, D.C. earlier this month for an event dubbed 50 States United for Healthy Air. These 80 Clean Air Ambassadors, who came from all 50 states, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, met with members of Congress, the Obama administration and the Environmental Protection Agency to defend our right to breathe. Rev. Dr. Michael Stinson, one of the ambassadors, stated their purpose clearly: "We are people from all 50 states with a passion for one issue—clean air."

As part of an online storytelling project, Earthjustice staff asked the ambassadors to express in a sentence what clean air is to them. Their sentences read like axioms, as they elucidate core realities and challenges of this issue.

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20 April 2011, 3:39 PM
Ambitious, ill-prepared petroleum industry eyes the Gulf, the Arctic, the heartland

One year ago, the BP oil spill had just started turning the Gulf of Mexico's blue waters to the color of rust. Triggered on April 20, 2010 by a well-rig explosion that killed 11 people, the spill would gush more than 200 million gallons of crude oil—the largest oil spill in U.S. history.

Before the well was finally capped three months later, untold numbers of birds, dolphins, sea turtles and other wildlife had perished in the muck, or possibly from the chemicals used to disperse it. Along the Gulf coast, communities suffered as tourism dropped and fishing seasons closed. Anxiety soared amid debates over the spill's price tag—including who would pay for it. While it is undeniable that the spill has caused and will continue to cause massive damage to Gulf ecosystems and communities, we won't understand the full impact for years.

One thing, however, is clear: the BP spill brought more to the surface than just crude oil. It exposed a culture of corruption in the federal agency tasked with issuing and overseeing permits to drill for oil in our nation's coastal waters. The Minerals Management Service systematically disregarded bedrock environmental protections by granting the oil industry exemptions to these laws and allowing BP and other companies to drill without concrete plans to clean up oil in the event of a large spill. This helps explain why it took BP a full three months—and numerous failed attempts—to cap the well. It simply wasn't prepared.

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07 April 2011, 11:04 AM
Steeped in Tea Bag politics, House leaders are willing to sacrifice clean air
House Speaker John Boehner

As the threat of a total federal government shutdown hangs over the country, leaders in Congress and the White House continue eleventh-hour emergency negotiations to reach a compromise before time runs out on keeping our government funded and averting a costly and potentially disastrous government shutdown.

According to press reports this morning, the thing holding up any deal—and what will cause a shutdown if it happens—is not the dollar figure of budget cuts but the forcefulness of Republicans to use this budget bill as a vehicle to carry two unrelated political demands: blocks on clean air protections and reproductive rights for women..

“The two main issues holding this matter up are the choice of women, reproductive rights, and clean air,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) told The Hill this morning. “These matters have no place in a budget bill.”

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18 March 2011, 3:28 PM
Earthjustice remains committed to the cause

It is with deep regret that we must announce that Earthjustice was forced to step down as the courtroom lawyer for wolves in the Northern Rockies in the two cases related to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s action to remove or reduce their Endangered Species Act protections. This action was not our choice, but a course of action compelled by our ethical responsibilities to our clients.

Our passion for the wolf is greater than ever. Our years of advocacy, along with our able partners, to promote wolf recovery and our successful legal battle against politically motivated and premature delisting of the wolves are some of our proudest achievements. Our attorneys have devoted tens of thousands of hours to this cause and would still be doing so, but for the conflict of interest among our clients that has compelled us to withdraw as counsel at this juncture.

As lawyers, there can come a point where we can no longer represent multiple clients in litigation because the clients’ interests become adverse to one another. There has been a divergence of positions among our clients in the litigation challenging the delisting of gray wolves; some favor settling the case, while others do not. That divergence has forced us to withdraw as counsel.

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19 January 2011, 5:35 PM
Gulf spill proves need for more science before heading to Arctic
Arctic ice adds to high risk of drilling oil

Despite obvious differences, the icy Arctic Ocean and the warm, deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico have an important commonality: we aren’t prepared to safely drill for oil in either place. Last year’s Gulf spill – which killed 11 rig workers and fouled waters that nourish ecosystems and economies alike – is a harsh illustration of that simple fact.

And yet, the Gulf spill’s oily sheen has been a Rorschach test for the nation, eliciting support for and opposition to high-risk offshore drilling. Thankfully, the critical need to slow down and assess our preparedness to drill safely in deepwater and sensitive areas like the Arctic was underscored last week by the findings of President Obama’s Oil Spill Commission.

The commission was clear: the Gulf spill was a preventable disaster caused by mistakes made while drilling in high-risk conditions for which neither industry nor government were prepared. And the industry is still not prepared, the commission emphasized. There are huge gaps in our understanding of how to drill in deepwater and sensitive areas like the Arctic without endangering human safety and environmental protection.

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05 January 2011, 10:55 AM
Judy Bonds’ life teaches us how to fight harder
Judy Bonds with fellow WV leaders Larry Gibson and Chuck Nelson. Photo courtesy Coal River Mountain Watch

In this line of work, we are lucky to meet and work with a lot of heroes, people who stand up against all odds for the health of their communities, who sacrifice for the greater good of their brothers and sisters. Judy Bonds of Marfork, West Virginia was a hero among heroes, an extraordinary leader and an indomitable spirit. Today, we mourn her passing, and with that, the loss of an inspiration, a warrior and a visionary for the movement to abolish mountaintop removal mining and protect communities from poisonous coal mining pollution. 

We at Earthjustice started working with Judy in 2003, just before she won the prestigious Goldman Prize for her courage and accomplishments in the fight to stop mountaintop removal mining. She was the firebrand leader of a scrappy community organization called Coal River Mountain Watch (CRMW) that at the time ran on the sheer grit and will of a band of big-hearted volunteers, with Judy as their fearless director. When she received the Goldman Prize, she used the prize funds to launch CRMW as a full-time nonprofit organization, and they came to Earthjustice for help in bringing their fight from the coalfields to America’s courts.

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22 December 2010, 10:41 AM
Communities across U.S. are in peril until agency acts
Coal ash spill in Tennessee

Today marks the second anniversary of the nation’s largest toxic waste spill, when a billion-gallon wave of arsenic-filled coal ash carried away three houses and destroyed a riverfront community below the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) Kingston Fossil Plant in rural Tennessee.

Two years and $400 million dollars later, critical problems remain. Despite removal of more than 3 million tons of spilled ash, the cleanup at Kingston is far from complete, and the direction of EPA’s rulemaking, intended to prevent another spill, is as murky as the contaminated cove beneath the broken dam.

The disaster cast a spotlight on EPA’s 30-year failure to regulate the disposal of coal ash, a toxic-laden waste left over after burning coal for electricity. In the absence of federal protection standards, an enormous quantity of this waste has been dumped in unlined pits and ponds throughout the U.S. At least 50 high-hazard dams hold back millions of tons of toxic ash and threaten communities, like Harriman, that face destruction should these aging, unregulated dams break. And if another one of these dams collapses, human life is expected to be lost.

Beyond these catastrophic disasters, there are more than 100 locations across the country where water and air are poisoned by coal ash.. Arsenic levels in drinking water around unlined ash ponds can be high enough to cause cancer in 1 of 50 people – which is 2,000 times EPA’s acceptable risk. Additionally, these sites often are not covered, allowing ash to enter into the lungs of vulnerable populations like children and the elderly.

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14 December 2010, 5:19 PM
New, hostile Congress readies attack on clean air standards

What stands between Americans and clean air isn't science, technology, or the law. It's politics. Last month, I wrote that the incoming House leadership of the new Congress is already beating the war drum in anticipation of taking down the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the critical health protections it is required by law to enact.

This is a defining moment.

Earthjustice and our supporters, allies, and clients have worked tirelessly for more than a decade to secure numerous important health standards, and we are now closer than ever to realizing their substantial benefits. The politics might be hazy, but the law and the science are on our side. We are standing on a mountain of good court decisions that confirm the EPA's responsibility to issue clean air standards that protect our health.

Over the past two years, the agency has been working diligently—for the first time in quite a while—to be a credible protector of the environment. In the long-term struggle to protect all Americans' right to breathe clean air, we cannot allow short-term political pressure to change that.

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17 November 2010, 4:04 PM
Buoyed by supporters, Earthjustice expands to meet the challenge
Roadless areas of the Tongass N.F. are among Earthjustice's top priorities for protection

Although the recent elections signal a return to more inhospitable times for environmental protection in Congress, we are sustained by two constants: the power of the law and the dedication of our supporters.

The law provides leverage for progress even when political winds shift, and our steadfast supporters have shown time and again that they trust in our ability to wield it for positive change, regardless of the prevailing politics.

That backing has helped us through difficult times. Like so many American families and businesses, we were impacted by the economic recession. Thankfully, as we prepared to tighten our belts, our supporters sent a clear message with their generous donations: don't cut back your work to protect our environment.

Fueled by that generosity, we expanded our litigation and advocacy to take full advantage of the tremendous opportunities for advancing environmental issues that have existed over the past two years—and that still exist as we look at the next two. With Thanksgiving at hand, we want to take this opportunity to reflect on the progress made that wouldn't have been possible without your support.

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04 November 2010, 4:49 PM
A new and hostile congressional leadership is not new to Earthjustice

There is no reason to beat around the bush: Tuesday's election results are a setback in our progress towards a cleaner, healthier, more sustainable planet.

At a time when the world desperately needs leadership from the United States, voters have installed in the House of Representatives those who have vowed to do all they can to obstruct progress in cleaning up dirty coal-burning power plants, reducing health-destroying and climate-disrupting pollution, and protecting wild places and wildlife.

Yet, while the news is bad, we can take heart that the election was not a referendum on the environment. Voters still want clean water, healthy air, protected public lands, and action on transitioning from dirty power plants to a clean energy economy.

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