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Last night we lost a true hero, Judy Bonds of Marfork, West Virginia. Judy—the executive director of Coal River Mountain Watch, Goldman Prize recipient, and friend and partner of Earthjustice—was a courageous leader in the fight to protect Americans and future generations from the poisonous pollution and destruction of mountaintop removal mining.

As 2011 approaches, scores of online outlets are eulogizing the Hollywood stars, musicians, authors, and other icons who died this year. While it’s only natural to reflect on what was lost, there’s also a powerful story to be told about a huge group of people who didn’t die—though it may not get the attention won by familiar names and faces.

It's always been amazing to me just how much money polluters are willing to spend to try to convince lawmakers and the American public that public health and safety regulations will cost them too much money.

Seat belts and airbags, now standard features in all cars and trucks, were fought tooth and nail by the auto industry, which claimed they would be too costly and unpopular. It took the federal government 20 years to stand up to industry pressure and finally require life-saving airbags.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is a little more than halfway through an amazing week-long series called "Mapping Mortality" that focuses on air pollution in western Pennsylvania. Reporters Don Hopey and David Templeton spent a year interviewing more than 100 people, including Lee Lasich, who uses all of her fingers to enumerate the deaths of friends and neighbors from brain and pancreatic cancers in her Clairton, PA neighborhood.

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.

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.

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About the Earthjustice 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.