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Some top stories from the last week at Earthjustice...

The Copenhagen conference started off with a bang of optimism when the EPA announced that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health. The cooperative spirit quickly fizzled after a draft agreement surfaced that apparently favors the interests of the U.S. and other wealthy nations. There’s more news by the hour: Be sure to check out our daily reports from Copenhagen, and analysis by two attending Earthjustice attorneys, Erika Rosenthal and Martin Wagner.

All the buzz from the conference nearly drowned out a disturbing, and related, piece of news: Shell Oil was granted conditional approval to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea. Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe warned that the approvals outpace the science of what we know about Arctic waters.

On the same day that the EPA released its endangerment finding, Earthjustice challenged the agency on a toxin polluting the air in Appalachia, to the point where kids can’t play outside. It’s coal dust, and we think the coal plants that produce it should do something about it. 

Farm workers and their families will get some long-awaited help to deal with toxic pesticides poisoning the air around their homes and schools, thanks to a new EPA policy. Going forward, the EPA will assess the health risks posed by pesticide drift with the same standards by which pesticides in food are assessed. 

And finally, this week Earthjustice saved taxpayers $1.5 million!—and 4.3 million board-feet of old-growth forest in the Tongass to boot. This also means we kept a little C02 out of the atmosphere. Indeed, one of the least controversial ideas out of Copenhagen is also one of the simplest: don’t cut down trees.

Today is Blog Action Day, and this year's theme is Climate Change. Here's my pitch for an immediate step that could be taken to reduce the production of greenhouse gases significantly, while promoting good health; improving the economy in rural America; and reducing cruelty to animals. In fact, this suggestion is so logical that it's a travesty that I have to suggest it. It makes Sarah Silverman's recent hunger-ending proposal look paltry in comparison. Here's my suggestion:

Despite the insistence of multi-billion dollar ad campaigns from the coal industry, “clean coal” simply does not exist.

Even when scrubbers are installed to filter air pollution from coal-fired power plants, the mercury, selenium, and other toxic heavy metals released by coal combustion have to go somewhere. Sadly, too much pollution is ending up in America’s rivers and groundwater.

This week, the New York Times’ excellent series "Toxic Waters" takes a look at the dangers of shifting coal pollution from air to water.

My friend Bill McKibben, climate campaigner extraordinaire (he blew the first public whistle with The End of Nature in the late 1980s) has been organizing internationally behind the notion that 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon in the atmosphere is the absolute limit of what the earth can tolerate. The IPCC—the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—in its latest report two years ago, set the number at 450. The current carbon load in the atmosphere is about 370 ppm and rising.

McKibben's organization, 350.org, has been agitating for a lowering of the goal to 350 and on Aug. 25 got the welcome news that Chairman Rajendra Pachauri of the IPCC had given his personal endorsement to the 350 number. This, as Bill explained in an email, is a very big deal and governments everywhere should sit up, take notice, and get finally off their duffs.

A troublesome new chapter has opened in the matter of Sunflower Electric's attempt to more than double the electrical output at its existing coal-fired plant in Holcomb, Kansas.

After digging through 10,000 pages of documents, Earthjustice attorney Jan Hasselman discovered that Sunflower in the past had defaulted on its debt service payments to the federal government, and that as a consequence the federal government now has effective oversight over Sunflower's business decisions, including the attempted expansion of its existing plant.

As part of our campaign to clean up sources of toxic mercury pollution, we experimented with Google Earth to tell the story of how pollution from cement kilns is hurting local communities. Below is a video we produced that features two cement kilns right along the water in Seattle, WA.

Let's get a quick show of hands: How many of you have lost hours at work living out your flying fantasy in Google Earth? Well, me too.

Growing up in California's San Joaquin Valley, we spent our summer days at the community swimming pool and on the soccer field. Playing outside was one of the joys of growing up in a region where the days are warm, the grass is green and the sky is clear.

These days, elementary schools in the valley fly color-coded flags to alert parents of "bad air days" when their children should be kept indoors. Childhood fun in the valley is not what it used to be.

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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.