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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.

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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.

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View Trip Van Noppen's blog posts
15 February 2013, 12:34 PM
Americans can’t wait for Congress to address climate change
President Obama delivers the State of the Union address in the House Chamber on Feb. 12, 2013.  (Chuck Kennedy / White House)

Last week, President Obama demanded that Congress take action on climate change, or else he would.

But, after years of political gridlock on the climate issue, coupled with rising seas and worsening droughts, one thing is clear: the nation simply cannot afford to wait any longer to take action. Though Congress may eventually pull together and pass a climate bill, the president must not wait on that uncertain prospect. He must act now.

After all, today the U.S. is farther from enacting a nationwide plan to reduce carbon emissions than it was four years ago. Congress has failed miserably. And though America’s greenhouse gas emissions are beginning to decline, the rate at which they’re doing so is nowhere near what we need to avoid catastrophic climate change.

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View Ted Zukoski's blog posts
13 February 2013, 3:57 PM
Obama can act on climate change by taking on a few western coal mines
Coal mining damage caused by West Elk Mine. (U.S. Forest Service)

In his State of the Union address, President Obama said some stirring things about climate change. Most dramatically, he urged Congress to take action and then said:

But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will.

Well, if you want to act on climate change to protect future generations, Mr. President, I have a modest proposal: stop rubber-stamping coal mine expansions on federal lands in the western U.S.

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View Angela Garrone's blog posts
12 February 2013, 12:30 PM
Equips communities on how to take on coal burning

Note from Lisa Evans: The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) last week released the "Coal Blooded Action Toolkit," which is a companion to its report, Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People, published jointly by the NAACP and Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and the Indigenous Environmental Network last November.

The 2012 report found low-income communities and communities of color are more likely to suffer the damaging effects caused by coal plant operations, including the disposal of toxic coal ash. Expressly designed for grassroots communities, the Coal Blooded Action Toolkit is a step-by-step guide on how to take action to address pollution from coal fired power plants, covering investigation, raising community awareness, litigation, direct action and much more. It is essential reading for those who care about protecting communities from toxic pollution and defending civil and human rights violated by the burning of coal.

The following Tr-Ash Talk guest post is written by Angela Garrone, Southeast Energy Research Attorney for the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy:

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), in conjunction with Little Village Environmental Justice Organization and the Indigenous Environmental Network, released a report analyzing sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions in conjunction with demographic factors, including race, income and population density. The report, entitled “Coal Blooded: Putting Profits Before People,” demonstrates the urgent need for community action focused on shutting down coal plants located in low-income communities and communities of color.

View Lisa Evans's blog posts
01 February 2013, 8:36 AM
Utility floats dangerous plan to barge toxic coal ash
Mississippi River at Vicksburg closed after barge hit railroad bridge and began leaking oil. (Photo: WLBT)

Utility giant FirstEnergy Corp unveiled plans last week to barge 3 million tons of coal ash annually nearly 100 miles on the Monongahela and Ohio rivers for disposal in an unlined pit in LaBelle, PA. The ash comes from its Bruce Mansfield Power Station—one of the largest coal burning power plants in the U.S.

There's not a thing right about this scheme, according to residents who take their drinking water from the river. Also unhappy are citizens of LaBelle, PA, whose water and air are already poisoned by nearly 15 years of coal ash dumping.

View Daniel Hubbell's blog posts
23 January 2013, 1:36 PM
Strikes EPA rule that allowed for more soot pollution
Soot blackens the walls of a Pennsylvania residence neighboring a coal-fired power plant.
(Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

The mention of soot conjures images of black clouds pouring out of unfiltered cars, or of cities lost in dark fog. At times in our history, soot pollution has helped stain entire ecosystems black, famously causing moths in Britain to change color from white to black to better hide in their environment. These images are well-deserved: soot is dangerous to both humans and the environment.

The Environmental Protection Agency blames soot for tens of thousands of premature deaths and hospitalizations every year in the United States; and according to a new study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, a soot component—black carbon—is the second largest contributor to climate change, coming in just behind carbon dioxide.

Given how dangerous this soot pollution is, we are very pleased with a recent ruling by the U.S Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

View Raviya Ismail's blog posts
22 January 2013, 2:34 PM
Supreme Court refuses to review case that upheld limits to SO2 emissions
The U.S. Supreme Court has kept the life-saving sulfur dioxide standard intact. (Mark Fischer)

We were thrilled in July when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled to uphold a clean air standard that limits dangerous intense bursts of sulfur dioxide pollution from power plants, factories and other sources. Sulfur dioxide is a pretty nasty agent that causes a variety of adverse health impacts including breathing difficulties, aggravation of asthma and increased hospital and emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses.

Today our lungs have an even better reason to rejoice: the Supreme Court has refused to review the appeals court decision, keeping the standard intact.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
10 January 2013, 12:02 PM
Plus: New FDA food rules and record-breaking heat waves
A collection of plastic washed up along a beach San Francisco, Calif. (Kevin Krejci / Flickr)

Tiny plastics clog the world’s oceans
By now we all know about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch—a giant mess of trash in the ocean—but in turns out that the world’s oceans are also full of tiny plastics, reports CNN. These so-called microplastics are used in everyday products like exfoliating face soaps and hand cleansers to give you that just-scrubbed feeling without taking a Brillo Pad™ to your face. But despite their tiny nature, microplastics may be wreaking havoc on marine life that unsuspectingly swallow these plastic bits floating in the ocean. One 2008 study even found that these tiny particles can hang out in the bodies of mussels for almost two months, though scientists don’t know yet if they cause any harm (mostly because of a lack of research on the issue). And, because they stick around the environment for a long time and can’t easily be dredged out, the plastic pollution problem is only going to get worse. According to one researcher, there has been a 100-fold increase in plastic garbage over the last 40 years. Personal product companies like Unilever are responding to the problem by phasing out the use of microplastics as a scrub material in its products. So, you may soon have to find another way to get your scrub on.

FDA takes bite out of food illnesses with proposed rules
After years of deadly outbreaks from contaminated spinach, peanut butter and other foods, the Food and Drug Administration recently proposed sweeping food safety rules to prevent contamination of the nation’s food, reports the LA Times. Each year, a shockingly high number of people fall ill from a food-borne illness—about one in six Americans—and of the people who get sick, 3,000 die. Historically, the FDA’s approach to food safety has been to wait until there’s a problem and then scramble to fix it. Now, in order to stem the tide of foodborne illnesses before they occur, the FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act will take a more preventative approach by stepping up federal audits of food facilities and establishing science-based, minimum standards for the safe production and harvesting of fruits and vegetables. Though the Act is the most sweeping reform of FDA’s food safety authority in more than 70 years, the rules, unfortunately, won’t come any time soon since large farms have more than two years to comply with the final rules once they’re published and small farms have even longer. Bon appétit!

View Brian Smith's blog posts
08 January 2013, 12:15 PM
Australia swelters as coal industry industry brags
It's hot in Australia. (Stephen Mitchell)

This week, our friends down under are experiencing climate chaos up close and personal.

Australia is enduring a record heat wave that is causing massive forest fires and unprecedented public health issues.

The situation has become so bad that the weather service was forced to add to add additional colors to the heat map to capture temperatures up to 54 degrees Celsius (129°F).

Hobet mine.

A recent heat map of Australia, with the new colors.  (AUS Bureau of Meteorology)
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View Maria Beloborodova's blog posts
27 December 2012, 10:00 AM
Readers were most inspired by stories of the wild
Two of the first five calves born at Ft. Peck Indian reservation this year. (Bill Campbell)

Blog posts about Earth's magnificent places and creatures were the most popular themes for unEarthed readers in 2012. By far the most-read post concerned Arctic drilling, followed by reports of bison being restored and wolves losing protection. Not shown in our top 10 blog posts, below, are the delightful tales of curious critters painted in words by our own Shirley Hao. Posts written years ago by Shirley are still being discovered and read by thousands of people every year.

And, now, for your enjoyment, we present our most-read posts of 2012:

View Stephanie Maddin's blog posts
24 December 2012, 11:49 AM
Health of thousands put on hold by weak agency action
Alexandra Allred. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

“…My son's school would be named in a USA Today report as being in the upper 1 percent of the most toxic schools in the nation—the same school I butted heads with cement plant executives about being under the toxic plumes while children were at recess.”

– Alex Allred,
50 States United Clean Air Ambassador from Texas

We are taught as children to play fair and to follow the rules. Apparently, everyone doesn’t get the same life lessons. For communities in the shadow of cement plant pollution, the rules of engagement seem to change when it comes to Clean Air Act protections. Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency decided to both weaken and delay an already overdue standard to clean up toxic cement plant emissions.

The decision was legally indefensible with a federal court requesting small technical changes to the standard. These plants emit dangerous levels mercury, lead, dioxin, benzene and fine particulate matter (soot) and are responsible for up to 2,500 premature deaths each year.

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