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Clean Air Act

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.

The endangerment finding released by the Environmental Protection Agency earlier this week—which states that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are a threat to public health and welfare—sure seems to rub some politicians the wrong way. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), a U.S. Senate hopeful, made an attempt to keep any funding allocated in an omnibus spending bill to the EPA from being spent on regulations based on the endangerment finding.

Tiahrt's amendment to the $446.8 billion dollar spending bill was rejected last night in a 5-9 vote. A similar unsuccessful assault on EPA regulation of global warming pollution was mounted in September by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK). Her amendment, which would have prevented the EPA for one year from spending any money allocated to them through an appropriations bill on regulating stationary sources of carbon pollution like power plants, didn't even get a vote.

These attempts to block funding for regulations, compared to the enthusiasm expressed by many at the announcement of the endangerment finding, illustrate a central issue: Using the Clean Air Act to regulate global warming pollution from cars, trucks, power plants, factories and other sources is a divisive issue. Moving forward, if and when EPA rolls out proposed regulations for these sources, it'll be interesting to see who lines up on which side of the argument.

The attorneys general of five states are urging Senate leaders to strengthen the federal climate bill by requiring cleanup or closure of dirty coal-fired power plants, preserving state authority to set stricter clean air standards than in federal law and ensuring that citizens can sue to enforce the bill’s provisions.

The New York Times, in an editorial today, zeroed in on a coal loophole that must be fixed in the House version of the Waxman-Markey climate change bill.

Echoing comments by Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen, the Times called on the Senate to impose greenhouse gas emission limits on existing coal-fired power plants, which were deliberately excluded from those standards in the House bill. Because of what the Times called "wheeling and dealing," those plants—which are the dirtiest coal polluters—would not be subject to the Clean Air Act.

Legislation aimed at controlling climate change can't work if it doesn't control the biggest contributors to climate change. We all need to get this common sense-message across to senators who even now are being wheeled and dealed by coal industry lobbyists. To speak out, go to the Earthjustice action alert page. It's a quick, easy, and effective way of joining the debate.

Last November, as Barack Obama won the election, we recommended a list of "easy things" the new president could immediately do to cement his promises about being a pro-environment president. This is our second update on how he's doing.

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.

The first Earth Day, 39 years ago today, was a godsend for a country mired in war and riven by racial, political and cultural issues. Arriving suddenly—as a gift whose time had come—it offered folks something to unite around: the idea of an entire planet, our home, in peril.

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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.