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Clean Air Act

Earthjustice received some superb video today from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, of Shell’s beat up Arctic drilling rig, the Kulluk, as it was lifted onto a huge dry haul ship to be carried to Asia for repairs:

This comes on the heels of a report from the Department of Interior, which summarized  a 60-day investigation into Shell’s 2012 Arctic Ocean drilling season and was highly critical of the oil giant’s operations.

The technological advance of horizontal drilling was a game changer for the oil and gas industry. When oil and natural gas were previously being harvested, vertical drilling was the only way to extract the fossil fuel. With horizontal drilling, wells can now be fracked and re-fracked, at different depths and in all directions. By increasing the area of exploration for natural gas, many previously untouched landscapes are now being scarred due to the fracking boom.

Over the past four years, the federal halls of justice have been left partially hollow as the number of judicial vacancies in the federal courts continues to mount—due to foot-dragging on nominations and partisan filibuster once nominations are made. These vacancies hobble the courts’ ability to do their core work, which includes determining the fate of our most important environmental protections.

Over the past few decades—with the help of Congress—Big Oil and Gas successfully chipped away at our bedrock environmental laws, carving out special exemptions for the fossil fuel drilling industry. In 1987, when Congress decided to implement new standards to control stormwater runoff pollution under the Clean Water Act, oil and gas companies got a pass. And in 1990 when the Clean Air Act was expanded to allow for control of more toxic air pollutants, the same industry got another pass.

Even in today’s divided political climate, taking a stance against mercury and arsenic in our air does not seem like it should be controversial. The gasses, along with other known toxics like chromium, cadmium and selenium are among 84 known air pollutants emitted every year by coal and oil fired power plants.

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.

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.

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.

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.

“…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

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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. Learn more about Earthjustice.