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While it may seem obvious, especially with coal companies completely burying streams and routinely poisoning drinking water supplies, an article in the scientific journal Science shows clear scientific evidence that mountaintop removal mining destroys streams and poisons communities.

The single biggest air polluter in the entire state of Washington is the state's one and only coal-fired power plant. The operating permit for the coal plant, which is in Centralia, was recently renewed without needed upgrades to protect the air and the people living nearby who breathe it. Earthjustice attorney Janette Brimmer has been working hard to get the permit pulled back and updated with better pollution standards to clean up the air.

I remember my first thought when I read the papers on Dec. 23, the day after one of the biggest environmental disasters in our nation's history: "This is only the beginning."

The stories about the spill came out like the spill itself: slow at first, then in a huge, sudden avalanche of sad details. 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash from the Tennessee Valley Authority's Kingston Power Plant burst through a dam near Harriman and spread over 300 acres of pristine shoreline along the Emory and Clinch Rivers.

(Editor's Note: This file presents news and information from the Copenhagen climate change conference on Dec. 17, distilled from news outlet reports. Check for updates during the day.)

<Update>: A leaked draft document at Copenhagen suggests that the political agreement being forged will allow the planet's temperature to rise so high that disastrous consequences will result.

Becoming a grandfather is cause for celebration, unless you're a coal-fired power plant.

Coal plants that predate the Clean Air Act have become the mules of air pollution—set in their ways and not liable to change. Exploiting their "grandfathered" status, these coal plants have refused to implement technologies that are currently available to reduce pollution.

Now, Congress seems determined to let these dinosaurs off the hook all over again.

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.

Robert Byrd, the patriarch of the United States Senate, has been the champion and defender of the coal industry for decades, a staunch ally who could be depended on to look out for the interests of his constituents, many of whom work for or own coal operations.

But a massive sea change took place in early December with a statement issued by the senator, urging the coal industry to face the future, to stop blaming regulatory hurdles for its woes, to acknowledge the reality of climate change, and to get busy preparing for a lower-carbon future.

The senator, who has served nearly 57 years in the Congress, seemed particularly miffed that the coal industry had tried to persuade him and other coal-state legislators to block health-care reform unless coal got a free ride in any climate legislation, an idea the senator called "morally indefensible." He also suggested that support for mountaintop removal mining is evaporating in Washington, It's quite a statement, well worth reading, maybe saving. It's a turning point. You can read the statement, or listen to the senator reading it, here.

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