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President Barack Obama handed out a passel of money today for "smart grid" projects, much of it going towards house electrical meters that can be controlled by power companies. The meters allow companies to manipulate how much electricity each house uses at any given time -- useful in times of power shortages and for being able to shift power from where it's least needed to where it's most needed.

Two years after Earthjustice successfully fought Florida Power and Light's plan to build the nation's largest coal plant near Everglades National Park, the state is taking a giant leap forward toward clean energy.

Today, President Barack Obama is touring FPL's new DeSoto Next Generation Solar Energy Center in Arcadia —the largest photovoltaic facility in the U.S.

"Instead of having a dirty coal plant to provide power, we have clean solar energy," said David Guest, managing attorney for Earthjustice in Florida. "It is gratifying to know that Earthjustice helped change public policy and moved our state to more common-sense technology. We are finally putting the sunshine back in the Sunshine State."

In June 2007, Earthjustice gathered evidence and experts which helped convince the Florida Public Service Commission to consider the full costs associated with polluting coal plants. It was the first time that global warming played a role in a PSC decision, and the first time in 15 years that state regulators rejected a new power plant.

At 25 megawatts, it will generate nearly twice as much energy as the second-largest photovoltaic facility in the U.S.—Nevada's Nellis Solar Power Plant.
 

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.

The Environmental Protection Agency has taken another positive step towards reining in the destructive practice of mountaintop removal mining.

Today, the EPA declared that all of the 79 permits it was reviewing would violate the Clean Water Act and must undergo more in-depth environmental assessment by both the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. This is a welcome action that Earthjustice called for two weeks ago.

Now, the two agencies have 60 days to review each permit. We can't imagine that they can reach any other conclusion than that these mines will cause irreparable harm to the waterways, land and communities of Appalachia. The permits must be denied, and beyond that, the Obama administration should follow up by reinstating and enforcing clean water rules gutted by the Bush administration.

On most environmental matters, the Obama administration scores high marks from us, especially for revitalizing the role of science and respect for the law in the agency's decisions. The shift in ethos from eight years of ruinous Bush policies occurred almost immediately after Obama took office. We have seen dramatic positive changes in how some federal agencies deal with the key issues of climate change and clean energy, roadless protections, clean air, and hazardous waste regulations.

The last year has been a roller coaster ride for mountaintop removal. Despite a loss in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in February (which we're now appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court), the U.S. Senate was taking up the fight with some public hearings back in March.

More than two-thirds of fish tested by the federal government between 1998 and 2005 are contaminated by mercury at levels exceeding EPA standards according to a recent report.

Contamination is widespread, the report said, coming from various sources depending on geography. Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of mercury, although 59 of the 291 streams studied may have been affected by gold and mercury mining. The highest mercury levels were found in the south and southeast-North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana, while elevated levels were found in mining areas of the West and watersheds in the Northeast and Upper Midwest.

In 2008, Earthjustice successfully appealed an EPA rule favorable to industry which would have allowed dangerous levels of mercury to persist. We’re waiting for the Obama administration to make good on its promise to introduce new power plant emission regulations.

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.

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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.