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While for many in the country, thoughts of Hurricane Sandy are being replaced by thoughts of the election, football, or the Thanksgiving holiday, for the tens of thousands of people in New York and New Jersey, survival and their families' well-being are still the urgent thoughts.

You know that creek in your backyard, or the river or lake near your town? Have any idea what kind of condition it is in, or how polluted it is?

Most people probably don't  -- up until now, it hasn't been very easy to get this information. But to help people find out about the condition of their local waterways, in honor of the 40th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, yesterday the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched a supercool new app for your computer or mobile device that allows you to learn about the quality of the waters near you.

It's been a long two years with the 112th Congress. In that time, House leadership has often tried to "help the economy" by wiping away our basic public health and environmental protections—in the process putting thousands of Americans at risk of disease and death from exposure to toxic chemicals and carcinogens in our air and water.

After the summer we have had, my mind is on climate change, what more Earthjustice can do about it, and what’s at stake in this election.

I experienced the effects of climate change this summer during a trip through Colorado. Heat, drought and fire set an almost apocalyptic tone for the trip. There was no snow on the peaks, stream flows were down, and smoke filled the air. Similar impacts afflicted 60 percent of our nation and spread over three continents; sea ice coverage in the Arctic was at a record low.

At a Senate hearing, today, about the EPA's authority to control exposures to toxic chemicals, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Cali.) wondered aloud: what would Americans say if asked whether they thought products containing poisonous chemicals are tested before being sold.

Most probably think there is a system in place to protect them from such products before they make their way into homes and bodies, Boxer guessed. “That a chemical has to be proven safe before it is used."

There are some straight spines left in the U.S. Senate, which today voted down a resolution from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) that would have effectively exempted coal-fired power plants—the nation's worst air polluters—from Clean Air Act controls that limit mercury and other toxic emissions. This is a critical victory in the decades-long effort to protect communities from the egregious amounts of health-damaging pollutants that coal plants put in our air.

It’s Groundhog Day in the House of Representatives. Once again, coal company allies are leading a charge to pass a symbolic vote that would reinforce their disdain for any plans to clean up coal ash ponds and landfills with federal minimum safeguards. But the symbolism has real-world impacts: nearly 200 coal ash sites have already contaminated nearby lakes, rivers, streams and aquifers with dangerous chemicals that cause cancer, organ damage and even death.

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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.