Posts tagged: Environmental Protection Agency

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Everyone has The Right To Breathe clean air. Watch a video featuring Earthjustice Attorney Jim Pew and two Pennsylvanians—Marti Blake and Martin Garrigan—who know firsthand what it means to live in the shadow of a coal plant's smokestack, breathing in daily lungfuls of toxic air for more than two decades.

Coal Ash Contaminates Our Lives. Coal ash is the hazardous waste that remains after coal is burned. Dumped into unlined ponds or mines, the toxins readily leach into drinking water supplies. Watch the video above and take action to support federally enforceable safeguards for coal ash disposal.


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.

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View Stephanie Maddin's blog posts
21 March 2012, 9:29 AM
In the Senate, public health is up for debate

That coal- and oil-fired power plants are big air polluters is beyond question—they emit hundreds of thousands of tons of hazardous air pollution (mercury, lead, acid gases, e.g.), far more than any other industrial polluter. And yet, many in Congress question whether we should do anything about this major threat to public health. The debate took center stage yesterday in a subcommittee hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Sen. John Barrasso said that the costs and real benefits of cleaning up toxic air pollution from power plants are unknown. This is an incredible statement considering that extensive analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown substantial benefits from cleaning up power plants: the prevention of up to 11,000 premature deaths, 130,000 asthma attacks and 5,000 heart attacks every year. The benefits of reducing power plant pollution could reach $90 billion each year, 9 times the cost.

Barrasso's colleague, Sen. Lamar Alexander, had a different take. He acknowledged the damage that mercury and other toxics pose to fetal development and the health of other vulnerable populations. He also conceded that power plants have evaded clean air standards for more than a decade and that the country needs to "get on with it and do it!" He then, ironically, suggested a blanket 6-year compliance timeline, which Gina McCarthy, EPA's Deputy Administrator, strongly opposed. She argued that delaying the standards any longer will severely compromise the health benefits for the American public.

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View Lisa Evans's blog posts
21 March 2012, 7:51 AM
Why the delay in drinking water protection near coal ash dumps?
75% of American cities depend on groundwater for at least some of their drinking water. (Imagesource)

Tomorrow is World Water Day and across the globe, the United Nations and many grassroots groups are holding events to highlight the importance of clean water to our health and global security. In North Carolina, Appalachian Voices will gather residents in and around Asheville for a “Clean Water Not Coal Ash” Rally to call attention to the local and nationwide threat posed by coal ash to drinking water and the nation’s rivers, lakes and streams. In North Carolina, there are at least 10 sites where coal ash dumping has contaminated groundwater or surface water. Nationwide, coal ash dumping has poisoned aquifers and streams at over 150 sites in 34 states. Yet thousands of communities near coal ash impoundments, landfills and minefills still wait for the EPA to take action.

And they’ve been waiting a very long time. Despite 12 years of public pronouncements and promises from the EPA, final rules offering basic drinking water protections are nowhere in sight. In fact, twice every year since 2000, the EPA has officially stated in its semiannual regulatory agenda that it would establish national rules protecting drinking water from coal ash dumping.  In 2000, the EPA announced that the national rule would be final in August 2002. Yet with each successive regulatory agenda, the agency pushed out further the date of promulgation, leaving one to conclude that a political agenda is trumping the EPA’s regulatory one.

The wait is far too long, however, and the burden is unbearable on many communities. Ask the residents of Town of Pines, IN.

View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
15 March 2012, 12:23 PM
Dog-gone oil spill cleanups, coastal city wipeouts, leaded bullets
Is your baby getting its daily dose of hormone-disrupting chemicals? (photo courtesy of pfly)

Low chemical doses may have big health effects
A recent finding that tiny doses of certain hormone-altering chemicals can lead to harmful health effects could lead to a paradigm shift in the way that regulators evaluate a chemical’s harmfulness, reports Environmental Health News. Traditionally, toxicologists and regulators have evaluated the toxicity of a chemical by following the common adage, “The dose makes the poison,” which means that some chemicals can be harmful at high doses but perfectly fine at lower doses. However, this latest research has flipped that theory on its head by finding that some chemicals, especially those with hormonal properties like bisphenol A (BPA), can actually have a more harmful effect on people at low, rather than high, doses. Considering that BPA is found in everything from baby bottles to soup cans, the new study has implications not only for scientists and regulators, but for the people who are exposed to these chemicals on a daily basis.

Arctic oil spill cleanup methods go to the dogs
Norwegian researchers are experimenting with using dogs to sniff out oil spills in the harsh Arctic environment, reports the UK Guardian. So far the super-sniffing dogs, a dachshund and two border colliers, have been able to detect the scent of oil up to three miles downwind of a spill. Though impressive, the oil sniffing dogs experiment has largely been derided as a last ditch option for cleaning up oil in an area where “we do not have adequate science and technology…particularly in ice,” said Marilyn Heiman, a director of PEW’s US Arctic Program. Though Shell doesn’t plan to deploy oil-sniffing dogs to the Arctic anytime soon, its existing “plan” to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic if one were to occur is scarily inadequate and is based on very unrealistic assumptions, says Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe, who added, “The fact is, there simply is no way to adequately respond to an oil spill in the Beaufort Sea—it is too remote, icy, stormy, dark, and foggy. Shell’s plan needs to acknowledge the difficulties of the region, not assume them away.” 

View Lisa Evans's blog posts
07 March 2012, 12:53 PM
Closure of old coal plants raises toxic cleanup issues
Coal ash ponds in Nevada.
(Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

Across the country, communities near retiring coal plants are breathing collective sighs of relief. Closures, however, raise vexing questions about the millions of tons of toxic waste that may lie beneath the surface. Over decades, most plants have buried battleship-sized deposits of coal ash in landfills and lagoons near their plants. In the absence of federal mandates, utilities may leave behind a leaking legacy of deadly pollution, even after the belching stacks are long gone.

Communities have reason to be concerned. Buried coal ash can leach toxic metals into underground water supplies and adjacent lakes and streams for generations unless dumps are properly closed. Neighbors of Dominion’s Stateline Power plant, which will be retiring next month, have expressed these exact concerns. Located just across the Illinois border on the shore of Lake Michigan, the site has buried waste that could easily reach the lake.

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View Jared Saylor's blog posts
01 March 2012, 8:21 AM
Industry says studies about health impacts of chemicals should be confidential

It seems reasonable that if something were to cause us harm, we’d like to know about it—such as a faulty part in a car that would cause the brakes to fail. It’s the way we protect ourselves and our families, by avoiding those things that might cause us harm, or at least being made aware of the risks. Seems logical enough, right?

Unfortunately, some of the companies responsible for divulging this information don’t always use logic as their motivating factor. Case in point: The Toxic Substances Control Act, for all its weaknesses, calls for information about health and safety studies of chemicals used in many everyday products to be made public. For years companies have been claiming that the identity of the chemicals and other basic information in the studies should be kept secret. But recently, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules that would not allow companies to claim these studies as “Confidential Business Information,” which for too long has kept this information out of the public arena.

But industry isn’t going to comply quietly. In a white paper released Jan. 19, the American Chemistry Council makes sweeping assertions about the potential impact of the EPA’s policy, launching a broadside attack on the EPA’s ability to let the public know what these chemicals can do to our bodies and our environment.

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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
24 February 2012, 3:15 AM
Sour milk, filthy beaches, biotech's legal blues
(Photo courtesy of p*p)

Big business attack ads create fear conditions for environmental scientists
Scientists are being pulled out of their labs and attacked by anti-science campaigns in an unprecedented fashion, reports the UK Guardian. Though most have kept mum about the issue until now, recently the president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Nina Fedoroff, spoke out about the attacks, confessing that she was “scared to death” by an ever-growing anti-science movement. The attacks, which focus on casting doubt on scientific certainties like climate change and other environmental problems, have come in the form of Facebook page hijacks, email hacks and even death threats. Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the Merchants of Doubt, a book about the links between corporate business interests and U.S. campaigns aimed at blocking environmental and health protections, told the Guardian that these are "massive organized attempts to undermine scientific data by people for whom that data represents a threat to their status quo. Given the power of these people, scientists will have their work cut out dealing with them."

Big Dairy cries giant milk tears as popularity in alternatives spills over
As alternative “milk” varieties like coconut and almond gain in popularity, the dairy industry, purportedly nervous about decreased profit shares, is fighting back, reports Grist. Big Dairy’s most recent ad campaign, “Real Milk Comes from Cows,” highlights the many ways that milk alternatives differ the real thing: from almond milk’s slightly off-color to coconut milk’s "spooky" trick of looking like real milk. Sadly, the dairy industry neglects to point out one of the main and most important differences between its product and the alternatives, which is that most conventional milk (i.e. not organic) is, as a product of industrial agriculture, likely tainted with hormones and pesticides. Milk alternatives may need to be shaken before consumption, but at least their ingredient lists won’t stir you. 

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View David Guest's blog posts
15 February 2012, 3:55 PM
Huge tide of support for Obama to keep state's water clean
Toxic algae choking Florida waterway

A big thank you to the more than 17,000 people who have sent letters to the White House so far in support of strong U.S. Environmental Protection Agency limits for sewage, manure and fertilizer in Florida waters. We so appreciate you all having our backs on our quest to clean up Florida’s number-one pollution problem.

As you know, we’ve been suffering down here from repeated toxic algae outbreaks that cover our waters with green slime -- outbreaks triggered by the excess phosphorus and nitrogen from sewage, manure and fertilizer. We had toxic algae and nasty fish kills around beautiful Sanibel Island over the winter holidays. In January, Fort Myers had an algae outbreak on the Calooshatchee River that had people holding their noses because it smelled like raw sewage. There’s been an algae outbreak killing aquatic life in the Indian River for a year, and red tide in the Gulf – which is fueled by excess nutrients -- has been sickening and killing manatees, sea turtles, and cormorants on the state’s southwest coast.

Since our tourists come from everywhere, we need folks around the country – and around the globe – to speak out and help us win the battle against these polluters who are intent on using our public waters as their private sewers. So keep those cards and letters coming to the White House.

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View Jessica Knoblauch's blog posts
10 February 2012, 2:11 AM
Chemical list limbo, idle air pollution laws, green coup
Photo courtesy of Calgary Reviews.

McDonald’s takes pink slime goop out of burgers
It’s official: The next time you have a Big Mac craving, you no longer have to worry about your burger being loaded with pink goo, reports MSNBC. Recently, McDonald’s announced that it is no longer using ammonium hydroxide, an anti-microbrial agent that, when used on inedible scrap meat, turns into a pink slime that’s the basis for your burger. Though the USDA maintains that ammonium hydroxide is “generally recognized as safe,” food safety experts and television celebrity chef Jamie Oliver disagree, arguing that “taking a product that would be sold in the cheapest form for dogs and making it 'fit' for humans” is “shocking.” Not long after Oliver’s show on ammonia-treated beef, McDonald’s announced that it would stop using lean beef trimmings—aka scrap meat—treated with ammonia in its burgers (though McDonald's maintains that the show had nothing to do with its decision). If the idea of pink slime in your burgers doesn’t make you gag, take a look at McDonalds' ridiculous new “farm to fork” video campaign and see if you can hold that burger down.

Check out Jamie Oliver's episode on pink slime: (note: not for the faint of heart)

View Shirley Hao's blog posts
06 February 2012, 6:57 PM
All we know, to the best of our knowledge, is that we don’t yet know enough
A male polar bear patrols the pack ice edge in the Chukchi Sea, Alaska. (Florian Schulz /

As portions of the contiguous United States find themselves (perhaps a bit uncomfortably) in winter’s chilly embrace, a recently published study in the scientific journal Marine Biology may shed new light on the wintry lifestyles of the Arctic regions of our country.

During this season, Arctic areas like the Beaufort and Chukchi seas, off the northern coast of Alaska, experience months of ‘polar nights’—times when the sun fails to make an appearance (making for a veritable vampire haven, one might say).

The extreme degree of coldness of these winter months is key to the survival of species like the polar bear and ringed seals, who depend on the restoration of thick sea ice (long since diminished during the warmer spring and summer months) in order to hunt and raise their young.

A polar night, in Longyearbyen, Norway.

A polar night, in Longyearbyen, Norway. (Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)
View Liz Judge's blog posts
02 February 2012, 3:34 PM
Nothing compares to wetlands in terms of dollars saved, disasters prevented

In addition to being Groundhog Day, Feb. 2 is World Wetlands Day. Say what? An international day to celebrate swamps? If you’re scratching your head wondering why in the world we’d throw a party for swamps (and bogs and marshes and fens and floodplains and other wet, buggy places), here’s why:

Wetlands protect us. They’re our best buffer from floods and storms, better than any levees we could ever build -- after all, an acre of wetland can store 1–1.5 million gallons of floodwater. They are also our best pollution filter, absorbing the nasty stuff we can't drink and easing the workload for our man-made drinking water sanitation systems. And they keep our ecosystems alive, providing healthy habitats and resting places to the birds, critters and plants we need in order to continue to thrive in our own environment, wherever that may be.

Great thinkers all the whole world over recognized this more than 40 years ago when they came together in the Iranian city of Ramsar and signed a global treaty called the Ramsar Convention to protect the planet’s invaluable wetlands.

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