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Environmental Protection Agency

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.

Imagine a day when expectant parents can paint their nurseries, stock them with playthings and baby supplies, and do it all with the security of knowing that each and every chemical in those products has been tested for health effects and found safe for their newborn.

Last night, the Obama administration got us one step closer to that shimmery non-toxic future.

Just as world leaders convened in New York earlier this week for the U.N. Climate Conference, Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) was introducing an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have hogtied EPA's ability to regulate carbon pollution from power plants and other large industrial polluters.

Fortunately, the Senate just decided not to vote on Senator Murkowski's amendment.

Some major dominoes still have to fall before big carbon polluters like power plants are regulated under the Clean Air Act, but the jettisoning of Murkowski's amendment clears the way for EPA to continue its work in that direction.

Here's a thanks to the 12,000 Earthjustice supporters who earlier this week urged their senators to reject Murkowski's amendment and instead tackle climate change and carbon polluters head on.
 

Yellowstone's grizzly bears are back under the protection of the Endangered Species Act, thanks to a federal court decision overturning Bush-era directives.

The court ruled in favor of Earthjustice litigation by finding the Bush administration illegally removed ESA protections from the bear in 2007. In overturning the delisting, the court cited inadequate state laws and the ongoing demise of whitebark pine—a key grizzly food source—caused by global warming.

Because they grow in high, remote places, whitebark pine forests also keep grizzly bears out of harm's way: in poor seed years, grizzlies seek foods elsewhere, bumping into people more and dying at rates 2-3 times higher than in good seed years.

 

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.

The attorneys general of five states are urging Senate leaders to strengthen the federal climate bill by requiring cleanup or closure of dirty coal-fired power plants, preserving state authority to set stricter clean air standards than in federal law and ensuring that citizens can sue to enforce the bill’s provisions.

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.

Things involving climate change are getting decidedly bizarre. The three-million-member U.S. Chamber of Commerce is demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency hold a trial—witnesses, cross-examination, the whole nine yards—to challenge climate science. The Chamber's purpose is to head off regulations that EPA may adopt based on an upcoming "finding" that CO2 emissions "endanger" human (Americans' in this case) health.

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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.