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Environmental Protection Agency

Contradictory actions by the coal industry this week illustrate how treacherous the road is to a clean energy future for America.

On Tuesday, to our delight, developers of the proposed Highwood coal-fired power plant in Montana surrendered and announced that they would instead build natural gas and wind-powered generating plants. The credit for this should go to Earthjustice attorneys Abigail Dillen and Jenny Harbine, whose two years of legal action against the plant obviously paid off.

I joined Tuesday's huge crowd in Washington to witness the inauguration of our 44th President. The people who traveled from all over the country had worked to elect Barack Obama and create a community of hope, optimism, and readiness to tackle the challenges, and that spirit pervaded the Mall.

Earthjustice Press Secretary Kathleen Sutcliffe provides this report on the grave threats posed by toxic coal ash produced at our nation's coal-fired power plants, and the quick action taken by Earthjustice attorney Lisa Evans after recent coal ash spills

Quick quiz, readers.

The byproduct of coal-fired power plants is:

a) the nation’s second largest industrial waste stream;

b) chock full of arsenic, lead, and other toxins;

c) unregulated by federal waste laws; or

d) all of the above

Earthjustice press secretary Raviya Ismail was at today’s (Jan. 12) U.S. Supreme Court hearing on whether the Clean Water Act allows Coeur Alaska’s Kensington Mine to fill Lower Slate Lake in Alaska with mining waste – killing all aquatic life. Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo argued to protect the lake. The high court decision, expected by June, could determine whether waterways throughout the nation may be likewise filled and killed. Here is Raviya’s report:

On this coming Monday - while the media are riveted by the upcoming inauguration - the fate of our nation’s waters will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court will hear arguments in an Earthjustice case that has implications for rivers, lakes, and streams across the country.

The case concerns a gold mine north of Juneau, Alaska. The Army Corps of Engineers granted a permit for the mine to Coeur Alaska. One provision of the permit allows Coeur to deposit its mine tailings into Lower Slate Lake after raising the level of the lake by building a long earthen dam.

When a chemical maker or user gets new information about the possible health hazards of one of its products, it's supposed to tell the EPA. The EPA maintains a website that is supposed to make this information available to the public. But when reporters for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel took a look at some of these so-called Section 8(e) reports, here's what they found:

Reaction from environmental groups to almost-president Obama's cabinet choices has been interesting. Most of the choices have been welcomed by most organizations (Carl Pope made incoming labor secretary Hilda Solis sound like a green Mother Theresa).

Reservations I've heard have been voiced about the National Security Advisor, General Jim Jones, who is said by some to be a climate change nonbeliever, but that's a bit outside the purview of his new job and he's wildly outnumbered by believers in the cabinet and the White House.

Even when fully complying with federal clean-air laws, refineries are nasty operations, spewing tons of hazardous pollutants into the air of neighboring communities. But under a regulatory loophole, refineries, chemical plants and other industrial facilities have been allowed to pollute even more during an equipment malfunction, or when shutting down and starting back up following a malfunction.

Maybe it's a good thing that Bush has kept Earthjustice so busy these last eight years, fending off unrelenting assaults on the environment. The experience is proving invaluable as we face, in these final weeks of the administration, a frantic effort to roll back some of the nation's most significant protections. We also are encountering a barrage of last-minute attempts to convert America's wild, public treasures into private, commercial commodities.

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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.