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pesticides

Last year, the U.S. government started taking environmental protection seriously again, but as 2010 dawns, we continue to see political and economic interests preventing or stalling critical environmental solutions.

In the face of this opposition, this year Earthjustice is targeting key issues with our legal and advocacy work. Our focus is on three core priorities: building a clean energy future, protecting our natural heritage, and safeguarding our health.

Some top stories from the last week at Earthjustice...

The Copenhagen conference started off with a bang of optimism when the EPA announced that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health. The cooperative spirit quickly fizzled after a draft agreement surfaced that apparently favors the interests of the U.S. and other wealthy nations. There’s more news by the hour: Be sure to check out our daily reports from Copenhagen, and analysis by two attending Earthjustice attorneys, Erika Rosenthal and Martin Wagner.

All the buzz from the conference nearly drowned out a disturbing, and related, piece of news: Shell Oil was granted conditional approval to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi Sea. Earthjustice attorney Erik Grafe warned that the approvals outpace the science of what we know about Arctic waters.

On the same day that the EPA released its endangerment finding, Earthjustice challenged the agency on a toxin polluting the air in Appalachia, to the point where kids can’t play outside. It’s coal dust, and we think the coal plants that produce it should do something about it. 

Farm workers and their families will get some long-awaited help to deal with toxic pesticides poisoning the air around their homes and schools, thanks to a new EPA policy. Going forward, the EPA will assess the health risks posed by pesticide drift with the same standards by which pesticides in food are assessed. 

And finally, this week Earthjustice saved taxpayers $1.5 million!—and 4.3 million board-feet of old-growth forest in the Tongass to boot. This also means we kept a little C02 out of the atmosphere. Indeed, one of the least controversial ideas out of Copenhagen is also one of the simplest: don’t cut down trees.

I just received two copies of a newsletter called Cool Foods: Countdown to Copenhagen & Beyond from the Center for Food Safety. The purpose of the effort is to remind negotiators and the public that industrial agriculture accounts for between 13.5 percent and as much as 32 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. "Particularly alarming," they write, "is that industrial agriculture is responsible for 60 percent of total global nitrous oxide emissions, largely from nitrogen fertilizer. Nitrous oxide is the deadliest of the three major GHGs, approximately 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide." And on in the same vein. Scary but vital information.

Lester Brown's Earth Policy Institute has a somewhat different take on the subject, but also provides compelling evidence and argument that climate change and agriculture are intimately linked.

Luis Medellin and his three little sisters—aged 5, 9 and 12—live in the middle of an orange grove in Lindsay, CA—a small farming town in California's Central Valley. During the growing season, Luis and his sisters are awakened several times a week by the sickly smell of nighttime pesticide spraying. What follows is worse: searing headaches, nausea, vomiting.

 More than half of the corn, soybeans and cotton grown in the U.S. these days starts as genetically engineered seed. The best-known are produced by Monsanto and called "Roundup-Ready," Roundup being the name of an herbicide also produced by Monsanto. The idea is that the GE crops can be doused with Roundup to kill off weeds without damaging the crops themselves.

Well, someone forgot to tell Monsanto that nature is pretty slick about adapting to change: Weeds have evolved resistance to Roundup, requiring farmers to apply great quantities of different herbicides to kill them, which is expensive and dangerous.

All this and more is detailed in a new report from the Organic Center, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Center for Food Safety, which goes on to reveal that not only must farmers shell out large sums to pay for extra chemicals—the price of the GE seeds has gone through the roof even as their effectiveness declines.

Today Earthjustice lined up alongside family farmers, consumers, farmworkers, fishermen, anti-hunger groups and a host of others in opposing the administration's selection of a pesticide industry insider to serve as our country's chief agricultural trade negotiator.

Deciding to oppose a nominee is not a decision we take lightly. But in this case it was the right thing to do.

When it comes to pesticides and GMOs, Islam Siddiqui has been on the wrong side of the issues too many times. His current gig—as vice president for science and regulatory affairs at CropLife America—speaks volumes. CropLife America is the agribusiness trade association whose members include Monsanto, Syngenta, DuPont and Dow. It's also shorthand for how far we've strayed from sustainable agriculture practices. Putting Siddiqui at the helm certainly won't get us back on course.

 It is shameful that Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson is siding with the state’s worst polluters to fight against cleaning up algae-choked waters poisoned by agricultural runoff.

There are toxic algae blooms all over the state, water treatment plants are closing due to nutrient poisoning, and yet Bronson directs the state to work for the polluters and against the people. 

Bill Neukom is a seasoned attorney in a prominent Seattle firm. He served as Microsoft's general counsel and for the past year has been the President of the American Bar Association. His main project at the ABA is engaging leading lawyers, judges, politicians, and others around the world to promote the rule of law. He leads the World Justice Project and has developed the Rule of Law Index, measuring the strength of legal protections and the degree of corruption in the world's legal systems. Strengthening environmental law is one of the goals of this effort.

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