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From the President: Going to Extremes Is Bad Energy Policy

FromThe
President
Trip Van Noppen, President of Earthjustice.
Trip Van NoppenPresident

Just as clean, renewable energy is lifting off and the impacts of climate disruption become ever more visible, fossil energy production is becoming dramatically more extreme. But extreme fossil energy production is exactly what we don't need.

In just the last two years, I have seen the Louisiana coast's oil-slicked marshes after the Deepwater Horizon blow-out, met with Pennsylvanians and Coloradans whose homes are under assault in the fracking boom, toured the Alaskan Arctic with a caribou hunter whose way of life is threatened by onshore and offshore oil development, and shared the outrage of West Virginians whose schools and streams are under siege from mountaintop removal coal mining.

Though these extreme energy projects differ in their methods of extraction, they have two things in common: their massive industrial scale, and how little we know about their potential impacts to our air, water and climate.

As we move to ever-more extreme fossil fuel production, we are rapidly destroying landscapes, polluting air and water, shredding communities and exacerbating climate change. The new oil and gas fields have thousands of wells, each one using enormous quantities of water mixed with toxic chemicals that have not been tested for safety. In most states, the frackers aren't even required to report what chemicals they use, or in what amounts, and Earthjustice is in court fighting for testing and disclosure.

A heavily oiled marsh on the coast of Louisiana. (LDWF) The polluted Cabin Creek in West Virginia. (Mark Schmerling) Thick haze blankets Wyoming's Upper Green River Valley. (SkyTruth) An Inupiat hunter. Chukchi Sea / Alaska. (Florian Schulz / visionsofthewild.com) Amber Whittington, at the devastated Kayford Mountain. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice) An almond farmer watches oil wells that have sprouted up near almond orchards in Shafter, CA. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

BP Oil Spill A heavily oiled marsh on the coast of Louisiana. (LDWF)

Mining Waste Run-Off The polluted Cabin Creek in West Virginia. (Mark Schmerling)

Gas Drilling Haze from drilling operations blankets Wyoming's Upper Green River Valley. (SkyTruth)

Fracking An almond farmer watches oil wells that have sprouted up near almond orchards in Shafter, CA. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

Mountaintop Removal Amber Whittington, at the devastated Kayford Mountain. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)

Arctic An Inupiat hunter. Chukchi Sea / Alaska. (Florian Schulz / visionsofthewild.com)

Among the most extreme energy development being proposed is oil drilling in Arctic waters, where the drillers encounter ice and fierce weather far from the resources needed to respond to a spill. The industry swears it can drill there safely, but its track record demonstrates that the most sophisticated and wealthiest companies in the world are not yet able to operate safely in Arctic Ocean conditions.

Speaking of extreme, consider what's going on in Appalachia, where mountain tops are being blown off to get at the single biggest cause of climate change: coal. But climate change is just part of the harm wrought by mountaintop removal mining. Whole communities are forced to endure the noise, the poisoned water, the polluted air and the devastated lands. Ending this tragedy became the life work of our own Joan Mulhern, a true Mountain Hero who was admired, loved, and sometimes feared for her sharp tongue, her wry sense of humor and her die-hard dedication to the Boston Red Sox.

For years, Earthjustice has fought these extreme energy stampedes by using legal tools to prevent a reckless energy boom from becoming an environmental and public health bust. Currently, Earthjustice attorneys are challenging California's failure to evaluate or even consider the risks as frackers try to make California their next boomtown—using extreme measures.

America will always need energy, but heating up our climate, polluting our air and water, and contaminating our bodies goes far beyond what can be considered a reasonable, moderate or even moral energy policy—especially when clean, renewable energy is quickly becoming so readily available.

Written by Trip Van Noppen. First published in the Earthjustice Quarterly Magazine, Spring 2013 issue.

Related:

A gas flare in Shafter, CA. (Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice)
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California, here it comes—a surge of extreme energy methods like fracking that aren't regulated and potentially threaten the Golden State's water, air and health.

Graphic.
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Shaken by Storm: A Nation Demands Climate Change Action

As Americans rise up after superstorm Sandy and demand action on climate change, Earthjustice works towards a clean energy future.

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen. (Chris Jordan-Bloch)
unEARTHED
Trip's Column

Read more commentary and analysis from Trip Van Noppen on Earthjustice's blog, unEARTHED.