A Reason To Give Thanks—Environmental Laws Survive Election
Buoyed by supporters, Earthjustice expands to meet the challenge
Although the recent elections signal a return to more inhospitable times for environmental protection in Congress, we are sustained by two constants: the power of the law and the dedication of our supporters.
The law provides leverage for progress even when political winds shift, and our steadfast supporters have shown time and again that they trust in our ability to wield it for positive change, regardless of the prevailing politics.
That backing has helped us through difficult times. Like so many American families and businesses, we were impacted by the economic recession. Thankfully, as we prepared to tighten our belts, our supporters sent a clear message with their generous donations: don’t cut back your work to protect our environment.
Fueled by that generosity, we expanded our litigation and advocacy to take full advantage of the tremendous opportunities for advancing environmental issues that have existed over the past two years—and that still exist as we look at the next two. With Thanksgiving at hand, we want to take this opportunity to reflect on the progress made that wouldn’t have been possible without your support.
When President Obama took office, he installed a true environmental champion as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Under Lisa Jackson’s leadership, the EPA is exercising its responsibility to protect the health of Americans and of our environment more seriously than ever before. We’ve seen important progress on issues that are critical to Earthjustice’s mission, including reducing air pollution and ending mountaintop removal coal mining.
Our long-standing legal campaign to rid America’s air of mercury and other toxic pollutants is paying dividends: prompted by a series of Earthjustice cases, the EPA recently finalized the first-ever toxic air standards for cement kilns and is on a court-ordered deadline won by Earthjustice to do the same for power plants, the largest toxic air polluters in the country.
On mountaintop removal mining, the agency has begun to take seriously the science that shows how destructive the practice is for Appalachian waterways and communities. Most recently, the EPA recommended vetoing a permit for the Spruce mine, one of the largest mountaintop removal mines ever proposed. Earthjustice and our allies have been fighting for years to end this inexcusable practice, which sacrifices the water, natural resources and heritage of one of our nation’s most beautiful regions for dirty energy, and our tireless campaign continues to gain traction with your support.
The agency’s promising efforts, however, will be subjected to relentless efforts by the new leadership in the House and industry pressure to obstruct progress and even roll the clock back. This makes our litigation and advocacy to ensure that the EPA follows our nation’s landmark environmental laws more important than ever.
Such pressure won’t be applied to the EPA alone. One of our crowning victories over the Bush administration’s anti-environmental agenda was keeping the Roadless Rule alive despite numerous attempts to do it in. Over the past two years, we have continued our campaign to permanently protect the 58.5 million acres of roadless forest our nation is still fortunate to have, and we are now closer than ever to obtaining permanent protection for these special areas. Here again, though, congressional pressure may be applied to undermine this progress. Your support of this work has been a critical factor in our ability to keep pushing for these protections.
Oil drilling rigs would have invaded American’s Arctic Ocean last summer, if not for the dedicated work of Earthjustice and our allies. Faced with a campaign of litigation and extensive public outreach, the Obama administration was ultimately convinced that the risks of a spill in icy waters and inadequate response plans warranted the cancellation of exploratory drilling. The victory is only temporary, however, and as I write this, the Obama administration is deciding whether to allow drilling next summer. Earthjustice will continue working to protect the myriad wildlife and communities that call the Arctic home.
Of course, some in Congress will try to dilute our nation’s bedrock environmental laws, in effect pulling the rug out from under us. We have stood our ground against such attempts in the past, and we are more than prepared to do so again. Clean air, clean water, and protection of our nation’s grand natural spaces have broad public support and shouldn’t be treated like partisan issues. These resources belong to us all, and we all benefit from their protection.
The coming years will bring many bitter fights to protect the environment. But for 40 years, Earthjustice has persevered in the face of such challenges, and we won’t shy away moving forward. Thanks to our many allies, clients and supporters, we are never fighting alone.
Trip Van Noppen served as Earthjustice’s president from 2008 until he retired in 2018. A North Carolina native, Trip said of his experience: “Serving as the steward of Earthjustice for the last decade has been the greatest honor of my life.”