Skip to main content

Sam Edmondson's Blog

There are some straight spines left in the U.S. Senate, which today voted down a resolution from Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) that would have effectively exempted coal-fired power plants—the nation's worst air polluters—from Clean Air Act controls that limit mercury and other toxic emissions. This is a critical victory in the decades-long effort to protect communities from the egregious amounts of health-damaging pollutants that coal plants put in our air.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) is spearheading an egregious effort in the Senate to exempt the nation's worst air polluters from the Clean Air Act. He is floating a resolution that would block recently finalized limits on the amounts of mercury, arsenic and other health-damaging pollutants that coal- and oil-fired power plants can emit. It's up for a vote on Wednesday.

Nothing cuts baloney like a court order. Today, in response to a request made by Earthjustice, a federal judge gave the Environmental Protection Agency one week to sign a proposal for tightening standards on soot, an airborne mixture of tiny particles that causes tens of thousands of early deaths every year.

The court's action is most welcome: there's been so much foot-dragging at EPA on this issue, you have to wonder if everyone involved needs a new pair of shoes.

Over this past long weekend, spent backpacking in California's Sierra Nevada mountains, I was reminded of a memorable method for distinguishing two of our stateliest trees. Though these two specimens are similar in many respects, the pine cones of "prickly ponderosa" have small spikes that point outwards, while those of "gentle Jeffrey" curve inward. (The bark of Jeffrey pines additionally smells like butterscotch or vanilla, which makes ID'ing them doubly delicious.)

“School’s out for summer!”

When I was growing up, Alice Cooper’s 1972 hit usually infiltrated my head sometime around the beginning of May, looped incessantly, and hit a feverish crescendo in the few minutes before the final bell released us to summer break. Now, many years later, a very different line completes the couplet in my head.

“Ozone is a bummer!”

A remarkable thing happened during a Senate hearing today on the EPA's rule to limit toxic air pollution from coal-fired power plants. A critic of the agency's policy argued that reducing air pollution from coal-fired power plants—the nation's worst air polluters—is a bad idea because it will make it more expensive for asthmatics to run their air conditioners on hot days when poor air quality forces them inside.

The historic victory for clean air announced a few days ago—limits on the mercury, arsenic and other toxic emissions from coal plants—has been a long time coming. Congress called for these limits in 1990, but the coal power industry got to work undermining them straight away. As a result, instead of getting the breath of fresh air promised by Congress, Americans living in the shadow of a smokestack have been getting daily lungfuls of toxic air for 21 years.

The White House recently posted a video of President Obama discussing the new clean air protections that his administration released today to limit mercury, arsenic and other air toxic emissions from power plants. The President's words underscore how momentous this occasion is. The fight for these protections is more than two decades old. Earthjustice entered it in 1994 and has been pushing hard ever since. Check out the video below.

Imagine you live in a neighborhood full of families. There are many nice people, but a few households are real menaces. They're loud, they burn things in the backyard, and they drive around so fast that you're worried they're going to run someone down

The neighborhood bands together and one-by-one succeeds in getting these menaces to settle down. But there's a holdout—and it's the worst of all. The noise from that place is tremendous, the fires they burn are bigger than anyone's, and they drive with their eyes closed.

What's it like to live in the shadow of a smokestack?

Ask Kim Wasserman, executive director of the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and a resident of Chicago's Little Village neighborhood—a culturally vibrant area on the city's west side that many, including Wasserman, refer to as the "Mexican capital of the Midwest."

Mark your calendars. Dec. 16 is going to be a big deal—particularly for families with children across the country. I know that Alvin, Simon and Theodore are getting Chipwrecked that day, but that's not what I'm thinking about. There's something even bigger coming down: the Environmental Protection Agency is going to release final standards to clean up mercury and other health-damaging toxic air pollutants from power plants.

Quick! Somebody tell Tipper Gore that "clean air" and "public health" are now considered dirty words. Well, at least in the U.S. House of Representatives. If the House had a swear jar, I'd bet such utterances would be as punishable as your garden variety expletives.

Meet Tommy Allred. He lives in Midlothian, TX, a town of fewer than 10,000 roughly 18,000 residents that also hosts three of the nation's most polluting cement plants.

Like millions of kids across the U.S., Tommy has asthma. He developed the condition after his family moved to Midlothian, when he was two years old. First it was pneumonia, then double pneumonia, bronchitis, fever, and inexplicable coughing followed by shortness of breath.

A thousand political fires are burning in Washington, D.C., as members of the House of Representatives hijack the budgeting process. They aim to torch critical environmental safeguards—from endangered species protections to standards that keep our air and water clean.

Their strategy? Since Congress has to pass a spending bill that funds government agencies—the EPA, Forest Service and others—anti-environmental representatives think they can slip bitter pills into the bill and make the country swallow.

Remember the anti-drug commercial where illicit drugs (played by butter) fried a brain (played by an egg)? Over the action, a gravelly voice intoned "This is drugs. This is your brain on drugs. Any questions?"

Those PSAs were a fixture of my childhood. Now, well into adulthood, I wonder if it is perhaps time for a redux. But in the sequel, instead of playing drugs, butter would play the part of dirty air.

Imagine two tiny figures perched on a politician's shoulders—one scientific, the other political.

The scientist whispers in the politician's ear: "You can save 6,500 lives every year with these health protections!"

The tiny politician counters, "You can save those lives, but who will save you from the powerful industry lobbyists outside your door?"

In the world of professional basketball, height is good. Look no further than Dirk Nowitzki, the 7-foot Dallas Maverick whose combination of stature, speed and shooting ability was a decisive factor in his team's championship victory over the Miami Heat last night. Go Mavs.

The report card was a jumble of Cs and Ds. As my coworker gazed over his kid's latest performance in school, a mixture of anger, disappointment, frustration, guilt and uncertainty flooded him. "Where did I go wrong?" he mumbled. No doubt his kid felt a mixture of emotion, too.

Report cards can be grueling for parents and kids alike. Poor performance in school is a hot button social issue, and one that's been studied and debated from many angles—but we may be giving short shrift to one of its roots: air pollution.

The hearing room on the 4th floor of the Dirksen Senate Office building was packed—so packed that some onlookers stood in the back of the room to see the action unfold. All had gathered earlier today for "Air Quality and Children's Health," a hearing before members of two subcommittees of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Before a panel of senators sat five witnesses—two of them with the shameful purpose of arguing against air quality standards that protect children's health.

Jamestown, VA is a fixture of American history. Founded more than 400 years ago, it was the first permanent English settlement in what became the United States. Today, not far from there, The Old Dominion Electric Cooperative is looking to make history of a different kind. It wants to build what would be the largest coal-fired power plant in all of Virginia. But if built, something new will settle in the region: a large cloud of harmful air pollution.

Question: What happens when you mix Lady Gaga, clean air and a Basque flash mob?

Answer: This video.

Gipuzkoa Zero Waste, a group organized against a waste incineration plant that will be built in San Sebastian, Spain, spent seven months organizing the song and dance routine—which is set to the tune of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” More than 2000 people participated in the demand for clean air.

The Clean Air Ambassadors who arrived yesterday in Washington, D.C. have some amazing stories to tell, and I spent the better part of yesterday hearing them. Alexandra Allred from Midlothian, TX described a day she spent outside with her son Tommy—a day when he didn’t suffer his usual respiratory issues and could play carefree, like a kid again. “I had my son back,” she told me.

More than half of U.S. residents—154 million people—suffer from polluted air that is often too dirty to breathe. This troubling statistic comes by way of the American Lung Association’s most recent State of the Air report. In 366 counties across the country, residents are inhaling dangerous levels of ozone pollution and fine particles, which are a major cause of premature death.

Today, another indication comes that some members of Congress don't breathe the same air as their constituents. Politico is reporting (subs. req'd) that House Republicans will soon introduce legislation to delay the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to reduce the amount of cancer-causing, asthma-inducing, premature death-dealing pollutants in the air we all breathe—some congresspersons excepted, apparently.

Clean air isn't a partisan issue, although that's admittedly easy to forget if you're following the ongoing congressional clash over clean air protections (which sometimes seems as wide as the gap between the Grand Canyon's north and south rims). The American public certainly isn't so divided. A large majority—which includes citizens who identify as Republican, Democrat and independent voters—wants clean air health protections.

Port Arthur, Texas is home to a high density of oil refineries, chemical plants and hazardous waste facilities that have made the Gulf Coast city one of the most polluted in America. Asthma and cancer rates in the largely African-American neighborhood known as West Side—which sits at the fenceline of Port Arthur's heavy industry—are among the highest in the state.

People who suffer from asthma often say an attack feels like breathing through a pool of water or with a pillow covering their face. Unfortunately, millions of Americans know all too well what that's like.

In the United States, asthma is a bona fide public health epidemic: 17 million adults and 7 million children suffer from the disease. Every year, our society pays in excess of $53 billion to treat it. Millions of asthmatics, including hundreds of thousands of kids, make visits to the emergency room for medical attention. And in thousands of severe cases, people die.

Two decades ago, Congress promised the American public major reductions of the most dangerous air pollutants—toxics such as mercury, arsenic and lead that cause major health problems and can lead even to premature death. Today, after a long struggle in which Earthjustice proudly participated, the U.S.

The U.S. House of Representatives is a dark place right now. Many of its Republican members are maniacally focused on dismantling scores of health and environmental protections, using a budget bill to stowaway anti-environmental amendments that would never get passed on their own.

Many of our elected representatives in Congress just aren’t working for the will of the people. Right now, in direct opposition to the opinion of a large majority of Americans, these members of our government are putting in overtime to roll back important limits on air pollution coming from some of the worst industrial polluters in the nation.

Do you think that all Americans have the right to clean air? Then sign the Right to Breathe Declaration!

The Clean Air Act—signed in 1970 by Pres. Nixon and improved upon in 1990 by George H.W. Bush—has benefitted millions of Americans in its 40-year history. Just last year, for example, clean air health protections helped save the lives of more than 160,000 Americans.

Attorneys general from five states—New York, Maryland, Delaware, Massachusetts and Connecticut—sent a letter today to Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI), chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, urging a rejection of Rep. John Carter’s (R-TX) resolution to block health protections against cement plants’ toxic air pollution.

This week, nearly 2,000 health and medical professionals from all 50 states and the District of Columbia told our elected representatives at the White House and in Congress to stand up for clean air. These professionals are intimately familiar with the impacts of air pollution on people—asthma, heart disease, stroke, cancer—especially such vulnerable groups as children and the elderly.

(Clean air is a life saver, which is why Earthjustice is working to ensure that polluters don’t stand in the way of safeguards against air pollution. Here’s a round up of some recent news in the ongoing campaign to protect our Right to Breathe.)

Use the #right2breathe hashtag on Twitter to track campaign updates.

(Clean air is a life saver, which is why Earthjustice is working to ensure that polluters don’t stand in the way of safeguards against air pollution. Here’s a round up of some recent news in the ongoing campaign to protect our Right to Breathe.)

Use the #right2breathe hashtag on Twitter to track campaign updates.

As part of our campaign to clean up sources of toxic mercury pollution, we experimented with Google Earth to tell the story of how pollution from cement kilns is hurting local communities. Below is a video we produced that features two cement kilns right along the water in Seattle, WA.

Let's get a quick show of hands: How many of you have lost hours at work living out your flying fantasy in Google Earth? Well, me too.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about a must-read LA Times articlethat explores the dramatic effects of climate disruption on Australia. In response to these worsening conditions, seven Australian climate scientists sent a letter to the owners of every coal-fired power plant in Australia. The letter carries a blunt message: no new coal-fired power plants, unless they are zero-emissions…and operated by unicorns (ok, I added the unicorn part).

But an outright ban on new coal-fired power plants isn't enough, as the authors of the letter indicate:

Genuine action on climate change will mean that coal-fired power stations cease to operate in the near future. [Read the whole letter]

As noted in both the letter and the aforementioned LA Times article, coal-fired power plants supply more than 80% of Australia’s electricity (compared to around 50% in the United States). Replacing coal-fired power in Australia and here at home with clean and safe energy sources will require a massive, coordinated (and very necessary) effort. But abandoning the dirty fuels of the past will help us ensure that our future is filled with opportunities.

A who's who of politicians, scientists, environmental and labor leaders, and entrepreneurs met yesterday to discuss ways to make widespread use of clean energy a reality, one week after President Obama committed substantial government spending to renewable energy and energy efficiency with the stroke of his pen.

The panel -- sponsored by the Center for American Progress Action Fund -- included Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, Al Gore, Van Jones and many others. Over the morning's course, they explored the challenges associated with building new infrastructure to deliver clean, affordable energy to our homes and businesses as well as strategies to diminish our nation's thirst for oil.

Though the logistics of moving this issue forward are complicated, moderator Timothy Wirth rightly remarked that we can't just "admire the problem."

Video of the event is worth a view.

I happened to be in Las Vegas during the final days of the election. It was a fitting location to watch the most historic election of my lifetime conclude with an outcome that many people I know felt was improbable less than a year ago. Vegas is, after all, a city familiar with difficult odds, and even the most seasoned Vegas veteran might have hesitated to wager on Senator Obama's.