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Articles from David Lawlor

It was with great sadness that we learned of the loss of a member of the Earthjustice family. Ted Smith, a longtime conservationist and member of our Board of Trustees, died Labor Day weekend after falling during a hike near Mission Falls in Montana. Ted became an Earthjustice board member in November 2008 and recently was selected to serve as vice chair.

Earthjustice Board Chair Peter Carson remembers Ted in this way:

Listening to your doctor’s orders is usually a good idea. If your doctor prescribes you a medication and tells you to attend physical therapy, then you take the medication and you go to physical therapy. Now, imagine if 130 doctors all told you to do the same thing. You’d probably follow their orders, right?

(Editor's Note: This is the second blog in an ongoing series about proposed coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest. Upcoming blogs will examine the potential impact coal export terminals could have on the region's health and environment.)

How much are oil and natural gas worth? I’m not asking how much a barrel of sweet crude is going for these days or what your gas bill from the utility company was last month. The real question isn’t how much fossil fuels cost in terms of dollars, but rather, what is worth sacrificing in their pursuit? Since the physical process of extracting oil and gas tends to severely despoil the surrounding environment, asking how much oil and gas are worth is akin to asking what nature is worth.

Each time a new coal export terminal is proposed at a Pacific Northwest port, industry promises to take appropriate measures to protect the surrounding environment and community from the terminal’s inherent pollution. The harmful effects of coal dust blowing into communities from enormous coal piles and trains carrying coal in open boxcars while spewing coal dust will be mitigated, terminal investors tell the public.

“This is a good company from Australia who is well funded, well banked, and they have bought a mine in Montana and have every intention to ship it to Asia. It's a great story.”
- Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer

Yes, governor, it’s a great story. It’s a story of air pollution, global warming and ruined landscapes. It’s a story of hazardous waste, poisoned water and destroyed communities. It’s a story of a 19th century technology wearing out its welcome well into the 21st century.

Try this the next time you go camping at your favorite state or national park: dump into your campsite’s fire pit a few tires, a little plastic, a dash of chemical solvents and some random industrial waste—then strike a match and let the inferno begin.

Oh sure, you’ll be sending toxic pollutants into the air but, hey, when the ranger comes by and asks you if you’re crazy, just tell him that you’re taking your cue from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Cars sure are important. I mean, we design our towns and cities—heck, our whole civilization—around their ubiquitous presence. We construct massive parking structures where cars live for temporary periods, have a whole dining subculture based on the automobile, and dot the sides of our city streets with parking spaces deemed so valuable as to demand a fee for their use.

That’s why what I saw when I strolled into work today was so refreshing.

Break out the streamers and the party hats—it’s Tax Day! Of course the overachievers filed their taxes months ago, but no doubt a few folks are frantically sifting through piles of paper at this very moment trying to locate that wayward W-2.

Either way, every year millions of Americans file their taxes and pay their fair share to keep our country running. But for many companies, including those in the oil and gas industries, ducking the taxman has become par for the course.

After 40 years without effective pollution controls, a scrubbing system was recently installed at the Hatfield’s Ferry power plant in Masontown, Penn., limiting the amount of sulfur dioxide and other pollutants the plant pumps into the air. But the plant’s failure to install a scrubbing system for its discharged wastewater means that the dangerous pollutants that formerly fouled the air are now being dumped into the Monongahela River, a drinking water source for more than 350,000 people living south of Pittsburgh.

Residents of Longview, Wash., can exhale a sigh of relief today, secure in the knowledge that their health will not be jeopardized by a coal shipping terminal. Australian-based Ambre Energy and its subsidiary Millennium Bulk Logistics announced this week that the companies are withdrawing a permit application to construct a coal export facility in Longview on the shores of the Columbia River.

It was nearly midnight, but it wasn’t dark. Standing more than a mile away in an illuminated watermelon patch, I could hear its spectacular roar; akin to the release of liquid propane burning off into a hot air balloon. And I could feel it. The searing heat radiated from the blazing column, transforming the landscape into an open-air sauna. I snapped a few photos, hopped back in my car, and navigated through a maze of oil field service roads back to the highway.

Whether or not the United States addresses impending climate change hinges largely on the marketing message driving the discussion. Last night, President Barack Obama made his best pitch to reframe the climate change debate, casting it through the prism of a Works Progress Administration-style plan for achieving a clean energy future.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has a snazzy new interactive slideshow on its website, highlighting states that are bypassing opportunities to ditch dirty coal and embrace clean energy. The slideshow is both interesting and an office-safe distraction good for at least a five-minute break from your spreadsheet formulas.

By now, we all know the refrain. Sure, politicians and pundits tell us, it would be swell to make the switch to clean energy, but such a move is infeasible at any time in the near future. No, they say, we must not stray from our well-hewn path of environmental destruction paved by fossil fuels.

Silver was the precious metal at the foundation of the Roman Empire’s economy and since silver is often embedded in lead ore, lead was an abundant byproduct available throughout the empire. As such, Romans used lead in everything from plumbing pipes to wine to women’s makeup. In a sense, it was the high fructose corn syrup of its day: it was found in a plethora of common items and caused negative health effects.

The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has ruled against Mexico and its army in the case of two Mexican farmers who were persecuted as a result of their environmental advocacy. The Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense (AIDA), Earthjustice’s partner organization in international environmental law, submitted an amicus brief in the case supporting the farmers.