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Raviya Ismail's Blog

Mario Vargas, a farmworker organizer from Ohio, his daughter Myra Vargas (middle), and Alexis Guild of Farmworker Justice walk past the U.S. Capitol in July of 2013, as they head to a meeting in the Hart Senate Office Building.

When Mario Vargas showed up at the Washington, D.C., offices of representatives from his home state of Ohio in July of 2013, he shared stories from farmworkers who are getting sick from pesticides. Joined by his family and other farmworkers, he spoke about how it feels to inhale pesticides while pregnant, how farmworkers don’t know what their basic rights are, and how many workers are afraid to tell the truth about what is really going on in the fields.

Selena and her father Miguel at the Rayburn House Building in 2013, after meeting with their representative's office.

18-year-old Selena Zelaya of Mount Dora, FL, was one of about a dozen farmworker advocates who traveled to D.C. to lobby for farmworker protections against harmful pesticides. Selena’s mother and father are farmworkers and from a young age she began advocating on behalf of them and others. Selena shares why she is so committed to the fight for farmworker protections.

The highest court of the land will hear argument in a case that is important to anyone with lungs. A vital air safeguard, the 2011 rule would require power plants in more than two dozen states to clean up nitrogen oxide and sulfur dioxide pollution that drifts across state borders and contributes to harmful soot (particles) and smog (ozone) pollution in downwind states.

They say denial is not just a river in Egypt. Such is true for many House leaders at a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee today on the Obama administration’s climate change agenda. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz had to endure the political grandstanding of the House's climate deniers, most of whom have accepted huge political donations from the oil and gas industry.

Yes, there are tons of chemicals we as Americans are exposed to on a daily basis that are dangerous and harmful to our health. Thankfully, some elected officials understand this concern.

Wednesday, after she convened a hearing in the Environment and Public Works Committee, Chairman Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said:

Now that we have concluded our in-depth hearing, it is very clear that certain principles must be the center piece of any toxic chemical reform bill moving forward.

When our elected officials continue standing in the way of clean air and water—it’s time to shake things up. Which is why more than 100 physicians, tribal and labor leaders, clergy, nurses and parents are in Washington, D.C., for a 3-day visit with Congress, united as 50 States United for Healthy Air.

This legion of clean air and water advocates are meeting with members of Congress to call for greater protections from smog, coal ash, carbon and other dangerous air pollutants.

Inefficient electricity distribution transformers add up to large amounts of wasted energy.

In 2007, we filed a lawsuit challenging the Bush administration's weak energy efficiency standards for electricity distribution transformers, those gray boxes mounted on utility poles that power all our homes and businesses. The results of that lawsuit are new standards from the U.S. Department of Energy that were published in the Federal Register on Thursday.

Americans need a law that will keep them safe from toxic chemicals—before they are allowed to enter the market.

And that’s why we should be thanking Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ).

Today, Sen. Lautenberg and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), joined by 27 other senators, introduced the “Safe Chemicals Act of 2013,” a landmark bill that seeks to protect families in America from exposure to harmful chemicals.

With the fracking boom building, natural gas is touted as a clean energy source. But the hard truth is that the gas drilling sector—which includes the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing or fracking—has worsened air quality in many areas. In some parts of the country undergoing such a boom, air quality has fallen below levels the EPA determined to be safe.

We were thrilled in July when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled to uphold a clean air standard that limits dangerous intense bursts of sulfur dioxide pollution from power plants, factories and other sources. Sulfur dioxide is a pretty nasty agent that causes a variety of adverse health impacts including breathing difficulties, aggravation of asthma and increased hospital and emergency room visits for respiratory illnesses.

The results of a comprehensive study investigating the impacts of living near 378 coal plants in the United States have found that people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately more burdened by this pollution than any other segment of the population. Coal Blooded was pulled together by the NAACP, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization (LVEJO) and the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Last Wednesday, a group of clean air advocates intervened to protect crucial air safeguards that will curb pollution emitted during oil and gas drilling. Unfortunately the state of Texas and their allies with the American Petroleum Institute and a variety of other state alliances of oil and gas companies are pushing back against these necessary protections.

Today has turned into a better day for our planet—and our lungs. In a landmark decision, the D.C. federal appeals court upheld every single one of the EPA’s carbon pollution limits. These EPA protections are in response to the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA, and are important parts of the agency’s efforts to curb such pollution under the Clean Air Act.

Last year, the EPA proposed an air rule that would finally limit the amount of cancer-causing chemicals residents in Mossville, Louisiana would have to breathe from the polyvinyl chloride plant nearby. So it came as a blow when the EPA released a final rule that imposes weaker limits at the CertainTeed plant in Mossville—a facility that emits 19 tons of poisonous air pollutants a year.

Edgar Mouton lived much of his 76 years in Mossville, Louisiana, and for the past decade fought doggedly to obtain federal protections from the toxic pollution that pours into Mossville from the largest concentration of PVC and vinyl manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and a host of other hazardous industrial facilities. As a great-grandfather and leader of Mossville Environmental Action Now (MEAN), Mr. Mouton worked to prevent the rising rates of cancer, respiratory disease and other illnesses suffered by residents of the historic African American community in southwest Louisiana.

So, you’d think we’d all be in agreement here: clean water is a boon for everyone. That means, keep coal ash (full of mercury, arsenic, hexavalent chromium and other nasty stuff) out of our drinking water, right? Sadly, that doesn’t hold true for everyone. Some members of the House of Representatives think that funding 2.9 million jobs via the transportation bill is a great opportunity to shove in a measure that will block the EPA from ever regulating coal ash on a federal level.

Scratch your heads. It doesn’t make sense to us, either.

We know we have been critical of the Obama administration of late, calling on the Department of Energy to get moving on publishing crucial energy efficiency standards. But we are happy to applaud the administration when they make good on their promise for a clean energy future. The latest: new clothes washer and dishwasher standards will not only save American consumers money on their utility bills, but will lead to washers that use much less energy and water.

We all know the danger that resides in lead-laden paint chips peeling off the walls of old homes. It’s well understood that lead is poisonous and, even in small doses, can harm brain function and cause learning disabilities in children. Lead also is associated with impairment of the cardiovascular, reproductive, kidney and immune systems of adults.

That's why a USA Today investigation documenting the high amounts of lead children are exposed to in several communities across the nation is so alarming. But more on that later.

So much has happened since that terrible day three years ago when more than 1 billion gallons of toxic coal ash sludge burst through a dam at the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Fossil Plant in Harriman, about 150 miles from Nashville.

Usually when our elected leaders fight federal rules, they are going to the mat for their corporate benefactors. Yet we scratch our heads in wonder over who exactly has pushed them to take on this light bulb fight. Last week, the House GOP majority included in their must-pass funding legislation a rider to block funding for DOE’s enforcement of certain light bulb efficiency rules.

It’s been a hard year for those of us who dream of our drinking water being free from coal ash contamination.  We waited for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to release standards for regulating toxic coal ash and were dismayed to find out they would be delayed until the end of 2012 or even 2013.

This week, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment will investigate how the Environmental Protection Agency incorporates science into its rulemaking process. Given that the EPA has been Public Enemy Number 1 for the GOP-controlled House, this is likely to be another opportunity for Republicans and their comrades to target the EPA.

In the back and forth between climate skeptics and conservationists, we’ve clearly got two things on our side (although many of our foes would argue this): science and the law.

This point was clearly delineated during a panel discussing the congressional attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency (and the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act) at the Society of Environmental Journalists conference in Miami last week.

As a federal trial on the TVA Kingston coal ash disaster continues in Knoxville, some of our elected leaders in Congress are including the coal ash rule (already delayed due to heavy industry opposition) in a list of rules that will be analyzed - and likely even more delayed.

But more on that later.

Illinois has the dubious distinction of being a state with one of the worst coal ash regulatory programs in the nation. But what is more outrageous is that no less than 11 Illinois congressmen are pushing to block the U.S. EPA from cleaning up coal ash in the state. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) is among them. That’s why when the Prairie Rivers Network and Environmental Integrity Project released a report detailing the risk of coal ash contamination in Illinois,  and in Rep.

Today we’re gearing up for a vote on H.R. 2273, which is Rep. David McKinley’s (R-WV) attempt to give coal companies a get-out-of-jail free card.

Yesterday, House leaders in the Committee on Energy and Commerce discussed the nature of the legislation, which included much spirited back-and-forth dialogue. Among the highlights (and lowlights):

Oil refineries are by some estimates the second-largest industrial source of greenhouse gas emissions. They also are a major source of toxic air pollution, pumping benzene, toluene and hexane into our air. Benzene is a known carcinogen. Toluene can cause neurological harm when inhaled. And hexane causes severe harm when humans are continually exposed to it.

Okay, so we’ve established the hazards of coal ash. There is no doubt that arsenic, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, selenium and other toxic metals have no business in our drinking water. So why are 44 of our elected leaders calling on the Obama administration to treat coal ash as a NON-hazardous waste?

Another week, another voice calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to release federal coal ash rules. The drumbeat is getting louder, although it feels like the calls are falling on deaf ears. In this editorial by the Knoxville News Sentinel, the Tennessee paper says the EPA’s announcement that the rule might be delayed leaves much uncertainty for industry and communities about how to handle coal ash.

We at Earthjustice are dismayed that a champion of energy efficiency, Scott Blake Harris, will be leaving his post at the U.S. Department of Energy. Harris, the department’s General Counsel, made the enforcement of energy efficiency standards for household appliances and commercial equipment a priority at DOE, and essentially built the department’s enforcement program from the ground up.

(This is the latest in a weekly series of 50 Tr-Ash Talk blogs discussing the dangers of coal ash. Earthjustice hopes that by December 2011, the third anniversary of the TVA coal ash spill, the EPA will release a coal ash rule establishing federally enforceable regulations ensuring the safe disposal of this toxic waste.)

Last week, this time, Earthjustice was responding to news of a resolution introduced by Rep. John Carter (R-TX), seeking to block important clean air protections. Using the Congressional Review Act, Rep. Carter aims to undo protective health standards that will reduce mercury and other toxic emissions from cement plants. If successful, Rep. Carter's resolution would strip health protections from thousands of people who suffer from respiratory and other health ailments caused by cement plants' pollution.

(The following is the first in a weekly series of 50 upcoming Tr-Ash Talk blogs discussing the dangers of coal ash. Earthjustice hopes that by December 2011, the third anniversary of the TVA coal ash spill, the EPA will release a coal ash rule establishing federally enforceable regulations ensuring the safe disposal of this toxic waste.)

Just last week we marked the two-year anniversary of the Kingston, TN TVA coal ash spill. Today, Earthjustice, the Environmental Integrity Project and Stockholm Environment Institute’s U.S. Center have released an analysis of an analysis: basically the EPA overinflated (by 20 times!) the values for coal ash recycling. The EPA claims that coal ash recycling is worth more than $23 billion a year, but the government’s own data shows that this number is actually $1.5 billion.

Earthjustice is feeling merry today – and it’s not just the holidays. In part to our litigation, today the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced timetables for setting greenhouse gas emission limits for power plants and oil refineries. In a press call making the announcement, Gina McCarthy—EPA's Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation – explained that power plants and oil refineries are “two of the largest stationary sources of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Last week the U.S. Senate moved forward on important legislation that ensures our streams, lakes, rivers and wetlands remain clean and safe. By a vote of 12-7, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee advanced a compromise version of the Clean Water Restoration Act, important legislation that reinforces the scope of the Clean Water Act by guaranteeing that our nation's waterways are clean to swim and fish in and safe to drink.

Yesterday—10 weeks after a billion-gallon spill of coal ash in Tennessee—two U.S. senators challenged the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate disposal and storage of the toxic sludge.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Thomas Carper (D-DE) submitted a resolution requesting rules "as quickly as possible" and calling on the Tennessee Valley Authority to "be a national leader in technological innovation, low-cost power and environmental stewardship." On Dec. 22, about 1 billion gallons of coal ash burst through a dam at the Tennessee Valley Authority site in Harriman, flooding more than 300 acres with toxic levels of arsenic, lead, mercury, selenium and boron.

Communities have been exposed to the toxic substance, which presents a cancer risk nine times greater than smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Yet coal ash is severely under-regulated and exempt from safeguards required of even municipal waste landfills. Earthjustice is calling on the EPA to eventually prohibit the storage of wet coal ash sludge and instead, mandate dry disposal in monitored landfills or safe recycling of the material.

In a devastating blow to the mountains, streams and people of Appalachia, today, federal judges ruled in favor of a mountaintop removal mining case.

As a result, mining companies can conduct mountaintop removal mining operations without minimizing stream destruction or conducting adequate environmental reviews. The Appalachian community will now—more than ever—be dependent on President Barack Obama to fulfill his campaign pledge to stop this terrible practice. Earthjustice remains on the front lines of this struggle and will continue fighting to preserve our mountains and waters.

Lots of eyes rolled two years ago when San Francisco banned plastic grocery bags, but milllions of saved bags later, the experiment has swept across America, into many foreign countries and may soon take root in the nation's capital.

A Washington, D.C. councilmember has proposed legislation aimed at reducing the amount of trash that falls into the city’s Anacostia River, where an estimated 40 percent of trash pulled out of the river is plastic bags. The San Francisco bag-ban has translated to 5 million fewer bags a month. The bags are now outlawed in South Africa and Bangladesh. Ireland imposed a tax on plastic bags in 2003, leading the public to almost entirely use cloth totes.

Earthjustice press secretary Raviya Ismail was at today’s (Jan. 12) U.S. Supreme Court hearing on whether the Clean Water Act allows Coeur Alaska’s Kensington Mine to fill Lower Slate Lake in Alaska with mining waste – killing all aquatic life. Earthjustice attorney Tom Waldo argued to protect the lake. The high court decision, expected by June, could determine whether waterways throughout the nation may be likewise filled and killed. Here is Raviya’s report:

About the Earthjustice Blog

The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders.