Skip to main content

Trip Van Noppen's Blog

The Board of Trustees and staff of Earthjustice express our profound sorrow and deepest sympathies to the family for the loss of our great friend and longtime trustee, Fred Meyer. Fred was a rock and source of great wisdom, fidelity, clarity and constancy of vision, accountability, perception, humor, compassion and worldly acumen and knowledge.

The North Portico of the White House is seen through the fog, April 1, 2013.

The White House “systematically” delayed finalizing a host of environmental and public health safeguards for political reasons before the 2012 election, reported The Washington Post last February. With many of these rules still awaiting approvals more than a year after the election, the Post recently revisited its investigation into the politics of continued White House delays.

An airplane passes over Desolation Canyon, UT.

“If you want to see the places we’ve helped protect, ask for a window seat.”

So reads my favorite Earthjustice message, decorating airports across the country. It’s true: 35,000 feet is a great vantage to see the forests, mountains and river canyons that are intact, unroaded and resilient thanks to our legal work with many allies.

We are sorry to hear that the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining lost 18,000 Earthjustice supporter letters. Our supporters wrote these letters during the Bush administration to urge OSM not to eliminate critical stream protections, especially the “stream buffer zone rule,” from mountaintop removal mining—which it did anyway.

This month, I had the very good fortune to visit Costa Rica, home to some of greatest biodiversity in the world. In this tiny nation, plants and animals from temperate North America and from tropical South America mingle in habitats at different altitudes (including active volcanoes and rain forests at the beach)! I marveled at hundreds of leaping dolphins, huge rain forest trees with rich canopy life, miraculous birds, sloths and anteaters.

Over the past four years, the federal halls of justice have been left partially hollow as the number of judicial vacancies in the federal courts continues to mount—due to foot-dragging on nominations and partisan filibuster once nominations are made. These vacancies hobble the courts’ ability to do their core work, which includes determining the fate of our most important environmental protections.

Last week, President Obama demanded that Congress take action on climate change, or else he would.

But, after years of political gridlock on the climate issue, coupled with rising seas and worsening droughts, one thing is clear: the nation simply cannot afford to wait any longer to take action. Though Congress may eventually pull together and pass a climate bill, the president must not wait on that uncertain prospect. He must act now.

As the environmental ministers of the Arctic nations, including the United States, meet in Sweden next week, they have an opportunity to show leadership on an important though less well-known climate pollutant, black carbon (soot).

While carbon dioxide remains the most important, long-lasting pollutant forcing climate change, recent studies have revealed that short-lived climate forcers like black carbon are equally damaging, especially in the Arctic.

With one Arctic drill rig shipwrecked on an Alaskan island and the other reportedly under criminal investigation for possibly “operating with serious safety and pollution control problems,” oil giant Royal Dutch Shell is doing a pretty thorough job at proving the quest for oil in the pristine waters of America’s Arctic is just too dangerous, too dirty, and too damaging. The week’s events also prove once again that the U.S. Department of Interior should not have approved drilling in the most remote, dangerous place on the planet.

Life doesn’t hand you many second chances to make good on promises.

But that’s what the American public, with an assist from superstorm Sandy, has given President Obama: another 4-year opportunity to tackle climate change—the critical environmental issue of our time. He’s now talking about the issue again, after two years of near-silence, and just a few days ago spoke of “an agenda that says we can create jobs, advance growth and make a serious dent in climate change.”

The American people have reinvested their faith in a President who now has a second chance to put this nation on course to a prosperous future built on clean energy and with a far-reaching goal of ending mankind’s role in climate change.

In the wake of superstorm Sandy, voters saw—and many continue to experience—the impacts of climate change-induced weather. They are convinced and, like us, demand that President Obama take action to steer us away from the fossil fuels that feed climate change. This is the real path to energy independence.

Hurricane Sandy delivered a lot of pain when it punched into the East Coast. As I write this, a week later, the sea has retreated but the suffering remains. Half of Manhattan is cold and dark. The New Jersey shore is in bits. Parts of Long Island are knocked out.

Having spent most of my life in hurricane country and having lived through many similar blows, I can’t stop thinking about what people are going through to find bottled water and a place to get gas and some sort of help for the elderly and infirm. My heart is with them.

Forty years ago today, against a backdrop of flaming rivers, dying lakes and sewage-choked beaches, our politicians reached across the aisle to pass the Clean Water Act—a law aptly described by the New York Times' Robert Semple as "a critical turning point" in rescuing the nation's waterways from "centuries of industrial, municipal and agricultural pollution." The primary goals of the law were simple and bold: to stop using our nation’s waters

It's been a long two years with the 112th Congress. In that time, House leadership has often tried to "help the economy" by wiping away our basic public health and environmental protections—in the process putting thousands of Americans at risk of disease and death from exposure to toxic chemicals and carcinogens in our air and water.

After the summer we have had, my mind is on climate change, what more Earthjustice can do about it, and what’s at stake in this election.

I experienced the effects of climate change this summer during a trip through Colorado. Heat, drought and fire set an almost apocalyptic tone for the trip. There was no snow on the peaks, stream flows were down, and smoke filled the air. Similar impacts afflicted 60 percent of our nation and spread over three continents; sea ice coverage in the Arctic was at a record low.

In April 2010, a national nightmare began with a blowout into the Gulf of Mexico. But the hundreds of millions of gallons of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill were just the beginning of the disaster. We are still learning about the real damage, which is much more insidious than tar balls and slicked beaches.

(Trip Van Noppen is President of Earthjustice)

Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling plans are premised on a growing legacy of broken promises regarding the company’s ability to protect the fragile Arctic from drilling impacts. And, as in the past, Shell is again asking the federal government to be lenient, accept more empty promises, and let the drilling begin.

(Trip Van Noppen is President of Earthjustice)

More than 130 heads of state, other leaders, and some 50,000 participants from all over the globe are gathering this week in Rio de Janeiro, the most-visited city in the southern hemisphere, for the Rio+20 Earth Summit. I am here with Martin Wagner, head of the Earthjustice International program, and Erika Rosenthal, Earthjustice attorney and veteran of many international environmental negotiations, and we want to share a few glimpses into what is going on as this historic event unfolds.

Sometimes an all-in strategy can tarnish the entire package.

Take for example President Obama’s recent decision to tout an “all-of-the-above” approach to achieving energy independence and lowering gas prices. It’s a catchy, feel-good campaign slogan perfect for banners and sound bites, but it’s a hollow energy strategy. Worse yet, it opens America up for destructive practices by painting the administration into a fossil-fuel corner.

Methyl iodide is a highly toxic pesticide and known carcinogen that’s used primarily in strawberry fields.

In March of 2012, the maker of methyl iodide took the chemical off the market, less than a year after Earthjustice sued to protect strawberry field workers from the deadly pesticide. This means that those who labor on our behalf can themselves enjoy the fruits of their labor without fear of crippling or even fatal results.

The "Sacred Cod".

Over the past few decades, Earthjustice legal victories have been working to shape an ecosystem-based approach to fisheries management in New England.

In his State of the Union address, President Obama stated that the administration would “not walk away from the promise of clean energy.” The president also recognized that, especially in these tough economic times, “the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy.”

As 2012 begins and election year politics accelerate, you are probably hearing some gloomy predictions about how our environment will fare this year. There is good reason for the concern: many in Congress are dedicated to eliminating long-standing environmental protections. Fossil fuel industry supporters are pulling out all the financial and rhetorical stops in their lobbying and electioneering.

But I’m not gloomy. Here’s why:

This Friday, the Obama administration has the historic opportunity to rein in a coal industry that has been allowed to pour toxic emissions like mercury, benzene and arsenic into our lives without limit.

There’s little question that the administration will set limits – the law requires it and the courts have ordered it. The question, and the opportunity facing Obama, is how strong those limits will be.

Across the nation, old coal-fired power plants are gasping for their last breath, having survived long past their prime because of political favors and weak government regulations. They would have died decades ago if not for a fateful policy compromise in the late 1970s that exempted existing power plants from new air quality standards in the Clean Air Act.

The Palmyra Atoll is a tropical coral reef island in the heart of the Pacific Ocean. It’s warm, tiny and far from the vast, frigid Arctic. And yet these distant, disparate places are as alike in one sense as any two places on Earth.

Each is an early victim of humankind’s addiction to fossil fuels and our constantly affirmed determination to stay addicted.

This morning, the President tried to yank the rug out from under years of work by Earthjustice and our clients to clean up deadly smog in our air. In 2008, weak national standards for ozone, or smog, were adopted by the Bush administration, standards that the EPA’s own scientists said would not protect public health. Thousands of lives and tens of thousands of cases of asthma are at stake. Led by attorney David Baron, we sued on behalf of the American Lung Association, EDF, NRDC and others.

If you've ever suspected that Congress thinks of corporate polluters first and the polluted public last, the debacle unfolding in Washington, D.C. this week should leave you with little doubt—and a bitter taste. Many of our elected leaders have hijacked the process by which we fund government agencies to sack the environment like Odysseus did Troy.

Up and down the Rockies, in Texas, across much of the northeast, and perhaps soon in your community, engaged citizens are coming together to prevent the harms of rampant gas development.

Last week,  I sat with just such a group in Gunnison County, Co., a beautiful place in the mountains that is confronting rapidly expanding  drilling and fracking for gas. People took time away from work and family to gather and talk about what to do.

Follow along as I walk us up the steep learning curve about natural gas that Earthjustice, the environmental community and the nation are navigating. The curve suddenly steepened a few years ago when natural gas advocates started promoting their fuel as a refreshing alternative to coal and oil, and a bridge to a clean energy future.

Nobody gets through a day without breathing. Not executives in the coal-fired power and cement industries, which are polluting our air daily. Not the legion of lobbyists they hire to patrol the halls of Congress in defense of dirty air. And not the members of Congress who, hand-in-hand with these special interests, are marching the Clean Air Act off a cliff.

At the very same time that these women and men draw breath, they are working to derail and delay clean air protections with a vigor that suggests there isn't a set of functioning lungs between them.

It is with deep regret that we must announce that Earthjustice was forced to step down as the courtroom lawyer for wolves in the Northern Rockies in the two cases related to the Fish and Wildlife Service’s action to remove or reduce their Endangered Species Act protections. This action was not our choice, but a course of action compelled by our ethical responsibilities to our clients.

Despite obvious differences, the icy Arctic Ocean and the warm, deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico have an important commonality: we aren’t prepared to safely drill for oil in either place. Last year’s Gulf spill – which killed 11 rig workers and fouled waters that nourish ecosystems and economies alike – is a harsh illustration of that simple fact.

In this line of work, we are lucky to meet and work with a lot of heroes, people who stand up against all odds for the health of their communities, who sacrifice for the greater good of their brothers and sisters. Judy Bonds of Marfork, West Virginia was a hero among heroes, an extraordinary leader and an indomitable spirit.

How many Presidents of the United States does it take to change a light bulb?

Just one.

It's no joke. Millions of Americans have already changed their light bulbs to save energy and fight global warming. New lighting standards announced Monday will help all our homes and businesses make the switch, and as a result, save billions of dollars in utility bills and create thousands of new jobs.

Road construction in national forests can harm fish and wildlife habitats while polluting local lakes, rivers, and streams. The Roadless Area Conservation Rule—which was made on the basis of extensive citizen input—protects 58.5 million acres of national forest from such harmful building. I will be proud to support and defend it.

—Senator Barack Obama, 2008

The Beaufort Sea, off Alaska's northernmost shores, and the Chukchi Sea, which separates Alaska from Russia, are home to one in five of the world's remaining polar bears. These icy waters are crucial feeding and migration zones for bowhead, beluga and other whales, seals, walruses and migratory birds; for thousands of years they have also sustained a vibrant Native culture. But the Bush administration treated America's Arctic as just another place to be exploited, relentlessly pushing oil and gas drilling without regard for the consequences.

John Kerry and Barbara Boxer are two of the greenest members of the Senate. Jim Inhofe is the Senate's chief global warming denier. But last week—on Earth Day, no less—they came together to introduce a bill requiring the EPA to look at ways to control a dangerous pollutant that kills millions worldwide and accelerates global warming, particularly in the Arctic.

The first Earth Day, 39 years ago today, was a godsend for a country mired in war and riven by racial, political and cultural issues. Arriving suddenly—as a gift whose time had come—it offered folks something to unite around: the idea of an entire planet, our home, in peril.

On February 17, Earthjustice called on Congress to introduce and pass legislation that would fix a glaring loophole punched in the Clean Water Act during the Bush years. The Supreme Court, with Bush administration backing, held that only "navigable" waterways could enjoy protections of this law.

One year ago in this column, I called on Environmental Protection Agency chief Stephen Johnson to resign for letting politics, not science, guide his agency's decisions. Nor was I alone—10,000 EPA employees were in open revolt for the same reason. Johnson was defying the Supreme Court's ruling that his agency should move forward on climate change and was refusing to approve California's forward-looking controls on climate-altering pollution.

This column by Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen appeared in Alternet.

Americans who love to grumble about regulations now have some they can cheer about. The New England Journal of Medicine is reporting that we now live an extra five months, thanks to regulations that have cleaned up air pollution over the last few decades.

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen is blogging from the inauguration of President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C.

There is just a huge amount of joy and tears in this crowd. I am in an area jampacked with people from all around the country who had been working on the Obama campaign. They had waited since the crack of dawn in really cold weather. We all thought we wouldn't get in. But despite all that, people are totally happy and cooperative with each other.

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen is blogging from Washington, D.C., where he is attending the inauguration of Barack Obama and events surrounding the inauguration.

Since 1969, I've been on the Washington Mall as a citizen expressing my political beliefs—demonstrating against the wars on Vietnam and Iraq, joining the March for Women's Lives. I've been on the Mall as a citizen awed by the power of the memorials, felt the place as a temple of much that is great in this country.

I've never been here as a citizen for an outright, unabashed celebration. People all acknowledge the hard times we are in and the challenges we face, but want to celebrate right now.

The celebration is also fueled by our joy at finally coming to the end of the Bush/Cheney years; the end of an administration that has run roughshod over our rights as citizens, trampled our standing in the world, wrecked our economy, and put deregulation and fossil fuel production at the top of their "environmental" agenda.

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen is blogging from Washington, D.C., where he is attending the inauguration of Barack Obama and events surrounding the inauguration.

During the inaugural opening ceremony, among the many themes of American greatness that were touched was the American invention of preserving wilderness and majestic places for all of the people, not just for royalty or the wealthy. Lincoln's proclamation protecting Yosemite Valley, Teddy Roosevelt's monumental land and forest conservation were highlighted.

Not mentioned: the last eight years of policies to remove such protections and turn national treasures over to the oil and coal industries. How fitting and marvelous that on Saturday, as the Inaugural began to unfold, a federal judge in Washington blocked the Bush administration's last such attempt, ordering that gas leases in the red rock canyon country of Utah not be awarded and putting the issue into the hands of the new President.

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen is blogging from Washington, D.C., where he is attending the inauguration of Barack Obama and events surrounding the inauguration.

The very cold weather this morning doesn't seem to bother anyone—crowd dancing, waving, cheering, hugging. Everyone is part of something much bigger than they ever expected. The city is crackling with energy.

Friends are running into old friends and making new ones. Yesterday, store clerks and cab drivers were not hesitant to pronounce their happiness that there were only 24 hours left of this long eight years.

Earthjustice President Trip Van Noppen is blogging from Washington, D.C., where he is attending the inauguration of Barack Obama and events surrounding the inauguration.

This inauguration coincides with the celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King's 80th birthday, and the connections between his work and vision and the election of Obama are everywhere: an opening ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial where the "I Have a Dream" speech was given in 1963; the "We are One" theme of the opening ceremony, people of all kinds from all over the country.

Peggy Noonan in the Wall Street Journal wrote:

A long-oppressed people have raised up a president. It is moving and beautiful and speaks to the unending magic and sense of justice of our country.

Magic ... there is no better word for what is going on.

I am in Washington, D.C., for the inauguration of Barack Obama and will be making blog reports once the ceremonies begin. This is an historic occasion for the nation and for anyone who cares about the environment, and it has special significance for me because of my early career in North Carolina, defending African-Americans against discrimination.

We congratulate Ed Lewis, chairman of our Board of Trustees, for being honored with the prestigious Wilburforce Foundation Leadership Award. We all know how well-deserved this award is, recognizing Ed's conservation leadership not only with Earthjustice, but as board chair of TREC, as a key player in land conservation in the Northern Rockies, and as a consultant and advisor to many organizations.

The Wilburforce Foundation protects wildlife and wildlands in Western North America by supporting organizations and leaders advancing conservation solutions. The leadership award is one of a series of grants honoring individuals for exceptional leadership in the conservation movement. Ed—who by the way gave Earthjustice a $5,000 gift that comes with the award—is only the second representative of Earthjustice to win the award. Some years ago, our Vice President of Litigation Patti Goldman also was honored.

Maybe it's a good thing that Bush has kept Earthjustice so busy these last eight years, fending off unrelenting assaults on the environment. The experience is proving invaluable as we face, in these final weeks of the administration, a frantic effort to roll back some of the nation's most significant protections. We also are encountering a barrage of last-minute attempts to convert America's wild, public treasures into private, commercial commodities.

With the election of Barack Obama, our nation's long, dark environmental night appears to be ending. By all early indications an era of opportunity will replace eight years of opposition in which Earthjustice was forced to play a mostly defensive role.

This is the moment we've been waiting for, and with your continued support, we are set to pursue ambitious goals on behalf of the environment.

Energy conservation is the biggest, cheapest way to avoid building new power plants and significantly fight global warming. And it offers powerful economic benefits, as California has found through aggressive programs that have created 1.5 million jobs while cutting energy bills by $56 billion since 1972.

Moreover, energy conservation is something individuals can help with by simply turning off lights, driving less and wearing sweaters.

What's happened in Congress during the last two weeks on energy and drilling issues could send us several major steps backwards on the road to a clean and prosperous energy future.

As I write this, Congress—instead of passing measures to further increase fuel efficiency and reduce oil demand—is capitulating to the "drill, baby, drill" drumbeat. At midnight, two critical moratoriums will lapse: on offshore drilling and oil shale development in the West. At the same time, crucial tax incentives for wind and solar energy have yet to be renewed.

Bill Neukom is a seasoned attorney in a prominent Seattle firm. He served as Microsoft's general counsel and for the past year has been the President of the American Bar Association. His main project at the ABA is engaging leading lawyers, judges, politicians, and others around the world to promote the rule of law. He leads the World Justice Project and has developed the Rule of Law Index, measuring the strength of legal protections and the degree of corruption in the world's legal systems. Strengthening environmental law is one of the goals of this effort.

What do San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, and Chesapeake Bay have in common? They provide a distinctive signature to some of America's greatest cities, of course. Residents and visitors to San Francisco, Seattle, Baltimore and Washington love to walk along, play beside, and boat across these waters. All three have storied histories and strong citizens' organizations fighting to protect and restore them.

There was more hope than lamentation in a New York Times editorial when it concluded this about the Senate's recent failure to address climate change:

The country needs a new occupant in the White House.

We agree—Congress is not likely to take the necessary actions on climate change without strong White House leadership.

Fortunately, neither McCain nor Obama will take seven years to admit global warming even exists—as the current president did. Both of them pledge to aggressively take action on climate change.

Hundreds of angry people, urged on by a right-wing talk show host, called Earthjustice recently to ask why we are challenging plans to drill in Alaska's Arctic Ocean.

Like many Americans, the callers are suffering from gasoline price increases and other costs, like food, that have gone up with the price of oil. They had been led to believe that drilling in Alaska would bring gas prices back down and restore America's place in the world.

No matter what the president said Wednesday about his global warming commitment, many of America's governors aren't buying. Long ago they gave up hope of White House leadership on the subject and have taken matters into their own hands.

With late winter, sunlight returns to the North Pole, revealing an ice-bound ocean that looks deceptively like it always has—a frozen, pristine wilderness. Deceptive, because profound and rapid change is underway from the forces of climate change and our relentless quest for energy.

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.