Earthjustice

Climate Deniers In Congress Take 3.5 Times As Much Money From Dirty Energy Interests

As the US Environmental Protection Agency attempts to draw down emissions from power plants via its Clean Power Plan, fossil fuel interests are, of course, fighting back. A new special report from Earthjustice exposes the “unparalleled political spending by dirty energy industries” intent on defeating the EPA's climate initiative.

Power plants, especially those that burn coal and natural gas, are responsible for nearly one-third of all global warming emissions in the US, making electricity production the single biggest source of climate change pollution. There are currently no limits on how much carbon dioxide power plants can dump into the atmosphere.

Burning coal for electricity in particular has also been found to have dire impacts on human health at every stage of its life cycle. But those who live nearby coal-fired power plants suffer some of the worst of it: children are more likely to have asthma if they live by a plant burning coal, and mercury pollution from coal has been linked to higher incidence of autism and other developmental issues.

There's a social justice angle to consider too: coal-fired power plants are much more likely to be situated near a low-income community or community of color, forcing people who have done the least to contribute to the problem to deal with a disproportionate share of the impacts. According to Earthjustice, 40% of the US's Latino population lives within 30 miles of a power plant.

The EPA's Clean Power Plan aims to reduce emissions from US power plants some 30% below 2005 levels by 2030, but it will have a host of other economic and health benefits as well. Earthjustice says that imposing emissions limits on power plants could prevent as many as 100,000 asthma attacks in children every year, and by cutting their climate pollution Americans could save $13 billion a year on their energy bills.

Which begs the question Earthjustice set out to answer: “When acting on climate change has the added benefits of cleaner air that’s easier to breathe, healthier communities, safer people and homes, economic protection and even growth, why would elected officials oppose it?”

As the saying goes, just follow the money.

Crude Oil Transport Project Halted In California After Environmentalists Sue

Back in August, DeSmog reported on California environmentalists stopping “stealth carbon bombs” in their communities. Now they're celebrating another victory as a dangerous—and illegal—crude oil transport project in Sacramento has been halted as well.

According to a report by the Sacramento Bee last March, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District first caught InterState Oil Company, a fuel distributor, offloading ethanol without a permit in the fall of 2012. Inspectors with the AQMD then caught InterState transloading crude oil from trains to trucks bound for Bay Area refineries in September of last year, again without a permit.

InterState was not fined for these violations and was even allowed by the AQMD to continue importing ethanol and crude oil into California by train while it sought the necessary permits.

InterState received the permit to transload crude from trains to trucks in March of this year. On September 23, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit in Sacramento Superior Court on behalf of the Sierra Club challenging what it called the AQMD's “furtive approval” of the permit.

After Oregon Rejects Coal Export Plan, Long Beach Votes to Export Coal and PetKoch

Just a day after the Oregon Department of State Lands shot down a proposal to export 8.8 million tons per year of coal to Asia from the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, the Long Beach City Council achieved the opposite.

In a 9-0 vote, the Council voted “yay” to export both coal and petroleum coke (petcoke, a tar sands by-product) to the global market — namely Asia — out of Pier G to the tune of 1.7 million tons per year. Some have decried petcoke as “dirtier than the dirtiest fuel.“ 

More specifically, the Council determined that doing an environmental impact statement before shipping the coal and petcoke abroad was not even necessary. 

decision originally made in June and then appealed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Communities for a Better Environment, the Council shot down the appeal at an August 19 hearing

“We are very disappointed about the decision, but that does not diminish the amazing victory in Oregon,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez said in a statement provided to DeSmogBlog via email. “The decision in Long Beach just highlights the grasp that the fossil fuel industry has on the City's leaders.”

The Earthjustice legal challenge and the the subsequent August 19 hearing was not about banning coal or petcoke exports. Rather, Earthjustice and its clients requested that the City of Long Beach do an environmental impact statement for two companies given contracts to export the commodities for 15-20 years.

One of those companies, Oxbow Carbon, is owned by the “Other Koch Brother,” William “Bill” Koch. Like his brothers David and Charles Koch, he has made a fortune on the U.S. petcoke storage and export boom. Also like his brothers, he is a major donor to the Republican Party.

Obama Administration Secretly Weakening EPA Rules

One of highest hopes that environmentally-minded Americans had for President Obama when he first entered office was that he would finally put an end to the secrecy that marred the former Bush administration when it came to environmental policy. 

The image of then-Vice President Dick Cheney meeting in secret with dirty energy industry leaders was still fresh in our heads as we went to the polls in 2008, and we were all but certain that the country chose a leader that would leave those dark days in the past.

Sadly, those hopes for a policy change were dashed before the end of Obama’s first year.  He talked a big game on the campaign trail, but when it came to acting on those promises, that rhetoric proved to be just as hollow as his predecessor’s. 

Obama doubled down on coal, oil, and fracking, while allowing renewable energy investments to fall.  But the most disturbing part of the story is that Obama and his officials have been working in secret to weaken environmental standards that his administration has been patting themselves on the back for in public.

Recently, a federal judge expanded a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that was filed against the Small Business Administration (SBA), which claims that officials within the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been working to weaken the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) power plant pollution standards.  The administration has been dragging its feet in providing the information requested, even after the court ruling, which has led environmental groups to file a complaint against the White House.

At issue is the EPA’s failure to update standards for existing power plants as required by the Clean Air Act — a move that the U.S. Supreme Court had previously said was required of the agency.  The current rules have not been updated since 1982, and environmental groups say that the lack of updating is due to influence from the White House itself.

Earthjustice to Defend Right of Dryden, NY, to Ban Fracking Within Town Limits

Don't Frack New York

On June 3rd, lawyers from Earthjustice will argue to New York’s highest court that the town board of Dryden, NY, has the right to ban fracking within its borders.   

Gas company Norse Energy has sued the Town of Dryden to try to negate its town council’s 2011 unanimous vote to ban fracking. Dryden’s decision has withstood challenges at two lower levels of New York’s judicial system, but this decision in the state’s highest court will be the one that sets precedent.

Dryden’s initial efforts to ban fracking were organized by a group of citizens with legal help from Helen Slottje, a lawyer who has since won the prestigious Goldman Prize for her work on this issue. Once the gas industry sued the Town of Dryden, Earthjustice volunteered to take on the case and has represented the town in this legal battle.

Earthjustice has produced a video, narrated by actor and activist Mark Ruffalo, which tells the story of the Dryden residents who organized the petition drive that led to the unanimous town board vote establishing the ban on fracking. 

Pressure Grows on EPA to Regulate Toxic Air Pollution from Oil and Gas Industry

On Tuesday, 64 environmental groups, representing over 1 million members and supporters, submitted a legal petition to the Environmental Protection Agency, calling on the federal government to more closely regulate toxic air pollution from oil and gas drilling sites.

Continued, uncontrolled toxic pollution from oil and gas production creates serious health threats in metropolitan areas across the country,” the groups wrote, warning that over 1.04 million oil and gas wells have been drilled in the U.S. and as many as 45,000 new wells are expected annually over the next two decades.

The petition represents a shot across the bow of the EPA, as the filing lays the groundwork for lawsuits by environmental groups should the agency fail to act.

The move puts the EPA on notice that it may be violating federal law by failing to regulate air pollution from oil and gas drilling and fracking sites. “EPA also has a responsibility under the Clean Air Act to protect people from toxic air emissions nationwide,” the groups wrote, “and under section 112(n)(4)(B) it must do so.”

Absolutely this lays the groundwork for possible future litigation,” said Jeremy Nichols, a program director for WildEarth Guardians, one of the signatories to the petiton, “oil and gas wells are one of the most under-regulated sources of toxic air pollution in the U.S., yet these very wells are increasingly being drilled and fracked in communities across the nation.”

The current shale drilling boom has led to a massive spike in the number of people living near drilling, and the lack of federal regulation over the industry has led to complaints from residents across the US about the impact on their health and the health of their families.

Oil Shipments Turn Albany Into “Houston on the Hudson” As Communities Across Country Fight Oil-By-Rail Proposals

Albany oil protest

Due to a massive increase in the movement of crude oil by rail in the past few years, communities across the country are facing the daunting prospect of becoming part of the oil industry’s infrastructure.

In Pittsburg, Calif., there is strong opposition to a proposed rail facility slated to bring in upwards of 242,000 barrels of Bakken crude daily. The state’s draft environmental review finds “significant and unavoidable risks of air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, spills and accidents,” justifying resident’s concerns.

Meanwhile, Albany, N.Y., has quietly become home to increased oil shipments without any environmental review. A rail facility is currently receiving between 20 and 25 percent of the Bakken crude from North Dakota. As Trisha Curtis, an analyst at the Energy Policy Research Foundation, puts it, “Albany has become a big hub.” This has led to local residents referring to Albany as “Houston on the Hudson.”

In a victory for local residents, earlier this week New York’s environment agency announced it would require Global, the company proposing a heating facility for heavy crude at the Port of Albany, to disclose the source of the oil. 

D.C. Court Rules Against Environmental Transparency, Threatening Public Health and Democracy

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that trade deals can be exempted from federal disclosure laws. The case revolved around a classified document related to an FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) that contained information about environmental and public health and safety concerns.

The suit was filed by EarthJustice and the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), with CIEL President Carroll Muffett issuing the following statement after the ruling:  “It is with great irony that at a time when reports about government intrusion into individual privacy are escalating by the day, the U.S. government would go to such lengths to protect the confidentiality of its trade negotiations—the terms of which will have real impacts on its citizens. By denying the public access to these negotiations, the US has created a fundamental barrier to the development of democracy. Most troubling, we have already seen the US aggressively pushing information in a similar black box in other trade negotiations, like the recently announced Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union.

EarthJustice has more:

Arch Coal Mine Will Destroy Colorado Wilderness in 'Roadless' Forest

In a devastating blow to the Colorado wilderness, the U.S. Forest Service has agreed to allow Arch Coal to expand their West Elk mine into 6.5 miles of roadless forest in Colorado.  This means that as soon as Arch Coal gets the “ok,” they will begin leveling a formerly pristine part of America’s beautiful wilderness.

The ruling of the Forest Service came after an appeal by conservation groups, led by EarthJustice, who hoped that the agency would have the decency to prevent the dirty energy industry from destroying a vital part of the environment.

From EarthJustice:

The appeal filed in September 2012 with the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Regional Forester in Denver, sought to overturn an August decision affirming Arch Coal’s West Elk mine expansion into roadless lands that provide habitat for lynx, black bear, elk and goshawk. The conservation groups argued that the mine expansion violates laws meant to protect wildlife, air quality, and forest lands, as well as the Colorado Roadless Rule.

Smokey Bear has turned his back on Colorado’s natural, roadless lands,” said Ted Zukoski, staff attorney for Earthjustice, the public interest environmental law firm representing the groups. “Instead, the Forest Service has literally paved the way for a coal mega-corporation to destroy real bear habitat. The Sunset Roadless Area is a beautiful forest of aspen and giant spruce, beaver lodges and meadows, a home for elk and hawks. This is a place the Forest Service should be protecting for all Coloradoans, not sacrificing to appease special interests.”

In February of this year, EarthJustice and the environmental groups they represent won a legal battle against the Forest Service over the expansion of the mine.  During this fight, the Forest Service was unable to provide an adequate explanation of what they would do to prevent the destruction of the habitats of endangered bald eagles and lynx, as well as what measures would be put in place to prevent landslides.

Thousands Gather In DC To Stop Mountaintop Removal Mining

Thousands of protestors descended on Washington, D.C. today to send a simple message to the Obama Administration – stop mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR). The protestors included citizens from throughout Appalachia and representatives from more than a dozen environmental groups who were protesting in honor of longtime MTR opponent and environmental advocate Larry Gibson, who passed away a little over a week ago.

The protestors delivered a “Mountain Heroes Photo Petition” to the Obama Administration, a series of photographs of citizens declaring their opposition to MTR. At the time of delivery, more than 13,500 photo petitions were presented to the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

The event was organized by EarthJustice, which has advocated on behalf of Appalachian citizens for years. Here are a few of the photos that they submitted to the Obama Administration:

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