The Polluters’ Lawyers

Legislation to strengthen the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act and other environmental concerns in the 1970s did not only create new government agencies, it also spawned entire fields of law. While some lawyers work for nonprofits that use lawsuits to challenge pollution and others work as government regulators, the “best of the best” work for large corporations wielding both litigation and lobbying on behalf of polluting industries, according to Chambers and Partners, a group that publishes directories indexing and ranking law firms globally.

The three top U.S. firms in environmental law – Sidley Austin, Latham & Watkins and Hunton & Williams – represent companies notorious for violating the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts and lobbying to weaken laws meant to protect the environment and public health.


Sidley Austin is considered a top tier firm on environmental issues. Chambers states, “the lawyers are renowned for their expertise in air, water and waste pollution litigation,” and list clients such as BP, General Electric and Duke Energy. But perhaps their most significant client when it comes to international pollution is the XL-Pipeline project in Canada. They represent Canadian energy companies attempting to develop a controversial cross-border oil and gas pipeline.

“We represent Alliance Pipeline, Enbridge, TransCanada and other Canadian energy businesses which have sponsored major cross-border oil and gas pipeline projects. We have advised a number of these projects on the permitting and environmental review process under both US federal and state laws. We also counsel clients involved in proceedings initiated by the Office of Enforcement at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,” states Sidley Austin on their website. Continue reading The Polluters’ Lawyers

Taking It to the Streets

At a time when science itself is under assault and the Environmental Protection Agency’s future is challenged, NASA scientist and global climate change awareness activist James Hansen spoke at the National Press Club on Monday in opposition to the proposed Keystone XL – a 1700-mile, $7 billion pipeline which would carry heavy crude oil from “tar sand” mines in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Texas and Louisiana coasts.

Environmental protesters have been picketing in front of the White House in opposition to the pipeline. On Friday, the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs issued its final environmental analysis that said TransCanada’s proposed pipeline will have “limited adverse environmental impacts.” The Obama administration is expected to approve or reject Keystone XL by the end of the year.

One of the Bureau’s responsibilities is representing the country on global climate change issues. Its website says:

The United States is taking a leading role in addressing climate change by advancing an ever-expanding suite of measures. We have initiated a number of polices and partnerships that span a wide range of initiatives from reducing our emissions at home to developing transformational low-carbon technologies to improving observations systems that will help us better understand and address the possible impacts of climate change. Our efforts emphasize the importance of results-driven action both internationally and domestically.

Hansen says the oil produced through this unconventional fossil fuel process is “extremely dirty stuff.” In its place, he supports instituting a $10 a ton tax on carbon for 10 years and giving these monies ($600 billion by his estimation) to American families to offset the costs of alternative energy sources. “Tax carbon and give the money to the people. That would stimulate the economy,” he says in response to a question about the jobs the pipeline project would create. He believes that giving money directly to families (he says between $6000 to $9000 per year) is better than previously pursued “cap and trade” policies that would be overtaken by big bank trading instruments.

He is joining several religious leaders today in Washington protesting the Keystone XL pipeline project. Their efforts are to draw attention to “the moral duty to preserve creation.”

He says in his meeting with Senator John Kerry about these issues, the senator called his ideas “unrealistic.” With the Obama administration’s support for the pipeline and leading Republican presidential candidates who do not believe global warning exists or, if it does, humans do not contribute to it, he is turning his attention away from politics and to grassroots advocacy to educate the public on climate change issues.

Hansen says the country is falling behind on alternative energy research and countries like China are investing in future technologies like solar, wind and nuclear. As a physicist, he supports pursuing “fourth generation” nuclear reactors as one of the few on-demand power sources that could meet the world’s energy needs. He believes new reactor designs will produce less waste that is dangerous only for decades rather than the waste current reactors generate that is dangerous for centuries and for which there is no permanent storage facility.

Read more at The Washington Post and The New York Times.