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Katherine Bagley's articles

In Tight Florida's Governor's Race, Climate Change Is a Central Issue

Voter concern over vanishing beaches and fresh water may force GOP Gov. Rick Scott to run against his party's platform and his record.

Aug 27, 2014

1:30 PM ET on 8/27/204: This story has been updated with comment from Gov. Rick Scott's spokesperson.

The increasingly visible effects of climate change in Florida are putting Republican Gov. Rick Scott in a bind as he seeks re-election this November.

With rising water already eating away at the coastline and threatening cities, Florida is largely considered ground zero for climate change in the United States. Increased flooding in Miami and Fort Lauderdale, disappearing beaches and endangered fresh water supplies are making climate change a top issue in the governor's race, opinion polling shows.

Scott spent much of his first term dismantling the climate-change initiatives of his predecessor, Charlie Crist, who's now his Democratic opponent in the November election. Both men won nomination in Tuesday's primary. Voters, environmentalists, scientists and the media are joining Crist in pressing Scott to acknowledge the threat that climate change poses to the state. But if he does, he risks alienating the far right wing of the Republican Party, which helped elect him in 2010.

"He's caught in the crosshairs," said Frank Jackalone, the senior organizing manager for the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club.

Q&A: How a SuperPAC on a Shoestring Is Taking on Congress' Climate Apathy

"What is effective is talking to voters," says a founder of Climate Hawks Vote in an interview. "Luckily, that kind of work doesn't take a lot of money."

Aug 20, 2014

Earlier this month, Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz won his party's primary race by just 1,769 votes in a hotly reported contest that lasted two years and saw millions in spending from special interests. But little reported was the 11th-hour entrance into the campaign by a tiny new SuperPAC that just may have helped seal the election for Schatz: Climate Hawks Vote.

Formed in May to help get climate-conscious legislators elected to Congress, the group forewent expensive TV and print ads for old-fashioned electioneering. Volunteers made thousands of phone calls and peddled Schatz's climate credentials on sidewalks, at environmental conferences and debate viewing parties.

"Hawaii was a close enough race that we really made a difference," according to R.L. Miller, the tireless climate advocate at the helm of the group, who's also a lawyer, chair of the California Democratic Party's environmental caucus and a blogger. Schatz is expected to beat his Republican challenger in November.

Alaska's Financial Future at Center of Battle Over Oil Tax

Grassroots groups fight to reverse an oil industry tax benefit worth $1 billion to $2 billion a year and to return the money to state coffers.

Aug 15, 2014

After decades of relative harmony between citizens and fossil fuel companies in Alaska, tensions are ratcheting up in advance of an Aug. 19 referendum on the state's oil taxes.

Voters will decide whether to repeal Alaska's year-old oil tax system, which cuts taxes on the fossil fuel industry by $1 billion to $2 billion a year. If Alaskans approve the ballot proposal, the state will reverse the tax reductions now enjoyed by ConocoPhillips, Exxon and BP and revert to a previous system that helped the state bank a $17 billion surplus.

At the heart of the fight is concern over Alaska's financial future.

A coalition of grassroots activists argues that the tax cuts introduced in 2013 would devastate the state's budget. With no income or sales tax, Alaska gets 90 percent of its revenue from the oil industry. But the financially and politically powerful fossil fuel industry says the previous, higher taxes choked its ability to invest in new oil fields and increase production.

De Blasio's Neglect of Climate Policy Thwarts Continued Progress on Bloomberg Legacy

New York's mayor has yet to appoint a director to the city's top climate agency, and has remained largely mum on the issue.

Aug 6, 2014

Eight months into his tenure as mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio still has no one at the helm of the city's office for fighting climate change.

The mayor has yet to appoint a director for the Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, the seven-year-old department created under Mayor Michael Bloomberg that's charged with directing, planning and coordinating the city's ambitious climate action agenda. Under Bloomberg, the office helped transform the city by reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 16 percent, retrofitting buildings to improve energy efficiency, and cleaning up the air, water and land.   

Experts warn that with no one steering the office, the progress that New York City has made on climate change could be stalled, and its reputation as a global leader on climate action damaged.

"It is urgent that a director be implemented soon," said Kizzy Charles-Guzman, director of Urban Conservation Policy at the Nature Conservancy, a 63-year-old global conservation organization based in Arlington, Virginia. "The clock is ticking on climate change and the city needs a strong, visionary leader...or it risks losing valuable momentum."

Climate Change Law in New York Bridges Partisan Divide

Republicans and Democrats, environmentalists and the business community, get behind the groundbreaking bill.

Aug 5, 2014

Adapting for climate change is no longer just a recommendation in New York State. It is about to become the law.

New York lawmakers passed a measure in June requiring that communities design projects to handle the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, heavy flooding and more intense storm surges. The legislation—known as the Community Risk and Resiliency Act (S06617)—affects infrastructure ranging from bridges and parks to wastewater management systems and covers projects that need government funding or permits. It is expected to be signed into law by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo by the end of the summer.

Over the past five years, climate action at the national level has largely been at a standstill. That has left the states to fend for themselves. Some, including Connecticut, Vermont and Maryland, have taken small steps to prepare for climate change, discouraging construction in high-risk flood zones and recommending that new projects be built to withstand future climate impacts. For the most part, though, state decision-makers have done little.

New York's Community Risk and Resiliency Act is the only legislation in the nation to require that climate impacts be a part of the permitting and funding process—and not just in the state's coastal areas, but in all 62 counties.

Maine Port Votes to Block Tar Sands Exports. But Will It Matter?

South Portland’s Clear Skies Ordinance may block pipeline plan, but industry vows political and legal fight and may have other options.

Jul 28, 2014

Environmentalists claimed victory last week when a small coastal town in Maine voted to block heavy crude exports from its harbor. The South Portland city council's decision is the result a long-running campaign by green groups to prevent the flow of oil from Canadian tar sands through a pipeline to the port.

While petroleum industry groups have vowed a political and legal fight to overturn the town's ban, securities analysts dismissed the significance of the measure, known as the Clear Skies Ordinance, altogether. They argued that there are other routes to get the oil to the East Coast.

"It is a hollow victory, almost meaningless," said David McColl, an analyst who focuses on oil sands and pipelines for the investment research company Morningstar.

Infographic: A Field Guide to the U.S. Environmental Movement

The 10 organizations leading the environmental movement collectively have 15 million members and an annual budget of more than $525 million.

Apr 7, 2014

The 120-year-old U.S. environmental movement has undergone a tectonic shift and resurgence over the last several years, spearheaded by the failed legislative effort to cap carbon emissions in 2010. In the aftermath of that debacle, some the biggest environmental groups reshaped their missions—supplementing inside-the-Beltway campaigning with grassroots organizing and civil disobedience action not seen in this country since the 1970s. New groups from the hyperlocal to the national and global were born.

Today the 10 organizations driving the modern green wave—profiled in the infographic below—collectively have 15 million members, 2,000-plus staffers and annual budgets of more than $525 million to advance environmental agendas at the local, national and international levels.

Why Did ICF Int'l Withdraw From Tar Sands Pipeline Contract with the State Department?

The scrutinized Keystone XL contractor says the decision to withdraw from the State Department's Alberta Clipper review was 'strictly a business decision.'

Mar 26, 2014

A State Department contractor for the Keystone XL that has been under attack for alleged conflicts of interest has withdrawn from contract negotiations to review a lesser-known but still controversial tar sands pipeline: Enbridge's Alberta Clipper.

The unusual move has led some legal and industry experts to question whether public and political pressure against the company might have played a role in the decision. "There's no doubt it is in the back of our minds," said David McColl, an energy analyst for Morningstar, an investment research company, who focuses on Enbridge. Federal contracts for major projects can be lucrative—potentially worth into the millions, depending on the scope and scale of the work and the agency involved—and are often the bread-and-butter of consulting firms' business.

On March 15, 2013, the State Department announced it had chosen ICF International, a technology and policy consulting group based in Fairfax, Va., to carry out the environmental review of Enbridge's proposed expansion of the Alberta Clipper oil pipeline to transport 880,000 barrels a day from Canada to Wisconsin.

Climate Change Showdown in Florida Governor's Race

'Even if the [average] forecasts for sea level rise come true, much of the state will be in trouble, areas will be wiped out and communities evacuated.'

Mar 13, 2014

Florida, the most vulnerable state in the country to climate change, faces a key election this November that could have significant ramifications for its ability to cope with the challenge of rising seas and intensifying coastal storms.

If incumbent Tea Party-aligned Rick Scott is reelected governor, it is expected to mean four more years of inaction on global warming. His likely opponent, Democrat Charlie Crist, a former governor of Florida, is committed to aggressive climate action. Environmental groups, scientists and policy experts say that if Crist or another climate hawk wins, it would give the state at least a shot at staving off the worst effects of global warming. 

"It is critically important that the governor of Florida take action on climate change," said Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club. "Even if the [average] forecasts for sea level rise come true, much of the state will be in trouble, areas will be wiped out and communities evacuated."

Florida is widely seen as America's ground zero for global warming because the majority of its population and economy is concentrated along low-elevation oceanfront.

Harper Govt Makes Moves to Silence Canada's Leading Environmental Groups

Environmental organizations that oppose tar sands expansion have become the subject of rigorous audits that could force some to shut their doors.

Feb 14, 2014

Story updated on Feb. 14 at 2:00 p.m. EDT to include comment from the Canada Revenue Agency.

In both the United States and Canada, activism against tar sands, pipelines and climate change has soared in recent years.

But while President Obama has encouraged citizens to "stand up and speak up" to demand change on energy, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's administration has tried to silence critics of pro-tar sands policies.

In the most recent evidence, seven influential environmental organizations have become the subject of rigorous audits by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Activists allege that the scrutiny is an attempt by the Harper administration to subdue tar sands opponents as decision time looms for pipelines needed to bring Alberta's landlocked oil to market—the Texas-bound Keystone XL and the Northern Gateway to the Pacific Coast of British Columbia.