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Katherine Bagley's articles

In Key Midterm Races, Democrats Sound Like Republicans on Climate Issue

For Democrats 'the pressure to stop climate action comes almost entirely from oil and gas interests that play a role in their states' economies.'

Oct 21, 2014

Democrats are justifiably worried about holding onto control of the United States Senate in the midterm elections Nov. 4. Most forecasts have Republicans winning seven seats for a 52-48 advantage, which would almost certainly spell doom for any action on climate change.

But here's the real catch: Even if Democrats win the Senate by a slim margin, climate action could still be foiled for the next few years by members of their own party.

In several critical races, particularly in energy-producing states, Democratic candidates' stated climate change beliefs somewhat echo their Republican opponents'. Most toe the party line and accept the idea that the world is warming, but resist action that could theoretically harm their home-state economies, such as cutting fossil fuels.

"In races like these, climate advocates don't have a candidate to root for," said RL Miller, chair of the California Democratic party's environment caucus and founder of Climate Hawks Vote, a superPAC helping to elect climate-conscious candidates. "They are lose-lose scenarios for us. Sadly, there are more of these races than there should be at this point in the climate fight."

5 Lose-Lose Senate Races for Climate Advocates

In several critical midterm races Democratic candidates' stated climate change beliefs echo their Republican opponents'.

Oct 21, 2014

Anti-climate action Democrats are running in elections from coast to coast. With most of the attention focused on the U.S. Senate midterm races, here are some of the politicians to be aware of, based on conversations with several experts:

READ: In Key Midterm Races, Democrats Sound Like Republicans on Climate Issue

State: Kentucky

Candidate:  Alison Lundergan Grimes, Kentucky secretary of state

Views on Climate Change: Grimes has said she believes climate change is happening, but that the Obama administration "has taken direct aim at Kentucky's coal industry." She has said multiple times in interviews that she will fight for "what keeps the lights on." Kentucky gets nearly 93 percent of its electricity from coal.

What's at Stake: Despite the fact that coal mining accounts for less than 1 percent of Kentucky jobs, the industry's centuries-old legacy means it is still considered vital to the state's livelihood.

Opponent: Mitch McConnell, minority leader in the Senate; the 30-year veteran could become majority leader if Republicans win enough seats in the elections.

Coal-Fired Politics: In Kentucky Senate Race, Bitter Rivals Woo a Dying Industry

Incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell and challenger Alison Grimes are fighting over an industry that provides just .6 percent of Kentucky's jobs.

Oct 8, 2014

Coal has been an ever-present part of one of the most expensive and high profile midterm elections this year—the Kentucky Senate race between Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes—despite its rapidly declining economic significance. 

Kentucky's newspapers and airwaves are full of ads from both candidates pledging to protect the industry and fight the Environmental Protect Agency's attempts to regulate its carbon emissions. Each candidates' statements have become popular political fodder for attack ads by SuperPACs on both sides of the aisle. As one local news channel put it, coal "has become the hot issue in the country's hottest political contest." 

But the industry that Grimes and McConnell have spent so much time and money fighting over is a bit of an illusion, several experts said. Coal has been dying for decades within Kentucky.

FEMA Will Require States to Examine Climate Risks in Disaster Planning

Two of the top three states to receive FEMA disaster grants through 2012 are led by governors who aren't convinced that climate change poses a threat.

Oct 1, 2014

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is about to make a significant shift in the way it handles climate change.

FEMA will soon require states to examine the impacts of global warming on their communities as a condition for receiving federal disaster preparedness funding, according to draft guidelines released by the agency earlier this month.

The move bucks the 35-year-old agency's longstanding trend of reacting to disasters fueled by climate change rather than preparing for them in advance, said policy analyst Rob Moore of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The decision could save FEMA a lot of money in the long run. Every dollar spent on disaster mitigation saves four dollars in disaster recovery, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences. FEMA's budget has been stretched thin in recent years because of the increasing number of large-scale natural disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricanes Katrina and Irene.

"This decision by FEMA is the first time any federal agency has made the consideration of climate impacts a requirement for planning," said Moore, who is director of the NRDC's water and climate team. "Hopefully this is a sign of things to come and that other agencies will soon follow suit."

5 Big Announcements For Cities at Climate Week

Though much of the Climate Week spotlight was on nations, the world's cities will continue to implement the most innovative climate change policies.

Sep 26, 2014

Even as nations gathered in New York this week to discuss global-level action on climate change, there was strong recognition that cities, not countries, have so far played the pivotal role in the world's fight against climate change—and will continue to do so in the decades to come.

Urban centers house 54 percent of the world's population and account for approximately 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. But they are also where most of the most innovative emission reduction strategies and adaptation measures are being implemented. These programs, as well as the question what needs to be done to further this work, were the topic of events throughout Climate Week New York City, from the United Nations to hotel conference rooms to the Empire State Building.

"We need to drive the global economy toward zero carbon by the second half of the 21st century," said Rachel Kyte, Vice President of the World Bank. "And we don't get there without cities acting differently."

Mich. Pipeline Leak Is Political Fodder in Heated House Race

Republican Fred Upton, incumbent with fossil industry ties, faces challenge from a climate action hawk.

Sep 19, 2014

If opponents of incumbent Congressman Fred Upton (R-Mich) have their way, a natural gas pipeline leak that displaced 500 people earlier this week could take center stage in one of the nation's most heated Congressional races.

The contest for Michigan's 6th congressional district pins fossil fuel champion Upton, a 14-term U.S. Representative and chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, against Democratic newcomer Paul Clements, a political science professor at Western Michigan University and an advocate for climate action.

Early Tuesday morning, residents of Benton Charter Township, in southwestern Michigan, were evacuated from their homes after a natural gas pipeline operated by energy giant TransCanada ruptured. They were allowed to return within 12 hours of the leak, but there are still questions about how much natural gas escaped, and whether nearby soil and water were contaminated.

Q&A: One Baptist Minister's Long, Careful Road to Climate Activism

Progressive Baptists' Rev. Dr. Baltimore discusses how climate change became a moral issue not a scientific argument; and the power of the clergy.

Sep 18, 2014

When thousands of activists descend on Manhattan this Sunday for the People's Climate March, faith-based groups will be among them. Dozens of religious organizations and churches have signed up to join in demanding action to fight global warming. But as the Rev. Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, former president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, says, religious groups' road to the march has been slow and rocky.

Appears In:

Judge Cleared ‘Necessity’ Defense for Use in Climate Trial for the First Time

His clearance of the legal strategy breaks new ground, and may have swayed the prosecutor to drop criminal charges.

Sep 11, 2014
climate activists

Even before a prosecutor in Massachusetts dropped criminal and conspiracy charges against climate activists for blocking a coal shipment with a lobster boat, the judge in the case broke new ground in favor of the foes of fossil fuels. For the first time in the U.S. climate fight, he cleared the way to use "necessity" as a defense in the courtroom.

State District Judge Joseph Macy in Fall River, Massachusetts, found the defendants could call expert witnesses to justify the violation of the law in order to protect citizens from the impacts of global warming, and to argue they had no legal alternative. His findings carry legal implications for future acts of civil disobedience, climate activists and lawyers say, and may even have had a direct impact on the outcome of this case.

The litigation drew national attention earlier this week when C. Samuel Sutter, the district attorney in Bristol County, downgraded charges against two climate activists who blocked a 40,000-ton shipment of coal in 2013 with the lobster boat. He said he did so because climate change "is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced."

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As People March, A Moment of Truth in the Climate Fight

The People's Climate March is more than just a call to action. It represents the biggest expansion of the climate movement so far.

Sep 8, 2014

Activists are trying to seize an opportunity to put the climate movement alongside the Civil Rights and the Vietnam-era anti-war movements. Tens of thousands of people are expected to participate in what organizers are calling the People's Climate March later this month in New York City.

Demonstrators from more than 1,000 organizations representing millions of people plan to demand that world leaders take action against human-driven climate change. The Sept. 21 march through midtown Manhattan will take place two days before a United Nations summit in the city that will lay the groundwork for climate-change treaty talks next year in Paris. It will also kick off the sixth annual Climate Week NYC, with almost 80 events focused on climate change such as conferences, lectures, debates and concerts.

MORE: Climate Week NYC: 10 Top Places to Be

The march will be the first major demonstration of how dramatically the climate movement has changed and expanded in the past five years. Once considered an issue only for environmentalists, global warming has become part of the agenda for labor unions, faith-based organizations, schools, small businesses, international nongovernmental organizations, and student, social justice, parenting, public health and political groups, among others.

"Climate change is no longer a privileged, environmental issue anymore," said Becki Clayborn, one of the Sierra Club's organizers for the event. "It is affecting all of us, immediately. Because of that, people who haven't gotten involved in the past are joining the fight."

Frack-Free Leaders in Illinois, Hedging Their Bets, Shelve Calls for Ban for Now

Grassroots activists joined mainstream environmental organizations to help force the state to write tougher fracking rules; some aren't pleased about it.

Sep 4, 2014

Grassroots groups fighting hydraulic fracturing in Illinois have put aside their push for a moratorium or a ban in recent months in favor of seeking stronger industry regulations.

"Basically, we're hedging our bets," said Annette McMichael, spokeswoman for Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment (SAFE). "We are firmly against fracking, and yet we are willing to work within the legislative confines."

SAFE and other local organizations joined with national environmental groups to force the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to write tougher rules under 2013 legislation regulating fracking, a technique used to extract natural gas and oil from shale. The department issued its new regulations Friday. And yet, the decision to shelve demands for a moratorium or a ban has upset fellow grassroots activists who maintain that any fracking—even when highly regulated—is unsafe.