Pulitzer winning climate news

David Hasemyer

InsideClimate News reporter David Hasemyer is co-author of the Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, was a finalist in the 2012 Scripps Howard Awards for Environmental Reporting and won an honorable mention in the 2012 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism. Prior to joining InsideClimate News, he was a freelance journalist whose career included an award-winning tenure at the San Diego Union-Tribune as an investigative reporter. Hasemyer's work has been recognized by the Associated Press, the Society for Professional Journalists, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He has also been a finalist for the Gerald Loeb Award.

Among the articles Hasemyer researched and wrote for the Union-Tribune was a series about a 10-million ton pile of nuclear waste, a remnant of the uranium-mining boom in the 1950s and '60s that threatened the Colorado River. Those stories have been widely credited as critical to the U. S. Department of Energy's decision in 2000 to move the pile away from the river. Hasemyer graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism.


Smithsonian's Inspector General to Probe Willie Soon

An immediate response to troubling allegations around Dr. Willie Soon’s failure to disclose funding sources for his contrarian climate change research.

Feb 23, 2015

The Smithsonian has opened an investigation into the ethical conduct of Willie Soon, one of its part time scientists and a climate-change skeptic who is facing scrutiny for failing to properly disclose his work was funded by fossil fuel interests.

The Smithsonian probe follows disclosures this weekend—through the release of public documents—that Soon failed to divulge industry funding for 11 studies that were published in nine scientific journals.

"The Smithsonian is greatly concerned about the allegations surrounding Dr. Willie Soon's failure to disclose funding sources for his climate change research," according to a statement released by Smithsonian.

Documents Reveal Fossil Fuel Fingerprints on Contrarian Climate Research

Scientist Willie Soon calls his papers 'deliverables' to fossil fuel executives, and grants a big coal utility pre-publication review and anonymity.

Feb 21, 2015

After finishing a study contending that solar activity is increasing global warming, scientist Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reported his news to a utility company that was a major funder of his work.

"I have a big super-duper paper soon to be accepted on how the sun affects the climate system," Soon wrote in a 2009 email to Robert Gehri, a research specialist with Southern Company Services, a mega utility company in the southeastern U.S. that generates power largely from coal.

Soon, one of few skeptics in the climate science community, described the paper that was published in the journal Physical Geography as "fairly significant scientifically in that this is the first successful formulation of a sun-climate connection." He was writing a follow-up note to Gehri, whose company has provided more than $400,000 from 2006 through 2015 to fund Soon’s research—and part of his salary.

The emails and related documents were obtained by Greenpeace through Freedom of Information Act requests. They were made public today by Greenpeace and the Climate Investigations Center, an environmental watchdog organization based in Virginia.

The communications show that Soon called his peer-reviewed research papers "deliverables" in return for funding from fossil fuel companies. In addition, the documents reveal that Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian gave the coal utility company the right to review his scientific papers and make suggestions before they were published. Soon and Harvard-Smithsonian also pledged not to disclose Southern’s role as a funder without permission.

Although the emails don’t show a response from Gehri, an industry executive with a long track record of working behind the scenes to downplay the significance of global warming, they do show Soon sharing a collegial familiarity with industry executives, media skeptics and organizations dedicated to undermining prevailing climate science.

The theory advanced by Soon that the sun is a contributor to recent climate change has been widely discredited by scientists worldwide as well as by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the world’s leading international body on climate science. Nevertheless, the theory has stoked long-simmering public confusion about the sun’s role in global warming that continues to this day.

For decades, the industry has latched on to controversial findings like those advanced by Soon and a small group of contrarian scientists to create the impression that researchers are divided about the cause of climate change. It has pumped millions of dollars into research projects to cast doubt on mainstream climate science showing that the primary driver of global warming is the burning of fossil fuels.

The trove of documents released today offers one of the starkest glimpses yet into the workings of this strategy of peddling scientific doubt. Scientists, academics and policymakers say the strategy has helped the industry in delaying or thwarting decisive steps toward curbing global warming.

States Drag Their Feet on Congressman's Frack Waste Investigation

Cartwright finds responses from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia too little and too late.

Feb 17, 2015

A Pennsylvania congressman wanted to know how his state and two neighboring states oversee the disposal of the often toxic waste generated by fracking oil-and-gas wells.

Now, Matthew Cartwright has some answers, and he finds them late–and lacking.

Cartwright, a Democrat from eastern Pennsylvania, launched the investigation in his state last October. A month later, he expanded his inquiry to Ohio and West Virginia. 

Responses from two states failed to provide substantive, detailed information to the congressman while one state has ignored the request.

Among the issues Cartwright raised:

  • How each state inspects oil-and-gas waste facilities.

  • What information the states require to pinpoint what's in the waste.

  • An explanation of the process for handling complaints regarding fracking waste disposal.

Answers to those questions are important for both residents and the environment in regions that are disposing of huge quantities of fracking waste, Cartwright said in an email interview.

"States continually argue that this is a state's issue and they can best handle it," Cartwright said. "We are simply asking states to please provide a little more insight into how they handle this issue and more importantly, how they enforce their own regulations.

Natural Gas Pipeline Battle in Michigan Moves South

Battle-hardened veterans in six counties protest and win, crediting 'power of determined people.' Now three other counties are in the cross-hairs.

Feb 10, 2015

To a dogged Michigan township supervisor, the recent decision by a Texas company to scrap plans to run a natural gas pipeline across the property of hundreds of landowners shows that people can fight—and win.

Atlas Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones said she believes the voices of outraged residents were heard loud and clear by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners when it decided to abandon plans for its ET Rover pipeline in six central Michigan counties.

"Never underestimate the power of determined people," she said.

Southern Forests' Ability to Suck Carbon From the Air May Be Slowing

New findings concern team of scientists who studied data from 40,000 sites in 11 states.

Feb 2, 2015

When U.S. Forest Service scientist David Wear hikes the trails crisscrossing the Appalachian Mountains, he pauses to revel not only in the beauty and solitude, but to consider the remarkable role that the forest around him plays in the world's environment.

"A walk in the woods is as much recreation as intellectual stimulation for me," Wear said. "I see questions about what’s happening in the changing dynamics of the forests."

One of those questions: How are today's forests doing when it comes to sucking carbon out of the atmosphere?

Wear and two Forest Service colleagues, John Coulston and Jim Vose, recently completed a study examining the carbon accumulation levels of forests in the southern United States.

They discovered a possible reduction in the ability of these forests to absorb carbon. That worries Wear and his colleagues because carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas that causes climate change.

The trio of scientists, who worked out of the Forest Service's Southern Research Station, recently had their findings published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Study Raises Concerns About Toxic Oil and Gas Emissions in California Air

An infrared camera, air sampling and surveys reveal that methane and toluene are among the contaminants showing up in Kern and Ventura counties.

Jan 26, 2015

The infrared video showed an eerie scene: waves of volatile chemicals floating from the vent pipes of an oil-and-gas processing plant in the Lost Hills region of Kern County, Calif. The gas wafting into the air looked like heat shimmering off asphalt on a hot summer's day.

The fumes are invisible to the naked eye, yet the special camera employed by researchers working with two environmental advocacy groups revealed the toxic emissions that flow from the facility every day it operates.

Based on the infrared camera video, air sampling and health surveys, a study by Earthworks and Clean Water Fund has concluded that the communities of Lost Hills and Upper Ojai in Ventura County are being exposed to dangerous air contaminants associated with oil-and-gas production.

These contaminants, which include toluene and methane, could pose a health risk based on long-term exposure, according to the 56-page report, "CALIFORNIANS AT RISK: An Analysis of Health Threats from Oil and Gas Pollution in Two Communities."

The findings also warn that people in other California communities could be subjected to similar emissions released during oil-and-gas development. The report says 5.4 million people, or 14 percent of California's population, live within one mile of a well.

Researchers used an infrared camera to detect and record invisible emissions from oil and gas facilities. Credit: Earthworks/Clean Water Fund

Five Years after Enbridge Oil Spill, Landowners Await Spring Landscaping of Repaired Line

With the new $2.6 billion pipeline, Enbridge pledges to restore the landscape. But for at least one landowner, the emotional scars may never disappear.

Jan 23, 2015

For weeks, the earth shook regularly outside David Gallagher's house as the Canadian company Enbridge Inc. replaced its aging oil pipeline known as 6B.

The giant trenching tractors, bulldozers and trucks that once shook his house with the intensity of a small earthquake have disappeared and oil now pulses through the pipeline that runs 14 feet from his house near Ceresco, Mich.

The shaking stopped months ago, but Gallagher remains perhaps even more shaken by the emotional aftershocks of the experience.

Gallagher, a 45-year-old custom cabinet maker and interior contractor, said memories of living in the house will be spoiled by damage done to the land. His wife's parents built the house in 1973, five years after the original Line 6B had been buried under open farmland.

Now that the machines are gone, Enbridge has vowed to heal the landscape this spring with grass, trees and other native plants destroyed by the years of construction all along the course of the new 285-mile pipeline that stretches from Griffith, Ind. across southern Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Enbridge is deactivating the old Line 6B since the new $2.6 billion pipeline and infrastructure went fully operational late last year.

Air Monitor in Texas Fracking-Boom Country Is Up and Soon to Track Pollution

It may be a while before Karnes County and its neighbors know whether they're breathing dangerous air.

Jan 16, 2015

The first air monitor in the heart of the fracking-intensive Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas has been installed and will be in operation following calibration tests to assess its accuracy.

The 40-foot-by-40-foot monitor that looks like a cargo trailer with antennas was set in place on the grounds of the Karnes County courthouse on the main street of Karnes City last month by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Placing the air monitor in Karnes County follows a recent air-quality study that tracked hydrocarbon emissions on the fringe of the region, pressure from local officials, news reports and residents worried about the air they breathe.

Yet even when the monitor begins producing air quality data, that information may not spark official concern because Texas adheres to air quality guidelines that permit exposure to higher amounts of some chemicals than other states.