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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."

Cleveland Becomes Cleantech Leader But Ohio Backtracks on Renewable Energy

Hundreds of companies are working toward clean energy solutions as governor freezes statewide targets for renewables.

Sep 11, 2014

As the state of Ohio freezes climate policy, the city of Cleveland and its surrounding area are taking a different approach. Northeast Ohio is charging ahead with plans to build green industries that could jumpstart the economy and reduce pollution at the same time.

In the past decade, 500 companies have been built in northeast Ohio on the promise of green technology, each handpicked by civic leaders to match the strengths of the region. Meanwhile, politicians–including the governor–are knocking back statewide renewable energy targets that benefited many of those companies, such as wind and solar farm operators. The conflict could stall—or even stifle—further development of businesses trying to create climate-friendly technologies and a new clean energy economy.

Clock Ticking for Texas Families to Take Legal Action on Fracking Pollution

Texas has a two-year statute of limitations, which means people have just two years from the time they notice a problem until they file a lawsuit.

Sep 9, 2014

Attorney Tomas Ramirez is confident he'll win an appeal in the case of a Karnes County, Texas family who sued two oil companies claiming their lives had been ruined by toxic emissions.

But even a win on appeal could take up to two years, and Ramirez thinks the delay could discourage other people from filing similar claims.

The difficulty is that Texas has a two-year statute of limitations, which means people have just two years from the time they become aware of a problem until the time they file a lawsuit. The Eagle Ford Shale boom in Karnes County began in 2012, bringing it with it thousands of oil and gas wells and the kinds of emissions that Mike and Myra Cerny said made them sick.

For people in the Eagle Ford Shale, where the Cernys live, that means time is ticking to near zero, said Thomas McGarity, a University of Texas law school professor who specializes in environmental and administrative law.

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."

Climate Week NYC: The Top 10 Places to Be

Don't know what's happening or where to go during this year's Climate Week NYC? Let ICN guide you with this infographic.

By Paul Horn and Katherine Bagley

Sep 8, 2014

On Sunday, Sept. 21, demonstrators from more than 1,000 organizations representing millions of people plan to demand that world leaders take action against global warming. The People's Climate March through midtown Manhattan will be the "largest climate march in history," according to its organizers. And it will kick off the sixth annual Climate Week NYC—with about 80 events focused on climate change such as high-level meetings, conferences, lectures and debates.

A United Nations summit in New York City will also take place during Climate Week, which will help lay the groundwork for climate-change treaty talks next year in Paris.

Here's a look at 10 top places to be during Climate Week (some open to the public, some not) and their locations, including the People's Climate March route:

Nebraska Supreme Court Holds the Key to Keystone XL's Future

Seven-judge panel to decide whether lower court decision in favor of landowners who oppose the pipeline should stand.

Sep 5, 2014

Nebraskan landowners who have fought the Keystone XL pipeline to a standstill there urged the state's Supreme Court on Friday to reaffirm that the legislature acted unconstitutionally when it allowed rubberstamp approval of the pipeline's proposed route across the region's fragile sandhills and vulnerable aquifers. 

Otherwise, said David Domina, the landowners' lawyer, the Canadian pipeline company TransCanada and its political allies would be free to run untrammeled over private landholders and the public interest without due process or judicial review.



Fracking's Wastewater, Poorly Understood, Is Analyzed for First Time

Researchers determined general chemical footprint of one liter samples, but not relative concentrations, and call for further study.

Sep 5, 2014

A new study in the journal Environmental Science: Processes and Impacts offers one of the most comprehensive analyses yet of what's in a type of waste called produced water, a poorly understood and controversial byproduct of fracking.

This peer-reviewed study by a pair of researchers at Rice University in Houston shows that while fracking-produced water shouldn't be allowed near drinking water, it's less toxic than similar waste from coal-bed methane mining. It also revealed how the contents of this waste differ dramatically across three major shale plays: Texas' Eagle Ford, New Mexico's Barnett and Pennsylvania's Marcellus.

Fracking involves injecting a slurry of water, chemicals and sand down a well to crack open shale bedrock and extract oil and gas. The study defines produced water as the water that flows out of a well after fossil fuel extraction starts. It includes some of the slurry first injected down a well, as well as naturally occurring water and materials from deep underground, such as salts, heavy metals and radioactive material.

Previous studies have examined the salinity of this waste and even some of the inorganic chemicals. Building from that, the Rice researchers identified 25 inorganic chemicals in the waste. Of those, at least six were found at levels that would make the water unsafe to drink—barium, chromium, copper, mercury, arsenic and antimony. Depending on the chemical, consuming it at high levels can cause high blood pressure, skin damage, liver or kidney damage, stomach issues, or cancer.

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.

Oil and Gas Wastewater Pits Draw Fine for Toxic Releases

Facility in Utah doubles in size without a proper permit for emissions of volatile organic compounds, including benzene, toluene and xylene.

Sep 3, 2014

A commercial facility that disposes of oil and gas waste in Eastern Utah has been fined $50,000 for releasing excessive amounts of benzene and other volatile organic compounds without a state air emissions permit.

Rusty Ruby, compliance manager for Utah's Division of Air Quality Compliance, said the agency doesn't have "a lot of experience" when it comes to regulating waste pits because so little is known about them, a problem common in other states where hydraulic fracturing is generating vast quantities of contaminated waste water.  

"It's not like a smokestack that you can get a pretty good idea of what's coming out," Ruby said.

In this case, the violation became clear when Utah officials discovered that Danish Flats Environmental Services had nearly doubled the size of its operation without obtaining an emissions permit.  Ruby said the Colorado-based firm's unpermitted operation was exceeding emissions regulations under the federal Clean Air Act and state law.

Keystone Ads Mislead on Canada's Deep Cuts to Environmental Monitoring

Canada has cut nearly $3 billion in spending and up to 5,000 jobs from its science-based departments, according to a union representing federal scientists.

Sep 2, 2014

The ads were hard to miss for anyone taking the subway in Washington, D.C.—particularly someone working at the White House, the State Department or Congress.

They included images of children waving the American and Canadian flags, a green mountain with a river running through it, and construction workers building a new pipeline in Texas.

The ads in some of the capital's busiest Metro stations are but a small part of an aggressive, ongoing campaign that targets the most powerful people in Washington. The goal: President Obama's approval for the Keystone XL pipeline, a major expansion project that could bring more of Canada's carbon-intensive tar sands oil into the United States.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has set aside $22.7 million for an advertising blitz this year to promote oil and Canada's other natural resources in the United States, Europe and Asia. But scientists and environmental groups say the advertising message is misleading its target audience about the Canadian government's failure to clean up the oil sands, Canada’s fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions.

"Those [advertising] messages aren't accompanied by any changes in policy—they're basically defending Canada's current record, which we know to be quite poor when it comes to climate," said Danielle Droitsch, the Canada project director for the Natural Resources Defense Council, a U.S. environmental group that has criticized the Keystone pipeline project and the expansion of Canada's oil sands industry.