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Enbridge Faces Maximum Fine of $86 Million for Kalamazoo Spill

The company told regulators in a filing it expects to pay at least $22 million. The EPA, which will assess the fine, is mum.

Aug 28, 2014

12:30 PM ET on 8/28/204: This story has been updated with information from the EPA.

Pipeline giant Enbridge, Inc. has almost finished cleaning up its 2010 spill that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.

Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must decide how much it will fine Enbridge for causing one of the biggest inland oil spills in U.S. history.

Enbridge spokesman Larry Springer declined to speculate on the amount of the fine. But according to the company's filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last year, Enbridge expects it will be at least $22 million.

"Discussions are ongoing with the relevant government agencies, and it is premature to discuss negotiations at this time," Springer said.

Deepening Ties Between Exxon and Russia Run Counter to U.S. Efforts to Punish Putin

As its interests deepen in Russia, Exxon also stands to profit from the U.S. effort to fast-track oil and gas exports to 'stick it' to Putin.

Aug 27, 2014

As tensions mount and U.S. lawmakers push for stiffer sanctions on Russia for its role in the Ukraine crisis, oil giant ExxonMobil wants no part of it.  

On the contrary, America's second-largest public company recently deepened its ties to Russia and its vast energy deposits with a new natural gas export venture and by providing Russian President Vladimir Putin with enthusiastic—and very public—support.

The incongruity of Exxon's business-as-usual approach in Russia while U.S. officials talk of punishing Putin highlights a reality that politicians and the public tend to overlook: Corporate interests and the needs of the nation can—and do—sometimes diverge. Barring legal prohibitions, Exxon and other public companies are duty-bound to put shareholder interests first.  

It's a reality that remains obscured as energy lobbyists and Congressional lawmakers campaign for sweeping policy shifts and controversial projects, such as construction of the Keystone XL oil import pipeline, fast-tracking natural gas export plants and removing limits on domestic oil exports.

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.

Zoomed-In Climate Models Help Alaska Communities Plan for Uncertain Future

The urgency for climate modeling known as downscaling' is greatest in Alaska, which has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country.

Aug 26, 2014

Hunters in the Alaskan village of Wainwright, a community of about 550 Inupiat Eskimos at the lip of the Chukchi Sea, have long harvested bowhead whales from the ocean. Each spring, crews of 15-25 hunters set out in umiaqs—boats made from seal skins and caribou sinew. The hunters usually launch from Point Belcher, where the ice cracks open to expose the water in slivers called "leads." Then the whalers follow these narrow channels to the sea.

Government Auditors Say 'Social Cost of Carbon' Is by the Book

Year-long probe gives no new ammunition to outspoken critics in Congress who requested the audit.

Aug 26, 2014

Government auditors have taken a close look at a disputed calculation used by federal regulators to assess the long-term costs of carbon pollution. Their verdict: It was all done by the book.

The hotly contested economic calculation, known as the "social cost of carbon," or SCC, sailed through a review by the Governmental Accountability Office, whose audits often feature scathing criticisms of the bureaucracy.

The GAO's report was purely descriptive—dissecting, step by step, the process that bureaucrats used to develop and update the SCC over the years. "Evaluating the quality of the approach is outside the scope of this review," the GAO demurred.

The review was requested by several of Congress' most outspoken critics of the administration's methods, who have called the SCC's development "a black box."

Global Climate Inaction Will Mean Economic Turmoil for South Asia, Warns Bank

Six developing countries with 1.4 billion people—a third living in poverty—will pay hefty price for world's continuing reliance on fossil fuels.

Aug 22, 2014

The first comprehensive study ever issued on the economic costs that uncontrolled climate change would inflict on South Asia predicts a staggering burden that would hit the region's poorest the hardest.

"The impacts of climate change are likely to result in huge economic, social and environmental damage to South Asian countries, compromising their growth potential and poverty reduction efforts," said the study, published by the Asian Development Bank.

The cuts in regional GDP are so deep that they might ripple around the world, as six developing countries with 1.4 billion people—a third of them living in poverty—pay the price of the world's continuing reliance on fossil fuels.

Projections like this feed into the urgency for action as world leaders prepare to meet at the United Nations next month to discuss the climate crisis. Recent warnings show that the steps nations seem willing to take will fall well short of what is needed.



Maryland Fracking Study Cites Toxic Air Emissions as Top Concern

Drilling-wary Maryland is one of several East Coast states considering whether to open their lands to fracking as public health concerns mount.

Aug 21, 2014

A state-commissioned report found that air emissions trump water pollution and drilling-induced earthquakes as a top public health threat posed by future fracking projects in Maryland.

For nearly a year, experts at the University of Maryland's School of Public Health examined past research into the link between oil and gas activity and health. The findings, released Monday, stand in stark contrast to public concern in heavy-drilling states such as Maryland's neighbor Pennsylvania. Those concerns have tended to focus on tainted water, not air.

And in some major fracking states, including Texas, residents have been vocal about air concerns, but their complaints have largely been ignored, as an eight-month joint investigation by InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity revealed.

According to the Maryland study's principal investigator, Donald Milton, existing data show a clear trend: oil and gas activity can spew significant levels of toxic chemicals into the air—and that pollution consistently makes people sick.

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.

With Wind Energy Prices at All-Time Lows, DOE Is Cautiously Optimistic

Wind electricity costs have dropped to about 2.5 cents per kilowatt hour, a highly competitive price in some parts of the country.

Aug 19, 2014

With new wind power installations rebounding from last year's free fall, there's still a chance that wind could provide 20 percent of U.S. electricity by 2030, the Department of Energy projected on Monday.

But that will probably require a favorable mix of market developments, technology progress  and regulatory policies, suggested DOE's annual wind technologies market report.

Amid turmoil over tax incentives, barely 1,000 megawatts of new capacity were added in 2013, just 8 percent of the previous year's record-setting total. "All signals point to more robust growth in 2014 and 2015," the report said. But beyond that, things get murky again.

The most positive sign for the wind power industry in the 82-page report was that both the cost of wind turbines and the price of wind-powered electricity continue to fall.



In 'After Water' Project, 12 Writers Imagine Life in Climate Change-Altered Chicago

Ecoterrorists, saboteurs, orphans, activists muck through their separate realities. 'This project is terrifying—the idea of what the world would become.'

By Hannah Robbins

Aug 19, 2014

Four emaciated boys share a canteen of fresh water. They pass the stolen treasure around as they huddle on a raft made of broken furniture, drifting on toxic flood waters. The future has come to Chicago—or at least one future imagined by Abby Geni, a fiction writer in Illinois. 

Geni's story, "World After Water," follows four brothers growing up in a world irrevocably altered by climate change. Drinkable water is scarce, the Great Lakes are polluted, and only the rich can afford purified water.

"World After Water" is one story in a series of podcasts produced by WBEZ, a public radio station in Chicago. The series, called After Water, seeks to blend science and storytelling to create new shades of understanding about what the Great Lakes region could look like in the future. To do this, WBEZ reporter and project producer Shannon Heffernan approached fiction writers in Chicago and across the country. She gave them research papers and connected them with scientists, advocates and policymakers who could answer their questions. She then issued the 12 writers one challenge: to take what they had learned and create a story that reflects the difficulties Chicago and the Great Lakes region may face in the decades to come.

"This project is terrifying—the idea of what the world would become," Geni (pronounced GEE-nie) told Heffernan. (Geni usually writes fiction about the connection between humans and the natural world and stages her work in the present.)