Will Maryland soon close its borders to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking?
The state's House of Delegates voted 94-45 Tuesday in favor of legislation that seeks a three-year ban on fracking, the controversial practice for extracting oil-and-gas reserves.
The largely Democrat-backed measure is now under review by the Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs. There's no set timeline for a vote in the Senate, where it's unclear if there's enough support to pass the bill.
If this bill becomes law, "we believe it will lead to Maryland not allowing fracking" permanently, following in the footsteps of New York, said Ryanne Waters, a spokeswoman for the environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch, which has campaigned against fracking in Maryland.
In December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking after a state study determined there is insufficient data available to conclude it would be safe. Fracking currently takes place in 22 states. Waters said that the New York decision has given the anti-fracking movement nationwide "more steam” and “more credibility."
Government officials last week blocked a groundbreaking shareholder proposal on climate change from going to a vote at ExxonMobil. The move has confounded proponents, because the decision came just five days after the same agency cleared a similar resolution for Chevron's shareholder ballot.
"I'm completely baffled, frankly," said Natasha Lamb, director of equity research and shareholder engagement at wealth manager Arjuna Capital, lead sponsor of the ExxonMobil resolution. "The proposals are virtually identical."
The Chevron and Exxon rulings came from two different attorney-advisers at the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agency provides guidance to public companies that seek to exclude shareholder resolutions from the annual ballots distributed each year to vote on board directors, among other things.
Both of the resolutions at issue cite the threat from climate change as a reason to rein in spending on risky exploration projects in ultra-deep water, the Arctic and Canada's oil sands. They argue that those projects at Exxon and Chevron are chasing reserves that might become unsellable—or stranded—in a carbon-constrained world and in low-oil-price scenarios. The resolutions say the prudent course is for the companies to return that cash to shareholders instead, via dividends (Chevron) or a combination of dividends and share buybacks (Exxon).
The investigative series "Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil and Bad Air on the Texas Prairie," by InsideClimate News in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel, was awarded first place by the Association of Health Care Journalists.
The series, by ICN reporters Lisa Song and David Hasemyer along with Jim Morris of CPI, capped an eight-month investigation into the toxic chemicals released into the air by hydraulic fracturing, highlighting the public health threats of the fracking boom.
Harvard's fossil fuel divestment movement recently hit a snag.
Last week, a Massachusetts court dismissed a novel lawsuit brought by seven Harvard students seeking to make the university in Cambridge, Mass., divest its $36.4 billion endowment of holdings in major coal, oil and natural gas companies.
The students made two claims in the lawsuit. The first claim, filed on behalf of themselves, argued that divestment is justified under their interpretation of the school's charter. The second claim, filed on behalf of future generations—people whose "future health, safety and welfare depends on current efforts to slow the pace" of man-made climate change—argued that the school was intentionally investing in a known dangerous activity and should be stopped.
A new campaign urging science museums to cut ties with David Koch has thrown a spotlight on the billionaire Koch brothers' enormous philanthropic footprint and their oil interests, as they continue to undercut climate science, environmental regulations and clean energy.
Fifteen non-profits, including the Sierra Club, Greenpeace and Daily Kos, launched a petition calling on the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History and the American Museum of Natural History in New York to remove David Koch from their boards of trustees, because "he bankrolls groups that deny climate science." The non-profits cite a letter to museums, also sent Tuesday, by more than 30 scientists asking for a severing of ties to all fossil fuel interests.
David Koch's considerable donations to the country's two premier natural history museums are part of the Koch family's wide-ranging philanthropy. The family has delivered hundreds of millions of dollars to leading cultural, medical and academic institutions over the last 40 years, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lincoln Center and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
David and his brother Charles have also emerged as the nation's top donors to a vast array of libertarian-conservative politicians and causes, creating and sustaining a large, influential network of advocacy groups and right-wing think tanks. Among the top causes championed by Koch-backed groups and individuals are climate denial and opposition to climate-friendly policies.
As the Kochs' political agenda has grown clearer and more muscular, their philanthropy is raising questions about how museums, medical centers and universities can accept money from donors whose business and political dealings are often in direct opposition to the institutions' missions.
Hundreds of museums across the country––including some of the most prestigious––are being asked by more than 30 scientists to cut their ties to the fossil fuel industry.
In a letter sent to more than 330 science and natural history centers on Tuesday, the researchers said that when "some of the biggest…funders of misinformation on climate science" give millions of dollars to science-focused museums, it acts to "undermine public confidence in the validity of the institutions."
"Museums are feeling budgetary crunches, and these donors bring in large sums of money," said Beka Economopoulos, co-founder and director of the Brooklyn-based Natural History Museum, a new educational organization that coordinated the letter. "Museums, even unintentionally, are unlikely to bite the hand that feeds them. There is a threat of self-censorship where the philanthropy serves to make museums more reticent to offend the donor, or certainly to critique the practices of the donor."
The campaign comes just weeks after the release of public documents show Smithsonian-affiliated astrophysicist Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon published articles arguing that the sun, not greenhouse gases, is driving modern climate change after receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars from fossil fuel interests. He later failed to disclose that funding in academic journals' conflict-of-interest statements.
Museums are some of the world's top tourist destinations, particularly for families. Science-related institutions made up four of the top 10 most visited museums across the globe in 2014.
Concern over these museums' close financial ties with major oil-and-gas donors has been mounting for years. Fossil fuel billionaire David Koch, for example, sits on the boards of trustees of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City and the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Koch gave the Smithsonian $15 million to build the Hall of Human Origins, which opened in 2010. The exhibit has been widely criticized for ignoring the role humans play in driving modern climate change, and the challenge it poses to modern society.
For three decades, more than half of Americans have considered climate change a serious threat. Yet today, the U.S. still lags behind much of the rest of the developed world as understanding of global warming has become more widespread.
That's one finding of a new analysis of dozens of international climate polls since the 1980s by researchers at Cardiff University in Wales.
"Broadly speaking, people that are skeptical are in the minority across most of the world," said Stuart Capstick, a Cardiff scientist who studies public perceptions of global warming and was the lead author of the recent analysis.
It's the height of tax season, when Texas tax preparer Lynn Buehring would usually be working horribly long hours to keep ahead of the crush of clients wanting to beat the April 15 filing deadline.
Not this year. After a more than a decade in business, Buehring has closed her Karnes County office.
Buehring said she was forced to shutter the business because noxious fumes from the dozens of oil-and-gas facilities that surround her rural home and office became so overpowering she could no longer work.
The unbearable odors also were driving away clients who couldn't stand to come to her office, she said.
"The smell and how it would make you sick...I just couldn't take it anymore," Buehring said.
So she notified her 85 clients that she was closing the Business Barn––so named because Buehring had established her office in a small red barn that sat in the yard of the ranch house she shares with her husband, Shelby.
"It was the hardest thing to do," she said. "But I had to do it."
The Interior Department released long-awaited rules today for oil and gas wells on federal and tribal lands. Four years in the making, the regulations take aim at the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing, an extraction technique used on 90 percent of the nation's wells.
The rules, which will go into effect in late June, focus on protecting water quality and wildlife, but do not regulate the industry's effects on climate change. However, the Obama administration is working on a separate set of regulations to address emissions of methane—a powerful greenhouse gas—from oil and gas wells.
Immediate reaction from environmental groups was a mixture of cautious praise and criticism. The oil and gas industry reacted almost instantly with two lawsuits challenging the regulations.
As the fossil fuel divestment movement enters its fourth year, nearly a third of the 28 schools that signed on have completely purged oil, natural gas and coal investments from their endowment portfolios.
Many of the nine schools that have fulfilled their divestment pledges joined the fast-growing campaign as early as 2011; this group mostly involves small New England and California colleges that are overseeing relatively modest endowments.
Unity College, a small private school in Maine, is one of them. In 2012, the college pledged to divest from fossil fuel companies––then 3 percent of its total exposure––over the next five years. But it finished the task in 2014, three years ahead of schedule. And so far, the school's portfolio "is performing past our expectations," said Bob Mentzinger, a Unity College spokesman.