Backgrounders

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Issue Backgrounders are a monthly SEJournal Online feature to help journalists better cover emerging environmental issues, especially challenging or under-reported topics. Each Issue Backgrounder focuses on a specific environmental topic, offering key questions, basic answers, source contacts and other resources. For questions and comments, or to suggest future Issue Backgrounders, email the SEJournal editor A. Adam Glenn at sejournaleditor@sej.org.

 

January 22, 2020

  • Despite warnings that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency would be dismantled under the Trump administration, it remains very much alive, thanks to the realities of politics and litigation. Yet its staffing, enforcement and science advisory roles remain under the gun. In the latest of our Backgrounders for the “2020 Journalists’ Guide to Energy & Environment,” we read the tea leaves on the future of the EPA.

January 15, 2020

  • Safety has traditionally been the key question when discussing the realities of nuclear power. But in assessing the future of the nuclear industry amid debates over its potential to help tackle the climate crisis, the latest entry in our “2020 Journalists’ Guide to Energy & the Environment” reports that there may be an equally pressing concern. 

November 13, 2019

  • A massive transportation measure is working its way through Congress, with environmental elements including climate change and public transit. But will this “must-pass” measure actually pass in the coming year? Or will it be bogged down by politics or looming questions of how to pay for it? A new Issue Backgrounder explains.

October 30, 2019

  • As U.S. coal’s comedown continues, our latest Issue Backgrounder takes a close look at the factors behind the industry’s decline and finds a combination of economics, competition and shifting global markets, along with aging technology, politics and environmental pushback. What’s in store for coal in 2020?

September 18, 2019

  • It’s poisoning fresh waters across the United States, as well as elsewhere in the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa. Blue-green algae is on the rise, lingering later and later into the year. Our new Issue Backgrounder explains the contributing factors behind the potent toxin’s scourge, its societal and public health ramifications, and the many angles and resources to tell the story.

June 19, 2019

  • It’s a category of more than 4,000 industrial chemicals that affect our lives nearly every day — and many of which are toxic. So what do journalists need to know to report on the emerging contaminants known as PFAS? Our most recent Issue Backgrounder offers a detailed primer on what PFAS are, where they come from, what their health effects are and how they might be cleaned up.

May 8, 2019

April 10, 2019

  • What makes styrofoam good — like its insulating, shock-absorbing qualities that make it suitable for hot coffee cups, coolers, helmets and packing material — is also what makes it bad … for the environment, that is. This month’s Backgrounder looks at the technical and environmental aspects of this long-troubling plastic pollution source.

March 13, 2019

  • The vast Colorado River, recently in the news over a troubled drought deal, is at the heart of numerous environmental problems in the American West, where water is scarce and the legal complexities of water rights voluminous. The latest Issue Backgrounder offers an explainer on the story, which involves at least seven states, the federal government, Native American tribes, a hornet’s nest of irrigation districts and even Mexico.

February 13, 2019

  • Our latest Issue Backgrounder looks at the potentially historic impact of the ambitious climate action agenda known as the Green New Deal — not just on this Congress or the next, or even on the race for the White House in 2020, but for the soul of the Democratic Party. An analysis of a public policy program in the making, the political maneuvering it’s engendering and its prospects to sow division or prompt a united front.

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