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Issue Backgrounder is a monthly SEJournal Online column to help journalists better cover emerging environmental issues, especially challenging or underreported topics. Each 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 Backgrounder Editor Joseph A. Davis at sejournaleditor@sej.org.


June 5, 2024

  • A new federal rule to cut power plant pollution and carbon dioxide emissions promises to escalate a yearslong, highly partisan battle at the core of U.S. climate change policy. Our Issue Backgrounder lays out the shifting regulatory approaches from the administrations of George W. Bush to Joe Biden, and notes the legal tug-of-war that has heightened the importance of another big player — the Supreme Court.

May 8, 2024

  • For all the talk about the energy transition and the robust growth in electric vehicle sales, there’s one big reason for unease: getting charged. The new Backgrounder takes a deep dive on the state of EV charging stations in the United States, exploring Tesla’s diminishing dominance, coming charger standardization, charging levels, software and for-pay realities, plus the effects of government policy.

March 27, 2024

  • A partisan debate has flared over liquified natural gas, as industry, environmentalists and politicians wrangle over LNG’s role in climate change and the energy transition, heating and electricity prices, and international and domestic U.S. politics. Backgrounder lays out LNG’s history, starting with the fracking boom and bringing it up to speed with the war in Ukraine and upcoming presidential elections.

February 28, 2024

  • A key U.S. federal agency tasked with investigating the nation’s industrial chemical accidents has been limping along for years. Now, the latest Issue Backgrounder reports that replenished staffing and a funding boost may mean it’s found its footing. But as the pace of chemical accidents accelerates and safety regulations stagnate, will it make a difference?

January 31, 2024

  • With the world in the midst of wars in Ukraine and the Gaza Strip, it’s time for journalists to appraise — and report on — the intersection of conflict and the environment, argues the new Backgrounder. That means considering the environment not only as a victim of war, but also as the cause of war and a means of carrying it out.

January 3, 2024

  • While the first offshore wind turbine started sending power into the U.S. grid just last month, and the renewable power source has enthusiastic support from the Biden administration, the industry has been slowed by politics, high interest rates and supply chain problems. But the latest Issue Backgrounder explores why offshore wind can be expected to succeed.

November 15, 2023

  • When Congress debates funding — or cutting — government programs that deal with environmental and energy issues, journalists on those beats should pay attention. A special Backgrounder, part of our 2024 Journalists’ Guide to Environment and Energy, walks you through the (not so boring) budget process — rules, timelines, dealmaking — to help find the angles on what could be a major story of the coming year. Plus, a primer on budget primers.

October 18, 2023

  • As global sales of electric vehicles surge, the positive impact on climate change emissions could be a critical benefit. But as our Backgrounder points out, it’s not as simple as that. There are challenges with politics, tax laws, mineral access, related pollution regulations and union jobs. Get an overview of the issue, in this latest entry in our expanding 2024 Journalists’ Guide to Environment + Energy.

September 20, 2023

  • When nations converge this fall for the latest round of annual talks on harnessing climate change, they meet at a crucial juncture. Will the increasingly dramatic impacts of global warming, and the prospects of worse, focus their attention enough to bring about progress? In this sweeping analysis, Backgrounder assesses the varied pressures at play at the coming COP28, along with tips for covering it, from up close or afar.

August 23, 2023

  • Long-growing concern over dangerous “forever” chemicals has drawn the attention of federal and state policymakers, local communities and the utilities that provide their drinking water. But little about regulating PFAS will be quick or easy, making it a major environmental and public health story for years to come. Issue Backgrounder unfolds the regulatory moves, the politics and the larger implications of PFAS policy.

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