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.

 

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.

January 16, 2019

  • U.S. courts will be a key venue of environmental conflict in 2019, as the Trump administration pushes back against an extensive array of long-standing environmental law. This special edition Issue Backgrounder looks at seven key legal disputes, including cases involving climate change liability, intergenerational equity and policy, as well as conflicts over maintaining national monuments, defining which waters are subject to anti-pollution rules, disposing of coal ash and extending offshore drilling.

December 12, 2018

  • As Democrats take charge of the House of Representatives next month, they’ll be wielding powerful congressional oversight powers over environment and energy matters. Watch for oversight drama in 2019 as committees take a closer look at natural resource policy at the Interior Department, the rollback of climate policy, attacks on climate science and more. All in our latest Issue Backgrounder.

October 31, 2018

  • The vulnerability of critical U.S. infrastructure to cyberattacks has been a growing worry for years, as electric utilities, drinking water systems, chemical plants, nuclear plants, pipelines and more are the target of a burgeoning cadre of hackers. But for environmental and other journalists focused on the story, another problem has emerged: The secrecy that has long been part of the U.S. cybersecurity policy. In this comprehensive Backgrounder, SEJournal takes a look at the risk, the response and the resources to let reporters go deep on cyber warfare as an energy and environment story.

October 3, 2018

  • Millions of Americans are served by private rather than public water systems. And while that may be helpful in the case of the tens of thousands of smaller systems that lack key resources, it also raises controversial questions about privatization, as well as about what’s best to insure drinking water safety in a post-Flint era. The latest Backgrounder explains this complex issue, considers the most critical issues and offers resources to report the story in your area.

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