Why Floodlight thinks climate journalism needs something new

Welcome to Floodlight. We are a new model of investigative environmental journalism.

Why Floodlight thinks climate journalism needs something new

In city halls and statehouses — and in news stories and ad campaigns — corporate and ideological interests are spreading disinformation and using their influence to try to stop climate action. Our mission is to expose them.

Welcome to Floodlight. We are a new model of investigative environmental journalism.

We know that climate reporting resources—especially on the local level—are limited, so we choose to collaborate instead of compete. We partner with local journalists from step one. We report, write and co-publish with them in their outlets, as well as in the Guardian.

While Floodlight’s coverage area is targeted, our journalism is nonprofit, nonpartisan and objective.

Emily Holden founded Floodlight in 2021 to expose the forces stalling climate action.

In our debut story, we worked with the Texas Observer and San Antonio Report to investigate how the gas industry fought to weaken the climate ambitions of two Texas cities: Austin and San Antonio.

With internal emails obtained by Floodlight, we detailed how Texas Gas Service reshaped Austin’s climate equity planning. The company drafted line-by-line revisions to weaken the plan, asked customers to oppose it and escalated its concerns to top city officials.

The moves have so far proven a success for Texas Gas. The most recently published draft of the climate plan gives the company much more time to sell gas to existing customers, and it allows it to offset climate emissions instead of eliminating them. The city, however, is revisiting the plan after a backlash to the industry-influenced changes.

Texas Gas proposed line-by-line edits to Austin's climate equity plan. SOURCE: Emails obtained under public records laws.

As we were planning to publish this story, it became even more relevant. Floodlight was originally scheduled to launch and post this investigation on Feb. 22. But then a freak winter storm hit Texas, leaving 4 million households without power and demonstrating how unprepared our systems are for the changing climate.

As we explained:

Gas power plants dominate the Texas grid, providing 47% of the state's electricity. Many of those plants and the natural gas pipelines leading to them failed in the cold conditions.
More than a third of Texas households also rely on gas for heat. Competition for gas-fueled power and heat forced prices to surge as high as 16,000%, one power company said. Utilities now face massive bills from their gas suppliers – and many are passing the costs on to customers in the form of sky-high bills.

Our partnership with local journalists was critical to telling this story. Amal Ahmed at the Texas Observer was able to interview a Texas state lawmaker who introduced a bill to stop cities from banning gas. He confirmed to her that the proposal was in direct response to climate planning in cities like Austin and Houston.

Lawmakers in 11 other states have also proposed prohibiting cities from banning gas in buildings. Last year, legislators in four other states approved such measures.

As Amal and I looked into how other Texas cities had tried to write ambitious climate blueprints, we started to see a trend. The gas industry was pushing back across the state. We started reading Brendan Gibbons’ detailed reporting on San Antonio’s process and knew we should invite him to work with us.

In San Antonio, the electricity and gas company CPS Energy was even more successful in scrubbing language that called for a full transition away from fossil fuels.

CPS Energy spent $650,000 to fund the climate planning process and helped put its preferred consulting firm in charge instead of faculty at the University of Texas at San Antonio. It drafted its own ‘Flexible Path,’ which the city adopted.

The two Texas cities have been on the frontlines of a battle playing out around the country, as the gas industry fights local efforts to scale back gas use in buildings.

The American Gas Association in a statement for this story said it “will absolutely oppose any effort to ban natural gas or sideline our infrastructure anywhere the effort materializes, state house or city steps.”

Read the full story.