The Renewable Resources Report

Choke Hold Series Exposes the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Fight Against Climate Policy, Science and Clean Energy


L.J. Turner is a rancher who lost the freshwater his grandfather bequeathed him to the strip mines of big coal companies in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Bryan Latkanich can’t drink his well water anymore, and he is sure the fracking rigs he allowed on his property in rural Pennsylvania are to blame. Diane Eckhardt, a peach farmer in central Texas, has watched her crop fail in the warming climate, while her congressman denies the problem even exist. 

And there’s Bethel Brock, a coal miner from Virginia, who had to fight against company doctors and lawyers for 14 years to get the black lung benefits he was due under federal law. He needed the help of InsideClimate News’ reporting to secure them. 

L.J., Bryan, Diane and Bethel don’t know each other, but they have all had their lives upended by the same force. They helped tell large and complicated stories in simple, human terms. 

In this series, InsideClimate News exposes the depth and breadth of the fossil fuel industry’s grip over these individuals—and over the richest society in the world and, by extension, the whole globe. The stories explain how the industry guards its interests and, most consequentially, how it has marshaled its inordinate wealth and influence to stop action that would curtail fossil fuel extraction and use, the source of its prosperity and the main cause of climate change. 

InsideClimate News developed this project during inauguration week, 2017. The election delivered to the White House an opponent of climate action poised to accelerate fossil fuel development. It was a surprise victory for an industry that had been working decades to take full advantage of the moment. InsideClimate News set out to understand exactly how it has been able to succeed for so long on such a grand scale, despite the accelerating planetary impacts, and spent a year answering this question with precision.

The series is called “Choke Hold” because the journalists found the industry’s grip to be so tight. They compiled a chronicle of its fight against climate policy, science and clean energy—and how it suffocates the aspirations of ordinary Americans who happen to be in the way. 

L.J., Bryan, Diane and Bethel helped bring life to a project that might otherwise have constituted a dry treatise. Their human narratives were combined with explanation, investigation and graphic art, and then made the storytelling richer through short documentary videos featuring each of them. 

The series puts forward the idea that industry applies its choke hold mostly in plain view. It hires expensive law firms, controls regulatory policy and enforcement, and finances the campaigns of elected officials. It maintains its grip thanks to long-standing tax breaks and lucrative subsidies, by undermining the progress of alternative energy, and through persistent and ubiquitous misinformation. 

The stories in “Choke Hold” investigates all these policies and practices. Each one is a case study of its own, and examines the choke hold one finger at a time. 

Read the seven-part “Choke Hold” series here:

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