Published: Dec. 28, 2023 By

The Ted Scripps Fellowships have been bringing award-winning environmental journalists to CU Boulder for 27 years. Fellows embark on a year of courses, projects, field trips, seminars and more— taking advantage of everything university life has to offer. This series is a chance to get to know this year’s cohort of talented journalists beyond what a typical bio page will tell you.

Rebecca HalleckAs a senior editor for The New York Times, Rebecca Halleck contributed to coverage of COVID-19, extreme weather events, policing, and racial justice protests. Prior to her work with The Times, she was a digital editor at the Chicago Tribune. During her fellowship year, Halleck will examine the legal and policy frameworks surrounding climate change and climate action. 


Halleck sat down with CEJ graduate assistant Devin Farmiloe to talk about her work and experience as a fellow.


Could you tell me a bit more about your fellowship project?

When I came into the fellowship, I was really focused on climate litigation, specifically the case Held v. Montana. The premise of that case is that children are suing the government on the basis that they will not have the constitutional right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness because of climate change. I was also interested in the political momentum behind states passing environmental rights amendments or adding similar language to their constitutions. 

But the two law classes I’m taking made me realize that the outcome of the Montana case, while positive for the youth plaintiffs, is actually quite limited in scope. It was a state case, so it only applies within the state of Montana and it doesn’t have any direct impact on emissions. It merely allows state entities to consider climate change when making policy decisions. 

So since arriving at CU, I’ve become much more interested in examining the full legal landscape – policy, market-based solutions, litigation – surrounding climate change and related environmental concerns. 

What led you to this line of research?

I think I’ve always been interested in how laws and the legal system intersect with the real-life problems they seek to fix. For better or worse, I think there are infinite stories — both good and bad — to be told about how public policy reacts to and shapes society. And when you combine that with something as complex and pressing as the climate crisis, as a reporter it just felt like the most important topic at the most important time. Like we’re on a precipice and the way our legal system responds, the way our policies are written, will create new winners and losers. As journalists, how we cover that in real-time as it unfolds is absolutely vital. 

That sounds like a lot of heavy knowledge to grapple with. Are you enjoying your time in the fellowship so far?

I'm loving it. I really like all the activities; the guest speakers and field trips are really fun. The crew we have here is really nice too. I was afraid that I wouldn't have any friends and that I would be really lonely here, but we are like a family. That's been really great. I've also been really excited about the number of experts and professors on campus who are willing to give their time. The classes that I get to take are great too. I've been telling people this is the most fun version of school I've ever gotten to do because I don't have to do the assignments, but I get to do the learning. 

What are your two favorite classes?

I am taking environmental law as well as climate change law and policy and I like both of them for different reasons. Environmental law has done a really good job of explaining how we got to this moment, especially in terms of climate legislation and litigation. But then climate change law and policy are more future-focused. It's like, what's coming up? What are the avenues still available for reducing emissions? What kind of policies are actually working? They're very different.

The interesting thing that I wasn't expecting is that in these law classes, there are actually a fair number of students who aren't law students at all. They come in with a scientific or engineering background, so they can kind of explain that half of it. And then there are law students that are actually already interning really interesting places like the EPA, and so they can add some additional backstory. The other students have been kind of a big surprise like I expected to really be interested in what the professors had to say. But the other students have been a resource as well. 

What do you like to do outside journalism? 

I love hiking. That's one of the best things about being here in Boulderyou just walk out your door and there's a trail. I love reading. So having some time to read fiction and nonfiction that's not related to any work I'm doing has been really nice. When you're working in a newsroom, you feel like all you have time to do is read the news. When you're a little bit separated from that news cycle, you actually have time to read for learning's sake, which has been really nice.