AP correspondents Felicia Fonseca and Susan Montoya Bryan traveled to a remote tribal generating station in Arizona, and in words, photos and video showed how the demise of one coal plant is causing upheaval for hundreds of workers, their families, the community and two tribal nations.
Coal-burning generating plants are closing in the U.S., and coal mines are shutting down. Worries of climate change and the new economies of renewable energy are disrupting an industry and upending the livelihoods of the people involved.
Against that backdrop, Flagstaff, Arizona, correspondent Felicia Fonseca and Albuquerque, New Mexico, supervisory correspondent Susan Montoya Bryan traveled to the remote Navajo Generating Station — on Navajo Nation near the Arizona-Utah border — to the tell the story of workers, their families, a community and the tribal nations who have depended on coal and are feeling the profound effects of the plant’s impending closure.
After more than 15 years of reporting and building a reputation for accuracy and fairness with an often reticent Native American community, Fonseca was granted nearly unfettered access that had been denied to local and national media outlets, including National Geographic. She and Montoya were able to take readers from the coal silo control room to the smokestacks, 750 feet up, and aboard the last trip of the electric coal train linking the mine to the generating plant.
Fonseca’s record of accuracy and fairness with the Native American community gave the AP nearly unfettered access that had been denied other media.
In their all-formats package, the pair let workers explain what they were losing — lifelong, good-paying jobs in their own community, scholarships for their children and even a love of the railroad. Lost, too, is coal used for heating homes and for ceremonial fires, while the local economy takes a massive hit with millions of dollars of revenue no longer flowing to the tribal budgets of the Hopi and Navajo.
The story was one of AP’s top 10 both Saturday and Sunday, earning high readership and engagement. Flagstaff’s newspaper, the Arizona Daily Sun, made the AP story its centerpiece on Sunday, devoting two full pages to the package. It also ran on countless websites, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, and ABC quickly put it out for its affiliates.
For a comprehensive, compelling look at the impact of coal’s decline on a community and a culture, Fonseca and Montoya earn this week’s Best of the States award.