June 28, 2019

Best of the States

AP Analysis: EPA data says US air quality is slipping; EPA regulation could make it worse

Washington science writer Seth Borenstein knew the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was not going to notify anyone when it posted new data on the nation’s air quality for 2018, but he knew where it would be posted. He also knew that the Trump administration was poised to replace an Obama-era clean-air rule with a new regulation that was friendlier to coal-fired power plants, so he kept checking for the agency’s data.

When the data finally showed up, Borenstein teamed with New York-based Health and Science data journalist Nicky Forster to evaluate the data, put it in context and run it by scientists. Forster even pointed out errors that the EPA was forced to correct.

Their persistence made AP the first to report that the annual number of days of poor air quality in the U.S. had increased for the second year in a row, after decades of improvement. The story ran on the eve of the EPA’s announcement of its loosened regulation, undermining the rationale for the new standards with the government’s own numbers. Trump’s new rule, experts told the AP, could turn what is so far a modest backslide into a deadly trend.

For diligent reporting and sophisticated analysis to hold a federal agency accountable for its data and regulatory policy, Borenstein and Forster earn this week’s Best of the States award.

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Oct. 06, 2017

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Chief Texas oil regulator vacationed at the height of hurricane

Hurricane Harvey killed more than 80 people and triggered historic flooding in Houston and across large swaths of Texas. But it also sparked oil spills and gasoline shortages. Those presented major tests for the state’s Railroad Commission, which, despite its peculiar name, actually regulates the energy industry – with historically lax enforcement.

So when the commission’s executive director, Kim Corley, abruptly resigned, the timing and circumstances made Austin newsman Paul Weber curious. He began making calls and soon secured a tip: Corley had been on vacation and unreachable at the height of the Category 4 hurricane that walloped the industry she was paid $180,000 annually to safeguard.

For his exclusive on a hyper-competitive story, Weber wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Jan. 28, 2022

Best of the Week — First Winner

Deeply reported package explores the shift away from fossil fuels, impact on states, communities

AP reporting on energy policies in all 50 states led to an unexpected discovery: Roughly two-thirds of states in the U.S. plan to use nuclear power as an essential part of their plan to replace fossil fuels.

That resurgence in nuclear energy, despite its downsides, launched AP coverage of the latest nuclear technology and the impact on local communities, particularly those dependent on coal: a small Wyoming town replacing its coal plant with a nontraditional nuclear reactor by a Bill Gates-founded company, and a town in Colorado where coal is being phased out after generations, with no plans to replace it. “We can’t recover from that,” a former mayor told the AP.

The all-formats work showed the nation’s struggles as it shifts energy sources to stave off the worst effects of climate change. And showcasing the AP’s 50-state footprint, a localization guide enabled AP’s customers to bring the debate home for their own audiences. The package played widely at home and abroad, from local papers to national news outlets.

For superior coverage bringing to light developments in energy policy across the country and the effects on people at a local level, the team ofJennifer McDermott, Brady McCombs, Mead Gruver, Patty Nieberg, Rick Bowmer, Elaine Thompson, Manuel Valdes and Natalie Behring is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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March 29, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Black lung sufferers fear for benefits; feds cut the tax that funds care

for revealing that in the turmoil over the government shutdown, a tax that pays for medical treatment for black lung sufferers was quietly cut in half. Lovan broke the story with a muscular multimedia package demonstrating the decision’s impact at its most human, visceral level – and placed that in the context of the Trump administration’s promises to save the coal industry. https://bit.ly/2YkBNYuhttps://bit.ly/2WveFFd

Dec. 08, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP reveals how dirty US fuel byproduct contributes to India’s dangerously polluted air

Oil extracted from the tar sands of Canada has contributed to booming production among American refineries, but it also has created a messy legacy: Ton upon ton of a filthy byproduct called petroleum coke. U.S. utilities don’t want it because of its extremely high sulfur content, leaving refineries with one option – getting rid of it – because stockpiling had stirred community outcries. Tammy Webber, a Chicago-based reporter with the environmental beat team, wondered: If refineries couldn’t offload the substance in the U.S., what were they doing with it?

Through a year’s worth of detective work, Webber and her beat team colleague in New Delhi, Katy Daigle, traced the shadowy network that trades in oil refineries' bottom-of-the-barrel leftovers. They found that India was the leading destination of “petcoke” from the U.S., and Indian officials had no idea the amount of petcoke flowing into the country was 20 times more than just six years before. Nor did they know how it was being used in a country already choking on some of the world’s dirtiest air.

Within 24 hours of the story hitting the wire, India’s government announced it would phase out imports of petcoke and had begun working on a policy to end the practice.

For revealing the secretive transport of petroleum coke from the U.S. to one of the world’s most polluted countries, and for drawing an immediate reaction from the government of India, Webber and Daigle win this week’s Beat of the Week.

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June 09, 2017

Best of the States

Diversifying pot: How some states are luring minorities into the legal business

For years, marijuana arrests have put minorities in jail at a disproportionately higher rate than whites. Now that recreational marijuana is legal in eight states, the majority of those who benefit most from the profitable industry are white.

Reporters Janie Har, from the Associated Press Race & Ethnicity team, and Bob Salsberg, from the Massachusetts statehouse bureau, set out to explore this dichotomy and how local governments are responding to it.

For their compelling explanation of the cannabis racial divide, Har and Salsberg receive this week’s $300 Best of the States award.

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Sept. 18, 2020

Best of the States

Putting a human face to the numbers: A waiter made homeless by the pandemic

Since the pandemic took hold in America, myriad stories have covered the broad economic impact of millions laid off or underemployed. But few have captured how the chilling trickle-down effect is changing lives.

Enter Kelli Kennedy. The Florida reporter produced a compelling, poignant story on one man's struggle with the devastating effects of the coronavirus shutdowns. Orlando resident Jeff Lello lost his waiter job, ended up homeless and briefly lived in a tent in the woods. 

The story was among AP’s most-read of the week, drawing feedback from readers, colleagues and even politicians.

For a stark narrative of unemployment wrought by the pandemic, Kennedy’s story wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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July 05, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP Exclusive: Potential conflict for Trump’s UN nominee

for exclusively obtaining documents that expose a potential conflict of interest for Kelly Craft, President Donald Trump’s nominee for United Nations ambassador, on the topics of climate change and fossil fuels. When senior Environmental Protection Agency officials sent an email to Craft, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, the acknowledgment email they received wasn’t from the ambassador. It was from her husband, coal magnate Joseph Craft, a wealthy GOP donor who has joined the coal industry in pressing for access and regulatory relief from the EPA and the Trump administration. It wasn’t the first time the Crafts had blurred roles – and email accounts – raising questions as senators consider her nomination to the U.N. Knickmeyer found several other examples of potential conflicts. https://bit.ly/2LugYWy

Sept. 04, 2020

Best of the States

AP investigation: Thousands of environmental waivers granted amid pandemic

When the Trump administration waived enforcement of environmental protections because of the pandemic, a former EPA administrator called it a “license to pollute,” while public health officials told AP that it would be difficult to determine the impact.

At that, five AP reporters around the country embarked on a two-month, brute force effort to wrest loose state data on the suspended regulations.

They found more than 3,000 instances of environmental waivers to oil and gas companies, government facilities and other operations, with nationwide implications for public health. 

For deep reporting and painstaking analysis to document the potential consequences of relaxed environmental regulation, the team of Knickmeyer, Bussewitz, Flesher, Brown and Casey wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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