March 31, 2017

Best of the States

Coal ash: "Why would we be importing it?"

AP Richmond reporter Sarah Rankin learned from a state lawmaker that Chinese coal ash was being imported into Virginia, despite millions of tons of ash already stored near power plants, threatening surface and ground water with contamination by heavy metals. Like other states, Virginia is struggling with how to dispose of its existing waste.

Her story pinpointed where the overseas ash was coming from: China, India and Poland over the past two years. While the foreign shipments of the industrial byproduct were moving through Virginia to Wisconsin and Ohio, interviews with concrete producers and coal ash recyclers and sellers showed more ash was being imported into Virginia from other states.

One environmentalist raised the irony of the situation: "We have millions of tons of this sitting along our riverbanks. Why in the world would we be importing it from other states and countries?"

For exposing a problematic industry practice with statewide environmental and health implications, Rankin's story wins this week's Best of the States.

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Sept. 28, 2018

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Florence's environmental toll: coal ash and hog waste

for leading strong AP coverage of the devastation of Hurricane Florence. Biesecker drew on experience to warn readers that the storm would likely cause widespread water pollution from ruptured hog lagoons and swamped coal ash dumps, and scored a series of storm-related scoops. Helber captured iconic images including a widely used aerial shot that earned a rare two-page spread in Time magazine.https://bit.ly/2xMWdwMhttps://bit.ly/2NEn7lrhttps://bit.ly/2zw7WlNhttps://bit.ly/2Og1G9U

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Nov. 08, 2019

Best of the States

AP Exclusive: Closing of coal plant on tribal land upends a community and a culture

Coal-burning generating plants are closing in the U.S., and coal mines are shutting down amid worries of climate change and the new economies of renewable energy.

Against that backdrop, correspondents Felicia Fonseca and Susan Montoya Bryan traveled to Arizona’s remote Navajo Generating Station 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. 

In their all-formats package, the pair let workers explain what they were losing, and how the local economy is taking a massive hit with millions of dollars of revenue no longer flowing to the Hopi and Navajo tribes.  

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. 

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Feb. 01, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: Secret diplomacy behind Venezuela’s self-declared interim president

The world watched enthralled on Jan. 23 as little-known Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself president of the struggling South American nation and called on socialist President Nicolas Maduro to resign. More surprising still, the United States, Canada and a host of Latin American countries recognized Guaido almost immediately as the country’s rightful leader.

The timing was clearly no coincidence, but what exactly had happened?

Andean News Director Josh Goodman, Canada Bureau Chief Rob Gillies and Washington newsman Luis Alonso shared first-rate source work to scoop everyone, revealing a coordinated behind-the-scenes push to back Guaido that read like a spy novel. For weeks, a coalition of Latin American governments had launched secret diplomatic efforts, including encrypted messages and a furtive trip by Guaido to Washington, Bogota and Brasilia to build a strategy around the baby-faced Assembly president.

So far, the AP is the only media outlet to have told this story, and it has been widely used inside and outside Venezuela. Even embattled President Maduro praised the AP scoop to supporters at a rally over the weekend.

For their resourceful and consequential news break on one of the top stories in the world, Goodman, Gillies and Alonso win AP’s Best of the Week.

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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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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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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

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

Feb. 01, 2019

Best of the States

Trump rollbacks benefit fossil fuel industry but carry steep cost

Over the past two years, the Trump administration has relentlessly moved to relax or repeal major environmental and safety rules for the fossil fuels industry to further its energy goals. Each change was reported by news outlets, including the AP. But Billings, Montana, correspondent and environment team member Matthew Brown decided to look more deeply into the highly touted savings to industry as well as the societal costs.

Brown painstakingly examined 11 major rules targeted by Trump’s administration, wading through many thousands of pages of government documents. Brown identified $11.6 billion in potential savings for companies that produce, use and transport fossil fuels, with billions more expected from a freeze of vehicle fuel efficiency standards that will hike fuel consumption.

But Brown also discovered that those savings will come at a steep cost, including more premature deaths and illnesses from air pollution, increased greenhouse gas emissions and additional derailments of trains carrying explosive fuels.

His Only on AP story ran on front pages of at least 16 newspapers and on numerous web sites. The Washington Post displayed both the main-bar the accompanying glance.

For in-depth reporting and comprehensive accounting of the administration’s actions on important environmental and safety issues, Brown wins this week’s Best of the States.

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Dec. 14, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP investigation reveals torture in Yemen’s Houthi rebel prisons

AP investigative reporter Maggie Michael has done landmark reporting on Yemen’s civil war throughout the past year, revealing abuses by the Saudi-led coalition that controls much of the south of the country.

But there had been a major gap in the coverage for all media: putting the same scrutiny on the other side in the conflict, the Houthi rebels who control the north. The Houthis impose strict controls on reporters, and sources are afraid to talk, problems that have prevented journalists from reporting in-depth on abuses carried out by the Houthis during the 4-year-old civil war.

Michael found another way. She and Cairo photographer Nariman El-Mofty travelled to the coalition-controlled city of Marib, where they could meet freely with victims of the Houthis who had fled the rebels’ rule. There, former prisoners described horrifying tortures at the hands of the Houthis. Nariman’s riveting visuals encapsulated the suffering, including photos of a man recovering from horrific acid burns, draped in red bandages.

The reporting, supported partly by a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, was a breakthrough, as it has been rare to see atrocities by Houthis so prominently featured. Rather than denying the story, a top Houthi figure called for an investigation into allegations of torture in the movement’s prisons.

For their investigation that exposed in raw, excruciating detail the scope of torture committed by the Houthis, Michael and El-Mofty share AP's Best of the Week award.

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Nov. 25, 2016

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP report: Today's energy system could blow Paris climate goals

for using scientific sources and data to reveal that the world energy system has already locked in enough carbon emissions in existing power plants and transportation to blow the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement. The story, written from the site of one of Europe's dirtiest coal power plants, was accompanied by Michael Sohn photos and a video edited and scripted by Stockholm videojournalist David Keyton using footage from Germany, Sweden and California. http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/current...

Nov. 05, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP explores tense intersection of commerce, gangs, politics in Haiti

obtained rare access to members of Haiti’s wealthy elite — and to the violent gangs that threaten them — for a deep look at doing business in this failed state. Using contacts and determination and building trust, they explored how entrepreneurs continue to operate in an environment where more than 100 heavily armed gangs control access to the port, the fuel and the food supply chains. Kidnappings and killings are not uncommon in the impoverished capital, leaderless after the assassination of President Jovenel Moïse.During their reporting, the pair was threatened verbally by people who didn't want to be photographed and with weapons by gangsters who didn't want them there at all. After many attempts, Buenos-Aires based photographer Abd and freelance reporter Arce finally gained access to Barbecue, the leader of a coalition of gangs who presents himself as a populist fighting economic injustices, but who operates as an armed thug instilling fear in the people.The piece was among AP’s top stories in reader engagement and earned kudos from Pulitzer Center funders: “(Abd and Arce) avoided all the easy frameworks ... and did a fantastic job depicting the abject inequity that is at the root of Haiti's social/economic collapse,” wrote Executive Editor Marina Walker. https://aplink.news/wzdhttps://aplink.photos/b47

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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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Jan. 06, 2017

Best of the States

Disability and desperation

When federal prosecutors alleged that Kentucky attorney Eric Conn had funneled $600 million in fraudulent disability claims to Appalachia, Claire Galofaro saw a chance to tell a much bigger story.

Over a period of months, Galofaro, the AP’s administrative correspondent in Louisville, sat in on federal hearings and heard the anguish of Conn’s former clients, some severely disabled, others who seemed like they might be able-bodied enough to be working. She met with many who were being asked to prove their disability years after it had first been approved by the government, forced to go searching for old medical records in order to make a case they thought they had already made.

She learned about three people who killed themselves rather than face the prospect of demonstrating, once again, that they were disabled and unable to work.

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Feb. 19, 2021

Best of the States

AP team finds diversity of politics and religion among West Virginia evangelicals

A tweet was the seed for this illuminating story. “Most people in my rural, Appalachian hometown are being radicalized at church by their pastor, which is the person they trust the most,” it read. AP’s Global Religion team ran with it.

Reporter Luis Andres Henao and visual journalist Jessie Wardarski visited the parishioners of three churches in Bluefield, West Virginia, including one pastor who had attended the Jan. 6 Washington rally that degenerated into a riot. The AP pair spent weeks convincing him to sit down for an interview. The result was an all-formats package of diverse congregations seeking common ground, even as they are divided on the role of evangelical Christianity in American politics. 

For applying gentle persuasion and balanced reporting to produce a nuanced look at religion and politics in one West Virginia town, Henao and Wardarski win this week’s Best of the States award. 

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