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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May 13, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

All-formats package: Environmental workers facing violence

teamed up to vividly illustrate why environmental work is emerging as one of the world’s most dangerous professions, as seen through the lens of one such worker in Haiti. In 2020 alone, a record 227 environmental workers were killed globally, according to one human rights organization.Daniel reported from New York while Haiti video journalist Luxama and his colleague, photographer Joseph, followed marine biologist Jean Wiener during a rare trip to his native Haiti. Wiener has been forced to do most of his conservation work from afar because of rampant violence in his homeland.With tight collaboration between AP departments and bureaus, the compelling package of text and visuals transports readers to the ominously named Massacre River as Wiener confronts climate change in a poor nation hit hard by global warming — and violence.Read more

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April 24, 2020

Best of the States

The cost of Trump environmental rollbacks: Health woes hit minority communities hardest

With African American and Hispanic communities in the Houston region already suffering higher rates of asthma and other diseases than the nation at large, AP’s Ellen Knickmeyer decided to focus on the area for a story on ordinary Americans living through the Trump administration’s public health and environmental rollbacks. 

The administration was cutting back on rules limiting and monitoring harmful industrial pollutants, slashing enforcement and weakening an industrial-disaster rule.

Knickmeyer, a Washington-based environmental issues reporter, spent months searching out Houston residents, telling their stories along with deep reporting on the regulatory actions and their consequences.

Former EPA Director Gina McCarthy was among many retweeting the story, calling it a “must read” article.

For a rich, insightful look at the consequences of the Trump administration’s regulatory rollbacks on vulnerable communities, Knickmeyer wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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March 11, 2022

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP journalists deliver global coverage of dire UN climate report

definitively examined, from six continents and in all formats, the impact of climate change, merging the science behind a major — and sobering — United Nations report with the voices of people who are living it.Weeks before the Feb. 28 release, climate news director Peter Prengaman, reporters Seth Borenstein and Frank Jordans, both veterans of climate coverage, and Stockholm-based video journalist David Keyton brainstormed the plan, putting AP’s global footprint to use: Instead of just one big, all-formats story — the norm for previous reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — AP would use the report as a jumping-off point to explore the state of climate change from each continent. Read more

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April 14, 2017

Best of the States

Brown reveals thousands of safety defects on oil train lines in 44 states

As domestic production of oil has increased in recent years, Billings, Montana, Correspondent Matthew Brown closely followed derailments of trains carrying volatile crude. A train from North Dakota jumped the track, exploded and killed 47 people in Canada in 2013. In Brown’s own state, a derailment near the town of Culbertson spilled 27,000 gallons of oil in 2015. Last year, Brown reported that more than 800 potential safety violations were discovered on Union Pacific freight lines after a fiery June 2016 oil train derailment in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

But Brown wanted to know how widespread the problem really was. By pushing repeatedly for public records and working with a longtime source, Brown was able to exclusively report the results of a two-year federal inspection program for the nation’s oil trains – and he revealed that some safety defects uncovered where similar to ones blamed in derailments that triggered huge fires or oil spills in Oregon, Virginia, Montana and elsewhere. For his AP NewsBreak, Brown wins this week’s Best of the States award.

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Feb. 12, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Source work reveals push for diversity in climate fight

worked sources on Stafford’s newly expanded beat to land an exclusive on the launch of a climate justice campaign.The effort by the group Donors of Color Network would shift millions in funding toward environmental and justice groups led by Black Americans, other people of color and Indigenous people and came on the heels of President Joe Biden pledging to make environmental justice central to the fight against climate change. Stafford, AP investigative race writer, brought the story to life by taking readers on a tour of neighborhoods in Detroit’s 48217 ZIP code, where residents live against the backdrop of heavy industrial sites that have long been a major concern in the nation’s largest Black-majority city. Baltimore-based photographer Julio Cortez’s photos of Donors of Color co-founder Ashindi Maxton, the story’s lead character, rounded out the package. https://bit.ly/3d4zfaP

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Dec. 01, 2016

Best of the States

US moves to block mining near Yellowstone

The Obama administration is racing in its final days to keep industry out of natural and environmentally sensitive areas throughout the U.S. West, where the incoming Trump administration has raised fears of loosened regulations on federal lands.

Billings, Montana Correspondent Matt Brown _ who has an acute sense of the value in reporting on land out West _ has broken news repeatedly to keep the AP ahead.

Brown is deeply sourced with federal interior officials and consistently checks in with them. He was working on a story week about officials canceling oil and gas leases on land near Glacier National Park that's considered sacred to tribes – also an APNewsBreak – when Interior Secretary Sally Jewell mentioned she was coming back to Montana in a week.

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Sept. 27, 2019

Best of the Week — First Winner

‘Immersive’ account of coral reef restoration leads ‘What can be saved?’ series

The first installment of “What Can Be Saved?” – a ground-breaking new series from The Associated Press – was so deeply immersive that viewers could almost smell the sea-salt of Jamaica. The island nation was the first stop in what will be 12 installments reported from five continents focusing not on the well-documented gloom of climate change, but on often unsung people around the world who are combating environmental destruction in big ways and small.

From Jamaica, the AP reporting team of photographers David Goldman and David Phillip, science writer Christina Larson and video journalist Kathy Young came back with the astounding narrative of underwater nurseries where islanders are growing coral by hand, branch by branch on underwater lines, to reverse decades of destruction to Jamaican reefs.

The series is already attracting global attention, and with 10 more episodes to come, teamwork throughout the AP has been essential in pulling together all the pieces of “What Can Be Saved?” into a seamless product that AP clients can use in whole or in part.

For their thoughtful, painstaking and visually stunning reporting that launched a mammoth team effort to approach the climate-emergency story with fresh eyes and tell it in compelling new ways, Goldman, Phillip, Larson and Young win AP’s Best of the Week honors.

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April 13, 2018

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP Exclusive: EPA's Pruitt spent millions on security, travel

Environmental Protection Administrator Scott Pruitt’s lavish spending and deep concerns about security had put his future in the Trump Cabinet in jeopardy. But what was the cost to taxpayers?

AP beat reporter Michael Biesecker, whose aggressive coverage of Pruitt began more than a year ago when Trump nominated him for the EPA post, began working sources still at the agency and those who had left in search of the answer. His findings – that Pruitt spent about a whopping $3 million on security in the first year – win the Beat of the Week award.

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July 20, 2018

Best of the States

AP investigation: Pence family’s failed gas station empire cost taxpayers millions to clean up

Indianapolis correspondent Brian Slodysko’s investigative story started from one sentence buried in a news release. It said that the public was paying for environmental cleanup at a contaminated petroleum storage site in Indianapolis that Vice President Mike Pence’s family abandoned after their gas station empire went bankrupt in 2004. The release didn’t mention Pence, just Kiel Brothers.

After attending a demolition celebration, where he photographed a crew tearing down a massive tank that had long-blighted a neighborhood, Slodysko worked over the coming months to detail how extensive contamination from the business was – and quantify the public cost.

The result: Indiana taxpayers paid more than $21 million to clean up after the company, in all likelihood a conservative figure because many of the documents were redacted, missing or incomplete.

But cost alone doesn’t tell the whole story. Slodysko’s review of public records showed that the Pence family business – which was run by Mike Pence’s older brother Greg, who is now running for Congress – repeatedly received favorable treatment from the state.

The story ran, or was teased, on the front page of at least eight Indiana papers, including the Indianapolis Star, which ran the story and photo across the top. It was also featured on the website of the Columbus Republic, Mike Pence’s hometown newspaper.

For an investigation that revealed the millions of tax dollars used to clean up more than 85 contaminated sites in three states, Slodysko earns this week’s Best of the States award.

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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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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. 08, 2016

Best of the States

Digging in for winter at Dakota Access pipeline protest

The Associated Press has aggressively covered the Dakota Access pipeline since even before construction began on the four-state pipeline to carry oil from North Dakota. The AP tracked the approval process and then was there every step of the way as the project spawned demonstrations from Native Americans and others who set up protest camps by the pipeline’s final piece near the Missouri River, saying construction would damage cultural artifacts and that a pipeline leak could pollute tribal water supplies. In the past few months, the AP has had coverage almost every day.

While Bismarck staffer James MacPherson had covered the story cross-format with the help of colleagues, a visually-focused enterprise project was in the works for December, bringing in staff from afar to provide video and photo elements of the largest camp to accompany a piece that was to explore the protest in the context of other issues being faced by Native Americans now and into the Trump administration. On Friday, Nov. 25, the news forced us to speed up our timeline for visuals as the Army Corps of Engineers gave a Dec. 5 deadline for protesters to get off the land.

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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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Sept. 08, 2017

Best of the Week — First Winner

Toxic waste sites flooded; AP on the scene ahead of EPA

Hurricane Harvey inundated homes, flooded freeways and swamped entire neighborhoods. Florida-based reporter Jason Dearen, who was deployed to Houston to help cover the disaster, knew there might be something else submerged beneath the turbid floodwaters. Superfund sites, some of the nation’s most contaminated places, are scattered along the low-lying Gulf coastline, including in the Houston area.

Dearen had been trying to obtain a copy of a federal study about the risks of flooding at those sites from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but had been stonewalled for two weeks. Harvey’s destruction provided new urgency to his request. For help, he reached out to Washington investigative reporter Michael Biesecker, a fellow member of the AP’s environmental beat team.

Through creative reporting that relied on data, collaboration and Dearen’s newfound skills as a boat man, they became the first journalists to report on the extent of flooding at contaminated waste sites in and around Houston. The on-site observations by Dearen and freelance 360-video producer Claudia Prat raised concerns that some of the decades-old toxic stew left over from the oil, gas and chemical industries may have mixed with floodwaters. They also were on the ground – and on the water – before the EPA’s own inspectors. For their efforts, Dearen, Biesecker and Prat win Beat of the Week.

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