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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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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April 23, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Insiders: Pandemic forces change in European fashion industry

reported one of the first major forensic assessments of the coronavirus’s impact on Europe’s multibillion-dollar fashion industry, hit hard by the pandemic. Adamson’s years-long source work in Paris and beyond put him in touch with economists, insiders, fashion editors and top designers, including Stella McCartney, who told AP that the virus has accelerated reform in the industry.Adamson’s reporting, complemented by Mori’s engaging photography, showed how Asia’s early containment of the virus could give the world’s largest continent and its powerful consumers great leverage over Europe’s luxury industry and could lead to European designers pandering more to Asian consumers. https://bit.ly/3dwFMuP

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Jan. 15, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Records confirm Trump devotees fueled US Capitol riot

led an effort to dig into the backgrounds of more than 120 people who were either arrested or emerged on social media after storming the U.S. Capitol, finding they were overwhelmingly made up of longtime Trump supporters, including Republican Party officials and donors and far-right militants.AP’s fast-breaking team effort to review social media posts, voter registrations, court files and other public records was the most comprehensive look yet at those involved in the riot, giving lie to claims by right-wing pundits that the violence was perpetrated by left-wing antifa infiltrators. The detailed background work included calls, and in some cases even doorknocks, to nearly all whose names emerged from the Jan. 6 takeover.The AP found that many of the rioters were adherents of the QAnon conspiracy theory as well as claims by Trump that the vote had been stolen. Several had openly threatened violence against Democrats and Republicans they considered insufficiently loyal to the president.The team’s story, accompanied by AP photos taken inside the Capitol, scored huge play and was featured prominently on major websites. It stayed among the top stories on AP News for two straight days. https://bit.ly/2Kd7Tn1

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May 10, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Tip leads to exposé on ‘lawless’ service dog industry

for turning a tip about a service dog trainer with a troubling track record into an exposé on the shocking lack of regulation in the industry. Breed found several examples around the country that highlight what one expert calls a “lawless” industry with a near complete absence of standards and oversight that leaves needy families vulnerable to incompetence and fraud. https://bit.ly/2J6t1sU

Oct. 18, 2019

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

Venezuelan fishermen live, work in oil industry wasteland

for a beautifully shot all-formats package that captures the collapse of Venezuela’s once-prosperous oil industry through fishermen and women who scratch out an existence on the blackened, sticky shores of Lake Maracaibo. People cast their nets and lines in waters fouled by black gunk seeping from broken rigs that once fueled the country’s wealth. Abd spent several days in the villages of Cabimas, documenting the home life and workday of the fishers. He returned with a team including Smith and Nunes. They watched the fishermen struggle with oily nets, and interviewed women who scrub oil from fish and crabs before eating or selling them. On his second trip to Cabimas, Abd brought a 19th century-style box camera to make black and white portraits of the fishermen and industrial decay around them. The package played widely on web sites including the Chicago Tribune, Houston Chronicle, Miami Herald, San Francisco Chronicle, The Seattle Times, MSN and Yahoo.https://bit.ly/2pd49quhttps://bit.ly/2Bnd5wwhttps://bit.ly/2MqwenJ

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March 06, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP analysis: Manufacturers of generic opioids fueled crisis

delivered a fast, smart follow-up after U.K.-based Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals announced a U.S. settlement over its role in the opioid epidemic. The team’s analysis revealed that Mallinckrodt and one other generic drug manufacturer were responsible for the vast majority of high-dosage prescription painkillers – billions of generic pills – distributed throughout the U.S. during the height of the opioid epidemic. https://bit.ly/2IoXuQG

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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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Nov. 30, 2020

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP connects palm oil industry, top brands to abuse of women

followed up on their initial reporting that exposed widespread labor abuse in the palm oil industry, conducting a comprehensive investigation into the brutal treatment of women in the production of the omnipresent ingredient, including rapes by plantation supervisors, serious health issues from toxic chemicals and injuries from back-breaking loads. The pair then traced the oil produced by these women to the supply chains of top Western beauty brands — including conglomerates that make billions of dollars as they market the empowerment of women.Mason and McDowell persuaded dozens of female workers to tell their searing stories, spending months getting the women to trust them and then arranging clandestine meetings in an effort to protect the workers from retaliation by plantation owners. They bypassed the stonewalling of major Western brands that refused to say whether their products contain palm oil by using company data and U.S. Customs records to link the workers’ abuse to the brands’ palm oil supply chains.The package featured striking digital display, video and evocative photos by Indonesia-based stringer Binsar Bakkara, as well as a powerful series of closeups of workers’ hands cradling familiar products containing the fruits of their labor.The story is nearing 250,000 page views on AP News. The Clorox Company, which owns Burt’s Bees Inc., said it would raise the allegations of abuses with its suppliers, calling AP’s findings “incredibly disturbing.” https://bit.ly/3liKAV3https://bit.ly/2VeVUXRhttps://bit.ly/3mlXgfd

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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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Jan. 11, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

AP traces child labor from Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields to major brands, Girl Scout cookies

For the third installment of their groundbreaking investigation into labor abuse in Asia’s palm oil industry, reporters Robin McDowell and Margie Mason linked child labor to the supply chains of the makers of popular cereals, candies and ice creams, including KitKats, Oreos and Cap’n Crunch. They also traced the oil to that most American treat: Girl Scout cookies. 

Joined by photographers Binsar Bakkara and Mark Humphrey, and video journalist Allen Breed, their reporting found that some tens of thousands of children toil in the palm fields, some kept from school and forced to work for free or for little pay. Some are trafficked.

The framing of the story — through the eyes of a young girl in the fields in Indonesia and a Tennessee Girl Scout campaigning to have palm oil removed from the cookies — resonated with readers; reaction on social media led the Girl Scouts to address the issue with their suppliers.

For shedding unprecedented light on the children toiling in Southeast Asia’s palm oil fields, and connecting the abusive practice to major consumer brands, McDowell, Mason, Bakkara, Breed and Humphrey share AP’s Best of the Week honors for the week of Dec. 28.

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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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