Sept. 10, 2021

Best of the Week — First Winner

Resourceful post-hurricane reporting yields exclusives on Louisiana oil spills

As Hurricane Ida slammed into Louisiana — launching strong AP coverage that would stretch from the Gulf Coast to the Northeast — Washington-based investigative reporter Michael Biesecker contacted federal and state officials who kept telling him they had no confirmed reports of oil or chemical spills along the coast.

But Biesecker’s inspection of aerial photos by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration told a different story. He found a worrying miles-long oil slick in the Gulf of Mexico off the region’s main oil and gas port, and another sheen coming from a massive oil refinery along the Mississippi River.

His persistence led to a series of exclusives on the two oil spills, including the news that divers had identified a broken undersea pipeline as the apparent source of the offshore slick.

For smart reporting that put AP ahead of the competition — and even ahead of the government and energy companies themselves — on an important environmental story in the wake of Ida, Biesecker is AP’s Best of the Week — First Winner.

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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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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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Sept. 02, 2016

Best of the Week — First Winner

Private lives are exposed as WikiLeaks spills its secrets

When WikiLeaks announced the release of hundreds of Saudi diplomatic documents last year, AP’s Raphael Satter in Paris and Maggie Michael in Cairo provided some of the most aggressive coverage of the leak. They broke news about everything from the secretive kingdom’s checkbook diplomacy to unpaid limousine bills and cheating students.

But as they plowed through the documents, they also noticed medical and identity documents -- potentially serious privacy violations. Satter flagged the issue but never got a formal response from WikiLeaks; with other stories on the horizon and only a handful of questionable documents in hand, Satter and Michael shelved the subject.

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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 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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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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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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Aug. 20, 2021

Beat of the Week

(Honorable Mention)

AP: Climate contributing to wildfires on tropical Pacific isles

reported exclusively in all formats on climate-fueled wildfires flaring up on tropical Pacific islands from Hawaii to Micronesia, causing environmental harm from mountaintops to coral reefs.Aware of persistent wildfire problems on some of the Hawaiian Islands and Guam, Honolulu-based Jones and Jakarta, Indonesia-based Milko reported that climate change is making once-lush areas of the islands hotter, drier and more susceptible to fire. As a result, runoff from burned areas damages coral reefs, and the fires are converting critical watershed forests to grasslands that are more prone to fire in the future.While Milko reported on the situation in Guam, where the top fire official said most fires were arson, Jones traveled to the Big Island of Hawaii which was experiencing the largest wildfire in the state’s history. He shot photos and video of firefighters at work, and gained access to private Native Hawaiian homestead land where homes and vehicles were destroyed on the slopes of Mauna Kea. He spoke to residents and evacuees for a historical perspective on the drier, more volatile land, while fire officials and scientists in Honolulu explained how climate change contributes to the fires. https://aplink.news/o3nhttps://aplink.video/mny

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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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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