Winners: SEJ 20th Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment

The Society of Environmental Journalists is pleased to announce the winners of the SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment, which honor the best articles, radio broadcasts and videos released from February 1, 2020, through January 31, 2021, and the best books on environmental topics published in 2020.

The SEJ contest is the world's largest and most comprehensive environmental journalism competition, with 433 entries in spite of reporters all over the world being grounded by the pandemic. Entries are judged by independent panels of journalists and professors.

This year's winners were honored virtually on October 20, 2021, along with the live announcement of the winner of the Nina Mason Pulliam Award and $10,000 cash prize, selected from the first-place winners in all categories, plus a discussion with award-winning panelists sharing what it takes to cover the biggest story on the planet and what lies ahead for the future of this critical beat. If you missed it, watch the recording of the ceremony and panel discussion (see participants here), and check out interviews with all the first-place winners below.


SEJ's 2021 Awards for Reporting on the Environment are...


Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Large
Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Small
Outstanding Beat Reporting, Large
Outstanding Beat Reporting, Small
Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Large
Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Small
Outstanding Feature Story, Large
Outstanding Feature Story, Small
Outstanding Student Reporting
Rachel Carson Environment Book Award

SEJ's 2021 Distinguished Judges
SEJ's 2021 Awards Committee

2021 Rules


Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Large


First Place

"Toxic Legacy" by Catherine Herridge, correspondent, and Jessica Kegu, producer, for CBS News

Video screenshot of Toxic Legacy


Story links:

  1. "Uzbek Base That Housed U.S. Troops Allegedly Had '7 to 9 Times Higher Than Normal' Radiation, Yellowcake Uranium"
  2. "VA, Defense Department Under New Pressure To Help Ailing Veterans Who Served at Toxic Base"
  3. "Acting Defense Secretary Drafts Executive Order To Help Those Who Served at Toxic Base: 'Let's Err on the Side of the Veteran'"
  4. "Female Veterans Blame Toxic Military Base for Miscarriages, Cancers"
  5. "In Last Hours of Presidency, Trump Signs Executive Order for Veterans Who Served at Toxic Base After 9/11"

Judges' comments: "This months-long investigation by CBS News documented serious health hazards from toxic waste at the Karshi-Khanabad ("K2") military base in Uzbekistan, where thousands of American military members served.

"CBS correspondent Catherine Herridge disclosed the unwillingness of the V.A. to acknowledge K2's toxic threat to military service members, many of whom suffered debilitating illnesses. Herridge's tenacious reporting finally resulted in an on-camera promise from the Acting Secretary of Defense to remedy the situation, and former President Trump later signed an executive order recognizing K2 veterans and mandating a comprehensive study by the Defense Department of any health consequences related to toxic exposures at K2."


Second Place

"When the Wells Run Dry" by Mark Olalde and Ryan Menezes for Center for Public Integrity and the Los Angeles Times (in partnership)

Story links:

  1. "California's Multibillion-Dollar Problem: The Toxic Legacy of Old Oil Wells"
  2. "Deserted Oil Wells Haunt Los Angeles With Toxic Fumes and Enormous Cleanup Costs"

Judges' comments: "This collaborative investigation produced by the Center for Public Integrity and the Los Angeles Times revealed that the 35,000 dry oil wells across California require a massive cleanup that state and federal governments are not prepared to clean up even as the wells continue to spew dangerous fumes throughout adjacent communities. The two-part series, supported by a months-long effort to gather data from multiple federal, state and local government agencies, revealed that even though oil well operators post bonds to finance cleanups, California needs $6 billion to clean up these wells in light of the fact that just $110 million is available. Extensive mapping and data aggregation helped create a rich accessible package. The series studied the state and also specifically devoted one piece to the challenge just faced by Los Angeles where nearly 1,000 dry wells are monitored by two inspectors. Among the risk posed by these wells sitting in dense neighborhoods are the leak of noxious fumes as well as the risk that at any point the wells could prompt potentially catastrophic blowouts and explosions. It is a rare urban problem for Los Angeles and one that in this investigation produced mechanisms for residents of the sprawling metropolis to learn whether they live near risky wells. Regulators forced one oil company to plug a well that was the subject of the series' reporting and public officials are pushing for more stringent regulations as a result of the series."


Third Place

"Suncor Oil Refinery Pollution in Low-Income North Metro Denver" by Bruce Finley for Denver Post

Story links:

  1. "Suncor Refinery North of Denver Faces State Review of Outdated Permits, Plans $300 Million Push To Be 'Better Not Bigger'"
  2. "Suncor Boiler Fails, Causing Spike in Air Pollution at Commerce City Oil Refinery"
  3. "Suncor Oil Refinery Emitted Elevated Hydrogen Sulfide and Other Gas, at Levels Beyond the Plant That Company Officials Called 'Acceptable'"
  4. "Suncor Energy Oil Refinery North of Denver Emits Burst of 'Clay-Like' and Hydrogen Sulfide Air Pollution"

Judges' comments: "This series of Denver Post stories reveals a history of problems at the Suncor Energy oil refinery including numerous emissions 'accidents' and shamefully lax oversight by government officials. The reports show that the worst of the environmental harm and health hazards affected people living in an underprivileged area of the city, where a vulnerable population had few resources to advocate for better protections. The reporting is excellent, the data is thorough and the results and impact of the series are significant. Regulators are still working to decide what to do, with much at stake since the refinery is the main fuel supplier to Denver International Airport and a major gasoline supplier for the city. The company commissioned an outside consultant to draw up an improvement plan as part of a 2020 settlement with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Included is installation of a $12 million automatic shutdown system. This is very good investigative work on a truly challenging beat during a very difficult year."


First Honorable Mention

"Worker Exposure to Dangerous Chemicals at Rubicon Plant in Geismar Linked to Poor Maintenance Record" by Mark Schleifstein for The Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate |

Story links:

  1. "Worker Exposure to Dangerous Chemicals at Rubicon Plant in Geismar Linked to Poor Maintenance Record" (PDF)
  2. "Rubicon's Lack of Equipment Maintenance Alarms Regulators, But Results in Little Enforcement" (PDF)
  3. "A Look at the 25 Rubicon Accidental Releases Over 10 Years That Potentially Exposed 130 Workers" (PDF)

Judges' comments: "Reporter Mark Schleifstein's deep dive into more than a decade of regulatory documents reveals a pattern of environmental hazards posed to workers at a Louisiana chemical facility. Compelling and thoroughly documented, this series of reports exposed lax maintenance in systems designed to protect workers from life-threatening hazards."


Second Honorable Mention

"Environment Undone" by Tish Sanghera, Pankhuri Kumar and Disha Shetty for IndiaSpend (in partnership with the Pulitzer Center)

Story links:

  1. "Environment vs. Economy: An Approach That Exposes India to COVID-19-Like Infections"
  2. "Building Through Forests: The Story of a Road Widening Project in the Western Ghats"
  3. "This Coal Plant Endangers Forests, Wildlife, People. And India Doesn't Even Need It, Experts Say"
  4. "As Karwar's Port Expansion Threatens Jobs & Fisheries, Fisherfolk Question 'Development'"
  5. "Pipe Dreams: Why Interlinking Ken-Betwa Will Not Solve Bundelkhand's Water Crisis"

Sidebar: "Environment Clearances in India: 2014-2020"

Judges' comments: "This is an impressive collection of investigations into various threats to sustainability and environmental diversity from India's push to prioritize economic growth based on an outdated paradigm that views development and the environment in a zero-sum fashion. The data are clearly explained and the examples bring the issues to life. The illustrations and maps are well designed. In the reporting environment prevailing in India, this was a courageous and ambitious effort that deserves recognition."


Third Honorable Mention

"Plastic Wars" by Rick Young, Fritz Kramer, Emma Schwartz, Laura Sullivan, Orion Donovan-Smith and Fira Abdurachman for FRONTLINE, NPR and the Investigative Reporting Workshop

Story links:

  1. "Plastic Wars" (video)
  2. "Industry Spent Millions Selling Recycling — To Sell More Plastic"
  3. "Companies' New Pledges to Boost Recycling Face Old Pitfalls"
  4. "When Does Recycling Your Plastic Make Sense? The Answer Isn’t So Simple"

Judges' comments: "A nine-month investigation by Frontline, NPR and the Investigative Reporting Workshop took the familiar challenges around plastics pollution and refocused their reporting effort on the plastic industry's programs to position recycling as a meaningful solution to a global problem while at the same time recognizing recycling's significant limitations. In addition the team reported about industry efforts to dump plastic waste elsewhere including reporting from Indonesia."



Kevin Carmody Award for Outstanding Investigative Reporting, Small


First Place

"Dicamba on Trial" by Johnathan Hettinger (reporter), Pam Dempsey, Sky Chadde and Brant Houston (editors) for Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting

Lawsuit story image
© Photo: Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting


Story links:

  1. "Reporter's Notebook: Five Key Takeaways From Trial of Peach Farmer's Lawsuit vs. Bayer, BASF"
  2. "Lawsuit: In Dicamba Decision, EPA Ignored Own Prerequisite, Agency Scientists' Recommendations"
  3. "'We've Got It Everywhere': Dicamba Damaging Trees Across Midwest and South"
  4. "EPA Documents Show Dicamba Damage Worse Than Previously Thought"
  5. "'Buy It Or Else': Inside Monsanto and BASF's Moves To Force Dicamba on Farmers"

Judges' comments: "This reporting project from the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting resulted in exemplary investigative journalism. The clear-eyed writing provided readers with a masterclass in how to build a story with a foundation of sound research and documentation. The series should not be dismissed as regional reporting. The judges felt this story had relevance to environmental policy and agri-business on a global scale."


Second Place

"INVESTIGATION...How Endless Oil Spills Leave Niger Delta Severely Polluted, Livelihoods Ruined and Citizens Poisoned" by Kelechukwu Iruoma and Ruth Olurounbi for Ripples Nigeria

Judges' comments: "The investigation into the harms to the Goi people of Nigeria due to oil spills caused by Shell Petroleum is a gut-wrenching piece of reporting. It's all the more impressive because of the use of original research testing blood samples of community members with the help of a doctor. This is an ambitious story from a newsroom with few resources utilizing unique methodology and deep trust of community members. This impactful piece was an inspiring piece of journalism that shows that David can indeed take on Goliath."


Third Place

"Spruced Up" by Niall Sargent for

  1. "Ireland's Tree-Planting Policies Are Bad News for Biodiversity"
  2. "'David vs. Goliath': Why Individuals Are Challenging Ireland's Forestry Licences"
  3. "Forestry Backlog Continues As Licences Overturned Due to Biodiversity Concerns"
  4. "Spruced Up: Living With Forestry" (video)

Judges' comments: "We gave high marks to Niall Sargent and Noteworthy for introducing us to a fresh topic, written with clarity and backed with impressive original research. The piece did an outstanding job of explaining the significance of an under-covered area of biodiversity. Readers could recognize this is both a local issue and universal concern." (One judge also noted that "Pickling away in the acids of our remaining peatlands…" was the best opening phrase of any entry in this category.)


First Honorable Mention

"ENDANGERED: Protected by Police, Chinese Illegal Miners Pollute Water, Farmland in Nigeria Villages" by Chinedu Asadu for TheCable

  1. "INVESTIGATION: How Chinese Miners Endangering FCT Residents Enjoy Police Protection"
  2. "FG Indicts Chinese Mining Company for Water Pollution in FCT"
  3. "FG: We Found High Deposits of Lead in FCT Community Polluted by Chinese Miners"

Judges' comments: "The Chinese company Hongao Mining Company Limited has been polluting remote Nigerian villages' only water source, leaving communities with no water in the middle of a global pandemic. Villagers have had to travel for several miles and take dangerous routes before they can get water to wash their hands. The trailblazing investigation with documents, deep human reporting and laboratory testing for polluted water is an exemplary example of what investigative reporting should be. The reporter and sources did this investigation at great risk to their lives and produced significant impact as the government decided to seal off the company. All in all, an inspiring piece of journalism."


Second Honorable Mention

"Salt in the Wounds" by Ry Rivard for Adirondack Explorer

Story links:

  1. "Salt in the Wounds: The Uphill Struggle Against Road Pollution"
  2. "Salt Through the Hourglass: Legal Deadlines Put Contamination Relief out of Reach"
  3. "Curbing New York's 40-Year Road Salt Addiction"

Judges' comments: "We awarded an Honorable Mention to the Adirondack Explorer and reporter Ry Rivard for dogged reporting on New York state's overuse of salt on roads. The work was an impressive demonstration of how a tiny staff can carry out aggressive investigative oversight of issues valuable to the community. Rivard tracked down a mystery of what was killing crops, harming cows and poisoning wells in areas close to the roads. And he painstakingly documented, with very readable stories, how a decision to oversalt roads for the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympics was never reversed, threatening the area's pristine water. The series of stories helped prompt the New York legislature to call for reform of the practice."


Third Honorable Mention

"Forest Trackers: Data Journalism That Tracks Deforestation in Brazil" by Ana Ionova for Mongabay

Story links:

  1. "'Betting on Impunity': Brazilian Amazon Under Attack Despite Logging Crackdown"
  2. "Fires in the Pantanal: 'We Are Facing a Scenario Now That Is Catastrophic'"
  3. "Brazilian Amazon Protected Areas ‘in Flames’ As Land-Grabbers Invade"
  4. "Fueled by Impunity, Invasions Surge in Brazil’s Indigenous Lands"
  5. "'Devastating' Fires Engulf Brazilian Pantanal Wetlands – Again"

Judges' comments: "We awarded an honorable mention to Mongabay and reporter Ana Ionova for an innovative pairing of satellite technology with on-the-ground reporting. The series 'Forest Trackers' identified from space areas of aggressive deforestation, much of it in the Brazilian Amazon. Mongabay then dispatched reporters — often Ionova — to the remote, impacted areas in a gutsy and ambitious move to explain the events on the ground. The deforestation has been evident to the world, but this series puts detail and context on why this continues to happen. The series may not stop deforestation, but it is a good example of the tenacious persistence of investigative reporting that eventually will have impact."



Outstanding Beat Reporting, Large


First Place

"Environmental Safeguards" by Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens for The Washington Post

'As Biden vows' story image
The closed Kanawha River coal-fired power plant located in Hansford, W.Va., is seen in 2020.
© Photo: Stacy Kranitz/The Washington Post


Story links:

  1. "Trump To Strip Protections From Tongass National Forest, One of the Biggest Intact Temperate Rainforests"
  2. "Trump Rolled Back More Than 125 Environmental Safeguards. Here's How."
  3. "In Confronting Climate Change, Biden Won’t Have a Day To Waste"
  4. "Tracking Biden's Environmental Actions"
  5. "As Biden Vows Monumental Action on Climate Change, a Fight With the Fossil Fuel Industry Has Only Begun"

Judges' comments: "The Washington Post stood out as the clear first-place winner, our judges agreed.

"Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and John Muyskens undertook a sweeping pre-election review of former President Trump's impact on U.S. environmental policy. The piece became even more powerful paired with an easy-to-digest graphic of more than 125 rollbacks that Trump's staff oversaw.

"The team then pivoted swiftly and launched an ambitious data-driven feature that continues to this day. It sorts Biden's environmental actions into four categories, tracking what policies he has proposed or added, and what Trump policies he has targeted or overturned. This is an eminently useful tool for the public.

"These stories sing. Lead writer Eilperin brings alive Alaska's threatened Tongass National Forest with 'old-growth stands of red and yellow cedar, Sitka spruce and Western hemlock… home to plentiful salmon runs and imposing fjords.'

"This winning team showed a rare ability to capture U.S. environmental politics at a historic moment."


Second Place

"Jake Spring's Reporting on Brazil's Environment" by Jake Spring for Reuters

Story links:

  1. "Burned Jaguars, Fire Tornadoes: Blazes in Brazil Wetland Deliver Climate Warning"
  2. "Exclusive: European Investors Threaten Brazil Divestment Over Deforestation"
  3. "Amazon Rainforest Jungle Lab"
  4. "Exclusive: Brazil Scales Back Environmental Enforcement Amid Coronavirus"
  5. "Exclusive: Brazil Exported Thousands of Shipments of Unauthorized Wood From Amazon Port"

Judges' comments: "Jake Spring's fine reporting on Brazil's threatened environment under President Jair Bolsonaro is testament to the importance of journalists covering environmental issues as a beat. As a correspondent for Reuters in the country, Jake Spring has been one of the few journalists bringing an international spotlight on the issue.

"In the field, Jake Spring wrote vividly and fearlessly about the effects of the fires which have destroyed much of the Pantanal, the world's largest tropical wetland region.

"Using government sources, he managed to break news about the effects of the pandemic on environmental enforcement. And by asking a simple question to investment firms in Brazil — If deforestation doesn’t improve, will you divest from Brazil? — he managed to make news.

"And his work had an impact: his stories on shipments of unauthorized wood from the Amazon prompted NGOs to sue the government, whereas his story on divestment led to a pledge from the government to act on deforestation."


Third Place

"Natural Gas in the West" by Sammy Roth for Los Angeles Times

Story links:

  1. "How To Stop a Climate Vote? Threaten a 'No Social Distancing' Protest" (PDF)
  2. "Is America's Biggest Gas Utility Abusing Customer Money? A California Watchdog Demands Answers" (PDF)
  3. "Los Angeles Hid a Methane Leak for a Year. Activists Want the Power Plant Shut Down" (PDF)
  4. "The Fossil Fuel Industry Wants You To Believe It's Good for People of Color" (PDF)
  5. "Boiling Point: In the West, Opposing Natural Gas Is Tricky — Even for a Democrat With Climate Cred" (PDF)

Judges' comments: "The Los Angeles Times' Sammy Roth exhibits a rare mastery of science, politics, economics and law. He can transform potentially dry topics into eminently readable prose – always a challenge when it comes to utility firms.

"Our judges took note of Roth's detailed accounts of how gas companies are resisting the phaseout of fossil fuel in favor of cleaner energy. He found that providers pushing gas over electricity have tried to align themselves with communities of color, even as those residents typically are most affected by gas emissions.

"Dozens of California cities, meanwhile, have approved codes supporting all-electric buildings. But a workers' union for the country's largest gas distribution firm blocked a vote in San Luis Obispo, threatening to bus in hundreds of protesters early in the pandemic, Roth reported.

"His newsletter, 'Boiling Point,' offers more insight. Times readers are fortunate to have such an accomplished journalist covering energy and climate news."


First Honorable Mention

"The Changing Arctic" by Gloria Dickie for The Guardian, The Walrus and Reuters

Story links:

  1. "The Arctic Is in a Death Spiral. How Much Longer Will It Exist?"
  2. "Remote Canadian Town Programs Radar To Spot Approaching Polar Bears"
  3. "How Cold War's Monster Crabs Came to the Rescue of Ailing Arctic Village" (Online title: "Crab-22: How Norway's Fisheries Got Rich – But on an Invasive Species")
  4. "Northern Inroads" (Online title: "China Wants To Invest in the Arctic. Why Doesn't Canada?")

Judges' comments: "A region deeply affected by climate change, the Arctic is facing changes that are not only environmental, but also economic and political. Gloria Dickie's submission 'The Changing Arctic' impressed the jury with the depth of its coverage of the region and the quality of her writing. A freelancer, Dickie managed to bring this story to an international audience in publications such as The Guardian and The Walrus and through the news agency Reuters."


Second Honorable Mention

"UNPRECEDENTED: A Climate Change Special Series" by Christopher Clark, Josh Brown, Angie Lassman, Eric Rodriguez, Tony Phelam, Menfis Marmolejos, Theo Quenee, Shawn Federline, Niamath Mohamed, Jonathan Bourrouet, Mike Cook, Selima Hussain, Jermell Prigeon and Daniella Flamini for WTVJ NBC 6 

Judges' comments: "This WTVJ NBC 6 documentary turned the unprecedented wildfires in Australia into a focal point for climate change in Florida. Vivid imagery and compelling interviews helped weave together a complex climate change story half a world away and made it relevant locally."


Third Honorable Mention

"Corbin Hiar's Climate and Business Reporting" by Corbin Hiar and Emma Dumain for E&E News

Story links:

  1. "Slip-Up Reveals Chevron Ties to Architect of Climate Attack"
  2. "Microsoft, Striving for Zero CO2, Steers Millions into Oil"
  3. "115 Amazon Lobbyists. 1 Works on Climate"
  4. "Biden Campaign's Carbon Offset Plan Full of Holes"
  5. "Deflect and Obstruct: How Interior Ducked House Oversight"

Judges' comments: "We were impressed with the breadth and depth of this E&E coverage and the willingness to collaborate with other reporters on complex topics. The reporting is both original and thorough."



Outstanding Beat Reporting, Small


First Place

"Environmental Health: California's Air, Water and Wildfires" by Rachel Becker for CalMatters

Oil and babies story image
An oil well pumps next to a newly constructed neighborhood near Signal Hill in Long Beach, California
on Friday, April 24, 2020. © Photo: Jim Ruymen, UPI/Alamy Live News


Story links:

  1. "Oil and Babies Don't Mix: Wells Linked to Low Birthweight"
  2. "A Collision of Crises: Central Valley Suffers Searing Heat, Smoke and Virus Hot Spots"
  3. "Unsafe To Drink: Wildfires Threaten Rural Towns With Tainted Water"
  4. "Well Water Throughout California Contaminated With 'Forever Chemicals'"
  5. "Legacy of a Clean-Air Czar: Clearer Skies, Bold Alliances and Bitter Controversy"

Judges' comments: "Rachel Becker impressed the judges with her in-depth, yet easy-to-digest reporting on California's contaminated air and drinking water resources. Her stories on water, in particular, revealed that a number of unaware communities might be consuming water tainted by industrial chemicals — some left in the aftermath of the state's many wildfires. Her writing was chockfull of helpful statistics and underpinned by science in a way that informed but did not overwhelm, despite the sometime alarming subject matter."


Second Place

"Inside Climate Science: Bob Berwyn Beat Reporting" by Bob Berwyn for Inside Climate News

Story links:

  1. "Climate Change Is Pushing Giant Ocean Currents Poleward"
  2. "'We Need To Hear These Poor Trees Scream': Unchecked Global Warming Means Big Trouble for Forests"
  3. "Can Planting a Trillion Trees Stop Climate Change? Scientists Say It's a Lot More Complicated"
  4. "Warm Arctic, Cold Continents? It Sounds Counterintuitive, But Research Suggests It’s a Thing"
  5. "When Autumn Leaves Begin To Fall: As the Climate Warms, Leaves on Some Trees Are Dying Earlier"

Judges' comments: "Bob Berwyn's authoritative reporting and knowledge of the subject allows him to translate complex climate research clearly and confidently into plain language. His explanation of emerging research on trees' vulnerability to climate change and their potential role as a solution were particularly memorable."


Third Place

"Water Reporting in the Great Basin" by Daniel Rothberg for The Nevada Independent

Story links:

  1. "After EPA Handed Over Mine Cleanup to the State, Nevada Regulators Approved 'Significant Revisions' That Cut Company's Responsibility"
  2. "Water Connections: Where Groundwater Gives Way to Warm Springs, a Fight Continues Over Building a New Desert Town Outside Las Vegas"
  3. "Federal Agency Review Questions Whether 'Good Science' Backs State-Approved Report That Cut Company's Responsibility in Anaconda Mine Cleanup"
  4. "New Rules: In Correcting Misappropriation of Water, State Must Balance Legal Rights With Existing Use"
  5. "Cutting Back: In Diamond Valley, Farmers Are Looking To Protect Their Futures — and Testing the Limits of Nevada's Water Laws"

Judges' comments: "As a major drought tightens its grip on western North America, where a number of communities are experiencing record heat, Daniel Rothberg's stories about water, policy and rights in arid Nevada are prescient, timely and compelling examples of how writing about local issues can illuminate events of global magnitude. His stories frame an important but potentially dry subject as a gripping narrative told clearly and eloquently."


First Honorable Mention

"Climate Change & Environment In New Hampshire" by Annie Ropeik for New Hampshire Public Radio

Story links:

  1. "Pandemic Complicates N.H. Cities' Plans for Dealing With Climate Change-Driven Heat Waves"
  2. "N.H.'s Clean Energy Sector Hopes for Post-COVID Stimulus Support To Restore Jobs, Lower Emissions"
  3. "5 Takeaways From the First Statewide Report on the Health of N.H.'s Lakes"
  4. "As Climate Change Drives Droughts, Water Conservation & Infrastructure Become Key"
  5. "As Climate Change Drives Migration to N.H., Towns Face Tension and Opportunity"

Judges' comments: "Annie Ropeik's work is a fine example of solutions-focused reporting about mainstream issues approached from creative angles, including how urban heat sinks help residents cope with the deepening heat waves; how rural communities are adapting to disappearing groundwater resources; and how climate-induced migration is changing demographics. Her stories are insightful, engaging and demonstrate innovative thinking by the reporter."


Second Honorable Mention

"Fossil Fuel Resistance in the Pacific Northwest" by Nick Cunningham for

Story links:

  1. "With Prospects Souring for Oregon Gas Terminal, an Obscure Group Raises Pressure for State Approval"
  2. "Canada's Trans Mountain Pipeline Inches Forward, But Opposition Intensifies"
  3. "When Can Pipelines Take Private Land? Jordan Cove LNG Project a Test for Eminent Domain"
  4. "Washington State Considers Climate Impact of Major Petrochemical Plant With 'Pattern of Influence Peddling'"
  5. "Two Major Pacific Northwest Fossil Fuel Projects Dealt Massive Setbacks in One Day"

Judges' comments: "Nick Cunningham's stories shined light on the tension between the fossil fuel industry and the indigenous and rural communities in which the industry operates or hopes to expand into. His willingness to tackle difficult topics in service of his readers is commendable."


Third Honorable Mention

"Is Coconut the New Palm Oil?" by Nithin Coca and photographer Jervis Gonzales for, Sierra Magazine, Earther/Gizmodo and Mongabay

Story links:

  1. "Coconut Oil Could Be the Next Disastrous Biofuel"
  2. "Coconut Farmers in Southeast Asia Struggle As Palm Oil Muscles in on Them"
  3. "The Coming Coconut Crisis"
  4. "The Dirty Secret Behind the West's Coconut Fad"

Judges' comments: "Nithin Coca's ambitious reporting put people first in explaining a complicated global story to readers. The reporting connects dots in sometimes unexpected ways and brings to life a part of the supply chain that U.S. consumers rarely consider."



Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Large


First Place

"Where Will Everyone Go? How Climate Refugees Might Move Across International Borders" by Abrahm Lustgarten, Al Shaw, Meridith Kohut, Lucas Waldron and Sergey Ponomarev for ProPublica and The New York Times Magazine

Where Will Everyone Go? story image
© Photo: ProPublica


Story links:

  1. "Where Will Everyone Go?" and related same-day story: "About Our Climate Migration Model"
  2. "Climate Change Will Force a New American Migration"
  3. "New Climate Maps Show a Transformed United States"
  4. "Climate Change Will Make Parts of the U.S. Uninhabitable. Americans Are Still Moving There." and related same-day video: "How the Climate Crisis Will Force A Massive American Migration"
  5. "The Big Thaw: How Russia Could Dominate a Warming World"

Judges' comments: "Masterful weaving of data, stories, issues, migration, what climate change feels and tastes like for people who have no choices. Superb."


Second Place

"Tribes and Fire" by Debra Krol for Arizona Republic

Story links:

  1. "'Living With Fire' May Lead to Less Destructive Wildfires, Say Indigenous Land Stewards"
  2. "As Fires Rage Across the West, White Mountain Apache Forests Show a Balance of Tradition, Economy"
  3. "'Our Right to Fire': Tribes Battle Agencies, Old Policies To Restore Fire Practices"

Judges' comments: "The simplicity of the writing is a pleasure to read. This could have been a clichéd story, but it is not. It's informative, allows the reader (if not Indigenous) to understand tribal values through natural resources and is an alert as to how to integrate cultural perspectives into policy that is often marginalized by 'science.'"


Third Place

"The Past, Present and Future of the White River" by Sarah Bowman, Emily Hopkins, Robert Scheer and Stephen Beard for Indianapolis Star

Story links:

  1. "The Truth About the White River" (9/23/19)
  2. "The White River Will Never Be Clean Until We Tackle This Filth Hiding in Plain Sight" (9/23/19) and related same-day story: "'You're Drinking the White River': How Safe Is It?" (9/23/19)
  3. "113 Tons of Dead Fish: Indiana's Worst Environmental Disaster, 20 Years Later" (12/19/19)
  4. "The White River: Cleanup Follows Decades of Civil Rights Abuses. Now Who Will Benefit?"
  5. "The White River: Boundaries of 'Redlining' Maps Still Etched in Indianapolis Neighborhoods" and related same-day story: "The White River: Life Was Once Much Different in What Is Today the Posh Canal District"

Judges' comments: "Excellent stories introducing the problems and challenges facing restoration of the White River near Indianapolis. Good graphics illustrating the problem and showing the scale of the problem. The series includes a clear explainer of the racist policies that led to the current situation where the Black population faced the brunt of the problem. It also looks at previous environmental disasters on the river, ongoing efforts to measure and restore it, and discussions of what the community wants and the problems involved."


First Honorable Mention

"Big Oil's Bet on Plastics" by Joe Brock, John Geddie and Saurabh Sharma for Reuters

Story links:

  1. "Pandemic Exposes Cracks in Oil Majors' Bet on Plastic"
  2. "THE PLASTIC PANDEMIC: COVID-19 Trashed the Recycling Dream"
  3. "Big Oil’s Flagship Plastic Waste Project Sinks on the Ganges"

Judges' comments: "This team's series shows the inadequacy of the efforts made by plastics producers to deal with a major environmental problem. The point the series makes about the disparity of investment in manufacturing vs. recycling and recovery is very sobering."


Second Honorable Mention

"One Reason Why Coronavirus Hits Black People the Hardest" by Ranjani Chakraborty, Melissa Hirsch, Mona Lalwani, Christophe Haubursin, Dion Lee and Ashley Sather for Vox

Judges' comments: "This is a beautifully done video that situates the story in a place, and presents data visually that in a way that makes the problem very easy to understand. Looks beautiful and makes a compelling argument."


Third Honorable Mention

"Force of Nature: The Greatest Climate-Protecting Technology Ever Devised" by Brooke Jarvis for WIRED

Judges' comments: "We loved this story. Not too heavily scientific, it puts the reader right in the center of discovery. This is a new way into carbon sequestration and so simple to read and absorb. Super story about old growth, respect for the world as it is, not how it can be engineered, and the mystery of nature. So great."



Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Small


First Place

"Virginia's Clean Energy Transition" by Sarah Vogelsong for Virginia Mercury

Wind story image
Construction of offshore wind turbines. © Photo: Ørsted


Story links:

  1. "With Offshore Wind, Virginia Hopes a 21st-Century Manufacturing Boom Will Offset a Hefty Price Tag"
  2. "As Solar Farms Multiply Across Virginia, Officials Reckon With Land Use Challenges"
  3. "Long-Sought Changes to Rooftop Solar Laws Offer a New Vision of Virginia's Electric Grid"
  4. "Energy Storage Is the 'Swiss Army Knife' of the Renewables Transition, But It's Still Evolving"
  5. "A Clean Energy Transition Won't Be Free. Officials Hope Energy Efficiency Can Offset Costs."

Sidebar: "Virginia’s Clean Energy Transition: A special series by the Virginia Mercury"

Judges' comments: "In 2020 the Virginia Legislature adopted a set of laws aimed at establishing a carbon-free energy sector by 2050. To answer the question of how, exactly, the state could reach that goal, reporter Sarah Vogelsong developed an extremely well done, comprehensive series covering the major issues in transitioning Virginia's power grid to a carbon-free system based on renewable energy. How do you balance the need for farmland with the need for open space for solar power generation? How do you establish offshore wind farms without interfering with the livelihood of fishermen? Vogelsong was diligent in having voices from all sectors. The writing style is engaging, making complex subjects easy to follow. The five-part series represents a prodigious amount of work by a dedicated, talented, solo reporter whose work benefits both the Virginia Mercury's readers and the legislators leading them to a cleaner, healthier tomorrow."


Second Place

"Big Fish: The Aquacultural Revolution" by Jude Isabella, Brendan Borrell, Brian Payton, Paul Tullis and Jess Mackie for Hakai Magazine

Story links:

  1. "Big Fish: The Aquacultural Revolution"
  2. "Show Me the Money Fish"
  3. "Taking the Fish out of Fish Feed"
  4. "Hold the Salt: The Promise of Little Fresh Fishes"
  5. "How to Stop Worrying and Love Farmed Fish" and related same-day story "A Short History of Aquaculture Innovation"

Judges' comments: "By 2050 Earth's population should approach 10 billion people who will need to turn to the sea for sustenance. A team of reporters from Hakai Magazine set out to find how seafood can be sustainably farmed. In an interesting, detailed, knowledgeable look inside the aquaculture industry, their story raises crucial environmental issues and the way those challenges could be met. The specificity of information regarding problems with aquaculture and the hit-or-miss nature of solutions are carefully integrated throughout the piece. The aquaculture timeline is a particularly helpful note in framing the longstanding issues."


Third Place

"Troubled Waters" by Lynne Peeples for Ensia

Story links:

  1. "Thirsting for Solutions"
  2. "Legionella and Other Dangerous Pathogens Still Lurk in U.S. Drinking Water"
  3. "The Surprising Connection Between West Coast Fires and the Volatile Chemicals Tainting America's Drinking Water"
  4. "From Alaska to Florida, Harmful PFAS Compounds Pollute Water at Multiple Sites in Every State"
  5. "Life-Saving Drinking Water Disinfectants Have a 'Dark Side'"

Judges' comments: "Drinking water stories typically deal with one contaminant in one locale. This terrific series offers a national picture of problem pathogens, metals, pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals plaguing U.S. water systems. Reporters led by Seattle science writer Lynne Peeples smartly round up the new national nightmare, PFAS, and take a timely look at water pollution from fighting wildfires. The judges appreciated the mature commonsense approach absent of scary drama while at the same time conveying informative real-life anecdotes and quotes from trusted scientist sources. The topnotch photos and graphics complement this excellent example of environmental health reporting."


First Honorable Mention

"A New Plastic Wave Is Coming to Our Shores" by Zoë Schlanger, Katie Peek (infographics) and Justin Cook (photography) for Audubon Magazine

Judges' comments: "We've all read about the plastics in the massive trash gyre of the South Pacific, like some environmental circle of hell, but those are finished products that have been used and discarded. This story stands out because it looks at the upper end of the supply chain and deftly weaves economics and environment to construct a picture of why the tide of plastics is flooding instead of ebbing, and why large economic forces make it so difficult to stop the plastic wave."


Second Honorable Mention

"The Adventures of Wonder Woman: Inside the War Against Illegal Gold Mining in Peru's Amazon" by Anastasia Moloney, Dan Collyns and Max Baring for Thomson Reuters Foundation

Story links:

  1. "The Adventures of Wonder Woman: Inside the War Against Illegal Gold Mining in Peru's Amazon" (video documentary)
  2. "Peru's 'Wonder Woman' Battles Illegal Mining in the Amazon" (text story)

Judges' comments: "Stories about the ruination of the Amazon are not new. The judges liked this story about illegal gold mining because the topic receives little notice compared to deforestation and indigenous land rights. In addition to talking about the environmental harm caused by miners' use of mercury to extract gold, the piece explores related problems such as the human trafficking that supplies labor. This exploration is wrapped in the hopeful stories of Peruvians struggling to solve their own problems, and especially the story of one woman prosecutor who leads law enforcement officers into the jungle to fight illegal mining."


Third Honorable Mention

"Why CWD Striking America's National Elk Refuge Is a Big Deal" by Todd Wilkinson for Mountain Journal (

Story links:

  1. "Deadly CWD Reaches Outskirts of Bozeman"
  2. "Why CWD Striking Jackson Hole Elk Is a Big Deal"

Judges' comments: "Todd Wilkinson's revelatory story in Mountain Journal exposes the real threat of chronic wasting disease spreading through the wild elk herd of Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem where upwards of 20,000 congregate in government-run winter feeding grounds. The piece, solidly reported and deftly written, cites experts who lay out solutions for curbing the plague borne by strange proteins called prions. Prions can cause incurable disease in the brains and central nervous systems in elk, moose and deer roaming over thousands of square miles in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, the story explains. Wilkinson's warning is not for wildlife alone but encompasses the dire message that people eating the meat chance getting mad cow-like disease."



Outstanding Feature Story, Large


First Place

"Paradise Lost: Hawaii's Disappearing Beaches" by Sophie Cocke and Ash Ngu for Honolulu Star-Advertiser and ProPublica

Paradise Lost story image
© Photo: ProPublica


Judges' comments: "This feature package is not your usual beach read. Instead it is a meticulously researched investigative report on how the armoring of shorelines on three of Hawaii's major islands with seawalls to protect multi-million dollar estates is actually eroding the state's iconic sandy shores. It even includes a wowza sidebar about how an oceanfront property purchased for use by former president Barack Obama took advantage of a widely used loophole and is part of the problem. The writing is strong and direct, the photography is stunning and the interactive graphics, mapping and video components are innovative, informative and extremely well done. Taken all together, this entry floats to the top of the large feature category."


Second Place

"What's Going on Inside the Fearsome Thunderstorms of Córdoba Province?" (PDF) by Noah Shannon for New York Times Magazine

Judges' comments: "This feature by Noah Gallagher Shannon for the New York Times Magazine's climate issue is model journalism. It introduces readers to a bizarre, important and scary phenomenon they probably never heard about, and explains it in an accessible way through deep reporting, clear writing and a well-paced narrative. It's not just a weather story and it's not just a climate story; it's also a well-told and even inspiring story about science and discovery that makes complex concepts understandable without dumbing anything down."


Third Place

"Life After Death: What Human Burial Options Will Look Like in a Sustainable Future" by Joan Meiners for Discover Magazine

Judges' comments: "Joan Meiners does a great service with this impactful feature covering eco-friendly alternatives to traditional methods of burial and cremation, which tend to be environmentally destructive and pricey. Deeply researched and snappily written, this is one of those rare stories in which a reader can expect to learn something new in nearly every paragraph. We expect that most readers will walk away from it convinced that they should consider the environment when they make one of life's most personal decisions."


First Honorable Mention

"The Road to Change: America's Climate Crisis" by Bill Weir, Jim Murphy, Jessica Small, Julian Quinones, Bethany George, Priscilla Thompson, Ryan Rios, April Hock, Meg Pearlstein, David Herrod, Evelio Contreras and Davide Cannaviccio for CNN

Judges' comments: "Bill Weir is doing heroic work, bringing the climate crisis to the broader public with clear, fun, unblinking reporting and explanation. This is what broadcast television is supposed to do."


Second Honorable Mention

"Community Forests in the Democratic Republic of Congo" by Peter Yeung for The BBC

Story link: "The Bold Plan To Save Africa's Largest Forest"

Judges' comments: "Peter Yeung traveled around the Congo Basin by motorbike and boat to produce this fascinating and comprehensive look at how community ownership is emerging as a powerful tool to halt the decline of the world's second-largest rainforest."


Third Honorable Mention

"How the US Poisoned Navajo Nation" by Rajani Chakraborty, Melissa Hirsch, Mona Lalwani, Dion Lee, Matt Dunne, Shaandiin Tome, Daniel Montano, Forrest Goodluck, Shivani Khattar  and Ashley Sather for Vox

Judges' comments: "The Vox video story, 'How the U.S. Poisoned Navajo Nation,'  is a meticulously reported exposé of the historic and ongoing environmental and health impacts in Church Rock, N.M., caused by more than 40 years of widespread uranium mining, and the largest radioactive spill in U.S. history — which released three times as much radiation as the nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania.  This report clearly documents how the mining industry turned its back on cleaning up the radioactive mess it made and gives voice to the ongoing concerns of residents."



Outstanding Feature Story, Small


First Place

"The Parrot King" by Brendan Borrell for Audubon Magazine

Parrot King story image
Illustration: Jason Holley


Judges' comments: "A parrot breeder's rising influence over preservation of some of the species' rarest birds draws scrutiny from a determined journalist amid whiffs of menace."


Second Place

"A Fever in the Dust" by Lauren J. Young, Kerry Klein, Elah Feder, Lois Parshley, Alexa Lim, Nadja Oertelt, Daniel Peterschmidt and Robin Palmer for Science Friday

Sidebar: "Finding Solutions To Treat Valley Fever"

Judges' comments: "Excellent storytelling and accessible descriptions of science makes this a compelling story about the increasing danger of Valley Fever. A survivor whose sister died of the disease and whose son contracted it gave a strong voice to victims. Explaining how climate change may hasten the spread of the fungal disease gave urgency to the problem."


Third Place

"Illuminating Kirinyaga: Meaning and Knowing in Mount Kenya's Forests" by Tristan McConnell and photographer Kabir Dhanji for Emergence Magazine

Judges' comments: "This story drops a reader into East Africa to walk alongside those who know the forests of Mount Kenya intimately. Tristan McConnell's writing weaves big picture geology, ecology, history, economics and politics with the small details of the wrinkled face of a local citizen and the purposeful stride of a wilding tree collector. The writing is as lush as the forests he travels and is enhanced by McConnell's own audio telling of the story."


First Honorable Mention

"Africa's Exploding Plastic Nightmare: As Africa Drowns in Garbage, the Plastic Business Keeps Booming" by Sharon Lerner for The Intercept

Judges' comments: "This entry illuminates how international companies continue to dump the environmental problem of plastic bags, bottles and other single-use items onto people in Africa, India and other countries who can least afford to deal with the problem. Even readers who know our relationship to plastic isn't healthy will be jolted by Sharon Lerner's deeply reported story. She reveals the web of connections between international corporations, and the practices of US and international recycling programs that have made other places our dumping ground. But this bad behavior may not be able to continue. Lerner closes her story with the revelation that an international agreement may force places like the United States to come to grips with the real cost of our use of plastic."


Second Honorable Mention

"Wolverines Break Through ... Finally!" by Jocelyn Akins for Columbia Insight

Judges' comments: "The biologist/writer's joy of discovery and mastery of her subject enliven this first-person account of using night photography documenting the presence of elusive Canada wolverines in areas of Washington's southern Cascade range."


Third Honorable Mention

"Quest for Gold: : Inside Nigeria’s Lucrative Industry Turning Farmlands to Death Traps" by Taiwo Adebulu for TheCable

Judges' comments: "This story vividly describes the audacious destruction of poor Nigerian farmers' cocoa trees by thugs determined to steal land and mine gold on it. The personal stories of longtime cocoa farmers are heart wrenching. The author gives statistics providing some idea of the economic motive for these crimes."



Outstanding Student Reporting


First Place

"In Public Housing, a Battle Against Mold and Rising Seas" by Lili Pike, New York University, published by Undark

Irrigation image from winning Pobis/Stanford story
Mold grows on the walls of Brandy Cabrera’s bathroom. Cabrera is one of hundreds of tenants in Brooklyn’s Red Hook Houses that have sued the New York City Housing Authority due to leaks and mold. Visual: Lili Pike


Judges' comments: "Lili Pike got the idea for this enterprise story at a FEMA community meeting in Red Hook, New York, where work related to Hurricane Sandy was still underway almost a decade later. Residents' complaints led her to hundreds of court cases over leaks and mold in one of the largest public housing complexes in the United States. She explained, 'On one hand, FEMA is investing millions to make Red Hook flood proof, but at the same time the buildings are crumbling from within … . So even when the flood-proofing is complete, mold and its related health issues will remain, making residents less resilient.' She talked to worried residents and researched the decades-long history of disinvestment in public housing, and connected the local story to similar situations in New Orleans and Houston. This piece showed how structural inequities will exacerbate the impacts of climate change, and contributed to the case for making mold data public in Red Hook."


Second Place

"What To Do With a 'Tidal Wave' of Texas Wind Turbine Blades" by Katherine Hill, University of Montana, published by Texas Observer

Judges' comments: "Springboarding off an eye-catching opening sentence, Katherine Hill vaults into an exploration of an overlooked and largely unanswered question in the renewable energy world: what to do with old wind turbines that are ready for retirement? Hill takes the reader to the 'turbine graveyards' of West Texas, one of the world's biggest wind-energy producing regions. Displaying a command of narrative description as well as technical explanation, Hill writes about the companies attempting to recycle the blades and the hurdles they encounter. The story starts strong and maintains its momentum."


Third Place

"Arizona's Beloved San Pedro River Is About To Meet the Border Wall" by Helen Wieffering, Arizona State University, published by Earth Island Journal

Judges' comments: "The story shows how the planned border wall will affect an unspoiled section of river in Arizona. The piece uses detailed reporting to describe the river, the people who live along it and the damage from the wall construction."


First Honorable Mention

"Barriers" by Malin Curry, Taylor Tyson, Jeremiah O. Rhodes, Madison Hoffmann, Alicia Carter, Hadley Green, Meg McMahon, Lucas Pruitt, Tamara Rice, Veronica Correa, Molly Horak, Hope Davison, Arijit (Ari) Sen, Michael Gawlik, Will Melfi, Haley France, Sarah Redmond, Caroline Almy, Emily Caroline Sartin, Drew Wayland, Halynna Snyder, Lucia Castro, Hanna Wondmagegn, Rachel McKinney, Nash Consing, Samantha Perry, Kate Sheppard, Dustin Duong, Matthew Westmoreland, Jason Arthurs and Pat Davison, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, published by UNC Global Storytelling

Story links: 

  1. "Coral in the Crossfire"
  2. "Controversy on Deck"
  3. "Bittersweet"
  4. "Tide to Trash"
  5. "Seeding the Sea"

Judges' comments: "The students at UNC at Chapel Hill produced a substantial, in-depth, multimedia package on the threats that a warming planet and tourism pose to the people of Belize and its environment. The quality of the videos, photographs, graphics and writing in this five-part series is first-rate. The reporting teams talk to the garbage dump managers, seaweed farmers, reef conservationists and cocoa growers who are seeing their land and waters undergo rapid change. The result is a deep sense of place and character."


Second Honorable Mention

"Forever Chemicals in Louisville Drinking Water — Is It Time for Action?" by Satchel Walton, duPont Manual High School, published by Kentucky Green Report

Judges' comments: "High school journalist Satchel Walton did a sophisticated job uncovering and explaining the 'forever chemicals' contaminating the Ohio River in Louisville, creating a local stir and prompting the local water company to respond."


Third Honorable Mention

"The Human Hazard" by Noura Al-Rajhi, Joshua Baker, Ellen Bausback, Gaby Eseverri, Danielle Ivanov, Zahra Khan, Brittney Miller, Everitt Rosen and Marlowe Starling, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications, published by WUFT (the University of Florida's public media platform)

Story links:

  1. "Heat Policies in Florida May Overlook Most Vulnerable"
  2. "Heat-Related Illness Rising With Temperatures"
  3. "Flying Under the Radar"
  4. "Out of Sight, Still a Blight"
  5. "People Power"

Judges' comments: "The students used original data reporting to show how climate change is exacerbating the threat of heat-related illnesses in Florida. The series highlighted the state government's lapses, including a lack of a climate assessment and inadequate 'resilience planning,' and show how they have an outsized affect on children, elderly people and low-income communities."



Rachel Carson Environment Book Award


First Place

"Mill Town: Reckoning With What Remains" by Kerri Arsenault

Cover of "Mill Town"

Published by Macmillan Publishers

Judges' comments: "In her deeply documented narrative of the history of her hometown in Maine, Kerri Arsenault examines the environmental horror and lost lives following the closure of industries that once sustained a town's economy. A paper mill created a 'Cancer Valley' in Mexico, Maine. By 1970 the town's river had died from chemical pollution. By 2000 Maine's mills were the number one chemical producers in the country. In 2018 the CDC reported higher cancer rates among Maine's children than the national average. She carefully notes the numerous facts missing in company PR written 'history' books. She's told dioxin levels and risk were buried by the EPA due to being too risky for economic fallout. Her research confirms that whoever controls the story controls reality. Toxics and deaths were apparent but money ruled. Reports documented the death of rivers, asphalt lakes, disease and unmarked graves, dams and pollution, commodified water, commodified forests.

"Along with her extensive personal family and neighborhood history, Arsenault researches science reports and media coverage as well as conducting in-depth interviews. 'Mill Town' is an ode to a disappearing small U.S. town dependent on a polluting factory for meager living and a community trying not to acknowledge a toxic catastrophe. Silence is a human problem, she notes. Digging up the facts matters. One interviewee who lived through the town's demise and recalls Rachel Carson's story of sinister chemicals, exclaims, 'It's Silent Spring all over again!'

"The book's final chapter titles tell the story: Going Downhill, End of the Line, Buried in Paper, The Truth Lies Somewhere."


Second Place

"Poisoning the Pacific: The US Military's Secret Dumping of Plutonium, Chemical Weapons, and Agent Orange" by Jon Mitchell

Cover of "Poisoning the Pacific"

Published by Rowman & Littlefield

Judges' comments: "In 'Poisoning the Pacific,' investigative journalist Jon Mitchell offers a deeply reported and impressively complete look at the environmental damage done by the U.S. military in the Pacific since World War II. Many readers will already be familiar with the legacy of nuclear testing in the Pacific, and Mitchell goes beyond those nuclear tests to include the long-term effects of chemical and biological weapons tests conducted on and near U.S. territories and military installations. Mitchell painstakingly reviewed thousands of pages of official documents obtained through public records requests, and interviewed survivors, service members, whistleblowers and Indigenous leaders. Together, their stories paint a picture of an indifferent superpower, willing to endanger the lives and health of hundreds of thousands of people in order to gain an upper hand in geopolitics.

"Mitchell also connects the environmental crimes of the past to environmental destruction in the present. Current servicemembers and their families, as well as those who live near U.S. military bases, will see themselves in chapters about contemporary water contamination that is still occurring on the mainland and on U.S. territories such as Guam. Ultimately, this book promises to frustrate official attempts to cover up or whitewash the environmental impacts of America's military history, and open the eyes of the public."


Third Place

"Fire in Paradise: An American Tragedy" by Alastair Gee and Dani Anguiano

Cover of Fire in Paradise

Published by W. W. Norton

Judges' comments: "In a riveting, heart-pounding account, California-based journalists Alistair Gee and Dani Anguiano of the Guardian follow the harrowing hours of dozens of families and individuals caught in one of the deadliest wildfires of our era. (Gee and Anguiano received an SEJ grant for some of their reporting.) Once a quaint mountainous refuge of 27,000 nestled in the California pine forests of the Sierra Nevada, Paradise and several smaller communities were turned into a raging inferno by the disastrous Camp Fire that roared down bone-dry slopes fueled by 50-mile-an-hour winds, incinerating everything in its path on November 8, 2018. Gee and Anguiano take readers on the perilous journeys of dozens of residents, who found themselves suddenly transformed from a picture-perfect rustic community into a nightmarish fight for survival, enveloped in the fog of fire and smoke that torched their world into smoldering ash and scorched metal.

"The Camp Fire killed at least 85 people and destroyed over 18,000 buildings and structures. The authors do not delve deeply into the science of climate change or forest management. But their powerful stories of residents fleeing incineration documents Paradise as the poster-child of a fire-ravaged world, one that sadly will see more infernos like this in the future. Gee and Anguiano make it clear that Americans who think we can tame wildfires under these worsening conditions are living a fool's errand as they move into remote, forested areas. 'We're trapped by the myths of our own success,' they quote a former U.S. Forest Service official. You only have to read this book to understand why."


Honorable Mention

"The Grizzly in the Driveway: The Return of Bears to a Crowded American West" by Robert Chaney

Cover of The Grizzly in the Driveway

Published by University of Washington Press

Judges' comments: "Few wildlife extol an innate sense of fear and phobia than the grizzly bear, a nearly mythological creature in Native American culture and western lore that kills and injures far fewer humans than white-tailed deer do in traffic accidents. In 'The Grizzly in the Driveway,' Montana journalist Robert Chaney tracks the history of bitter disputes and regulatory fights over grizzlies, which were nearly hunted to extinction in the lower 48 states before being put on the Endangered Species Act list in 1975 and its numbers rebounded. Chaney travels to western states to talk to ranchers, environmentalists and conservation officials who have different ideas about how the continent's greatest predator should be managed and protected.

"Chaney makes it clear that what happens to the grizzly foretells how humans will interact with nature: '…the grizzly bear becomes the ideal test of how each of us relates to the world around us…If we want wild bears, we must preserve wild country.'"


Esteemed Judges, 2021 SEJ Awards for Reporting on the Environment

Erin Ailworth, Midwest Correspondent, The Wall Street Journal
Erik Anderson, Environment Reporter, KPBS Public Media
Papolu Anurag Prasad, Multimedia Editor, The Conversation US
Jon Beaupre, Professor of Journalism (retired), California State University, Los Angeles
Merrill Brown, CEO, The News Project Inc.
Tom Clynes, Author and Photojournalist, National Geographic, Audubon Magazine, NY Times
Denis Cuff, Bay Area News Group (retired)
Jackleen de La Harpe, Executive Director,
Beth Gardiner, Independent Journalist
Michael Grunwald, Senior Writer, Politico
Dan Haugen, Managing Editor, Energy News Network
Erin Hayes, Professor of the Practice of Journalism, College of the Ozarks (ABC News National Correspondent- Retired)
Rebecca Hersher, Reporter, National Public Radio
Sharon Honore, Associate Professor of Communications, University of the Virgin Islands
Don Hopey, Environment Reporter, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Stephen Hume, Journalism Instructor, Vancouver Island University; retired Editor (The Edmonton Journal), Columnist (The Vancouver Sun)
Derrick Jackson, Fellow, Union of Concerned Scientists; Contributor,
Cheryl Katz, Independent Journalist; Science and Environment Writer
Jane Kay, Independent Freelance; Science, Environment and Health Writer
Bill Kelly, Senior Producer, Nebraska Public Media
Rocky Kistner, Independent Journalist, Environmental Multimedia Reporter
Elaine Kurtenbach, Asia Business Editor, The Associated Press
Gary Lee, Editor, Oklahoma Eagle
Mike Lee, Reporter, E&E News
Mary Mazzocco, Contra Costa Times (retired); Educator, Diablo Valley College (retired)
Miles O’Brien, Freelance; Producer and Correspondent
Brian O’Donoghue, University of Alaska Fairbanks (retired)
Beth Parke, Founding Executive Director (retired), Society of Environmental Journalists
Francis Plourde, Producer/Journalist, CBC-Radio-Canada
Sinduja Rangarajan, Senior Data Journalist, Mother Jones Magazine
Deborah Schoch, Independent Journalist: New York Times, AARP
Susan Sharon, Deputy News Director, Maine Public Radio
David Steinkraus, Freelance
Doug Struck, Senior Journalist-in-Residence, Emerson College; and Freelance
JoAnn Valenti, Emerita Professor, Editor
Brett Walton, Reporter, Circle of Blue
Anna Werner, National Consumer Investigative Correspondent, CBS
Tim Wheeler, Associate Editor and Senior Writer, Bay Journal
Loretta Williams, Independent Public Media Journalist; Editor, Producer, Reporter
Roger Witherspoon, Writer: Nuclear Energy and Auto Industry; Energy Matters / US Black Engineer & IT


SEJ 2021 Awards Committee

Rae Tyson, Freelance Journalist and Committee Chair
Emilia Askari, Independent Journalist
Edwin Lake, Freelance Writer
Parimal Rohit, Austin Business Journal

Sara Schonhardt, International Climate Reporter, E&E News and SEJ Board Liaison to the Awards Committee
Chris Bruggers, SEJ Deputy Director, Awards Director and Staff Liaison to the Awards Committee

Thank you to our Awards judges and screeners over the years!


Director of SEJ Awards

Chris Bruggers, Awards Director, Society of Environmental Journalists,  (202) 558-2022