The Post and Courier
The National Press Foundation is proud to announce that the 2008 Stokes Award for Energy Writing goes to Tony Bartelme of The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C., whose four-part series showed how utilities bury the by-products of coal combustion – coal ash – in largely unregulated landfills that contaminate groundwater with heavy metals and other dangerous chemicals. The series ran Oct. 26-29, 2008. Two months later, an impoundment of coal ash collapsed in Tennessee, creating the largest industrial waste spill in U.S. history, and making this timely series a resource for journalists covering the disaster.
Our judges found “Toxic Ash” to be an authoritative, balanced and clearly written series that offered new information about an environmental threat that previously had run largely under the radar. Bartelme used the state’s Freedom of Information Act to obtain thousands of documents that enabled him to identify contamination hot spots; he tested water near landfills, and shed light on a loophole in state law that allows utilities to pollute groundwater far above the federal limit. The stories were presented attractively in print editions of the paper, with teases to upcoming stories and web links to studies and documents referenced in the print text.
Bartelme will receive a citation and a $1,000 check.
Also of note was a five-part series by Greenwire reporter Michael Burnham that examines China’s efforts to produce and consume energy more cleanly and efficiently. Ambitious in scope, it’s a fine example of explanatory journalism that manages to tie government-level objectives to local implementation. The series succeeds because of exhaustive reporting under very difficult conditions, given China’s tight leash on public comment.