SEJ's Fund for Environmental Journalism Awards $76,760 in Story Project Grants in First Round of Rapid Response Grants 2020

July 1, 2020 — The Society of Environmental Journalists' Fund for Environmental Journalism has awarded $76,760 for 22 new story projects selected through the first round of Rapid Response story project grants on a wide range of environmental issues and regions. Through these grants, SEJ will:

  • Fund Journalists: 33 professional journalists, photographers, and editors will receive stipends of up to $2,000 each.
  • Increase Representation: More than 60% of the funds were awarded to story projects focused on under-represented communities or diverse perspectives on environmental issues.
  • Support Local Stories: More than 80% of the story projects focus on a local or regional issue, ranging from Haiti's coastal fisheries to environmental health in Alaska's Arctic north.

"As tens of thousands of journalists are laid off or furloughed, new funding for local environmental journalism on under-represented communities and undercovered issues is critical," says Meaghan Parker, SEJ's executive director. "Environmental challenges most severely affect our most vulnerable communities. But as the COVID-19 crisis exacerbates the media's ongoing financial crisis, those stories are even less likely to be told. Through our Rapid Response grants, we are seeking to help fill the gaps in coverage by directly supporting independent environmental journalism."

Eligible topics this round included climate change, conservation, or environmental health in North America; oceans and coasts globally; water security in the United States; and the Mississippi River basin.

For the last 10 years, SEJ's Fund for Environmental Journalism has helped foundation partners and individual donors support journalism projects that are editorially independent and independently juried. Support for the Rapid Response grants comes from The Hewlett Foundation, The Bullitt Foundation, Walton Family Foundation and other foundation and individual donors to the Fund for Environmental Journalism.

"SEJ is extremely grateful to our generous foundation funders and to the individual donors who make the Fund for Environmental Journalism possible," said Parker. "Thanks to their investment, environmental journalists are able to keep doing what they do best: find and tell the world's stories."

In response to the COVID-19 crisis, SEJ's Rapid Response grants are designed to support journalists' health and livelihoods by focusing on stipends rather than travel funds. A new simpler judging process maintains SEJ's independent jury process but with a faster turnaround from submission to award. "Many thanks to our volunteer judges for thoughtfully reviewing the high number of quality applications that we received," said Parker.

SEJ is accepting applications for Round 2 of Rapid Response grants on a rolling basis. Topics eligible for consideration include: Climate change or conservation in North America; oceans and coasts globally; water security in the United States; and the Mississippi River basin. Apply today.


The recipients of the Fund for Environmental Journalism Rapid Response grants (Round 1) are:


Headshot of David AbelDavid Abel, for "ENTANGLED," a feature-length film about how climate change has accelerated a collision between one of the world’s most endangered species, North America’s most valuable fishery and a federal agency mandated to protect both. The film will chronicle the efforts to protect North Atlantic right whales from extinction, the impacts of those efforts on the lobster industry and how the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has struggled to balance the vying interests.

FEJ-funded project:


Headshot of Erika BolstadErika Bolstad, for "The Bust Cycle," a look at work in North Dakota to cap 239 abandoned oil wells, many of which were abandoned during the pandemic. The state of North Dakota will be using $66 million in federal COVID-19 stimulus money to seal the abandoned oil wells. State officials see their response as a way of keeping as many as 1,000 experienced oilfield workers employed and available until the pandemic retreats and they can return to pre-pandemic production levels. It's also a way to address a persistent environmental problem. But the recent crash in oil prices may be the ultimate bust in North Dakota, which is unlikely to return to pre-pandemic production levels anytime soon, creating a revenue shortfall.

FEJ-funded project:


Headshot of Michael StollRebecca Bowe, Chris Roberts (pictured) and Michael Stoll, for "Exposed: The Legacy of Radiation at Hunters Point," a review, through print and audio stories, of the history and future use of the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, exploring changing attitudes toward public health as developers plan to build tens of thousands of homes atop an active Superfund site that has been the center of claims of environmental racism. (San Francisco Public Press, California)


Headshot of Hannah BrownHannah Brown, for "Dispatches from a Sinking State." This project is The Marjorie's contributor series featuring first-person accounts of the environmental changes Florida women are witnessing across the state. Previous contributions include themes focused on grieving natural spaces, the importance of environmental education for underserved youth and documentation of Florida’s most fragile landscapes. All of these essays engage with the nostalgia and trauma that come with ecological grief, or eco-grief, which is an underreported symptom of the climate crisis. This series fills a niche for stories that highlight first-person experiences of climate change. The project's primary goal is to amplify the voices of Florida women from the most vulnerable areas of the state.


Headshot of Valerie BrownValerie Brown, for "Why Oregon DEQ Recently Hit a Columbia Gorge Aluminum Recycler With Largest-Ever Air Toxins Fine in Oregon and What It Means for the Columbia River Basin Environment." The city of The Dalles sits in the cross-hairs of two polluting industries: a railroad tie plant and an aluminum recycling facility, which received a $1.3 million fine for multiple air pollution violations. However, much went unreported. How did the pollutants affect the plant's workers? What was the risk to the community or the area's famous cherry orchards? Before the recycling plant, an aluminum manufacturer operated on that site. Its fluorine emissions prevented millions of fruit flowers from setting fruit. Did the recycler's emissions impact the trees? Has the recycler made any changes in the year since the fine?  (Columbia Insight)

FEJ-funded project:


Headshot of Steve CowanSteve Cowan, for "Single-Use Planet," a one-hour documentary film that explores the controversy around a growing industry to produce virgin plastic. (Habitat Media, Oregon)



Headshot of Alexander KennedyHeadshot of James DinneenJames Dinneen (pictured, left) and Alexander Kennedy, for "Aging Dams and Contaminated Sites." This investigation will compare databases on dams and contaminated sites in the United States to determine where a dam failure would threaten to flood sites contaminated with toxic substances. In addition to the text of this story, we will produce an interactive data visualization showing these relationships.


Headshot of Sierra GarciaSierra Garcia, for "The Fight for California's Kelp Forests." Purple sea urchins are native to California's kelp forests, but an uncontained population boom — likely driven in part by warming waters — has stripped hundreds of miles of northern California's once-luscious undersea forests bare in a matter of years. The ecosystem collapse has inspired an uneasy, grassroots alliance of determined volunteers, out-of-work commercial divers and a handful of scientists who are determined to work together to protect the surviving kelp from the urchins.


Headshot of Audrey HendersonAudrey Henderson, for "Promoting Green Spaces in Three Chicago Neighborhoods." The motto of Chicago is "urbs in horto" — city in a garden. However, residents in Chicago's South and West sides have less access to green space than residents on the affluent North Side. Three initiatives seek to change this: efforts to establish an urban arboretum in West Woodlawn; plans to create a High Line-like elevated green space in Englewood; and ongoing development of the Marshall (Major) Taylor Bike Trail in West Pullman on Chicago's Far South Side. This article will profile and highlight these three projects, including the barriers that stand in the way of their completion.


Headshot of Randall HymanRandall Hyman, for "Betrayal in the Fog of Viral War." Court rulings were largely in favor of environmental groups in 2019, but now a defiant White House and other entities operating in the fog of a viral war are completely reshaping the political lay of the land.

FEJ-funded project:


Headshot of Nina IgnaczakNina Ignaczak, for "Planet Detroit Environmental Health Reporting Project," an in-depth, humanistic and science-based report on the connection between the disproportionate environmental health burdens in Detroit's Black communities and communities of color, and increased morbidity and mortality of COVID-19 and attendant illnesses and economic losses. How are Detroiters impacted by exposures to air pollution, poor indoor air quality, poor food access and indoor lead, and subsequently develop environmental health-related issues? We'll document how these impacts make Detroiters more vulnerable to a host of threats including diseases like COVID-19, as well as emerging environmental stressors and climate-change impacts such as heat vulnerability and flooding. We will link these disparities with larger trends of economic damage, poor educational outcomes and excessive health burdens experienced in the city, region and state.


Headshot of Patrick Saint-PreHeadshot of Phares JeromeJean Pharès Jérôme (pictured, left) and Patrick Saint-Pre, for "Neglected Waters: Haiti’s Marine Parks in the Midst of Poverty." Haiti's system of marine reserves was created in 2013 to mitigate local climate extremes, protect fisheries and absorb carbon dioxide. It was a grand gesture so soon after the earthquake that devastated the country in 2010, but today the 18 reserves languish, underfunded and unprotected. Haiti Climat, the country's only environmental news agency, reports on how an impoverished country struggles to preserve its coastlines.

FEJ-funded project:


Headshot of Spike JohnsonSpike Johnson, for "Storm Resilience in America's South." Across the United States researchers have identified a sharp rise in mental health issues related to climate change and severe storm events. Diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder in victims of storms like Hurricanes Harvey and Katrina, and depression, anxiety and grief in a wider population who are learning to accept a shifting environment, are becoming more common. Post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological reactions in survivors of storms are manifesting years later, often in initially unlinked ways, like relationship breakdown or insomnia in adults, and undiagnosable headaches and stomachaches in children. Psychologists believe long-term mental health effects of our changing climate are a hidden public health epidemic, expected to strain the U.S. healthcare system as the intensity and frequency of climate-led natural disasters increase in coming decades.


Headshot of Antonia JuhaszAntonia Juhasz, for "(Un)Covering Oil," a new radio program and podcast on KGNU Community Radio in Boulder, CO, which she will develop and host. "(Un)Covering Oil" is a deep dive into the oil sector and all its impacts on racial, environmental and climate justice, human rights, economics, politics, public health, war and peace. The program is grounded in local Colorado storytelling from which it jumps off into national and international events — highlighting the voices of women and girls.


Headshot of Kate KayeKate Kaye, for "Capes, Puffins, Sea Stars and Bedrock: A New Plan for Oregon’s Rocky Coast." Oregon's rocky coastline is home to unique and fragile habitats. But over the years, threats to the state's protected coastline have intensified. Now, a process for reassessing Oregon's policy for protecting almost 150 miles of coastline is underway. How will altered policy affect the coast's confederated tribes who aim to preserve cultural identity through traditional practices such algae and invertebrate harvesting? Could the dream of reintroducing sea otters to the region become reality through policies that improve sustainability of aquatic vegetation and coastal habitat? By telling stories gleaned through diverse sources, Portland-based multimedia journalist Kate Kaye will spotlight important issues and expose dynamics and conflicts of the strategy through podcast audio, articles, photos and more.

FEJ-funded project:


Headshot of Rocky KistnerRocky Kistner, for "Gulf Fishing Communities in Peril." Louisiana and Mississippi coastal fisheries are increasingly impacted by record amounts of pollution from flooding rivers and rising temperatures related to climate change. Ten years after the greatest US oil spill in history, fisheries in some oil-damaged areas of the Gulf are still not back to normal. Fishermen now say Louisiana's $50 billion coastal restoration plan will make matters worse, threatening their future by upending the entire ecosystem. This project will tell the stories of fishing communities fighting for survival on the front lines of change — facing the end of their livelihoods.


Headshot of Amy MartinAmy Martin, for "Threshold Conversations," an interview show that features environmental thought leaders focusing on important issues impacting cultures, communities and ecosystems in the U.S. and beyond, including the intersection of these issues with the COVID-19 pandemic.


Headshot of Lynne PeeplesLynne Peeples, for "Troubled Waters: An Urgent Look at Drinking Water Contamination Across the U.S." This project will take an urgent look across the U.S. at key contaminants threatening the drinking water supply — and what’s being done to improve drinking water safety.


Headshot of Claire Marie PorterClaire Marie Porter, for "Dirtier Water," examining the environmental consequences of recent federal rollbacks on wetland and stream protections that benefit farmers, miners and developers, but are opposed by the U.S. EPA’s own science advisors, and could be catastrophic for Philadelphia. (Grid, Philadelphia)


Headshot of Kurt RepanshekKurt Repanshek, for "A Grand Threat: How Politics and Developers Risk a National Park's Lifeblood." The environmental integrity of Grand Canyon National Park is at risk from a massive development proposed by an Italian company that would tap into groundwater flows that nourish the park's seeps, springs and hanging gardens below the South Rim. In a story emblematic of threats many national parks face, National Parks Traveler will look into the politics that have taken over one of Grand Canyon's gateway towns and threaten to bring thousands of lodging rooms and commercial development near the park's southern border. It's a project that could quickly overwhelm groundwater supplies. This is a story of politicians indifferent to the environment, of Arizona laws pertaining to incorporated communities circumvented, and of a project that could contribute to the dewatering of one of the world's iconic national parks that already is challenged by the Southwest's arid climate.


Headshot of Annie RopeikAnnie Ropeik, for "By Degrees." Environmentalists have been warning of an ecological and humanitarian crisis for years, and they've struggled to make people aware of the massive changes required to prevent catastrophic climate change. Then, in the space of several months, people all over the world made massive changes….in response to a virus. "By Degrees" is a new audience-driven climate change reporting project from NHPR that begins in this changed world and looks ahead to an uncertain future. Photo credit: Sam Searles / NHPR


Headshot of Yereth RosenYereth Rosen, for "Warmer and Sicker: Climate Change and Zoonotic Diseases in Alaska," a series of stories about the northward spread of disease pathogens and the emergence of antibiotic resistance in the warming north.

FEJ-funded project:



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