SEJ's Fund for Environmental Journalism Awards $57,332 to Support Stories on Environmental Justice and Religion-Environment Connections

100% of Funds Awarded to Stories About Underrepresented Communities

September 20, 2021 — The Society of Environmental Journalists' Fund for Environmental Journalism has awarded $57,332 for 12 projects selected through the Spring 2021 round of competition for stories on two topics: environmental health and justice in the United States; and religion, climate and environment connections. Through these grants, SEJ will:

  • Fund Journalists: 12 professional journalists, photographers and editors will receive stipends of up to $2,000 each.
  • Increase Representation: 100% of the story projects focus on under-represented communities or share diverse perspectives on environmental issues.
  • Support Local Stories: More than 90% tell the story of a local community, ranging from the rubber factories of Akron, Ohio to the sacred groves of Meghalaya, India.

"We are especially pleased that 100% of Fund for Environmental Journalism grants were awarded to projects that will increase coverage of marginalized communities that have too often been overlooked or left out of news coverage," said SEJ Executive Director Meaghan Parker. "We are very grateful to our generous funders for providing the essential financial support that will make it possible for environmental journalists to report these undercovered stories and most importantly, for the public to learn more about these important environmental challenges and connections."

This independently juried competition is generously underwritten by The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Environmental Defense Fund, The Religion & Environment Story Project, the Hewlett Foundation and other foundation and individual donors to the Fund for Environmental Journalism, including donors to the "Lizzie" Fund for stories on environmental health, in memory of Elizabeth "Lizzie" Grossman.

The recipients of the Fund for Environmental Journalism Spring 2021 Round are:


Environmental health and justice in the U.S.

Photo of Yvette CabreraYvette Cabrera for "Toxic Trails"
An investigation of the legacy of industrial lead pollution in urban residential neighborhoods, as well as the policy decisions that have led to the environmental conditions and lead soil contamination faced by residents in these areas.

FEJ-funded project:


Claire Caulfield (pictured left) and Ku'u Kauanoe for "Oahu's Dumping Ground"
Photo of Claire CaulfieldPhoto of Ku'u KauanoeHonolulu Civil Beat's reporting project will shine a light on the story of those who've had to bear the brunt of Oahu's trash. How has the presence of landfills affected the surrounding neighborhoods, especially in the case of long-term health impacts and property values? What political structures and external forces are at play in terms of deciding the future of land use on Oahu's Westside? And why was the Westside chosen as the island's dumping ground in the first place?

FEJ-funded project:


Lee Chilcote for "Ask The Land Environmental Reporting Initiative"
Photo of Lee ChilcoteThe collaborative (Collaborative NewsLab @ Kent State University, The Land, Northeast Ohio Solutions Journalism Collaborative, ideastream, WKSU, La Mega Media) will utilize two-way texting to give voice to underrepresented communities in shaping local news coverage. Through relationships with neighborhood-based organizations and other community partners, Ask The Land will recruit neighborhood residents to engage in community conversations; source environmental justice stories directly from these communities at the grassroots level; provide local news coverage about environmental issues for residents and stakeholders in these communities in an easily accessible way; and provide members of the community with a place to ask questions and seek support and advice about the environmental justice and equity issues that affect them.

FEJ-funded project:



Emily Holden (pictured left) and Sara Sneath for "Drained: How the Energy Industry Is Siphoning Away Louisiana's Precious Water Resources"
Photo of Emily HoldenPhoto of Sara SneathIndustrial water users pull more groundwater from Louisiana than any other state. The state is losing groundwater faster than it can be replenished, which is causing saltwater to encroach into freshwater aquifers and land to sink in coastal areas already vulnerable to sea level rise. But the state still lacks a comprehensive plan to manage its water use.

FEJ-funded project:


Diana Kruzman for "Up In Smoke: The Public Health Impacts of Wood-Burning Stoves"
Photo of Diana KruzmanAcross the United States, more than 11 million people rely on burning wood for heat, releasing soot that has been proven to be toxic to human health. This story will explore the effects of wood smoke on public health in low-income communities and communities of color, as well as investigate the impact of wood stove changeout programs on reducing pollution.

FEJ-funded project:



Yanick Rice Lamb for "Unintended Consequences: The Rubber Industry's Lingering Health Impact Amid COVID-19"
Photo of Yanick Rice LambTire-making jobs are mostly gone in the former Rubber Capital of the World, but the industry still has a lingering impact on health in Akron, Ohio, which is a microcosm of deindustrialized communities. This project takes a closer look at the association between industrial pollutants and autoimmune conditions, such as multiple sclerosis, lupus and sarcoidosis. People with these underlying conditions are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and face greater challenges in keeping it at bay.



Religion, climate and environment connections

Richard Brown for "Land, Water, Blood: The Battle for Kekchi Territory in Guatemala"
Photo of Richard BrownLand and water conflicts are driving migration from Guatemala to the US, and Indigenous Kekchi Maya communities are on the front lines. They face land and water grabs by powerful business interests, and their peaceful efforts to protect their territory are being met with a tide of killings and criminalization. This project will explore the goals and methods of Kekchi defense-of-territory campaigns, investigate claims that climate change is supercharging water conflict in the area and investigate allegations that US companies — especially fruit companies and sugar importers — are profiting from the land and water grabs through land leases and commodity exports.

FEJ-funded project:


Barbara Fraser for "Enchanted Lakes and Laudato Si': Indigenous and Catholic Views of Our Relationship With the Natural World"
Photo of Barbara FraserRespect for the interdependence of all life is common to Indigenous cosmovisions, ecology and Pope Francis' 2015 encyclical "Laudato Si', on Care for Our Common Home." It is reflected in the relationship between the Kukama people and the spirits inhabiting the Marañón River in Amazonian Peru. But fishers say the madres, or protective spirits, are abandoning the enchanted lakes that used to provide sustenance for their families. With Radio Ucamara, a Catholic Church-affiliated station with a largely Kukama team, this project will explore the convergences and divergences among the scientific, Indigenous and Catholic views of the relationship between humans and other-than-human species, and how climate change could affect both ecosystems and cosmovisions.

FEJ-funded project:


Mélissa Godin for "Clean Energy or Environmental Injustice: The Indigenous Struggle to Protect a Sacred River From Hydroelectric Exploitation in the Ecuadorian Amazon"
Photo of Melissa GodinIn 2017, Ecuadorian electricity generation company Genefran S.A. began to construct a hydroelectric dam along the Piatua River in the Amazonian province of Pastaza, Ecuador. Although the dam is part of a larger plan to shift Ecuador away from its heavy reliance on fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, constructing the dam would virtually destroy the river that Kichwa Indigenous communities rely on for their livelihoods. For the past four years, Kichwa communities have protested against the dam's construction (which they were never consulted about), and have taken their case to court. But the judge has said that in order to rule in their favour, Kichwa communities need to prove their historical existence along the river and provide evidence for why the river is 'sacred' to them within their spiritual practice. Now, Kichwa communities are scrambling to find proof of their existence, working with anthropologists to translate their culture into evidence for the courts.

FEJ-funded project:


Tasmiha Khan for "How Muslims Are Motivated by Islam To Approach Climate Care and Climate Action"
Khan will be exploring how Muslims and Islamic groups are taking care of the climate and how that is grounded theologically.

FEJ-funded project:


Timothy Schuler for "Place of Refuge"
Photo of Timothy Schuler. Credit Kat Araujo.Despite a growing consensus among environmental scientists that Indigenous knowledge and stewardship are critical to combatting the effects of climate change, Native Hawaiians continue to fight for basic human rights in their own homeland. In recent years, pu'uhonua (historically, sites of sanctuary) are being revived as spaces of both refuge and resistance. This project aspires to make visible the essential connections between Hawaii's climate future and the long history of dispossession experienced by its native population, examining pu'uhonua as an emergent framework and physical response to ongoing economic injustice. Photo credit: Kat Araujo

FEJ-funded project:


Neha Thirani Bagri (pictured, left) and Sara Hylton for "Meghalaya’s Sacred Groves: How Community and Tradition Can Protect Our Natural Resources"

Photo of Neha Thirani BagriPhoto of Sara Hylton. Credit Jacobia Dahm.Sacred groves are tracts of forests that are revered and preserved because of their spiritual and cultural significance. They play an important role in conservation and are often repositories of biodiversity, rare ancient trees, endangered species and perennial water sources. This story will focus on the Indian state of Meghalaya, where 125 groves are administered by Indigenous tribal communities. Photo credit (Hylton): Jacobia Dahm


About the Fund for Environmental Journalism

SEJ's Fund for Environmental Journalism invests in public service reporting on environment and the journalists who produce it.  FEJ grants support development and dissemination of significant coverage that otherwise could not be completed.  Winning projects will be selected by an independent jury of journalists based on newsworthiness, topical relevance, publication plan and track record of the applicant, among other factors.

Fund for Environmental Journalism story project grants from 2010-2021 have been funded by The Arthur Vining Davis Foundations, Bullitt Foundation, Burning River Foundation, Compton Foundation, Cornelius King Foundation, Cornell Douglas Foundation, Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, The Energy Foundation, Environmental Defense Fund, Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, Grantham Foundation for the Environment, The Heinz Endowments,  Hewlett Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Religion & Environment Story Project, Spring Point Partners, The Walton Family Foundation, The Wilderness Society, Wyss Foundation, and individual members and friends of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Grantees retain full editorial control of FEJ-funded coverage. Donors have no right of review and no influence on story plans made possible in part by their contributions. Binding agreements between donors and the Society of Environmental Journalists and between SEJ and grantees of its Fund for Environmental Journalism reinforce this policy of editorial independence.

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