Outstanding Explanatory Reporting, Small: SEJ 22nd Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment

First Place

"Pipe Dreams: Is Carbon Capture a Climate Solution or a Dangerous Distraction?" by Nicholas Kusnetz for Inside Climate News

Screenshot of first-place story #1, Explanatory Reporting, Small
Screenshot of first-place story, Explanatory Reporting, Small


Story links:

  1. "Occidental Is Eyeing California's Clean Fuels Market To Fund Texas Carbon Removal Plant"
  2. "In a Bid To Save Its Coal Industry, Wyoming Has Become a Test Case for Carbon Capture, But Utilities Are Balking at the Pricetag"
  3. "Occidental Seeks Texas Property Tax Abatements to Help Finance its Long-Shot Plan for Removing Carbon Dioxide From the Atmosphere"
  4. "Exxon's Long-Shot Embrace of Carbon Capture in the Houston Area Just Got Massive Support from Congress"
  5. "Carbon Removal Is Coming to Fossil Fuel Country. Can It Bring Jobs and Climate Action?"

Judges' comments: "In his Pipe Dreams series, Inside Climate News reporter Nicholas Kusnetz set out to dissect the carbon capture industry. He told a complicated story in a way that is accessible and understandable to readers. His reporting showed how the oil industry lobbied to shape climate policy toward carbon capture and storage. The result was more than $12 billion in federal spending from the bipartisan infrastructure bill and, last year, tens of billions more in potential loans and tax incentives for this controversial and largely unproven technology.

"Many environmental advocates warn that these technologies are at best a distraction, and at worst the latest attempt by oil companies to delay climate action."

Bio/about the winning project: Nicholas Kusnetz is a reporter for Inside Climate News. Before joining ICN, he worked at the Center for Public Integrity and ProPublica. His work has won numerous awards, including from the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers, and has appeared in more than a dozen publications, including The Washington Post, Businessweek, The Nation, Fast Company and The New York Times. The Pipe Dreams series was prompted by a flurry of oil industry lobbying that helped secure more than $12 billion in grants and loans to carbon capture and storage technology in the bipartisan infrastructure law of 2021. The fossil fuel industry had promoted the technology for decades as a way to cut climate pollution, with little to show for it. Now, all of a sudden, the field had unprecedented levels of funding and support. Kusnetz devoted a series of stories to help readers make sense of a fledgling industry and to help answer whether carbon capture offered a real climate solution or a dangerous distraction.


Second Place

"The Ciénaga Reemerges From Its Seeds" by Jacobo Patiño Geraldo and Daniel Zamora Quiroga for Pesquisa Javeriana

Judges' comments: "Jacobo Patiño Geraldo and Daniel Zamora, students at Javeriana University in Bogotá, Colombia, tell a story from the emerging intersection of science and non-institutional ways of knowing. Their luminous recounting of how two old men from a fishing community rally to help reverse the destruction of a crucial mangrove swamp ecosystem in service of the wildlife it once sustained is a remarkable example of the possibilities of multimedia reportage.

"Wise, engaging, balancing rigorous science with the astonishing narrative of their two guides through the swamp, the reporters provide primary source solutions journalism at its best."


Third Place

"How a Timber Mill Spawned a Black Community, and Likely Sparked the Fire That Destroyed It. A Story of Segregation and Climate Change." by Anne Marshall-Chalmers for Inside Climate News

Judges' comments: "The reporter — Anne Marshall-Chalmers — weaves together personal stories to paint the story of Lincoln Heights, a predominantly Black community in mostly white rural California. The community, which used to be known as 'The Quarters', was devastated by a massive wildfire that was sparked at the same mill that likely brought the neighborhood into existence. Chalmers draws readers in with compelling stories, and photographs, from long-time residents who describe their resilient community. Redlining, water rights, environmental contamination, economics and eventually wildfires all had a hand in snuffing out a community that likely won't recover. It is a poignant remembrance."


First Honorable Mention

"Why America's Food-Security Crisis Is a Water-Security Crisis, Too" by Lela Nargi for FERN (Food & Environment Reporting Network)

Judges' comments: "In much of the United States, the availability of clean water is taken for granted but Lela Nargi's reporting reveals some disconcerting trends that are becoming more frequent. The reporter's excellent explanatory writing delineates the connection between water insecurity and food insecurity, finding that nearly 60-million people struggle to find potable water and food to feed their families."


Second Honorable Mention

"Mysteries of the Deep" by Courtney Flatt for Northwest News Network

Story links:

  1. "To Unravel Some of the Ocean's Mysteries, Scientists Head to Sea"
  2. "Watching for Whales – and Their Food"
  3. "Growing Phytoplankton To Learn More About the Ocean's Food Web"
  4. "This Single-Celled Sea Critter Could Help Scientists Learn About Climate Change"
  5. "With a Few Cups of Water, Scientists Use Edna To Study Reclusive, Rare Creatures"

Judges' comments: "For her series 'Mysteries of the Deep,' Northwest Public Broadcasting and Northwest News Network reporter Courtney Flatt traveled on a NOAA research vessel, nearly two weeks, following scientists gathering samples along the Northern California Current ecosystem. She told compelling narratives about how sea creatures from whales to tiny phytoplankton can inform climate change. She also clearly explained what scientists are doing to help species continue to survive."


Third Honorable Mention

"The Changing Face of Ecosystem Conservation" by Hannah Weinberger for Crosscut

Judges' comments: "'Think globally, act locally' has long been a mantra of environmentalism. Hannah Weinberger's lyrical, meticulous story explaining a modest, unassuming Washington State bureaucrat's tireless work to protect a tiny, magical and unique bog exemplifies and advances public understanding of the importance of the oft-stated principle. It is a fine journalistic example of a reporter exploring the particular to illuminate the universal."


The Society of Environmental Journalists' annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment honor the best environmental journalism in 10 categories, bringing recognition to the stories that are among the most important on the planet. Prizes are $500 for first-place winners and $250 for second-place winners in all categories. Plus, the Nina Mason Pulliam Award for the "best of the best" environmental reporting will award $10,000 to one entry selected from the first-place winners of SEJ's Awards for Reporting on the Environment. The Pulliam Award also includes travel, registration and hotel expenses (up to $2,500) for the winner, or representatives of the winning team, to attend SEJ's annual conference.

The SEJ contest is the world's largest and most comprehensive environmental journalism competition. This year, a record-breaking 589 entries in 10 categories were judged by independent volunteer panels of journalists and professors.

On November 16, 2023, at SEJ's 2024 Journalists' Guide to Energy & Environment event in Washington, D.C., we'll announce live the winner of the Nina Mason Pulliam Award and its $10,000 cash prize.

SEJ's 2023 Esteemed Judges and Screeners
SEJ's 2023 Awards Committee

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