SELC Announces Winners of the 2019 Reed Environmental Writing Awards
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA—The Southern Environmental Law Center has announced the winners of the 2019 Phillip D. Reed Environmental Writing Awards, to be presented during this year’s Virginia Festival of the Book.
Author Earl Swift will receive the Reed Award in the nonfiction Book category for Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island. John Archibald and Kyle Whitmire of the Alabama Media Group will receive the Reed Award in the Journalism category for their coverage of a public corruption scandal aimed at shielding companies from the expense of cleaning up pollution in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the North Birmingham area.
Swift, who lives near the top of the Blue Ridge in Nelson County, Virginia, will be the featured speaker for the Reed Award presentation. Free and open to the public, the event will be at 4 p.m. Friday, March 22, at SELC’s headquarters on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville. A former reporter for the Virginian-Pilot, Swift is the author of six previous books and has been a residential fellow of Virginia Humanities at the University of Virginia since 2012.
Swift’s most recent book is an intimate and empathetic portrait of a community in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay that is rapidly losing ground to the sea. Hit by a one-two punch of rising water and subsiding land, Tangier Island is experiencing a rate of sea-level rise that is among the highest in the world. Yet, its people are reluctant to blame climate change for their predicament.
While living among the island’s fewer than 500 residents, Swift gained the trust of local citizens and developed a keen understanding of their way of life and the difficulties they face. These include not only the bay’s steady encroachment, but also the challenges of pursuing the island’s chief source of income, the Chesapeake Bay blue crab. By looking closely and compassionately at this truly unique place in America, Swift sheds light on larger political and cultural forces being felt throughout the nation today.
In a series of op-eds and news analyses published last summer, Archibald and Whitmire followed a conspiracy trial involving a state lawmaker who admitted to taking bribe money in exchange for fighting a proposal by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to expand the cleanup of industrial pollution in and around his district. Under EPA’s plan, these struggling communities would be added to the Superfund’s National Priorities List of the nation’s most polluted sites. This could require companies such as ABC Coke, a subsidiary of the Drummond Company, to pay tens of millions of dollars for the removal of arsenic and other contaminants from the soil around homes, schools, churches, and businesses, as well as in parks and playgrounds.
The case led to the conviction of a Drummond Company vice president and a member of one of Alabama’s most prominent law firms, Balch & Bingham, on charges related to bribing the state legislator. The reporters point out, however, that the tentacles of the conspiracy extend to many other corporate executives, high-level government officials and community leaders, and that the trial laid bare a “shadow government” in Alabama “run by the elites at the expense of the powerless.”
SELC’s Reed Environmental Writing Award is named for the late Phillip D. Reed, a successful attorney, a committed environmental advocate, and a founding trustee of the Southern Environmental Law Center. Reed believed deeply in the power of writing to raise awareness of environmental issues and the forces that threaten natural treasures and special places.
Selected by a distinguished panel of judges, Reed Award winners have recently included Edward O. Wilson, the “father of biodiversity”; journalist and filmmaker Ben Raines, who covers environmental issues and natural wonders for the Alabama Media Group; Janisse Ray, a writer, naturalist and activist who has been inducted into the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame; science writer Deborah Cramer, whose work has won honors from the Society of Environmental Journalists and the National Academy of Sciences; and J. Drew Lanham, acclaimed author of The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature.
For more than 30 years, the Southern Environmental Law Center has used the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. With more than 70 attorneys and nine offices across the region, SELC is widely recognized as the Southeast’s foremost environmental organization and regional leader. SELC works on a full range of environmental issues to protect our natural resources and the health and well-being of all the people in our region. www.SouthernEnvironment.org