News | February 12, 2024

Celebrating our 2024 Reed Environmental Writing Award winners

The Southern Environmental Law Center congratulates this year’s Reed Environmental Writing Award winners — Emily Strasser, David Folkenflik, Mario Ariza, and Miranda Green — who all demonstrate the power of writing to capture some of the most important environmental issues facing Southern communities. 

Emily Strasser receives the Reed Award for ​​“Half-Life of a Secret: Reckoning with a Hidden History.” In the book, Strasser examines the toxic legacy of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, one of three secret cities constructed by the Manhattan Project for developing the first atomic bomb. She exposes a suppressed history that forever impacted her family, a community, the nation, and the world. 

David Folkenflik with NPR, and Mario Ariza and Miranda Green with Floodlight, receive the Reed Award for their story, “In the Southeast, power company money flows to news sites that attack their critics.” Their investigation digs into a consulting firm working on behalf of electric utility giants in Alabama and Florida. The team uncovers how money flows from the firm to influence local news sites to push the utilities’ agenda​s​ and attack their critics.  

Everyone is invited to join us for a celebration honoring our winners and the 30th anniversary of the Reed Award in person or virtually on March 22 at 5:00 p.m. The in-person event will take place at the CODE Building, located at 225 West Water Street on the Downtown Mall in Charlottesville, Va.

The first 300 people to register for the Reed Award ceremony receive a free copy of “Half-Life of a Secret.”

The Reed Award is presented annually during the Virginia Festival of the Book, and honors writers who achieve both literary excellence and offer extraordinary insight into the South’s natural treasures and environmental challenges. This event is free and open to the public and will also be streamed online. Meet the winners and hear more about their writing and what inspires them.

The award recognizes outstanding writing on the Southern environment in two categories: the Book Category for works of nonfiction (not self-published) and the Journalism Category for newspaper, magazine, and online writing published by a recognized institution such as a news organization, university, or nonprofit group.

2024 Reed Award Winner: Book

Emily Strasser’s first book, ​​“Half-Life of a Secret: Reckoning with a Hidden History,” is a deeply researched memoir tracing her ​​​journey to confront​ a toxic legacy of secrecy — her grandfather’s work building nuclear weapons in the atomic city of Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Sifting through archives and family memories​,​ and traveling to the deserts of Nevada,​​ and the living rooms of Hiroshima, she grapples with the far-reaching ramifications of her grandfather’s work. Along the way, she learns that during the three decades he spent building nuclear weapons, ​her grandfather​ suffered from increasingly debilitating mental illness.

Returning to Oak Ridge, Strasser confronts the widespread contamination resulting from nuclear weapons production and the government’s disregard for its impact on the environment and public health. With brilliant insight, she reveals the intersections between the culture of secrecy in her family and the institutionalized secrecy within the nuclear industry, which persists, with grave consequences, to this day.  

2024 Reed Award Winner: Journalism

NPR’s David Folkenflik digs in with Mario Ariza and Miranda Green of Floodlight, a nonprofit newsroom that investigates the powerful interests stalling climate action, to uncover utility giants’ influence over small newsrooms. Matrix LLC, a consulting firm working on behalf of electric utility giants Alabama Power and Florida Power ​&​ Light, funnels money to local newsrooms that push the utilities’ agendas and attack their critics. Their work highlights how cash poured into these media outlets as the utilities fought clean energy efforts — a fight they are still waging today.  

The team spoke to more than a dozen former and current reporters, civil rights activists, utility employees, and environmentalists exposing a system of influence over newsrooms. They uncover how special interests are taking advantage of news outlets that face shrinking budgets and dwindling staff numbers.