Press Release | March 3, 2015

SELC Announces Winners of Reed Environmental Writing Award

Works Highlight a Fight for Environmental Justice in Alabama, Clashes on Environmental Policy in North Carolina

Charlottesville, VA—The Southern Environmental Law Center is pleased to announce the winners of its 2015 Reed Environmental Writing Award, to be presented March 21 during the Virginia Festival of the Book. With powerful storytelling, this year’s winners examine a community’s struggle to overcome a legacy of pollution in Alabama and the money and politics driving current environmental policy in North Carolina.

Ellen Griffith Spears, assistant professor in New College and the Department of American Studies at the University of Alabama, will receive the Reed Award in the book category for Baptized in PCBs: Race, Pollution, and Justice in an All-American Town. The staff of Environment & Energy Publishing (E&E), which produces five daily news publications online, will receive the Reed Award in the journalism category for its eBook Turning Carolina Red: Reports from the Front of an Energy Culture War.

Spears’ work centers on a community’s long but ultimately successful legal battle against Monsanto, which for decades had dumped PCBs in a historically African American and white working-class section of Anniston, Alabama. Dangerous toxic chemicals that accumulate in people and the environment, PCBs were used in a wide range of products before Congress banned them in the 1970s. Spears traces Anniston’s evolution as a “model city” of the New South—later labeled a “toxic town”—and places this story against a larger backdrop of local events and global developments, including the firebombing of a Freedom Rider bus outside Anniston in 1961 and the controversy surrounding the incineration of chemical weapons at the Anniston Army Depot after the Cold War.

In Turning Carolina Red, E&E’s reporters look at how a seismic shift in North Carolina politics in recent years has led to aggressive moves by elected officials to scale back environmental enforcement, abandon renewable energy development, scuttle clean transportation projects, and lower regulatory hurdles to attract the shale gas industry. Duke Energy’s catastrophic coal ash spill last year, and the lax state oversight it brought to light, drew these issues into national headlines. “It became part of a complex battle in an ideological war that has gripped the state,” according to E&E. “And it spotlighted energy and environmental policy in North Carolina like never before.”

SELC will present this year’s Reed Awards at 2 p.m. Saturday, March 21, at its headquarters on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall (201 West Main Street). The featured speaker will be writer and musician Bland Simpson, the Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and longtime member of the Tony Award-winning Red Clay Ramblers. Simpson is the author of numerous books, including Into the Sound Country: A Carolinian's Coastal Plain, The Coasts of Carolina: Seaside to Sound Country, and The Inner Islands: A Carolinian’s Sound Country Chronicle. His work has won acclaim for weaving the history and culture of coastal North Carolina into compelling portraits of the people and places he encounters in his travels through the region.

The event is free and open to the public.

For more than 20 years, SELC’s Reed Environmental Writing Award has recognized the most powerful voices speaking on behalf of the southern environment. The award is named for the late Phillip D. Reed, a distinguished 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.


About the Southern Environmental Law Center:

The Southern Environmental Law Center is a regional nonprofit using the power of the law to protect the health and environment of the Southeast (Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama). Founded in 1986, SELC has a team of more than 60 legal and policy experts who represent more than 100 partner groups on issues of climate change and energy, air and water quality, forests, the coast and wetlands, transportation, and land use.

Are you a reporter and would like more information? Please visit our press contact page for a full list of SELC’s press contacts.