Who has been Big Oil's secret ally?
Who was cheated as federal contractors prospered?
Those were the questions the Center's environment and labor team probed this year as part of its continued focus on the ways that pollution, global warming and other aspects of the environment affect health and livelihoods, and how dangerous workplace conditions put employees at risk.
See which stories made the list:
Death in the Trench: Jim Spencer suffocated under a pile of dirt in Nebraska — a grim reminder of the weakness of America’s worker-safety law
Courtesy of Cheryl Spencer
Jim Spencer, a plumber, had been on his knees outside a home construction project, laying sewer pipe in an eight-foot-deep trench, when a co-worker driving a backhoe inadvertently buried him in dirt.
The two companies managing the project were fined $24,800 and $16,800, respectively. “To me, that was nothing,” said Jim Spencer's wife, Cheryl. “How is it you can kill somebody with a car and get charged with vehicular homicide, and kill somebody in a trench and get a slap on the wrist?”
Leanne Abraham, Alyson Hurt and Katie Park/NPR
They landed, one after another, in 2015: plans for nearly a dozen interstate pipelines to move natural gas beneath rivers, mountains and people’s yards. Together, these new and expanded pipelines would double the amount of gas that could flow out of Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia, with cheap fuel that developers promised would benefit consumers and manufacturers.
But some scientists warn that the rush to more fully tap the rich Marcellus and Utica shales is bad for a dangerously warming planet, extending the country’s fossil-fuel habit by half a century.
National Archives and Records Administration
Since its formation at the end of World War I, the American Petroleum Institute has embedded itself in the U.S. government. Decades ago, the institute embarked on a campaign to sell Americans on a fossil-fuel future, and that campaign has continued, despite dire warnings of climate change that API heard as early as 1959. The group now encompasses every sector of the oil and gas industry, from drilling to plastics manufacturing.
The industry's influence has come at a steep cost to the public. The institute has helped block or stall action on climate change, consistently putting profit ahead of health. API is now working to undermine bedrock environmental laws that promise Americans clean air and water — all while promoting deeper and riskier drilling in places long off limits.
Jamie Smith Hopkins / The Center for Public Integrity
The irony is rich. The Sunshine State taps the sun for less than half a percent of its electricity while making two-thirds with natural gas — a fuel that Florida must pipe in from other states.
Many have called this a risky bet. A coastal state already suffering punishing effects of global warming shouldn’t keep building power plants that pump even more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, the Sierra Club warned. But Florida’s power providers and their state regulators haven’t reconsidered their strategy. In fact, they’re doubling down on it.
Courtesy of Stephon Litwinczuk
In traffic-clogged Southern California, plenty of people grasp the dangers of kids attending class close to busy roads and their largely invisible clouds of air pollution. But that's not nearly so well understood in the rest of the country — even though the problem stretches from coast to coast.
Nearly 8,000 U.S. public schools lie within 500 feet of highways, truck routes and other roads with significant traffic, according to a joint investigation by the Center for Public Integrity and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting. That’s about one in every 11 public schools, serving roughly 4.4 million students and spread across every state in the nation. Thousands more private schools and Head Start centers are in the same fix.