Coal Investigation Wins National Headliner Award - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

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Coal Investigation Wins National Headliner Award

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. - A NewsChannel5 investigation that revealed how the coal industry fought to weaken water quality standards in Tennessee has won the National Headliner Award for Environmental Reporting.

Investigative reporter Ben Hall and photojournalist/producer Iain Montgomery showed how coal industry executives made campaign contributions to key lawmakers. 

Those lawmakers pushed a bill that would have increased allowable levels of a mineral called selenium in state streams.  The blasting that is part of mountaintop mining often exposes selenium which can kill fish and is toxic to people in high levels.

The NewsChannel 5 investigation revealed that  a prominent East Tennessee coal company faced a federal lawsuit after tests showed selenium levels up to twenty times higher than the state allowed. 

Critics of the bill claimed the coal industry wanted to change state law to help with the lawsuit.

Lawmakers had never before tried to change the state's water quality standards.  The decision is traditionally left up to experts on the state's Water Quality Control Board.

The bill passed with little opposition in the state Senate.  But after our stories aired, the bill failed narrowly on the floor of the state House of Representatives. 

The National Headliner Awards program is one of the oldest and largest annual contests recognizing journalistic excellence.  It was founded in 1934 by the Press Club of Atlantic City. 

This is the second year in a row Ben and Iain have been recognized by the Headliner Awards.  Last year they finished in second place for environmental reporting.

E-mail: bhall@newschannel5.com

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