Howard Berkes

Howard Berkes is a correspondent for the NPR Investigations Unit.

Since 2010, Berkes has focused mostly on investigative projects, beginning with the Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia in which 29 workers died. Since then, Berkes has reported on coal mine and workplace safety, including the safety lapses at the Upper Big Branch mine, other failures in mine safety regulation, the resurgence of the deadly coal miners disease black lung and weak enforcement of grain bin safety as worker deaths reached a record high. Berkes was part of the team that collaborated with the Center for Public Integrity in 2011 resulting in Poisoned Places, a series exploring weaknesses in air pollution regulation by states and EPA.

Before moving into his current role, Berkes spent a decade serving as NPR's first rural affairs correspondent. His reporting focused on the politics, economics and culture of rural America.

Based in Salt Lake City, Berkes reported on the stories that are often unique to non-urban communities or provide a rural perspective on major issues and events. In 2005 and 2006, he was part of the NPR reporting team that covered Hurricane Katrina, emphasizing impacts in rural areas. His rural reporting also included the effects of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on military families and service men and women from rural America, including a disproportionate death rate from this community. During multiple presidential and congressional campaigns, Berkes has covered the impact of rural voters on those races.

Berkes has also covered eight summer and winter Olympic games, beginning with the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, through the 2012 games in London. His reporting in 1998 about Salt Lake City's Olympic bid helped transform a largely local story about suspicious payments to the relatives of members of the International Olympic Committee into an international ethics scandal that resulted in Federal and Congressional investigations.

Berkes' ongoing reporting of Olympic politics and the Olympic Games has made him a resource to other news organizations, including The PBS Newshour, MSNBC, A&E's Investigative Reports, the British Broadcasting Corporation, the French magazine L'Express, Al Jazeera America and others. When the Olympics finally arrived in Salt Lake City, Berkes' coverage included rides in a bobsled and on a luge sled in attempts to help listeners understand how those sports work. Berkes was part of the reporting team that earned NPR a 2009 Edward R. Murrow Award for Sports Reporting for coverage of the Beijing Olympics.

In 1981, Berkes pioneered NPR's coverage of the interior of the American West and public lands issues. He's traveled thousands of miles since then, to every corner of the region, driving ranch roads, city streets, desert washes, and mountain switchbacks, to capture the voices and sounds that give the region its unique identity.

Berkes' stories are heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition. His analysis of regional issues was featured on NPR's Talk of the Nation. Berkes has also been a substitute host of Morning Edition and Weekend All Things Considered.

An easterner by birth, Berkes moved west in 1976, and soon became a volunteer at NPR member station KLCC in Eugene, Oregon. His reports on the 1980 eruptions of Mt. St. Helens were regular features on NPR and prompted his hiring by the network. Berkes is sometimes best remembered for his story that provided the first detailed account of the attempt by Morton Thiokol engineers to stop the fatal 1986 launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. Berkes teamed with NPR's Daniel Zwerdling for the report, which earned a number of major national journalism awards. In 1989, Berkes followed up with another award-winning report that examined NASA's efforts to redesign the Space Shuttle's rocket boosters.

Berkes has covered Native American issues, the militia movement, neo-nazi groups, nuclear waste, the Unabomber case, the Montana Freemen standoff, polygamy, the Mormon faith, western water issues, mass shootings and more. His work has been honored by many organizations, including the American Psychological Association, American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial, the Harvard Kennedy School and the National Association of Science Writers.

Berkes has also trained news reporters, consulted with radio news departments, and served as a guest faculty member at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies. In 1997, he was awarded a Nieman Foundation Journalism Fellowship at Harvard University.

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NPR Story
5:08 pm
Fri January 13, 2012

A Look At Romney's Olympic Legacy

At the opening ceremony of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Mitt Romney (left) stands with President George W. Bush (center) and International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge (right) in front of the American flag that flew at the World Trade Center before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
George Frey AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Wed May 23, 2012 11:07 am

Ten years after the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, there's still some debate about Mitt Romney's claim that he helped "save" the games — and about whether he used the Olympics to relaunch a fledgling political career.

In 1999, Romney accepted the job as CEO of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee (SLOC), five years after he failed to oust Sen. Ted Kennedy from his Massachusetts Senate seat.

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The Two-Way
10:45 am
Tue January 10, 2012

Mine Disaster Settlement Talks Enter Fifth Day

The emotionally charged task of putting price tags on the lives of coal miners killed in the nation's deadliest mine disaster in 40 years continues for a fifth day in West Virginia.

Sources familiar with the mediation talks say the families of 13 Upper Big Branch mine explosion victims are still considering settlement of wrongful death claims with mine owner Alpha Natural Resources.

Six families settled yesterday in mediated negotiations that began Friday at a resort in Glade Springs, W. Va.

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The Two-Way
9:20 am
Thu January 5, 2012

Denver Reconsiders The Olympics Despite Dumping 1976 Games

February 1976: The Winter Olympics were moved to Innsbruck, Austria, after Denver decided it couldn't host them.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Thu January 5, 2012 2:37 pm

It may be the most insulting snub in Olympic history. After seeking and winning the right to host the 1976 Winter Olympics, the city of Denver backed out of the games. Colorado voters rejected public funding of the Olympics in 1972 and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) was forced to turn to Innsbruck, Austria, the host city eight years earlier.

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U.S.
4:00 am
Fri December 9, 2011

Report: Federal Agency Shares Blame In Mine Blast

The federal Mine Safety and Health Administration released its final report this week into last year's West Virginia mine explosion. That explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine killed 29 workers. The government has maintained that the company that owned the mine, Massey Energy, didn't do enough to prevent the accident. Now, documentation obtained by NPR indicates that the government didn't do enough, either.

The Two-Way
6:50 am
Wed December 7, 2011

Internal Probe, Criminal Charges Still Pending In W.Va. Mine Disaster

It's been a busy week for the 29 families of the coal miners who lost their lives last year in the explosion at Massey Energy's Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

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U.S.
5:43 am
Tue December 6, 2011

Settlement Reported In West Virginia Mine Disaster

Originally published on Tue January 17, 2012 3:32 pm

The owner of West Virginia's Upper Big Branch coal mine is reportedly ready to pay slightly more than $200 million to settle civil and criminal claims resulting from the explosion that killed 29 people last year.

The settlement was first reported by the Charleston Gazette, and some details were confirmed by NPR. A private briefing about the settlement is scheduled Tuesday morning for the families of the victims. A public announcement is set later in the morning.

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The Two-Way
1:32 pm
Wed November 30, 2011

Despite Warnings From Inspector, One Iowa Town Still Battles Toxic Air

The Grain Processing Corp. plant in Muscatine, Iowa.
Chris Hamby Center for Public Integrity

Originally published on Wed November 30, 2011 1:35 pm

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The Two-Way
6:55 am
Thu November 17, 2011

EPA Takes Action Against Toxic Arizona Copper Plant

A haze can be seen at night hovering over the Asarco copper smelter, which turns copper ore into nearly pure copper bars.
Emma Schwartz Center for Public Integrity

Originally published on Thu November 17, 2011 12:40 pm

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Environment
4:00 am
Thu November 17, 2011

EPA Sites Asarco For Toxic Violations

The Environmental Protection Agency says the Asarco copper smelter in Hayden, Arizona, has been continuously emitting illegal amounts of lead, arsenic and eight other dangerous toxins, for the last six years. The agency's finding means Asarco could face millions of dollars in fines and could be forced to install expensive pollution controls. The EPA disclosed the action last week to NPR and the Center for Public Integrity, which were jointly investigating toxic air pollution in the town.

Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities
5:00 am
Thu November 10, 2011

EPA Regulations Give Kilns Permission To Pollute

The Ash Grove Cement Kiln, as seen from an aerial photograph, sits on the northern edge of Chanute, Kan.
David Gilkey NPR

Part three of a four-part series, Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities.

The smokestack stands more than nine stories above the southeastern Kansas prairie and the small city of Chanute, and it's bright, white flashing lights are like a beacon in the night sky.

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Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities
5:00 am
Mon November 7, 2011

Oklahoma Town Battles Powdery Carbon Pollution

The Continental Carbon plant sits on the southern outskirts of Ponca City, Okla. Residents blamed the plant, which produces a black dust known as carbon black, for polluting their city.
David Gilkey NPR

Originally published on Thu November 10, 2011 1:55 pm

Part 2 of a four-part series, Poisoned Places: Toxic Air, Neglected Communities

Karen Howe couldn't believe her luck. As a single mom working a minimum-wage job and living with two kids in a crowded one-bedroom apartment in Ponca City, Okla., she was desperate for a three-bedroom house and a lawn.

Howe, a member of the Ponca tribe, was offered tribal housing in a small, tree-lined subdivision of 11 homes on the southern, rural edge of the city.

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The Two-Way
11:43 am
Fri October 28, 2011

West Virginia Prosecutor Defends Long Mine Disaster Investigation

Ken Ward of the Charleston Gazette has a story this morning featuring a rare interview with the U.S. Attorney for West Virginia, who says prosecutors are exploring more serious charges against senior Massey Energy officials in last year's deadly explosion at the company's Upper Big Branch mine.

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The Two-Way
10:30 am
Tue October 25, 2011

Union: W. Va. Mine Disaster Was 'Industrial Homicide'

The United Mine Workers report.

NPR

The United Mine Workers union (UMWA) is out with its own report this morning about last year's Upper Big Branch coal mine disaster in West Virginia in which 29 workers died.

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The Two-Way
3:08 pm
Fri September 23, 2011

10 Years Later, Remembering One Of The Nation's Worst Mine Disasters

Ten years ago today, as a horrified America struggled to respond to the September 11 attacks, 13 coal miners died in multiple explosions at the Jim Walter Resources coal mine in Brookwood, Alabama.

The overwhelming and justifiable attention to the thousands of deaths in New York, The Pentagon and Pennsylvania 12 days before kept the Jim Walter mine disaster in the shadows. It was the nation's worst mine disaster in nearly two decades and it involved a methane gas explosion, a familiar danger underground.

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