EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

The decision by automaker Volkswagen Group to cheat on diesel emissions tests means Oregon and Washington are in line for big payday.

The states plan to turn millions of dollars from the company’s settlement into cleaner air by replacing dirty old diesel engines.

But some say the money presents a golden opportunity not just to upgrade some old trucks, buses and construction equipment, but to start phasing them out altogether.

The Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River rushes over 40 miles from the North Cascades down into Puget Sound. It’s a big river, with enough rapids and undercurrents that only expert kayakers can navigate it.

“I love this place,” says Mark Boyer, who’s been coming here since the 1980s. “My friends get discouraged with me. They do interventions on me to get me out of the Middle Fork.”

If you’ve lived in Oregon long, chances are you’ve visited a place you learned about on "Oregon Field Guide."

For 28 seasons, the show has transported audiences to just about every corner of the state, from a trek in the Wallowa Mountains to a stroll around the town of Dufur. And the man behind it all? Steve Amen, the host of the show since its first season on OPB TV in 1989.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality expects to lose more than 30 people in the agency’s core programs protecting air and water quality because of President Trump’s proposed cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency budget, according to an internal DEQ memo.

Seattle's Gas Works Park About To Undergo Toxic Cleanup

Mar 20, 2017

Kite flyers, picnickers, and Ultimate players treasure Seattle’s Gas Works Park, whose famous towers and pipes were once part of a coal gasification plant on the shore of Lake Union that lit up early Seattleites’ homes.

But beneath the grass lies a more insidious legacy of the park’s industrial past: toxic waste.

Bend Says Goodbye To 'Oregon Field Guide' Host Steve Amen

Mar 18, 2017

Friday night was not short on smiles at the Tower Theatre in Bend, Oregon. OPB members and guests from around Central Oregon said goodbye to "Oregon Field Guide" host Steve Amen, who is retiring after 28 years on the show.

Theatergoers saw an advance screening of a "Field Guide" tribute to Amen and his contributions to OPB and the Pacific Northwest.

"You come away from a program that you've done and you feel better about yourself. You feel like you've learned more about the world ... I just want to thank you for that," one member told Amen after the show.

The Jordan Cove Liquefied Natural Gas project is still alive, despite being denied by federal regulators last year. Canadian energy company Veresen has resubmitted its plans and are holding a new round of required public meetings this week.

Backers of the export terminal propose to build a pipeline to bring natural gas from the inland West to the Port of Coos Bay on the South Oregon Coast. There, it will be liquefied and exported to markets in Asia.

The wet and cold winter may have been a doozy for urban Oregonians, but for farmers all that snow was good news.

"For agricultural users that means that we are expecting a full supply of irrigation water since most of our reservoirs are going to be filling or are nearly full by the end of the runoff season," said Mary Mellema, a hydrologist with the Bureau of Reclamation.

In Malheur County, for example, the Owyhee Reservoir is expected to be full for the first time in five years. The hearty snowpack also means that all regions of Oregon are now considered out of drought.

Washington state Sen. Doug Ericksen was paid $11,438 for his first four weeks working for the Trump administration’s Environmental Protection Agency, with a listed annual salary of $161,900, according to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.

Hunters, fishermen and environmental activists: it’s not often these groups are mentioned in the same breath. But recently they’re finding themselves standing shoulder to shoulder over the issue of public lands.

Despite having an avid hunter in Ryan Zinke leading up the Interior Department, which oversees the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service, there’s a sense that calls to sell off or transfer public lands are gaining traction.

A federal judge in Medford, Oregon, ruled Tuesday that several environmental groups can intervene in a lawsuit aimed at preventing the expansion the Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument in southern Oregon.

During his final days in office, President Obama expanded the national monument by about 48,000 acres. The monument was first established by President Clinton.

The judge’s ruling means Oregon Wild, the Wilderness Society, the Soda Mountain Wilderness Council and other groups will be allowed to intervene in a lawsuit filed by Murphy Timber Investments.

Lawmakers in Oregon are once again pushing bills to increase the state’s oversight of oil trains, ten months after a Union Pacific train derailed and caught fire in the Columbia River Gorge.

House Bill 2131 would give Oregon’s Department of Environmental Quality oversight of railroads’ plans for responding to spills — an authority it has over other forms of oil transport and storage — and assess a fee on railroads to pay for.

The Portland Water Bureau plans to resume using the Bull Run watershed as its drinking water source this week.

The bureau stopped using Bull Run water in February and switched to its backup source, water from the Columbia South Shore Well Field after it repeatedly detected small amounts of a single-celled parasite called cryptosporidium.

Tests over the past month have continued to detect cryptosporidium in the water, in low concentrations. Thirteen out of 47 samples have tested positive for cryptosporidium.

How Traffic Is Drowning Out Frogs' Mating Calls

Mar 13, 2017

Chances are you’ve heard the Pacific chorus frogs’ call before. Its classic “rib-bit” is featured in basically any movie that needs frog noise.

The Pacific chorus frogs’ call is ubiquitous in the Northwest. But the amphibians are having more and more trouble hearing themselves.

Traffic is drowning them out.

During mating season the chorus of “rib-bit” “rib-bit” “rib-bit” attracts the females to ponds where they mate.

One of the three boilers at King County’s West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant is back on line, heating water to the ideal temperature for the microorganisms that digest Seattle’s sewage. That’s an improvement since February, when an electrical outage followed by a mechanical failure caused massive flooding inside the plant.

There are nights when a phone call wakes Elizabeth Sanchey out of a dead sleep. At the other end, a voice alerts her to a snowy wreck with a semi-truck leaking oil or a logging truck that’s crashed on the Yakama Nation Reservation in Washington's Columbia River Basin.

And even through the fog of sleep, she knows this call is important. When gasoline or oil gets spilled, it needs to be cleaned up — and her hazmat crew is the one to do it.

Oregon’s backlog of expired water quality permits is among the worst in the country, meaning the state has let facilities discharge pollutants at levels that may violate current protections for the state’s waterways.

That's the argument of a lawsuit filed in Multnomah County today by two environmental groups seeking to force the state’s Department of Environmental Quality to update hundreds of old permits.

Port Of Vancouver Extends Oil Terminal Lease

Mar 7, 2017

A Vancouver project to build the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country will continue for now. After a contentious meeting Tuesday filled with passionate testimony, Port of Vancouver commissioners approved a lease extension for the controversial project.

The standing-room-only meeting went on for more than three hours. People lined up as early as 8:30 in the morning to sign up for public comment. Many sat in an overflow room, waiting to testify.

King County Releases Findings On Sewage Plant Failure

Mar 7, 2017

King County released preliminary findings Tuesday of what went wrong at the West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant. This February, an electrical failure there caused flooding and a massive dump of sewage into Puget Sound.

First, an electrical failure shut down the pumps that move treated wastewater into the sound. While electricians were trying to fix that, devices that measure how much raw sewage is in the plant also failed. Tanks filled up, and the plant flooded.

Eastern Oregon Wolf Recovery Enters Next Phase

Mar 7, 2017

There’s good news and bad news for wolves in eastern Oregon. The good news: they just hit another population milestone, showing the recovery effort is working.

The bad news for the predators? It’s getting a little bit easier for humans to kill them.

Oregon wildlife officials have counted at least seven breeding pairs of wolves for three straight years in the eastern part of the state. This indicates a degree of stability in that wolf population. It also triggers a change to how wolves are managed in the region.

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