EarthFix Northwest Environmental News

OPB looks back at the stories that defined 2016 in Oregon, Southwest Washington and the United States.

When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died in mid-February this year, Republicans in Washington, D.C., promptly announced they would not vote on any candidate to fill the vacancy until after the election. Meanwhile, Democrats urged those across the aisle to meet with Merrick Garland, outgoing President Barack Obama’s nominee for the bench.

Winter Storms Give Oregon Snowpack An Early Boost

Dec 20, 2016

Across Oregon and much of Washington, the snowpack is above normal.

Julie Koeberle, a hydrologist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, said the string of winter storms across the Northwest in recent weeks is benefiting the region’s snowpack.

“Year’s past, we’ve had a little bit of a slow start to the snow season. And so, this year we’ve had an early start and it’s benefited the ski areas," Koeberle said. "It’s been great for recreation."

Judge Halts Logging On State Forest In Oregon

Dec 20, 2016

A federal judge in Eugene has ordered a pair of Oregon timber companies not to log on a former section of state forest near the south coast.

U.S. District Judge Ann Aiken told Scott Timber Company and Roseburg Forest Products to halt further work on a parcel called Benson Ridge in the Elliott State Forest.

At Lyle Falls, Washington’s Klickitat River rushes through steep canyon walls toward the Columbia River Gorge.

It’s one of a few places where members of the Yakama Nation still fish from scaffolds using dip nets. Fishermen say it’s the only place that comes close to what used to exist at Celilo Falls on the Columbia River.

For thousands of years, generations of tribal fishermen have learned to fish on platforms above the falls. That tradition continues in fishermen like James Kiona Jr., who grew up watching his elders fish here.

The agency in charge of managing Oregon's water resources is being stretched to the limit.

That's one of the findings in a new audit from the Oregon Secretary of State's office.

The Oregon Water Resources Department oversees the state's water rights and works to ensure the state has an adequate supply of water for the future.

The new audit says the agency has been focusing too much time on managing existing water rights instead of working to sustain Oregon's water resources for the long run.

Researchers at Oregon State University have discovered a sound coming from one of the deepest spots in the ocean. They believe it’s the song of a Minke whale, but it’s not like any they’ve identified before.

The so-called “Western Pacific Biotwang” is more horror movie than Nashville ballad. A low moan at the beginning is typical of baleen whales, but it was the end that caught the ear of OSU researcher Sharon Nieukirk.

“What makes this call special is the second part, and the way it sweeps way up and it sort of has that metallic twang sound to it,” she said.

Backers of a liquefied natural gas project in southwest Oregon say they will try again to get federal approval now that the fossil fuel-friendly Trump administration is about to take power.

Last week, regulators effectively denied the Jordan Cove LNG terminal and pipeline application. But the incomingadministration has supporters hoping for a different outcome this time around.

The Canadian-owned Jordan Cove LNG project would transport natural gas to Coos Bay from sources in the Mountain West. It would then liquefy the gas and load it on ships bound for Asia.

With scientists scrambling to copy federal climate data onto private servers before President-elect Donald Trump becomes President Trump, outgoing U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell of Seattle told a conference full of scientists Wednesday they should speak out if their bosses interfere with their work.

An underwater volcano, some 300 miles off the Oregon Coast, is providing clues about how to better understand — and predict — eruptions.

The seamount erupted in 1998, 2011 and 2015.

Researchers from Oregon State University, NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and the University of North Carolina found that after each eruption, the seafloor dropped by about eight feet and then gradually rose back up again over several years.

The Portland City Council adopted a package of bills Wednesday aimed at reducing the city’s reliance on fossil fuels and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

Notably, the council voted unanimously to ban new bulk fossil fuel storage facilities in the city.

"I am very proud of this day" said Mayor Charlie Hales, casting his vote.

According to zoning code changes adopted by the City Council, existing fossil fuel tank farms, translating facilities and terminals could only expand their existing storage tanks by 10 percent.

Federal fisheries managers finalized a 10-year plan Wednesday to bring Oregon’s coastal coho back from threat of extinction. It lays out voluntary steps federal, state and private landowners should take to ensure recovery of the species.

California Gov. Jerry Brown wants President Barack Obama to permanently ban new offshore oil and gas drilling in his state. Brown says in a letter sent Tuesday to the president that allowing new drilling would be inconsistent with goals of reducing reliance on fossil fuels and combating climate change.

At an even launching the International Alliance to Combat Ocean Acidification, a new organization to protect oceans, Brown said he plans to ask Oregon and Washington to help him convince the current Administration to act.

Columbia River Cleanup Bill Passes Congress

Dec 13, 2016

Cleaning up and monitoring toxics in the Columbia River Basin could now be a little easier. Congress recently passed a bill that would authorize the Environmental Protection Agency to start a voluntary grant program for environmental cleanup in the Columbia River system.

The Columbia River Basin, which was named as a “large aquatic ecosystem” in 2006, was the only system of that sort that didn’t receive dedicated funding to reduce toxins. Others included Puget Sound, the Gulf of Mexico and the Great Lakes.

Gov. Kate Brown on Tuesday sought an new alternative to selling a state forest in southwest Oregon to the only bidder to offer the full asking price.

At a meeting of the Oregon State Land Board, Brown called for setting aside $100 million in state bonding authority to allow for a new proposal on how the state should manage the Elliott State Forest going forward.

The car winds its way along a narrow gravel road of the Elliott State Forest. Allison Tarbox has a CB in hand, tuned to the local channel.

“Nine-and-a-half up the 2000,” she monotones into the ether as the vehicle passes a small numbered sign tacked to a tree.

The car’s at mile 9.5 heading “up” State Forest Road 2000. Tarbox, who’s with the Coos Watershed Association, calls out our position to give logging crews in the area a heads-up.

Union Pacific Railroad says it plans to appeal a decision blocking the expansion of its railroad track in Mosier, Oregon.

In November, the Wasco County Commission denied the proposed development on the basis that it would affect the Yakima Nation’s tribal treaty rights.

The county commission reversed an earlier decision by the Wasco County Planning Commission that approved the railroad expansion but imposed a number of conditions, including new pedestrian crossings.

Choice Of Scott Pruitt To Run EPA Frustrates Some Oregonians

Dec 9, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump’s choice of Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has ruffled some feathers in Oregon.

He’s sued the EPA for everything from the Clean Power Plan to the Clean Water Act.

But Pruitt’s assertion that it was states, and not the EPA, that were intended to be the nation's foremost environmental regulators, has antagonized Frank Potter.

He’s now retired and living in Portland. But Potter worked for Congress in the 1970s and helped draft the National Environmental Policy Act.

Eastern Washington lawmaker Cathy McMorris Rodgers is emerging as President-elect Donald Trump’s choice to lead natural resources policy as interior secretary.

Several news organizations, including the Associated Press and The New York Times reported this development Friday, based on information from unnamed sources.

Such an appointment would ensure that a Washington state resident remains at the helm of the Interior Department, which includes the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

An environmental group filed a lawsuit Wednesday accusing Washington state of failing to control water pollution along the coast and Puget Sound.

Portland-based Northwest Environmental Advocates is asking a U.S. district court to force two federal agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – to cut funding to the state as a form of punishment.

Emergency management experts are meeting on the Oregon coast this week to discuss tsunami preparedness.

The Oregon Office of Emergency Management’s tsunami conference is bringing together a wide variety of experts to talk about how to mitigate the effects of a tsunami that would strike the coast after a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

That quake is expected to be at least magnitude 8.0 and could hit at any time. The resulting tsunami could bring 30- to 50-foot waves.

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