Earthfix Northwest Environmental News

Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey are trying to figure out whether smartphones might be used to give earthquake warnings.

People standing above the epicenter of a large earthquake will feel the ground shaking before those on the periphery of the quake. The same can be said of their smartphones.

Ben Brooks with the USGS says if a computer was checking for simultaneous movement of a large number of smartphones, it could give people on the periphery of a quake a 10 or 20 second warning.

That's enough time to stop a surgeon from making a cut, he said.

Oil Train Safety Legislation Passes In Washington

Apr 24, 2015

Olympia -- State lawmakers gave final approval Friday to a bill meant to increase oil train safety.

The bill was taken up in response to the uptick in oil train traffic in the region. It directs oil taxes to help pay for oil-train spill response. It also imposes public disclosure requirements for railroad companies operating in Washington.

Oregon fish and wildlife commissioners decided Friday that it's time to consider whether gray wolves have recovered enough to take them off the state's list of endangered species.

The Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission launched a public process to decide if the wolf population is robust enough to remove state endangered species protections. A final decision on the issue won’t likely be made until later this summer.

In 1946, that state considered itself rid of wolves. That was the year when the last bounty was claimed for a wolf killed in the state.

The debate is beginning once again over endangered species habitat and county budgets in Oregon.

On Friday the Bureau of Land management released draft options to manage its public forests.

Seattle Suspends $1 Fine For Failure To Compost

Apr 23, 2015

Breathe easy, Seattle. The proposed fines for not following Seattle’s new food composting rule have been delayed.

The fines were originally scheduled to start July 1. But on Wednesday, Mayor Ed Murray said he would suspend those fines for the rest of the year. The earliest they could go into effect -- and that's a big if -- is January 2016.

A proposed natural gas facility near Troutdale poses big risks to airplanes landing at the nearby regional airport - according to new modeling.

The Oregon Pilots Association is contesting the Troutdale Energy Center proposed for industrial land owned by the Port of Portland.

The pilots say their modeling shows severe turbulence from emission plumes would threaten one in 100 flights.

The pilots' association president, Mary Rosenblum, said the emissions would hit planes at low altitudes.

A new report from the National Park Service shows in 2014, visitors spent an estimated $15 billion in gateway communities to national parks, supporting more than 275,000 jobs.

Visitors to national parks in Washington spent more than $450 million last year in communities within 60 miles of a park, according to the report. Visitors in Oregon spent more than $70 million in towns near parks.

Styrofoam would leave many Oregon school cafeterias under a bill that passed the House of Representatives Wednesday. Lawmakers voted 47 to 10 to phase out plastic foam by 2021. School districts that aren't sure they can make that deadline can get state permission to take longer.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, credits students at Sunnyside Environmental School who first advocated a ban on plastic foam in public schools.

Managers of Portland's largest commercial buildings will start tracking their energy use under a new city policy approved Wednesday.

Portland is joining 12 cities that already use the Energy Star reporting system, run by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Participating buildings have cut energy use by an average of more than 2 percent, just by monitoring and reporting, according to Alisa Kane with Portland's Bureau of Planning and Sustainability.

The Portland Convention Center is abuzz with activity. Security personnel and organizers chatter on walkie-talkies. Photographers and reporters pace the periphery. The audience is full of dignitaries; a who’s-who of Northwest politicians and public figures.

Then a voice – a cross between a game show host and debate moderator – fills the vast room.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the president and vice president of the United States.”

The applause comes slowly, with surprising hesitation, perhaps because no one really knows where this day - April 2, 1993 - is headed.

The small, rarely-seen member of the weasel family known as the fisher may be even rarer in the Northwest because of the prevalence of illegal marijuana grow operations here.

Northwest utilities are fighting pressure to end to all use of coal-fired power -- even when it's generated in places like Utah and Montana.

Many people are surprised to find out how much coal-fired power the Northwest still uses, even with all of its hydroelectric dams and wind farms. Oregon still gets about a third of its electricity from coal. In Washington, it's about 15 percent.

While Californians are cutting back on water, and experimenting with long-term solutions to deal with drought, William Shatner said the answer is as simple as starting a Kickstarter page.

The 84-year-old actor said he's looking to crowdsource a $30 billion project to build a pipeline from Seattle, a place where "there's too much water," down Interstate 5 to the drylands of California.

We check in with Earthfix reporter Ashley Ahearn about a few stories she's been following, including:

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Shell Arctic Drilling Rig Expected In Port Angeles

Apr 16, 2015

Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, is expected to arrive Friday in Port Angeles, Washington.

Shell has just received the necessary federal permits to drill for oil in the Arctic and will be staging its fleet in Seattle, despite a lawsuit filed by environmental groups and an investigation launched by the Seattle City Council.

Activists have warned of a flotilla of kayaks that would extend a less-than-warm welcome to Shell when it arrives at the Port of Seattle.

A western gray whale has completed a nearly 14,000-mile journey from Sakhalin Island, Russia, to Baja California, Mexico — the longest mammal migration ever recorded.

In the early 1970s, scientists thought the western gray whale had gone extinct. Now researchers estimate about 150 individual whales remain.

An energy company says it's looking at several locations in Oregon and Washington as potential sites for what could be the West Coast’s first crude oil refinery in more than 25 years.

Riverside Energy Inc. CEO Louis J. Soumas said Wednesday his company has engaged in discussions with a variety of locations in the two states in its pursuit of a place to build such a facility.

Refinery Proposed Last Year For Columbia River, Records Show

Apr 15, 2015

Washington's Port of Longview says it is in talks with an energy company that last year submitted plans for a crude oil refinery on the Columbia River.

Details of the company's planned refinery surfaced Wednesday through public records obtained and released by Columbia Riverkeeper.

Washington Oil Train And Pipeline Safety Bill Advances

Apr 14, 2015

The Washington House gave its approval Tuesday to a bill that would set higher oil train safety standards.

The bill is moving through the state Legislature as more trains are hauling crude oil through Washington from the Bakken region of North Dakota and from Canada's tar sands. The bill imposes a per-barrel tax of 8 cents on oil that arrives in Washington by train or pipeline. The revenue would pay for spill-related emergency response and preparedness.

Picture yourself at a noisy bar. You realize that you have been shouting at your date all night in order to be heard. Well, orcas in Puget Sound are in kind of the same situation.

Marla Holt, a research biologist with NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center, has found that loud boat noise forces endangered orcas to raise the volume of their calls.

But the question, Holt says, is "so what? What are the biological consequences of them doing this?”

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