Earthfix Northwest Environmental News

NPR Story
10:49 am
Thu July 31, 2014

Portland State Students Turn Pallets Into Pickathon Stage

Students at PSU have crafted a stage out of pallets
Courtesy PSU

Portland State University students are finishing construction of a new venue on the Pickathon music festival grounds, just in time for the first guests Thursday.

The Pickathon venue is called the “Tree Line Stage.” It will hold an audience of up to 500 people. What makes it interesting is that PSU architecture students designed and built the venue entirely out of pallets.

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NPR Story
12:52 pm
Wed July 30, 2014

Oregon Will Tap Catastrophic Insurance Policy To Cover Firefighting Costs

Burn-out on the Rye Valley Fire
Dan Thorpe

For the second year in a row, the Oregon Department of Forestry says it will draw on a catastrophic loss insurance policy to help cover the costs of fighting wildfires.

ODF is responsible for protecting 16 million acres, roughly half the forestland in the state. It fights fires on Bureau of Land Management land, privately owned timber, and state and county forests.

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NPR Story
5:41 pm
Tue July 29, 2014

Gov. Inslee's Wastewater Plant Tour Highlights Sea Rise Woes

Dan Grenet (left), the manager of Seattle's West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant, leads Wash. Gov. Jay Inslee of a tour. The visit was intended to highlight the costs of climate change; in this case, as a result of seawater incursion at the facility.
Ashley Ahearn

SEATTLE -- When Washington Gov. Jay Inslee wanted to show the connection between climate change and an unpleasant and costly consequence for his constituents, he decided to tour a sewage treatment plant.

Inslee's visit Tuesday to the West Point Wastewater Treatment Plant in Seattle's Discovery Park was the latest stop on his statewide tour to raise awareness about the costs of climate change.

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7:00 am
Tue July 29, 2014

Should A Controversial Oregon Timber Harvest Become Regional Model?

Bureau of Land Management forester Abe Wheeler says logging on the Buck Rising timber harvest demonstrates the successes of ecological forestry techniques known as variable retention harvests.
Devan Schwartz

MYRTLE CREEK, Ore. -- The idea behind logging on the Buck Rising timber sale is to take out trees the same way nature does.

Bureau of Land Management forester Abe Wheeler touts this method of selective logging as a way of making revenue while being no more obtrusive than a natural fire cycle.

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NPR Story
4:31 pm
Mon July 28, 2014

Health Officials Plan Next Steps In Birth Defect Investigation

At a meeting in Kennewick, the health department asked people to raise concerns about a rare birth defect. Since 2010, there have been 32 cases of anencephaly in central Washington. Officials are working out their next steps.
Courtney Flatt

Investigators still aren’t sure what’s causing a cluster of birth defects in central Washington, where the rate is four times the national average. Health officials met Monday to figure out what to do next.

A new public service announcement is one way health officials are trying to teach women about folic acid. It's also available in Spanish.

One of the birth defects folic acid helps prevent is anencephaly, which results in unformed skulls in babies.

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NPR Story
4:27 pm
Mon July 28, 2014

New Bill Pushes For $50 Million To Restore Columbia River

A view of the Columbia River from Washington's Wind Mountain. A new bill would authorize $50 million for pollution cleanup in the Northwest's biggest river basin.
David Steves

Two members of Oregon's congressional delegation introduced a bill Monday that would open the door to $50 million in federal funding for Columbia River pollution cleanup.

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NPR Story
10:57 am
Fri July 25, 2014

Northwest Wildfires Boost Call For Funding Reform

Fires continue to rage through tinder-dry wildlands in Oregon, Washington and California
National Interagency Fire Center

Fires continue to rage through tinder-dry wildlands in Oregon, Washington and California. Nearly a million acres have burned so far, destroying more than 200 homes.

With the nation’s eyes turned toward the Northwest, Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden and the Obama administration have taken the opportunity to renew their efforts to change how the federal government pays to fight and prevent wildfires.

In a conference call from Washington, D.C., Wyden said fire season in the West is changing, and fast.

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NPR Story
10:40 am
Fri July 25, 2014

Washington Vied For Tesla ‘Gigafactory’ Worth Thousands Of Jobs

A Tesla Roadster electric car.
Tesla Motors

Washington Governor Jay Inslee tried to woo electric carmaker Tesla Motors to build a massive battery factory in the Evergreen state. But according to at least one report, the company may have already broken ground near Reno, Nevada.

This isn’t just a factory. It’s a "gigafactory."

What is a gigafactory? That’s the name Tesla has given to its planned 10-million-square-foot, multi-billion-dollar battery production facility.

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NPR Story
7:37 am
Fri July 25, 2014

Oregon Oil Train Safety Report Calls For More Rail Inspectors, Fees

Reports show three oil trains a week pass through Oregon on the way to the Global Pacific oil terminal near Clatskanie, and additional oil trains pass through central and southern Oregon on their way to California once a week.
Tony Schick

A statewide rail safety report released today identifies gaps in the resources Oregon needs to prevent and respond to an oil train derailment.

The report, ordered by Gov. John Kitzhaber in February, calls for more rail safety personnel and more funds to pay training emergency responders for an oil train derailment. To help pay for both of those needs, the report recommends charging fees for transporting crude oil by rail through the state.

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NPR Story
5:45 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

Study: Coal Project Would Help One Puget Sound County But Others Would Pay

A council of governments in the central Puget Sound region commissioned a study by an independent consultant. It concluded that economic benefits of a proposed coal export terminal would be concentrated in Whatcom County, where it would be built.
Katie Campbell

Originally published on Thu July 24, 2014 5:50 pm

If it’s built, the coal-exporting Gateway Pacific Terminal will create more than two thousand jobs in Whatcom County during construction and several hundred permanent jobs once it’s operational.

The outlook for the the central Puget Sound region isn’t as optimistic, according to a new economic study from the Puget Sound Regional Council issued Thursday.

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NPR Story
5:15 pm
Thu July 24, 2014

Seattle Considers Fining Residents For Failing To Compost

Put too many food scraps in the trash, and you could face a $1 fine under Seattle's new proposed curbside composting rules.

The city of Seattle might start fining residents who put food waste in the garbage instead of the compost bin -- the latest idea to push for better recycling rates.

Dozens of cities nationwide now give residents the option of putting their household food scraps in a curbside compost bin. Seattle is looking at making it a requirement.

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NPR Story
8:56 am
Thu July 24, 2014

Oil Train Tanker Cars Derail In Seattle

A train that included oil tankers carrying Bakken crude derailed early Thursday in a Seattle railyard. No oil was reported to have spilled.
Ashley Ahearn

SEATTLE -- Three tanker cars in an oil train from North Dakota derailed at a rail yard in Seattle early Thursday, but BNSF Railway says none of the oil spilled.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said a locomotive and buffer car loaded with sand also left the rails about 2 a.m. at the Interbay yard as the train with 102 cars of Bakken oil was pulling out, headed for a refinery at Anacortes.

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5:16 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

A State Forest In Oregon Could Be Sold To Timber Companies

The Elliott State Forest contains old-growth forest that conservation groups say shouldn't be sold to private owners.
Oregon Department of Forestry

The Elliott State Forest has been a losing proposition for the state of Oregon. Annual management costs are about $3 million dollars more than what it brings in by selling timber for logging companies to cut.

One option being considered to make money off the Elliott is to sell all 93,000 acres of the forest -- including old-growth tracts -- on the south Oregon coast to private timber companies. The proceeds of such a sale would go into the state's Common School Fund, which supports public education.

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NPR Story
2:19 pm
Wed July 23, 2014

New Safety Rules Proposed To Curb Oil Train Fires

Regulators say new safety rules should be adopted to replace DOT-111 train cars, which are prone to puncture during derailments.
Tony Schick / EarthFix

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Wednesday proposed the most comprehensive rules to date aimed at improving the safety of trains carrying large shipments of crude oil and ethanol.

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NPR Story
4:37 pm
Tue July 22, 2014

Columbia Sportswear Fined For Failing To Label Clothes Treated With Pesticide

The downtown Portland Columbia Sportswear store. The Oregon-headquartered company was fined for not labeling clothes that have been treated with pesticides, as required by federal law.
Scott Beale / Laughing Squid

The Environmental Protection Agency has fined Portland-based Columbia Sportswear $100,800 for failing to label clothes treated with pesticides.

Between 2010 and 2013, the company sold socks and hats that were treated with a product called Insect Blocker but didn't have the label notifying consumers as required by federal pesticide labeling laws.

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NPR Story
2:40 pm
Tue July 22, 2014

New Report: Oso Landslide Rooted In Long History Of Slides

Lidar imagery from a new report shows a history of landslide activity, as well as the contributions of groundwater from nearby basins, such as Headache Creek, which may have weakened slope stability..
GEER Report

SEATTLE -- Scientists have concluded that rain, groundwater seepage and a long history of big landslides likely contributed to the massive landslide of March 22 that killed 43 people and destroyed dozens of homes near Oso, Washington.

Those findings came out Tuesday, the result of a scientific team's rapid-fire assessment of geology and localized factors.

Joe Wartman, a University of Washington associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and a co-lead author of the study, said rainfall very likely played a key role in the slide.

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NPR Story
1:00 am
Tue July 22, 2014

EarthFix Conversation: Puget Sound Whales For Sale

A young orca captured in Penn Cove in 1970, which is believed to be Lolita, an orca that whale activists have been fighting to have set free in Puget Sound after 44 years in captivity at the Seaquarium in Miami.
Dr. Terrell Newby

The resident killer whales of Puget Sound are an endangered species. There are about 80 of them left.

But there was a time, not too long ago, when people were catching these whales and selling them into captivity.

Sandra Pollard has documented the history of orca capture in Puget Sound in a new book: Puget Sound Whales For Sale: The Fight To End Orca Hunting.

She spoke with EarthFix's Ashley Ahearn about this dark period in orca history.

Ashley Ahearn: Let’s go back in time here a little bit, why did people start catching orcas?

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Echolocation Extravaganza
12:00 pm
Fri July 18, 2014

How To Listen For A Spotted Bat

People can hear the spotted bat's echolocation. One group of nature lovers recently spent a night out tracking the bats in central Washington to check-in on how bat populations are doing in the state.
Paul Cryan

Moses Coulee is a bat-lovers paradise. Washington is home to 15 species of these flying mammals and you can find 14 of them in this deep ravine about 45 minutes north of Ephrata.

And one of those species is the most rare type of bat in the state: the spotted bat.

There’s one thing especially cool about this bat: people can hear its echolocation. (Audio courtesy of Neal Hedges.)

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NPR Story
5:04 pm
Thu July 17, 2014

Ag Secretary In Oregon To Tout Conservation Partnerships

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in Portland Thursday. He was in the Northwest to tout a new conservation program.
Alexi Horowitz

PORTLAND -- U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack met Thursday with Oregon conservation leaders to discuss a new effort to get farmers and conservation groups working together.

The Regional Conservation Partnership Program was created by the Farm Bill that passed this year in Congress. Lawmakers set aside $1.2 billion for the program. Partnerships around the country are competing for a share of the money for initiatives that protect soil, water quality, and wildlife habitat.

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NPR Story
11:52 am
Wed July 16, 2014

Oregon Nickel Mine Proposal Runs Into Stiff Opposition

North Fork of the Smith River, near Hiouchi, California.
PGHolbrook/Wikimedia Commons

ASHLAND, Ore. -- A Britain-based company is making preliminary moves that could lead to a 4,000-acre open-pit nickel mine being established in the headwaters of the Smith and Illinois Rivers in southwest Oregon.

The firm says it’s at the beginning of a long process of evaluating whether such a mine would even pencil out. But opponents in Oregon and California are taking no chances. They’re going all-out to kill it in the cradle.

Barbara Ullian minces no words.

“The best time to stop a mine is before it starts,” she says.

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