Tom Banse | KUOW News and Information

Tom Banse

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Before taking his current beat, Tom covered state government and the Washington Legislature for 12 years.  He got his start in radio at WCAL–FM, a public station in southern Minnesota. Reared in Seattle, Tom graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota with a degree in American Studies.

When not sifting through press releases, listening to lobbyists, or driving lonely highways, Tom enjoys exploring the Olympic Peninsula backcountry and cooking dinner with his wife and friends. Tom's secret ambition is to take six months off work and travel to a faraway place beyond the reach of email.

The U.S. Senate wants to put a stop to Border Patrol checkpoints and warrantless searches taking place far from the border with Canada. The policy change was included in an amendment to the larger immigration overhaul being debated this week. It pleases civil liberties and immigrant advocates, but concerns frontline Border Patrol agents.

The Canadian dollar -- affectionately known as the "loonie" -- is dropping in value. 

Civilian use of aerial drones is still greatly restricted, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has won permission to test a small unmanned aircraft off the Olympic Coast of Washington. 

A two-week trial run by the federal science agency is now underway.

The NOAA drone looks like an oversized remote-control model airplane. It has a 9-foot wingspan and can fly for about two hours on battery power.

Traffic is rolling across the repaired Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River Wednesday morning, marking the end of  a hasty, round-the-clock salvage and reconstruction job.

Work started less than four weeks ago, when an oversize load brought down the vital bridge.  Northwest Washington drivers and businesses are relishing a return to normal.

The man who identified the quietest place in the Lower 48 - dubbed the "One Square Inch of Silence" - is going deaf. This Olympic Peninsula fellow campaigned against noise pollution, particularly at his symbolic spot in the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. The self-described "Sound Tracker" is now in a race to edit his life's work before he loses more of his hearing.

For Gordon Hempton, it started with a common experience -- having to keep saying, "What, what?" Then the stakes got higher.

A couple of years ago, Democratic politicians at the state and national levels set heady goals for battery powered cars. For example, in his 2011 State of the Union speech, President Obama said, "With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015."

As of June 1, it will be one year since grocers, big box stores and other private retailers started selling liquor in Washington state. The voter approved privatization initiative has sent prices unexpectedly higher. Also, the government is collecting more tax revenue than anticipated.

The initiative to privatize the state's liquor monopoly was designed to keep public treasuries whole. It's done that and a lot more. The state expects to collect around 37 percent more from liquor taxes and fees in this current fiscal year compared to the final year under state control.

The automaker Nissan says sales of its fully electric Leaf compact surpassed all other Nissan models at dealers in the Seattle and Portland areas this spring. The announcement Wednesday runs counter to the prevailing wisdom that adoption of plug-in cars has been sluggish.

At Nissan USA headquarters, electric vehicle marketing & sales director Erik Gottfried says he's scrambling to ship enough Leafs to meet demand in the Pacific Northwest. The car maker juiced its plug-in sales by slashing the sticker price and offering low-cost leases.

A case that featured harrowing testimony of combat-related mental illness ended Monday with a guilty verdict. Army Sergeant John Russell was convicted for murdering five fellow servicemen at a military mental health clinic in Baghdad in 2009.

A military judge found the 48-year-old Texas native guilty of premeditated murder. A public affairs spokesman at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma says Sergeant Russell showed no visible reaction.

Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane is planning a public memorial service for three of its airmen killed in a mid-air explosion over central Asia. The cause of the air refueling tanker accident last Friday remains under investigation. The crash renews attention on a Boeing Company contract to replace the Air Force's aging tanker fleet.

The doomed Fairchild Air Force Base crewmates were flying a KC-135 Stratotanker built by Boeing in the early 1960s. By all accounts, Air Force mechanics keep the 50-year-old tanker fleet in good condition.

For about seven years, many Western beekeepers have been plagued by unexplained die-offs in their hives. It happened recently to Mark Emrich.

"I was doing great until about five weeks ago," he says. "Then I came down and opened up the hives and I had five dead boxes of bees. That was a huge hit."

He lost one third of his production on his small farm near Olympia.

Nothing spoils a summer swim in your favorite lake like an algae bloom. These become more common as the weather warms up.  A lake in Federal Way, Washington -- near Seattle -- is serving as a proving ground for a possible new tool to combat toxic blooms.

Almost every summer until last summer, Lake Lorene would turn pea soup green.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A costly new interstate highway bridge over the Columbia River is spurring brinkmanship in Olympia. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined Democratic Governor Jay Inslee Wednesday to press state lawmakers to commit hundreds of millions dollars to the proposed new toll bridge between Portland and Vancouver, Washington.

A collector of World War II memorabilia has succeeded in a daunting quest thanks to help from the Japanese government. The veteran from Clarkston, Washington has found the right person to receive a Japanese war flag taken in battle nearly 70 years ago.

Years ago, memorabilia collector George Koller bought an inscribed "good luck flag." It originally belonged to a Japanese fighter pilot killed in combat. Last year, Koller asked the Japanese consulate in Seattle for help to give the flag back.

Some Northwest cities and counties are exploring whether to use local or private money to keep their airport control towers open. By mid-June, the federal government plans to close the control towers at 13 small to medium sized airports across the region.

PORTLAND - During World War II, a popular song called "Rosie the Riveter" turned female assembly workers into icons. Women filled in at places like the Boeing airplane factory in Seattle and the Kaiser shipyards in Portland while the men went off to war.

But one famous guitar company allegedly tried to hide the fact that it was using female replacements to keep making its musical instruments. Now, seven decades later, a Portland guitarist is helping to tell that story.

The Northwest's public universities pull in massive amounts of federal research dollars. It totaled $1 billion last year at the University of Washington. Oregon State University won close to $200 million in federal research funds. The University of Idaho is counting on $100 million this year. So it's no surprise that university administrators are hanging on every scrap of news about imminent automatic federal budget cuts.

SEATTLE - Building codes cover fire prevention, energy efficiency, and seismic safety among other things. Now a group of civil engineers from around the West is developing additions to the code to cover the threat of a tsunami.

Kent Yu of Degenkolb Engineers in Portland is one of the members of an American Society of Civil Engineers subcommittee drafting standards for "tsunami loads and effects."

"I think it is going to help make our communities more resilient."

DONNELLY, Idaho - The real estate crash triggered some big bankruptcies in the Northwest, but few are as spectacular and convoluted as the foreclosure of the unfinished Tamarack Resort in western Idaho. What was supposed to be the Northwest's newest destination resort remains in extended legal limbo, but plucky homeowners are keeping it alive until a new buyer arrives.

ABERDEEN, Wash. – The Northwest is on the verge of becoming a gateway for crude oil. Three different developers have plans to use docks on Grays Harbor, Washington to transfer crude oil from trains to ships. Other projects are getting off the ground in Tacoma, Vancouver, B.C. and on the lower Columbia River.

There was a huge turnout Wednesday night at an introductory public workshop in Aberdeen, Washington. The response indicates crude-by-rail may be the region’s next big environmental controversy.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - The Pentagon's decision to allow women in combat roles has some female soldiers rethinking their career trajectories.

Army Spc. Heidi Olson received a Purple Heart last year for shrapnel injuries she got during a foot patrol in Afghanistan. She feels she's earned the right to call herself a combat medic.

"Originally as a female, I wasn't allowed to be titled as a combat medic," Olson says. "It was a 'health care specialist.'"

OLYMPIA, Wash. - When you order that special filet at a restaurant or store, you're often going on trust that the fish actually is what the menu or label says it is. In Washington, two state agencies are asking for tougher penalties to deter seafood fraud.

Investigators for Consumer Reports recently found more than one-fifth of the fish they submitted for DNA identification was mislabeled at the point of sale.

Washington Fish and Wildlife police deputy chief Mike Cenci says the penalties for false labeling need to be stronger.

A dock that washed ashore on a remote Washington beach last month is now confirmed as debris from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan. This news comes just as the federal government requests bids from salvage companies to get rid of the huge hulk.

State and federal biologists say they are confident they have minimized the invasive species threat posed by a derelict dock that washed ashore last month in Olympic National Park. The concrete and steel dock appears to have drifted across the Pacific Ocean after last year's tsunami in Japan. But the story is not over yet.

Centenarians are still a rare breed, but their ranks are swelling. The most recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau found more people than you might expect over 100 years old in the Northwest. There are more than 1,000 centenarians in Washington state, nearly 700 in Oregon and 220 in Idaho.

"Oh, my goodness. People live to be old these days, huh?" says 100-year-old Justine Ackerman of Newport, Washington. She says she credits her longevity in part to clean living.

"I never drank or smoked, or anything like that," she says.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Chances are, you've heard the public service announcements that say "It's up to you to be ready. Get a kit. Make a plan..."

For years, emergency managers have urged people to stockpile enough food, water and supplies to last 72 hours after a disaster. In the Northwest, basic assumptions like that are now under scrutiny, especially when it comes to the risk from a big earthquake. Two committees in Oregon and Washington have been working for more than a year to come up with wide-ranging recommendations to improve the region's disaster resilience.

GLENEDEN BEACH, Ore. - It goes without saying that the Pacific Ocean is vast. So it may come as a surprise to hear the sea described as "crowded." Perhaps even too crowded to make room for the nascent industry of wave and tidal energy.  Taxpayers and investors have pumped tens of millions of dollars into finding ways to turn the ocean's power into electricity.  In recent weeks, high stakes negotiations to identify wave energy sites on the Oregon Coast are finally getting somewhere.

LONG BEACH, Wash. – It’s been more than four months since the last confirmed piece of Japanese tsunami debris washed ashore on the Pacific Northwest coast. Even sightings of suspected disaster debris have tapered way off in recent months. Does that mean we’re just in a lull or past the worst of it?

A decade on the lam has ended for a suspect in a string of eco-sabotage attacks across the American West.  Alleged Earth Liberation Front fugitive Rebecca J. Rubin turned herself in at the Canadian border Thursday morning. 

Later in the day, she showed little emotion during a brief appearance in U.S. District Court in Seattle. Outside the federal courthouse, defense attorney Richard Troberman explained why Rubin surrendered.  "She really wants to move her life forward without these impediments. It was just time," said Troberman.

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