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Earthfix

Three national monuments in the Pacific Northwest are officially up for review. The Department of the Interior announced Friday that it’s opening up public comment periods for Hanford Reach, Cascade-Siskiyou and Craters of the Moon national monuments.

A proposed oil terminal in Vancouver, Washington, gained approval of a key permit Tuesday.

The Washington State Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, or EFSEC, met in executive session before voting to release the draft notice of construction air permit for the controversial project.

A project that would export 44 million tons of coal a year from Longview, Washington, would raise the cancer risk for people living near rail lines, create traffic jams with its mile-long coal trains and increase global greenhouse gas emissions by 2 million tons.

The Millennium coal export project would be among the largest coal terminals in North America, and it would inevitably impact the environment and the surrounding community in Southwest Washington, according to a new report from state and county regulators.

Kill A Juniper Tree, Save A Sage Grouse

Apr 27, 2017

There’s good news for the West's imperiled greater sage grouse. New research suggests the bird has a better chance of survival when juniper trees are removed from its habitat.

The chicken-sized sage grouse's decline has happened over the same stretch of time that's seen western juniper and pinyon pine trees spread out across the bird's sagebrush ecosystem. Reasons for the trees' expansion include fire suppression, overgrazing and changing climate conditions.

As the stands grow more dense, they outcompete sagebrush. They also serve as perches for birds of prey.

Paul Savino’s first patient of the day collapsed under the weight of an overgrown child. He's seen these symptoms before.

“What we have here are a couple of dowel joints that have popped and one that has snapped,” he said. “But the patient will survive, I dare say.”

A piece of sandpaper, some wood glue and 20 minutes later, the toddler-sized wooden chair was back on its feet.

Environmental groups gathered Wednesday outside the Portland General Electric headquarters in Portland to protest the utility’s effort to permit two new natural gas plants to replace its coal-fired power plant, which is scheduled to shut down in 2020.

The protesters carried signs that read: “We want #cleanenergy not #frackedgas,” and they danced to their own rendition of the song “YMCA” that asked: “Why, PGE? The wind can do it, so why, PGE?” The protest coincided with a PGE shareholders meeting at the utility's headquarters in downtown Portland.

The salmon cannon made a big splash a few years ago on local news stations and even had a cameo on HBO’s "Last Week Tonight" with John Oliver. Soon, it could propel fish into its biggest project yet.

Even with all the hubbub around its name, the salmon cannon isn’t so much an explosion as a flexible plastic tube that sucks fish up and over obstructions — like dams.

The state of Oregon has announced a new round of taxpayer-funded grants to help schools and other public buildings better withstand a major earthquake.

The grant program is funded by state bonds. It was created just over a decade ago when lawmakers became convinced of the need to protect critical infrastructure as well as to protect lives of vulnerable people in the event of a Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

Washington’s Department of Ecology wants more information before deciding whether to approve a shoreline permit for a controversial methanol refinery in Kalama.

In its application, NW Innovation Works establishes a self-imposed limit of 976,131 metric tons greenhouse gas emissions annually. But in the letter to the county, the Department of Ecology says its calculations found an additional 232,136 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions will be emitted per year.

Helping juvenile salmon migrate out to sea has long been difficult and controversial. Barging is a common way to get the fish around dams.

The salmon are hauled around eight dams in the Columbia and Snake rivers. Idaho Conservation groups say this practice harms fish — and needs to stop now.

Seven groups sent a letter to NOAA Fisheries and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, asking the agencies to this spring stop sending salmon along their migration route in barges.

Northwest communities are getting their drinking water from aging infrastructure that is costly to maintain and prone to breaking down.

That’s the conclusion of a new report issued by the Olympia-based Center for Sustainable Infrastructure, which is affiliated with The Evergreen State College.

The center's director, Rhys Roth, said those water systems were state-of-the-art when they were built a century ago.

Boardman is best known to thousands of people for its roadside attraction: a sprawling tree farm along Interstate 84. Acres of poplar trees sprouted in orderly rows along the highway running through Eastern Oregon.

Now, most of those plantation trees have been cut down, the land sold. Part of it will soon become Oregon’s second-largest dairy. Lost Valley Farms just received a key permit at the end of March. Its owners say the dairy should be up and running in a few weeks.

From the BelleWood Acres farmhouse in Washington's Whatcom County, you can see piles of apple crates and rows of trees that stretch for acres. This is the biggest apple orchard west of the Cascades.

“Spring time’s magical in the orchard,” says John Belisle, who owns the orchard with his wife, Dorie.

“There’s bees everywhere,” Dorie agrees. “The orchards hum with their working.”

An early warning system for earthquakes is expanding to Oregon and Washington — thanks to a group of universities and government agencies.

California has had the "ShakeAlert" system for a couple of years. And depending on where an earthquake hits, it can give nearby cities a warning of up to a minute or two. That’s enough for a train to stop, a lift to open, or for people to get out of a building.

Opponents Aim To Block State Funding For Methanol Plant

Apr 6, 2017

Opponents of a methanol refinery proposed on the Columbia River say Washington is poised to spend $12 million in public funds to help build the controversial plant.

They sent a letter to Washington lawmakers Thursday asking them to block that spending because it would pay for a dock and a road needed by methanol project developer Northwest Innovation Works.

Using Whale Breath To Find Out What's Ailing Orcas

Apr 5, 2017

Scientists have a new tool to figure out what’s ailing Puget Sound’s resident orcas. They’re studying whale breath, which is no easy feat.

“We had petri dishes that were mounted on an extendable pole,” explains Linda Rhodes, with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center. “We had to position the boat close enough to the whale so that when it surfaced and exhaled we would be able to pass the petri dishes through the plume.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has said they will not ban an insecticide widely used on farms and orchards, including in Washington state.

This comes after recommendations from EPA scientists last year to ban the chemical in question, a pesticide called chlorpyrifos.

Chlorpyrifos was banned years ago for use in most household products.

In recent years, environmental groups have been petitioning to have it removed from agricultural use too. They say it can harm children.

Four conservation groups are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in an effort to limit the federal government’s use of deadly cyanide traps.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services killed a wolf using an M-44 cyanide trap targeting coyotes. The agency uses the devices to protect livestock from potential predators.

People at home can now get a glimpse of the greater sage grouse mating ritual via a new livestream near Bend.

During mating season, male sage grouse strut near females, making a dramatic popping sound as they force air through big chest sacs.

The threatened birds gather at mating grounds, called “leks.” They’re sensitive to disturbance, so the live video stream is a good way to watch the unusual ritual.

You’ve heard of Keystone XL, the controversial pipeline rejected by the Obama administration but approved this week by President Trump.

And you know all about Dakota Access. That’s the oil pipeline that became a rallying point for Native American rights and environmental activism.

It’s expected to be up and running in April.

But have you heard of TransMountain, which could soon be the biggest pipeline of them all?

A judge has ordered federal agencies to spill more water over Columbia and Snake river dams to help threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead, though not until next year after testing.

Driving up the coast toward Bay Center, Washington, it’s obvious when you start to approach Willapa Bay. Fifteen foot high piles of shucked empty oyster shells began to appear on the side of the road. This is an oyster town.

But it's also home to a sinking piece of history.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown and Gov. Jay Inslee of Washington are banding together in support of clean energy. They met Saturday in Seattle to discuss concerns over the Trump administration’s efforts to eliminate policies that combat climate change.

“It doesn’t make sense for Oregon to do it alone; it makes sense when we do it in a regional basis,” Brown said, emphasizing that West Coast states need to work together.

The Trump Administration has issued an executive order rolling back fuel economy standards for cars and trucks and is expected to do the same soon for the Clean Power Plan. Both were designed to put the United States on a path to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Gary Holland of Northeast Southwest Trucking in Portland used clean diesel grant money to replace four of his old diesel trucks with new ones, including this 2016 model.
EarthFix Photo/Cassandra Profita

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

The states plan to turn millions of dollars from the company’s settlement into cleaner air by replacing dirty old diesel engines. Some say the money presents a golden opportunity to start phasing them out altogether.

The difference between a dirty old diesel truck and a new, clean one is up to 95 percent less pollution coming out of the exhaust pipe.

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.

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.

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.

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