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environment

World Faces Global Sand Shortage

Jul 21, 2017

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

The sewage system is crumbling in Carbonado, Washington, near Mt. Rainier. And if Washington lawmakers fail to pass a capital construction budget before they adjourn Thursday, a plan to replace it—and many other projects around the state—will be put on hold.

Coal and oil trains pass through Spokane daily, but that could change by the end of the year. Spokane’s city council will take public testimony Monday on a proposed ballot initiative that would prohibit coal and oil shipment by rail through specific areas of the city.



The crowd at a 2016 public meeting in Tacoma rises when asked to stand if they oppose the proposed methanol plant.
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

Environmental issues haven't been a big focus in the race to become Seattle's next mayor, but they're playing a key role in Tacoma.

Few inventions in modern history have been as successful as plastic. It's in vehicles and building materials and most of our electronic devices. We wrap stuff in it and even wear it.

Now a research team has tallied up how much plastic has been produced and where much of it has gone. Turns out, it's literally almost everywhere.

Wildfires are spreading rapidly across the Canadian province of British Columbia, so far eluding firefighters and forcing some 40,000 people from their homes. And with no rain in the forecast until Thursday, Canadian officials fear the fires currently raging will worsen before they can battle back the blazes.

Spokane could become the next in a growing list of Northwest cities including Seattle, Portland and Bend, Oregon, to commit to a climate change agreement President Trump opted out of this spring.

Editor's note: This story is for mature bees only.

Seducing a honeybee drone – one of the males in a colony whose only job is to mate with the queen – is not too difficult. They don't have stingers, so you just pick one up. Apply a little pressure to the abdomen and the drone gets randy, blood rushing to his endophallus, bringing him to climax.

"They're really accommodating," says Susan Cobey, a honeybee breeder on Whidbey Island, Wash. "One ejaculate is about 1 microliter, and it takes 10 microliters to artificially inseminate a queen."

A massive iceberg the size of Delaware has broken free from Antarctica and is floating in the sea.

Earlier Wednesday, scientists announced that the 6,000-square-kilometer (about 2,300 square miles) iceberg had come loose, after satellites detected it had calved off the Larsen C ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula.

Editor’s note: Research, tenacious advocates and $16 billion have lifted Columbia salmon from the brink of extinction. But the Northwest has yet to figure out a sustainable long-term plan to save the fish that provide spiritual sustenance for tribes, food for the table, and hundreds of millions of dollars in business and ecological benefits. This is part of a special series of reports exploring whether salmon can ultimately survive.

This is a guest post by Claire Schoen, a producer, documentary filmmaker, and the creator of a new podcast called Stepping Up.

Grannies and kids, evangelicals and clowns, they are figuring out new ways to act – and act out – about the biggest crisis of our times.

On a research boat on the Columbia River, Laurie Weitkamp with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grabs two buckets filled with water and about a dozen young salmon and steelhead.

“Ooh, we got some steelies!” she says.

By stretching a net across the river below Bonneville Dam, researchers are intercepting the fish swimming toward the ocean to see what they’ve been eating.

Day becomes night when industrial smog is heavy in North Birmingham, Alabama, as on this day in July of 1972. Sitting adjacent to the U.S. Pipe plant, this is the most heavily polluted area of the city.
LeRoy Woodson for the EPA via NARA https://catalog.archives.gov/id/545397

The Trump administration has proposed cutting the EPA's budget by 30 percent. What does that mean for polluted communities in the U.S.? 


As part of a set of ambitious new environmental goals, France expects to do away entirely with the sale of diesel and gas vehicles by 2040.

Environment Minister Nicolas Hulot announced the proposal on Thursday as part of the country's renewed commitment to the Paris climate deal, reports the BBC.

Hulot said that financial assistance would be available to lower-income drivers to replace their gas vehicles with cleaner ones.

KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

The agency that manages Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic national parks will see big budget cuts, if the Trump administration has its way.


Ivy grows rampant in Seattle, where roughly 10 percent of public land is infested with the plant.
King County

Ivy is perfectly picturesque when growing in the English countryside or climbing the hallowed walls of Cambridge.

But here in the Pacific Northwest, ivy is a bully. A tree-killing, rat-infested, bird-poop-traveling bully.

The triumph and tragedy of the Ballard Locks

Jul 3, 2017
A postcard of the Ballard Locks, 1917
Flickr Photo/Seattle Municipal Archives (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/ecguhZ

Bill Radke speaks with Seattle Times environment reporter Lynda Mapes about the 100-year anniversary of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, also known as the Ballard Locks.

Mapes discusses how truly transformational the Locks were, for both good and ill. She details the ways in which the city was reshaped in ways that were only possibly because of the Locks. But she also discusses the human cost and how the oppressed Native American population was even further harmed by this progress. 

A new bill in Congress would make sure Washington's four lower Snake River dams stay standing. It’s push back against a recent court order to find “a new approach” to protect threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead.

That approach could include removing or altering the dams.

That's not something Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Washington, thinks would be good for the Northwest. Newhouse introduced the legislation, along with four other Northwest representatives.

Recent University of Washington oceanography graduate, Frances Eshom-Arzadon, collecting samples for microplastics study.
Courtesy of Frances Eshom-Arzadon

If you put any fleeces in the wash lately, there’s a chance small pieces of plastic fibers from the clothing could be sitting on the sands of a Puget Sound beach.

A recent University of Washington graduate conducted a local study on microplastics. They’re teeny, tiny pieces of plastic that can be smaller than a grain of rice. 

PacifiCorp Looks To Expand Wind Energy As Coal Plants Retire

Jun 29, 2017

PacifiCorp is moving forward with a 20-year plan that reduces its use of coal-fired power while expanding investments in wind energy.

The utility, which serves customers in six Western states, has proposed spending $3.5 billion on a plan to add 1,100 megawatts of new wind energy — mostly in Wyoming — as well as a new transmission line.

The plan will also re-power wind turbines in the Columbia River Gorge by adding bigger turbine blades and upgrading equipment inside the turbines to increase their energy output by an average of 20 percent.

Study: Orcas Lose Two-Thirds Of Their Pregnancies

Jun 29, 2017

Two-thirds of all detectable orca pregnancies have ended in miscarriages over the past seven years, a new study shows.

To figure out if orcas were pregnant, the researchers trained dogs to find orca scat and then tested the scat’s hormone levels. What they found was sobering.

“Of those that we confirmed were pregnant, 31 percent of the pregnancies are successful. So 69 percent were lost,” said Sam Wasser, a University of Washington professor and study author.

If the world does nothing to limit carbon emissions, the US economy will suffer — but, according to a new study published Thursday in Science, the Pacific Northwest might actually benefit.

Two wildfires in north-central Washington are being managed as one. Fresh firefighters poured in Thursday to battle the Sutherland Canyon Fire, which grew dramatically overnight. The Spartan Fire near Wenatchee is transitioning to mop-up.

Fourteen states — including Oregon and Washington — are threatening to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for violating the Clean Air Act.

In a letter to the EPA sent Thursday, the group argues Director Scott Pruitt broke the law when he ordered his agency to halt part of the rule-making process for regulating methane and other air pollution from oil and gas facilities.

Climate scientists agree that this century is getting much warmer and that such warming will likely bring economic pain to the U.S., but economists aren't sure how much. Now, a team of scientists and economists, writing in the upcoming issue of the journal Science, says it can at least tell which parts of the country are likely to suffer the most.

The Green River emerges from the Howard Hanson Dam. The Green River receives several smaller tributaries.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols

Washington environmental groups are criticizing the Trump Administration's push to rescind a federal clean water rule. The rule prevents polluters from dumping into small waterways that flow into larger lakes and rivers.

When a bark beetle outbreak started killing off decades-old pine trees in a research forest in western Montana, Forest Service researcher Sharon Hood made the best of the situation. She and other researchers started studying which trees were dying, hoping that information would help land managers.

Liza Jane McAlister of Oregon opens a gate for the hay truck on 6 Ranch as her herding dog looks on from the back.
KUOW Photo/Ashley Ahearn

Why would a fourth-generation rancher who doesn't put much trust in the government choose to work with federal agencies to restore salmon runs on her property? 


A climate activist from Oregon will not serve jail time for his part in an oil pipeline protest last fall. A Washington judge instead sentenced the so-called “valve turner” to a month of community service and six months of probation.

Ken Ward of Corbett was one of five activists who turned valves off on several pipelines bringing oil from Canada to the United States. A Skagit, Washington, jury convicted him of second-degree burglary earlier this month.

For the first time in more than four decades, the Yellowstone grizzly bear is set to lose its federal protections under the Endangered Species Act. Citing a rebound in the bear's population, the U.S. Department of Interior announced its intention Thursday to end these protections and return oversight of the animal's status to the state level.

The agency says the rule to remove the grizzly from the endangered species list will be published "in coming days" and "will take effect 30 days after publication."

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