Environment | KUOW News and Information

Environment

KUOW's environment beat brings you stories on the ongoing cleanup of the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, alternative energy, the health of the Puget Sound, coal transportation and more. We're also partnered with several stations across the Northwest to bring you environmental news via EarthFix.

It's an 1,110 mile drive from Port Townsend up to Ketchikan, Alaska. There's a way to shave 350 miles off the trip, but there's a catch. You have to sail.

Last week, a Puget Sound-area team called Sail Like a Girl won Race to Alaska, the 750 mile adventure race whose only constraint is that vessels must be human-propelled. Some opted for rowboats, others even recruited standup paddleboards.

Plans for a wooden high-rise in downtown Portland are no more.

Developers behind a 12-story building project known as Framework say the project has been put on hold for the foreseeable future. They cited inflation, escalating construction costs and market changes.

KUOW/Brie Ripley

It's known as the miracle compound: Omega-3s are an amazing fat that can helps lower blood pressure, help with heart disease, and can strengthen brain function.

We consume omega-3s in fish and increasingly in supplements made from marine creatures. But there may be more to the story of those magic fish oil pills. Are they as environmentally sustainable or as healthy as we thought?

The dense network of cables that make up the Internet is likely to be inundated with saltwater as sea levels rise, a new analysis suggests, putting thousands of miles of critical infrastructure along U.S. coastlines underwater in the next 15 years.

Can't cool off this summer? Heat waves can slow us down in ways we may not realize.

New research suggests heat stress can muddle our thinking, making simple math a little harder to do.

"Deliberate use of fire, as well as control of wildfires, must be an integral part of the planning process.” — Thomas C. Nelson, Deputy Forest Service Chief, in 1979.

The U.S. government spent a record $2.9 billion fighting wildfires last year. This year is shaping up to be another costly fire season. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Federal lawmakers are making a move to change the Endangered Species Act.  On Thursday, members of the U.S. House announced legislation they say will “modernize” one of the country’s seminal environmental laws, originally passed in 1973.

Members of the House Western Caucus say the nine pieces of legislation are designed to streamline the administration of the Endangered Species Act, provide more local control and protect property rights.

From Bend, Oregon, to Ellensburg, Washington, there is a fire weather watch Friday for hot temperatures, low humidity and breezy weather.

Single use plastic straws are optional to many, but can be critical for people with certain disabilities.
Flickr Photo/Horia Varlan (CC BY 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/7vEzW1

Seattle's straw ban has coincided with hometown coffee chain Starbucks' decision to phase out all single-use plastic straws by 2020. The new sippy cup-esque lid is recyclable - but what it's not is accessible to folks with disabilities who rely on single use plastic straws.


How risky is it to swim in Washington lakes?

Jul 10, 2018
Jackson Ludwig loves to swim in Washington lakes.
KUOW-Earthfix Photo/Eilis O'Neill

Jackson Ludwig loves lakes.

“Where I was from — Moscow, Idaho — there’s not a lot of lakes to swim. And so being here was like, ‘Oh my God, there’s all these lakes I can swim in!’” Ludwig said. “Once you have that, going back to an indoor pool is like, ‘Hm, I don’t really like this as much.’”


By the time Scott Pruitt resigned, his conduct as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency had become the subject of 12 to 18 investigations, audits and inquiries. It's hard to know the precise number, as only some of the cases are public, but Pruitt may have set some kind of ethics-in-government record.

Ethics advocates are asking how he stayed long enough to trigger that many probes.

Starbucks: Goodbye, Plastic Straws

Jul 9, 2018

Starbucks announced on Monday it plans to eliminate plastic straws from its 28,000 stores worldwide by 2020.

The company will broaden the manufacture and use of what some in social media have dubbed the "adult sippy cup." It's a plastic strawless lid that will come to replace single-use plastic straws that now inundate its coffee shops.

You know that expression, "Leave no stone unturned?"

That’s how Washington State University neuroscientist Allison Coffin goes about catching midshipman fish — at least during mating season.

Standing on the rocky, oyster-covered shoreline of Hood Canal, she rolled over a beach-ball sized rock to reveal a small pool of water just barely covering two fish.

“Oh yeah! Another female,” she said. “And then there’s the male right there.”

Because it’s low tide, some of the fish she and her research partner Joe Sisneros uncovered aren’t in any water at all.

Fourth of July fireworks over Lake Union in Seattle.
Flickr Photo/Ryan Healy (CC Y NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/8fUvmj

Two major industrial fires darkened the skies over Seattle’s Duwamish Valley in recent weeks and added soot and other pollutants to the area with the city’s worst air pollution.

But the city’s Fourth of July fireworks celebrations added more.

An LED street light in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood.
KUOW Photo/Isolde Raftery

Seattle street lights are, it appears, bad for spiders.

And you and me and other wildlife — the intense white-blue light can disrupt the circadian rhythms of anyone beneath its glare.

Updated at 6:01 p.m. ET

Scott Pruitt will no longer lead the Environmental Protection Agency, President Trump announced Thursday afternoon via Twitter.

"I have accepted the resignation of Scott Pruitt," Trump tweeted. "Within the Agency Scott has done an outstanding job, and I will always be thankful to him for this," Trump also wrote.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige is expected this week to sign the world's first ban on the sale of sunscreens containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate. The state is banning the products because of concerns they may be harming one of the state's biggest attractions — coral reefs.

While it doesn't kick in until 2021, the move is already prompting pushback.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.

People do the darnedest things in hopes of avoiding mosquito bites. They burn cow dung, coconut shells or coffee. They drink gin and tonic. They eat bananas. They spray themselves with mouthwash or slather themselves in clove/alcohol solution. And they rub themselves with Bounce. "You know, those heavily perfumed sheets you put in your dryer," says Dr. Immo Hansen, professor at the Institute of Applied Biosciences at New Mexico State University.

Paper straws at Duke's Seafood & Chowder in Seattle
KUOW Photo/John Ryan

There’s a rising tide of concern over the plastic junk flowing into the world’s oceans. So starting July 1, restaurants and bars in Seattle won’t be allowed to give out plastic straws. 

City officials say Seattle is the first major city to ban plastic straws. Other cities, including New York and San Francisco, are considering similar bans.

If you're interested in sustainability, you've probably thought about how to reduce your carbon footprint, from how you fuel your car to how you heat your home. But what about carbon emissions from growing the food you eat?

Most of the crops in the United States are grown using chemical fertilizer – a lot of it: American farmers used over 24 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer in 2011. And making nitrogen fertilizer requires fossil fuels like natural gas or coal.

One of these sustainable straws might be in your future.
KUOW Photo/Brie Ripley

Nothing is more satisfying than the sweet sound of a straw - a pointy, plastic straw - piercing the seal on a tall cup of bubble tea. But after this weekend, that sound might be harder to come by. Seattle's ban on single use plastics goes into effect on July 1st.

Why the prohibition? How will it be implemented? And most importantly: what about the tea?? Kevin Kelly, general manager of Recology Cleanscapes in Georgetown, came by to help Bill Radke and producer Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong cope with change.

Seattle firefighters tackle a blaze amid scrapped cars along the Duwamish River on June 26.
Seattle Fire Department

A plume of black smoke stretched across South Seattle on Tuesday night as a fire burned on a barge of scrapped cars on the Duwamish River.


Federal officials anticipate a big wildfire season in the Northwest throughout July, August and possibly into September.

The latest forecasts show droughts throughout much of Oregon and Southeast Washington and the potential conditions for large fires if the region sees a week or longer stretch of hot and dry weather, according to the latest drought and climate outlook.

“If everything lines up with the dry condition and lightning, we could see an above-normal fire season across Oregon,” said Ed Delgado of the National Interagency Fire Center.

American pika in Rocky Mountain National Park.
Flickr Photo/Tony's Takes (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/WYDpFq

Pikas are little rabbit-like mammals that could fit in the palm of your hand. They’re often seen scurrying around rocky alpine slopes with their mouths full of wildflowers.

Pikas like it cold, so, as the climate has warmed, they’ve disappeared from lower elevations where they used to live.

Few species manipulate their surroundings enough to make big ecological changes. Humans are one. Beavers are another.

The call is going out again to the operators and pilots of big ships to slow down in the shared border waters between Washington and British Columbia. The idea is to reduce underwater noise that could bother endangered killer whales.

Orcas in the Puget Sound.
Flickr Photo/tifotter (CC BY NC ND 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/7SJy6t

In honor of Orca Awareness Month in Washington state, here are three facts about orcas we didn't know before, courtesy of a talk by Prof. Jason Colby of the University of Victoria. 

Beach-goers in Seattle enjoy a Puget Sound shore in Seattle.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Kim Malcolm talks with Joe Casola about a new analysis that finds average temperatures in Washington have warmed more slowly than any other state in the country. Casola is deputy director of the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group.

Hikers at Rattlesnake Ledge. The number of visitors to this trail have been increasing over the last years.
Flickr Photo/Matt Kowalczyk (CC BY NC 2.0)/https://flic.kr/p/6unaK9

At 2 o’clock on a recent Friday afternoon, the parking lot at the Mailbox Peak trailhead was almost full. This much was to be expected: Mailbox is a popular hike in the Middle Fork Valley, just outside of North Bend.


McDonald's says it will start using paper straws instead of plastic at all its locations across the United Kingdom and Ireland. And it plans to test sustainable alternatives to plastic straws in some restaurants in the U.S. and elsewhere around the globe later this year.

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