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.

Federal timber payments to counties in the Pacific Northwest may be a thing of the past, after funding failed to make it into a Congressional spending bill this week.

For the past century, when timber was logged on federal land, the county where that land was located would get a cut of the profits. The reason: counties couldn’t collect property taxes on federal lands, yet still had to provide services there.

The World's Loneliest Crocodile

Dec 11, 2014

Climate changes are expected to increase the severity of storms that can wreak havoc on low-lying areas like the Dry Tortugas, a cluster of desert islands 70 miles off Key West.

Mark Hedden from Here & Now contributor WLRN recently visited the islands on an expedition to find the only American crocodile seen there since the Spanish explorer and conquistador Ponce de Leon arrived in 1513.

SEATTLE -- As the waters of the Pacific warm, methane that was trapped in crystalline form beneath the seabed is being released. And fast.

New modeling suggests that 4 million tons of this potent greenhouse gas have escaped since 1970 from the ocean depths off Washington's coast.

A new study finds a statewide carbon tax would allow Oregon to reach its emissions reduction goals with little economic harm.

The Northwest Economic Research Center at Portland State University spent eight months examining the economic and environmental effects of a carbon tax in Oregon. Researchers considered taxes between $10 a ton and $150 a ton on greenhouse gas emissions from transportation fuels, natural gas for heating and fossil fuels used to generate electricity.

Winter storms off the Oregon and Washington coastlines are expected to bring a new wave of debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Scientists say objects are already washing ashore – with potentially invasive organisms riding along.

In March, 2011 an earthquake and tsunami devastated a large swath of eastern Japan. The tsunami reached heights of over 100 feet in some places, washing large quantities of manmade materials out to sea. Japanese officials estimate that about 1.5 million tons of debris floated out into the Pacific.

Scientists determined this weekend that the dead orca that washed up on Vancouver Island last Thursday was pregnant when she died.

The young female was a member of the endangered southern resident killer whale families of Puget Sound.

Experts who conducted the necropsy on the whale said her fetus was between 5 and 6 feet long - about a half the length of the mother. The fetus was already decomposing, suggesting to scientists that the mother was attempting to expel her stillborn calf when she died.

King County has been working on different recycling products for Loop, aka waste treatment biosolids. One Seattle startup thinks biofuel is the answer.
Screen shot from YouTube/Loop biosolids

A Seattle startup hopes that in the near future, every time you flush your toilet you help power your car.

Vitruvian Energy has developed technology that turns biosolids – the dirt-like material left over once sewage has been treated at a plant and the inert water returned to the watershed – into biofuel. Right now the company is crowdfunding to launch their fuel locally.

It takes about 53 pounds of biosolids to make a gallon of EEB, Vitruvian’s biofuel. The biosolids are run through a series of biological and chemical steps to go from a dirt-like material to a clear liquid that has a sweet smell.

A photo taken November 29, 2014, in Speiden Channel, north of San Juan Island. J32 Rhapsody is in the lead, on the right. J32 Rhapsody was reported dead on Dec. 4, 2014.
Orca Network & Center for Whale Research / Melisa Pinnow

The bloated body of an orca washed up dead Thursday on Vancouver Island in British Columbia has been confirmed as one of the endangered southern resident killer whales of Puget Sound.

The whale has been identified as an 18 year-old female member of the J pod known as j-32 or Rhapsody.

Illegal Four-Wheeling Takes A Toll On Public Lands

Dec 5, 2014

ETHEL, Wash. -- “Drivers, are you ready?” an announcer shouts from to a line of trucks, Jeeps and other rugged vehicles.

Mud is everywhere. Soupy brown liquid splashes up four feet high. The four-wheelers plunge into a mud bog. The vehicles race through the mud to see how far they can go.

Most don’t make it to the end. Even the announcer notices.

“Our pits aren’t that easy this year,” she explains to the crowd that's gathered.

It’s a challenge these drivers are ready to tackle.

A national defense bill expected to pass Congress this session includes a major expansion of Oregon Caves National Monument in Southern Oregon.

The expansion involves a land transfer of 4,070 acres from the Rogue Siskiyou National Forest to the National Park Service.

It also makes the River Styx – which runs through the main cave system in the national monument – the first underground river to receive Wild and Scenic status.

Waypoints-blog-logo-FINAL-for-posts

Congress has added lots of land deals – including some in the Northwest – to a must-pass defense spending package.

But a bill that would boost logging on Oregon's O&C forestland didn't make the cut. These are public lands in Western Oregon, named for the Oregon & California Railroad -- O&C for short -- that once owned them.

Northwest tribes took part in a national gathering Wednesday for native leaders in Washington, D.C., where top federal officials told them they stand together in opposing climate change and supporting treaty rights.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell was among those who addressed the annual White House Tribal Nations Conference.

"There’s a saying: 'we don’t inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.'" she said. "So that’s what climate change is all about. We have an earth that is in trouble."

Jewell’s comments were met with applause.

The rain California is getting lately may seem significant, but the state’s historic drought is far from over. One way water companies are nudging homeowners to use less water is by asking them to get rid of their lawns.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Daniel Potter of KQED reports that in some places, they’re even paying people to do it.

The Santa Clara Valley Water District pays homeowners $2 per square foot to tear out their lawn and plant something less thirsty.

Any parent of a rambunctious youngster can tell you trouble might be afoot when things go quiet in the playroom. Two independent research initiatives indicate there is a comparable situation with the Cascadia earthquake fault zone.

The EPA's final decision will cost the responsible parties $342 million and will cover 177 acres of the lower Duwamish River. 960,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment will be dredged from the bottom of the river, and 24 acres will be capped with clean sediment to lock away contaminants below the surface of the riverbed.

Pages