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.

Editor's Note: This story was updated Saturday, Dec. 13.

One small point in a spending bill approved by Congress Saturday could be a big deal for sage grouse.

A spending bill rider would delay a decision about whether to extend endangered species protection to the greater sage grouse. A decision about whether to list the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act is currently scheduled for September, 2015.

SEDRO-WOOLLEY, Wash. -- The house was going to be modest, 1,300 square feet with a big porch looking out over acres of fields. Next to it would be a garage with a caretaker’s apartment over it.

“I’m kind of an old guy already,” Richard Fox said, standing in the pouring rain on his property and gesturing to the spot where he and his wife’s dream retirement home was to be built. A handful of drenched cows looked on, vaguely curious.

For decades the Army Corps of Engineers used an island near the Bonneville Dam as a dumping ground. Toxic chemicals leaked into the Columbia River. The island is also a historic fishing site for the Yakama Nation.

The tribe is now suing the Corps to recover costs from helping clean up the contamination.

In 2003, the Corps removed electrical equipment and contaminated sediment found at the bottom of the river. In 2007, it dredged the area to remove more contaminated soil.

A coal mining operation near Gillette, Wyoming. Seattle billionaire Paul Allen is bankrolling a lawsuit over the way the federal government leases public land for coal mining.
KCTS9 Photo/Michael Werner

As the Seattle Seahawks eye another run at the Super Bowl, their owner Paul Allen has chosen to tackle a different challenge: climate change.

Instead of giving money to environmental groups, the billionaire co-founder of Microsoft is picking up the tab for a lawsuit against the Department of the Interior, which oversees the leasing of public land to coal mining companies.

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.

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