Bellamy Pailthorp

Environment Reporter

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment beat from the Seattle offices of KPLU Public Radio News, where she has worked since 1999. She holds a Masters in journalism from New York's Columbia University, where she completed the Knight-Bagehot fellowship in business reporting in 2006 mid-career during her stint on KPLU’s Business and Labor Beat from 2000-2012.

From 1989-98 she lived in Berlin, Germany freelancing for NPR and working as a bi-lingual producer for Deutsche Welle TV after receiving a Fulbright scholarship in 1989 for a project on theater studies and communist history. She holds a Bachelors’ degree in German language and literature from Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. (Yes, she is fluent in German.)

She strives to tell memorable stories about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Character-driven narratives of exploration and innovation excite her. 

Outside work, she practices and instructs yoga, walks half marathons with friends, backpacks with her husband and extended family, reads and watches fiction with nieces, enjoys tasting new foods and admiring all kinds of animals -- especially her two house cats, who often remind her she should spend more time sitting on the couch with them.

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Joking that he was "out of practice" in forecasting rain for the Pacific Northwest, KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass said he'd do his best in predicting substantial amounts rain and wind for the weekend.

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New tools and new strategies are needed to fight and prevent wildfires nationwide. That was the sentiment at a field hearing held in Seattle by the U.S. Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

The hearing  was convened by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell of Washington, a Democrat, and John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican. They are collecting testimony for the Wildland Fire Management Act of 2015.

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This summer’s extreme drought is becoming increasingly deadly for fish in the northwest.

The state department of Fish and Wildlife had already lost about one and a half million juvenile fish in overheated rivers and streams in Washington at the end of July, due to this summer’s historically warm temperatures and low water levels.

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Generally cooler temperatures this weekend should help firefighters gain headway in massive, stubborn wildfire in Eastern Washington, said KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass.

"Right now we have a little bit of a cool-down going on" Mass said. "We'll see a step-down into the mid 70s (Friday) some low clouds and most of those will burn off during the day."

The weekend will see a slight uptick in temperatures with temperatures in the lower 80s. Next will a major cool-down will begin. "Cooler than normal for much of the week and even a chance of some rain later in the week -- especially on Thursday and Friday," he said.

Mass said that slight, two-day rise in temperatures won't do firefighters any good but come next week, they should catch a break. "If they can get to Monday," he said, "we'll see cooler temperatures and more humidity over the fire area." 

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

Mount Rainier is famous as the most glaciated peak in  the contiguous United States. But the massive flows of ice and snow that cover the mountain are retreating rapidly, likely more rapidly than ever in the record warmth of this summer.

Participants in the 2015 "Climate Boot Camp" put on by the Northwest Climate Science Center gathered this week in Mount Rainier National Park to learn more about the dynamics behind this phenomenon. 

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A towering fish trap standing on end . Hundreds of pristine white ceramic shapes eating their way into the bark of a fallen tree. Or an estuary sculpted out of shipping containers. These are just a few examples of the dozens of art installations that have recently popped up alongside Seattle’s only river.

The exhibition is called Duwamish Revealed. It’s meant to remind viewers that the waterway running through the city’s industrial core is more than a toxic Superfund site. 

The efforts to expand perspectives on the Duwamish include works by 40 artists from around the world.

You can experience the work of a local sound engineer by venturing out onto a pier at West Seattle’s Jack Block Park. You might not see anything unusual right away, but you could find yourself startled by the sound of art emerging from the water beneath you.

Robb Kunz co-created an 8-channel installation that surrounds the pier with sound together with composer Joshua Kohl of the Degenerate Art Ensemble. The piece is called “Under Pier Pressure.”

Kunz says he wanted to contribute to the show because he's enamored with the strange confluence of the industrial and natural that he finds on the Duwamish. His composition aims to match the physical surroundings.

“So, found sounds, concrete sound of nature and industry,” he said.

You can push a button to activate the sounds, but Kunz says he likes it best when people happen upon them mid-stream.

Stephanie Sinclair

Friday’s rainy start was the first part of “a theater piece in two acts,” said KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass. “The first act happened this morning.”

The showers that doused the northwest overnight will return in the afternoon, Mass says, accompanied by “all kinds of thunderstorms and heavier rain. ”  

He predicts those will start revving up sometime between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. “And I would expect rain around dinnertime into the early evening.”

Bellamy Pailthorp, KPLU

What’s the legal definition of a “cargo terminal” in Seattle? That’s the question before the city’s Hearing Examiner this week.

The answer will determine whether Royal Dutch Shell can bring vessels from its Arctic drilling fleet back to Seattle without breaking the law -- and whether the Port of Seattle can receive $13 million for the use of the facility.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

Energy efficiency is not just a money saver. The freed up capital also drives economic growth and productivity. That’s the message in a new study released in Seattle Tuesday by the non-profit Northwest Energy Efficiency Council. 

The study was commissioned to show the benefits of conserving. It concluded that recent energy efficiency investments by utilities and consumers pumped an extra $216 million dollars a year into Washington state’s economy. That’s money that is spent on productivity instead of wasted.

About two dozen gun retailers are located in Seattle. Opponents of the proposed tax on sales of firearms and ammunition say it would cause buyers and ultimately shops to go outside the city.
Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Seattle’s City Council will take aim at gun violence Monday with a vote on a pair of gun safety measures. One would tax sales of firearms and ammunition. The other would require owners to report lost or stolen guns.

City Council President Tim Burgess proposed the measures. The former Seattle police detective says firearms put an undue burden on communities.

“Gun violence begets gun violence,” Burgess said, “which is a huge problem in our city and frankly in our entire state. And we’re trying to take common sense, reasonable steps to address that.”   

He argues getting sellers to chip in to break the cycle of violence is one such step.

The revenue from the tax would be dedicated to prevention programs and research, such as was carried out in 2013 by doctors at Seattle’s Harborview Medical center, where last year alone, the city says the cost for treating victims of shootings totaled $17 million.

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If sunshine is something you crave on weekends, best to get out and enjoy it on Friday if you can.

The forecast gets cloudy on Saturday, with showers increasingly likely on Sunday.  In fact, KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass is blogging this week about how this August is off to a much cooler and wetter start than is typical.

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Environmental groups are calling the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan the strongest action the U.S. has ever taken to fight climate change.

Yet in Washington State, a plan to cap-and-trade carbon emissions failed to get through the legislature – despite a Governor who won an election on the promise of a clean-energy economy.

Gov. Jay Inslee blames the legislature for the lack of a clear climate policy in the state. He acknowledges his political reputation is riding on it. But, he says, lawmakers are not cooperating with him.  

“They’ve produced zero when it comes to any meaningful carbon reduction plan," Inslee said Monday. "So now it’s time for the Executive branch to act because it is our responsibility.”

That’s why Inslee last week directed the state department of Ecology to forge ahead with the cap portion of his cap-and-trade plan.

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The Puget Sound is going to continue its California weather imitation for another weekend in what already is a record-breaking summer, said KPLU's weather expert Cliff Mass.

"This is going to be the warmest summer in the memory of virtually everybody," Mass said. "You have to go back to the 1930s to get temperatures that are even similar to this."

Need proof? The region on Thursday beat the all-time record for 90-degree days in a summer with 10 days. The old record was nine.

Bellamy Pailthorp

A who’s who of scientists from about a dozen local agencies gathered on Thursday to share what they’re learning about the warm patch of water off the west coast that’s been keeping temperatures higher than normal.

Standing near the Viking statue at Seattle’s Shilshole Bay, State Climatologist Nick Bond said he could go on and on about all the local temperature records being broken lately. But what’s concerning many scientists now, he said, is how warm the water is becoming. And some of those concerns focus specifically on "the blob."

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Humans should be part of any consideration of how well Puget Sound’s ecological recovery is going. How we’re thriving and benefiting are critical parts of the equation, according to new research conducted for the state agency in charge of the cleanup.

The agency, called Puget Sound Partnership, is adding indicators of human well-being and quality of life to the “vital signs” it tracks. They’ll be included on the colorful pinwheel “dashboard” that anyone can see online.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

Upgrades to old infrastructure are often needed to help reduce the risk of flooding. That can lead to inconvenient road closures.

But the payoff is not just for humans. Replacing old culverts and pavement can also help endangered fish.

Backhoes and bulldozers will be working alongside SR 522 at Lake Forest Park Towne Center for the next couple of months. The city is re-plumbing the culverts beneath this roadside mall. The main motivation for the work, at least initially, was major flooding.

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A year ago Friday, an oil train from North Dakota derailed under Seattle’s busy Magnolia Bridge during the height of the morning commute.

No one was hurt and nothing burned in that accident but the scare has prompted changes to the emergency response to a similar accident should one occur. The reason? As many as two thousand black oil tanker cars now roll through Seattle each week, carrying crude from North Dakota’s Bakken region.

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Statistically speaking, it generally is the driest time of year in western Washington. Because of this, late July into early August is the most popular time for outdoor weddings and family reunions in the region.

But showers are in the forecast this weekend. If you were thinking of getting outdoors, you’ll have to travel east over the mountain passes, advises KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass. He says there’s a band of precipitation approaching from the west that will definitely dampen the region, pretty much anywhere west of the Cascades.

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It's been nearly a year since a train derailed under a busy Seattle bridge, tipping three oil tanker cars off the tracks in Magnolia during the morning commute. No one was hurt in the accident but the near-miss spurred city officials into action.  

A new resolution is going before the city council that outlines Seattle's wish list for regulations of crude oil shipments by rail. 

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

The promise of light rail goes far beyond people’s hopes for swift passage between Seattle neighborhoods and the airport; It’s also supposed to deliver money in the form of commerce to business owners it rolls past.

But that’s not really panning out yet for many residents of Seattle’s District 2.

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Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is in Rome this morning (Tues.)  for the first ever gathering of mayors at the Vatican.

They’re there to discuss human trafficking – as well as climate change and the role of cities in fighting it. 

Murray joins mayors from New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Portland as well as Mexico City, Berlin and Oslo, among others. Pope Francis invited the municipal leaders, calling for a renewed international conversation about ending social and environmental exploitation.

Tim Durkan Photography

The recent bout of breezes and cooler temperatures feels like back to normal in the Pacific Northwest with even a few overcast days and sprinkles thrown in.  

But the mercury will rise quickly this weekend, returning the region to above-normal heat for this time of year. Expect clear skies and a spike in temperatures as a ridge of high pressure builds above us, said KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass.

David Neiwert

If you ever thought of Puget Sound Orcas as some kind of magical being, you’re not alone. A new book by local author and investigative journalist David Neiwert details some of their most impressive qualities.

Of Orcas and Men –What Killerwhales Can Teach Us weaves personal narratives with the latest science.

The clouds and cooler temperatures might have some Seattle homeowners thinking it’s okay to get out those sprinklers and garden hoses again and bring the green back to their lawns.

Actually, it’s still pretty hot out there and the small amount of rain coming in won’t make much of a difference.  Seattle Public Utilities recently changed the water supply outlook from “good” to “fair ” because people are using more water this summer due to the unprecedented heat.

Tim Durkan

 

A cool breeze brought relief to the region last night with apartment dwellers in the Belltown neighborhood enjoying outdoor music on patios or sitting on nearby ledges and breathing a bit easier.

The wind swept the smoke out the sky, improving air quality while dropping temperatures by 15 degrees in a single day, said KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass. This stands in sharp contrast to the past three weeks which saw a long series of record-breaking temperatures. 

Bellamy Pailthorp

 

Making sure seafood is both healthy and sustainable can be complicated.

A new label called Smart Catch is trying to change that. Launched in Seattle, Smart Catch attempts to make consumers aware of how their purchased seafood came to their plates by placing a seal of approval on restaurant menus.

SEA TURTLE

Inevitably, fireworks start going off in the first week of July, even before the Independence Day holiday has begun. 

They’re not just loud, says KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass, they’re dirty.

“We often see a spike at the air quality measuring stations of very small particles (of pollutants,)” Mass said.

He notes there is typically a gigantic jump in levels measured on the 4th of July later in the day.

“And some places it’s the worst air of the year,” he said.

Philo Nordlund / Flickr

If you live in the Pacific Northwest, a scary lightning strike isn’t very likely.

But there was one recently in Seattle’s Arboretum that could be a case study in a text book.

“The lightning bolt went right down the moist center of the tree, blew the tree out and so it just spread apart,” Mass said.

He says in this case, the lightning hit just right and heated up the moisture at the core of the tree, causing steam to form and blast it into pieces.

“Pieces of that tree were sent off as projectiles, hundreds of feet away,” and embedded themselves deeply into the ground because of the force of the blow.

“It was amazingly dangerous,” Mass said.

“And there’s been explosive trees around here before; this is not the first incident. But it’s probably the most dramatic I’ve ever seen,” he said.

He says he’s never seen anything like it, at least not in nature.

“It looked like one of those onions you get at Safeco Field,” he said.

In this week’s episode Mass explains why lightning strikes are relatively rare here, why the recent one near the Arboretum visitor center was so forceful and how to position yourself on the off chance that you do get caught in a lightning strike.

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The weak, rainy front that stopped for a short visit the Puget Sound is moving along and leaving more warm dry weather in its wake, said Cliff Mass, KPLU's weather expert.

A small system between Seattle and Everett might bring brief showers later on Friday. But areas south of Seattle -- particularly areas hosting major golf tournaments -- should expect warm, dry weather for the whole weekend.  Saturday and Sunday will start with morning clouds that will clear as the day progresses, Mass said.

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UPDATED: The employees at Tacoma’s Cannabis Club Collective will soon be members of the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.

All eight staff members voted this week to join the 1.3 million-member international organization in what is the first-ever union contract in Washington’s marijuana industry.

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