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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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.

Shivani Bhalla

UPDATED: University of Washington Biology Professor Samuel Wasser calls elephants and their poaching for ivory “the original blood diamonds.”

He’s been mapping the illegal destruction and devastating decline of the majestic animals for decades and has now identified two main hotspots from which a huge portion of poached ivory originates.

The Seattle-based researcher said two main areas in Africa are the sources of 85 percent of both forest and savanna elephant tusks that were seized by law enforcement during an eight-year period from 2006-2014.

Bellamy Pailthorp

Royal Dutch Shell's huge oil-drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, was towed out of Seattle early Monday despite a blockade by a kayak flotilla that attempted to keep it from leaving for the Arctic.

According to the the U.S Coast Guard,  24 protesters were detained after they violated the established "safety zone" around the giant, Alaska-bound oil drilling rig.

The two-dozen detainees, who were only a portion of the large contingent of protesters, were released after receiving civil "notices of violation" that can include a $500 fine but don't carry criminal penalties.

Tim Durkan Photography

The mid-week warm weather has been replaced by a cool swath of marine air that will linger for the early weekend and then dissipate into warmer temperatures come Sunday and Monday, said KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass.

Expect temperatures in the upper 60s to the low 70s with morning clouds for Saturday and early Sunday, Mass said.  The warmer temperatures -- potentially into low 80s -- will return briefly later Sunday and Monday. Cooler weather then will reassert itself late Monday.

Mark MacIntyre / EPA

The wetlands and tributaries which supply major waterways also must be protected, the federal Environmental Protection Agency ruled last month when it expanded the Clean Water Act to regulate upstream pollution. 

This expansion the landmark 1972 environmental law -- which has joint backing from the Army Corps of Engineers -- was celebrated in Seattle Thursday by a handful of  environmental advocacy groups including WASHPIRG  and Environment Washington.  They joined EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran  at the Fremont Brewing Company to talk about the importance of clean water for businesses such as micro-breweries and agriculture. 

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As the Port of Seattle joins with Tacoma to compete against other ports in British Columbia and California, concerns have arisen that it might be losing sight of some of key environmental goals, such as creating sustainable jobs.

The concerns come as Seattle moves forward with a controversial deal to temporarily host Royal Dutch Shell’s oil drilling fleet at terminal 5 in West Seattle.

Two rigs are headed for the Arctic later this summer, along with support vessels.  And the port says it needs the revenue from that lease to pay for upgrades to the terminal and keep it competitive – for Panamax ships and other things in the long haul.

At the same time, Seattle has joined forces with Tacoma to bring in more revenue from lots of other kinds of shippers – and that agreement, called the Seaport Alliance - has some environmentalists crying foul.

Fred Felleman is the Northwest consultant for Friends of the Earth and served on a port citizens’ committee to develop future goals.

"We're going to be perfectly positioned to roll out the red carpet for Arctic exploitation - not for sustainable clean-green jobs that we worked so hard with the Century Agenda Committee to make our emphasis,"Fellemen said.

He says that Century Agenda is fading into the background.

Felleman has been watch-dogging the port for years. He’s also just joined the race for an open seat on the port commission.

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If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass said he is is staring at a virtual 10.

"The weather will be as close to perfect as you can imagine," Mass said Friday. "No precipitation for anybody. Full sun for virtually everyone."

The temperature on Friday will hit the middle to upper 70s, Mass said.  Saturday will get warmer still with the heat pushing into the low 80s for Western Washington.  Sunday will be more of the same.

While warm, the weather isn't in full-hot mode, Mass said. The high pressure system off-shore will remain stable through the early part of the week with light winds picking up around 3 p.m. 

Northwest weather will return from it's vacation late in the week with some rain and clouds.

Mass said what we are seeing is a strong El Nino effect that will continue through winter.

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Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic prospecting plans have sparked two new lawsuits. An alliance of environmental and Alaska-based community groups is challenging the sale of leases in the Chukchi Sea. The second suit takes issue with Shell’s exploration plan, which was recently approved by a federal agency.

Eric Grafe is with Earthjustice, which filed the suit against Shell’s Arctic exploration plan in Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Grafe is representing ten other groups, including the Alaska Wilderness League, Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth.

The plan recently  got a green light from the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management.

“The specific plan that Shell’s developed was approved very quickly, in 30 days, with just a very cursory environmental review,” said Grafe.

He says Shell’s record in the Arctic was already bad after its failed attempts to explore there in 2012, with one drilling rig, the Kulluk, running aground and totaled, and another catching fire.

The company subsequently paid more than a million dollars for air pollution violations and its main contractor pled guilty for felony convictions and paid $12 million in fines. 

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Several hundred facilities in Washington handle medical and pharmaceutical waste. It’s a process that can easily go wrong. An enforcement action this week is sparking a fresh look at the rules surrounding the industry.

The state department of Ecology has fined Stericycle $72,000 for repeated violations of federal waste regulations. K Seiler, who manages compliance and enforcement, says spot checks found the company’s facility in Morton was sterilizing solid materials. That took care of the germs in its infectious waste. But there were also residuals from pharmaceuticals.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

 The City of Seattle has determined that some of the oil drilling equipment parked on the edge of Elliott Bay does not have the right kind of permit. This includes the large yellow platform called the Polar Pioneer.

The Port has appealed the decision. The City’s Hearing Examiner is scheduled to  take up the issue on June 3rd.

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If your Memorial Day weekend plans include a hike in the mountains, be prepared for rain. And if you’re hanging around the Northwest Folklife Festival or elsewhere in the lowlands, expect showers, says KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass.

He says it’s a continuation of a pattern that started on Thursday and continued into Friday morning.

“We had a lot of low clouds moving in to the west of the Cascade Crest,” Mass said.

“There’s an on-shore pressure gradient and so there’s stratus and strato cumulous (clouds) at lower levels. But at upper levels, we’re getting flow still coming off the mountains,” he said.

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The Washington Commissioner of Public Lands said warmer than usual weather has not only increased the wildfire risk, it also has increased the likelihood that firefighting resources across the west will be stretched thin come summer.

“We need to be more self sufficient ,” Commissioner Peter Goldmark said.

He said so many communities are struggling with drought that the state can’t count on outside help if wildfires strike.

“In the past, sometimes we’ve been able to rely on contract resources or other states," Goldmark said. "But because of the widespread nature of the drought, and the ensuing fire potential, we can no longer count on other states or adjacent states or other entities coming to help us.”

That’s why he is requesting an additional $4.5 million dollars to pay for emergency staffing and equipment. That’s on top of an unprecedented ask for $20-million for longer-term forest health work, thinning stands and making public forests more resistant to wildfire.

Goldmark says last year’s Carlton Complex Fire was the worst he has ever seen.  The current draught declarations combined with this year’s warmer than normal forecast for the summer is making him nervous.

Goldmark says he won't count on help from anyone this season. Last year, the deadly Carlton Complex required help from 40 states.  

Tim Hamilton / Flickr

If you were out in shorts last weekend, slathering on sunscreen, be prepared for a different kind of weather this Saturday and Sunday.

“There won’t be a lot of sun tomorrow for most of Western Washington. Maybe a few sunbreaks, but not much more than that,” says KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington. “This is going to be kind of a so-so, middle-of-the-road weekend.”

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