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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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.

AP Images

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.

AP Images

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. 

AP Images

 

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.

AP Images

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.

AP Images

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. 

AP Images

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.

AP Images

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.

AP Images

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.”

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

As Royal Dutch Shell’s Polar Pioneer oil rig arrived in Puget Sound, the noise coming from a  Coast Guard helicopter rang out across the water. It was deafening and added to the drama of watching an enormous new oil rig enter Elliott Bay.

Royal Dutch Shell is planning to send the Polar Pioneer along with a fleet of ships to the Arctic to drill this summer, now that President Obama has approved the oil giant's plans.

The bright yellow drilling machine took its place at Terminal 5 in West Seattle Thursday afternoon, accompanied by local tugs.

Bellamy Pailthorp, KPLU

While the Polar Pioneer remains parked in Port Angeles, 

a second oil drilling rig -- the Noble Discoverer -- arrived Everett Tuesday, where it was greeted by activists and onlookers. 

The arrival brings additional attention to the Port of Seattle which is facing continued controversy over its agreement with Royal Dutch Shell to service the oil giant's Arctic  drilling vessels. And despite a port commission request for a delay of any moorage of oil exploration vessels and a city council vote in opposition to the deal, the two rigs are on their way. 

AP Images

After hearing testimony in favor of Arctic oil drilling, the Seattle City Council voted unanimously to join Mayor Ed Murray in opposing the Port of Seattle’s lease with Royal Dutch Shell.  

The resolution doesn’t carry the legal authority to block the port's decision to host Royal Dutch Shell's drilling fleet. But it was enough of a statement that several Alaska Native leaders traveled from remote areas in the Arctic to lobby in favor of the lease with the city council. 

The jobs drilling would bring are vital, the Alaska representatives said.

Tim Durkan Photography

Friday is the best day of the weekend to recharge your vitamin D stores by soaking up sun and warmth, says KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass.

But the whole weekend looks pretty glorious. He says the small amount of clouds present are limited to places near the water.

“A few fog patches along the coast, those are burning off, so – great day,” he said of Friday’s weather. “Temperatures will get into the lower to mid-seventies, with total sun, no precipitation, so – wonderful.”

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

A statewide citizens’ committee on pipeline safety has criticized a federal proposal to take additional control of pipeline safety away from the states and remand it to the federal government. 

The latest annual report from 13-member the Citizens’ Oversight Committee says the federal proposal effectively would take away states’ authority over interstate pipelines. The committee's concern is that inspectors would have to come from too far away, slowing response times and loosening enforcement.

The citizens committee on pipeline safety was created by the legislature fifteen years ago, after a tragic explosion in Bellingham that killed a man and two boys.  According to an investigation by the state that took three years to complete, the line to the oil refinery at Cherry Point had ruptured and the Olympic Pipeline Company was at fault. 

John Grade

A storefront in Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood has been the site of an ever-evolving sculpture, of a tree turned on its side. About a year ago, the site became a hub for a new kind of collaboration with one of the city’s most productive public artists.

Sculptor John Grade and his supporters at the Mad Art Gallery invited hundreds of people in, to help assemble Middle Fork. It’s now a 40-foot long model of a Western Hemlock, suspended inside a large gallery space that’s just down the block from a Tesla Motors showroom and across from the Seattle offices of Microsoft.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

 

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said the Port of Seattle can't host Royal Dutch Shell's offshore Arctic oil-drilling fleet unless it gets a new land-use permit.

Shell has been hoping to base its fleet at the port's Terminal 5. Environmentalists have already sued over the plan, saying the port broke state law in February when it signed a two-year lease with Foss Maritime, which is working with Shell.

Tim Durkan

Enjoy the sunny weekend –but keep your rain gear ready – we’re going to have a nice scenario for gardening and other outdoorsy pursuits this weekend.

That’s according to KPLU weather expert Cliff Mass, who is also excited about the recent news of El Nino and La Nina. (Click “listen to our podcast and hear his information about all that.)

AP Images

One member of a Seattle-based climbing group's Everest team died Saturday as a result of an avalanche that hit the mountain following the Nepal earthquake. But several other local climbing organizations reported that their teams were safe. 

Among those is Alpine Ascents, the climbing and expedition company that has called Seattle its home for 27 years. The company had six clients and three guides on Mount Everest  at the time of the 7.8 magnitude quake.  

courtesy WSDOT

Interstate 405's notoriously crawling traffic might accelerate if the state's new system of express toll lanes and increased carpool minimums works as expected.

Tim Durkan

Windy weather this weekend will make umbrella use a bit problematic, but you probably will need a parka or other rain gear, at least for the next day or so.

“We have an upper level trough over us and that brings cold air and unstable conditions where we get the cumulous (puffy clouds) and thunderstorms developing,” said Mass.

And so on  Friday, Mass says expect some showers, especially in the mountains and South Sound.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

When Kathy Holzer was a kid living on the outskirts of Chicago, she would climb her parents’ apple trees in their orchard. She was always up in the tree -- with her dog sleeping below.

“And they'd always know where I was because there was the dog so I must be in that tree,” Holzer said. “And I always broke out the dead branches that were in my way, because it always seemed -- intuitively -- that the tree didn’t need them.” 

My poor dad, Holtzer continued,  would see the piles of dead branches underneath the trees and wonder, 'Who's been doing this?'

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

It’s Earth Day. Some volunteers will celebrate by digging in the soil at community gardens.

But one Seattle neighborhood is taking that idea to a whole new level, at the Beacon Food Forest.  

Jackie Cramer, one of the founders, stands at the top of a hillside that was once an all-green manicured lawn, raking up at the end of the day.

Beneath her, raised beds and special compost bins are transforming the landscape. Two acres are on their way to becoming a woodland forest.

Lucas Randall-Owens / KPLU

On the shore of Seaview Park in West Seattle, a group of young activists stands behind a row of bright yellow kayaks.  Most of them are new to boating. An instructor from Alki Kayak Tours gives a safety briefing before they head out for a sunset paddle. 

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