Tom Banse

Regional Correspondent

Tom Banse covers national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reports from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events are unfolding. Tom's stories can be found online and heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.

Before taking his current beat, Tom covered state government and the Washington Legislature for 12 years.  He got his start in radio at WCAL–FM, a public station in southern Minnesota. Reared in Seattle, Tom graduated from Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota with a degree in American Studies.

When not sifting through press releases, listening to lobbyists, or driving lonely highways, Tom enjoys exploring the Olympic Peninsula backcountry and cooking dinner with his wife and friends. Tom's secret ambition is to take six months off work and travel to a faraway place beyond the reach of email.

Ways To Connect

This week , federal biologists will cast off on a research cruise from NOAA's new homeport in Newport, Oregon. They hope to crack an enduring mystery about some of the most studied killer whales on earth. Namely, where do the Northwest's resident orca whales go in the winter?

Every winter, the three pods of orca whales that call Northwest waters home just disappear into the wild blue yonder. Research biologist Dawn Noren and colleagues from the Northwest Fisheries Science Center are about to embark on a three-week mission to find them.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

ROY, Wash. – Mount Rainier was once known by its many native names. Now, an alliance of tribal members is moving forward with a proposal to restore an original name to this Northwest landmark. But a long bureaucratic process lies ahead.

The United Steelworkers union has reached a tentative deal with oil companies to avert a possible strike at dozens of refineries, including three important ones in the Northwest.

Negotiations over a new labor contract for refinery workers concluded mere hours before a late night deadline. The United Steelworkers and Shell Oil announced a tentative three-year deal that's intended to set the pattern for local agreements at unionized refineries nationwide.

Bargaining is going down to the wire on new labor contracts at three of the five big oil refineries in the Northwest. Union members have been told to prepare to strike as early as Wednesday.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Two credit rating agencies have delivered a warning to the State of Washington to get its financial house in order. The ratings agencies lowered the outlook for Washington state debt, citing the magnitude of the budget shortfall.

TACOMA, Wash. – The final suspect in a 2001 Earth Liberation Front arson attack in Seattle plead guilty Tuesday. Justin Solondz, 32, reached a plea deal with the government. A federal judge in Tacoma has approved a deal that could give Solondz a 7-year prison term.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

With the year-end approaching, your letter carrier likely delivers at least one or two fundraising letters with each day's mail. You're not alone if you toss some of those pitches straight into the recycle bin. It's a tough fundraising environment right now for charities here on the heels of the great recession.

The first of a new breed of car rental companies is expanding into the Northwest. Next month, San Francisco-based Getaround officially launches its web-based rental service in the greater Portland area.

The concept is sometimes called peer-to-peer car rental or personal car sharing. The idea is to let you rent your car to someone else when you're not using it. Several companies have sprung up in California to provide the online marketplaces to link up car owners with pre-screened renters.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

As of this morning, there are fewer than 100 Northwest-based soldiers serving in Iraq. A plane carrying the final large group of returning soldiers touched down at McChord Field near Tacoma at dusk Tuesday. 

The sweetest words for 170 Joint Base Lewis-McChord soldiers and their families: "Captain, dismissed!"

Northwest News Network

TACOMA, Wash. – The cold nights we've been having are leading people to fire up their wood stoves and fireplaces. This also means we're in the season of the dirtiest air of the year in the Northwest.

Wood stoves are one of the biggest – if not the biggest – contributor to this problem in our area. Clean air agencies are going to greater lengths to pry old, polluting, uncertified wood stoves out of the fingers of homeowners.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - You've probably seen plum parking spots set aside for electric cars, maybe even shaken your fist at an empty space. More than a thousand Northwest drivers have hit the road this year with the first mass market electric cars.

Many of them are letting researchers electronically track their charging and driving behavior. That data shows more than 80% of electric "fill ups" are happening not at those public charging points, but at home.

The judge in a high profile war crimes court martial is expected to send the case to the jury today. Closing arguments are now complete in the case against Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs. He's accused of orchestrating the deaths of unarmed Afghan civilians.

Army prosecutor Major Robert Snow told the military jury their decision should not be difficult. His precise closing words: "Let your verdict speak the truth that Staff Sgt. Gibbs is a murderer."

WHITE SALMON, Wash. – Southwest Washington's White Salmon River is running free this morning for the first time in a century.

demolition contractors executed their plan flawlessly yesterday to blast a hole in the base of an aging hydropower dam. Condit Dam is the third large Northwest dam to meet the wrecking ball this year.

D. Kvamme / PacifiCorp

Update: Watch the explosion and dam breach.

WHITE SALMON, Wash. – Demolition experts are rigging 700 pounds of dynamite today at Condit Dam in southwest Washington. Crews are scheduled to breach the aging hydropower dam on the White Salmon River around noon Wednesday.

Associated Press

Federal archeologists are investigating a very old jawbone that turned up Monday along the Columbia River in Kennewick, Wash. The human remains were found a short distance from where Kennewick Man was discovered in 1996 and sparked a decade-long legal conflict.

The battles over Kennewick Man have scientists being extra cautious with the new discovery.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

SEATTLE – Some seafood sold in the Northwest isn't what it seems.

Mislabeled fish is more common than you might think according to the few cops trying to make sure you get the species you paid for. Now those who are on patrol are looking for higher penalties to deter fish cheaters.

SEATTLE – The Japanese tsunami back in March washed millions of tons of debris out to sea, and winds and currents are pushing it very slowly across the Pacific Ocean.

Scientists tracking the flotsam have new evidence that it does not pose a radiological threat despite the Japanese nuclear disaster that followed the tsunami.

Flickr

Federal fisheries scientists plan to survey Pacific Northwest and Alaskan waters to determine if a harmful European fish virus has spread here.

And now, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell and two senators from Alaska are calling for an investigation into the spread of the virus striking Canadian salmon.

BELLINGHAM, Wash. – The U.S. government is considering whether to build short segments of fencing along the northern border with Canada. But the fences won’t stretch very far.

That’s what a U.S. Customs and Border Protection planner told a small audience gathered in Bellingham Tuesday night.

TACOMA, Wash. – A Longshore union says it plans to appeal a federal judge's quarter-million dollar fine for its tactics in a Longview labor dispute.

Friday, lawyers on various sides of the case argued first about that punishment for a clash in early September. Later, the judge took up the heart of the matter. .

U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton found the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in contempt of court for blocking a train and storming a grain terminal about three weeks ago. He's now fined the union $250,000.

Associated Press

SEATTLE – Hometown friends and supporters of Amanda Knox kept an early morning vigil at a Seattle hotel while awaiting the verdict from Italy. The group of about a dozen burst into applause and cheers when they got word that the murder charge against Knox was overturned.

DAR56 / Wikimedia commons

Your power bill could be cheaper if the U.S. didn't send so much electricity north of the border every year. Canada lays claim to around $300 million worth of hydropower annually under the terms of a 50-year-old treaty.

In return, the Canadians manage the upper Columbia River to prevent downstream flooding and to optimize power production. The Columbia River Treaty can be renegotiated soon and there are voices on both sides of the border clamoring for a better deal.

U.S. Census Bureau

About 5,500 same-sex couples in the Northwest checked the box to be counted as married in the 2010 Census. Neither Washington, Oregon nor Idaho recognizes same-sex marriages.

A new Census Bureau report says the number of same-sex couples who identify themselves as married greatly exceeds the number of marriage licenses issued by states that legalized such unions.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Sheriff's deputies and BNSF railroad police are investigating what they say are about a dozen instances of possible tampering with the tracks in southwest Washington. BNSF officials declined to make any connection with an ongoing labor dispute in Longview.

Laura McCallum

It's never too late to make amends. That could be the moral of a story unfolding Saturday near the mouth of the Columbia River. Descendants of explorer William Clark will replace a canoe stolen by the Lewis and Clark Expedition from a local tribe more than two centuries ago.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington state agencies are putting entire programs on the chopping block – including $65 million from UW and WSU – to satisfy a request by the governor for more budget savings.

On Thursday, Governor Chris Gregoire notified state lawmakers that she will call them back to Olympia on November 28th for a special budget cutting session to make the cuts.

Autumn officially starts on Friday and that means flu season is close behind. The CDC recommends everyone get a flu shot. This year, a suburban Portland company is promoting a needle-free vaccine for people with needle phobia.

Tualatin, Oregon-based Bioject Medical Technologies makes a vaccine injector powered by a CO2 cartridge. Bioject president Ralph Makar says the way it works is a burst of pressure creates a tiny opening in the skin.

Alan Cleaver / Flickr

The FBI says violent crime dropped 6 percent nationwide in 2010. Northwest states are following that same trend, but see less improvement when it comes to property crime rates.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

An Indian tribe on the Washington Coast on Thursday renewed its plea to Congress to expand its tiny reservation onto higher ground. Quileute tribal leaders previously traveled to the nation's capital after the devastating Japanese tsunami in March.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The unemployment rate held steady at 9-point-3 percent in Washington state in August. The state Employment Department released fresh jobs numbers Wednesday, a day after Oregon reported a slight uptick in its unemployment rate. Now it's at 9-point-6 percent.

In Washington, Employment Department chief economist Dave Wallace says the private sector statewide has added jobs for twelve months in a row now. But he says jobs need to be added at a faster pace to chip away at the unemployment rate.

Pages