Tom Banse

Regional Correspondent

Tom Banse, KPLU’s and N3’s Regional Correspondent, roves the Northwest to report on broad themes and telling details. His topics run the gamut from business to the environment and human interest. Home base is in Olympia, a legacy of a previously held state government beat from 1991-2003. Although he grew up in Seattle, Tom's radio career began by chance in Minnesota at Carleton College’s student radio station. Tom's memorable moment in public radio: "I am indebted to many people for tips and tutelage, but certainly some of the bluntest -- at times unprintable -- guidance came from NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg. I interned at NPR in 1989 and was privileged to keep Nina's chair warm at the U-S Supreme Court or at the high-octane Iran-Contra trial of Oliver North, wherever she wasn't at the time. Heady stuff for a tenderfoot reporter."

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currency rate
7:54 pm
Mon June 24, 2013

Border expert: Falling Canadian dollar bears watching

The Canadian dollar is dropping in value. At the close of currency trading Monday, the Canadian dollar hit its lowest point in nearly two years in comparison to the U.S. dollar. And if the trend continues, it'll be cause for concern in border states.

The Canadian dollar is affectionately known as the "loonie." Less than two months ago, it was at parity with the greenback. Now it's worth around 95 cents U.S.

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HANFORD NUCLEAR RESERVATION
7:56 pm
Fri June 21, 2013

Possible leak at Hanford nuclear site, no immediate threat seen

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee answers questions about a potential leak in a tank at Hanford Nuclear Reservation, on Friday, June 21, 2013, in Olympia, Wash.
Rachel La Corte Associated Press

Gov. Jay Inslee says it will likely take a few days to confirm whether radioactive waste has leaked through the outer shell of a double-hulled underground tank at Hanford Nuclear Reservation.

Earlier Friday, the U.S. Department of Energy disclosed it detected heightened radioactivity levels beneath a tank that holds some of the nation's worst nuclear waste. Inslee said he spoke directly to the new secretary of energy to say how unhappy he is with agency's pace of stabilizing half a dozen different leaking tanks.

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unemployment rate
12:37 pm
Wed June 19, 2013

State jobless rate continues to fall, down to 6.8 percent in May

Mary Altaffer Associated Press

Washington state's labor market continues to improve slowly, according to the latest unemployment rate released Wednesday. The state's Employment Security Department said the jobless rate for May ticked down two-tenths of a percent from April to land on 6.8 percent.

State labor economist Paul Turek says it's the first time since late 2008 that the unemployment rate stood below 7 percent.

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the heaviness of silence
12:04 pm
Wed June 19, 2013

Award-winning sound recordist in race against hearing loss

Gordon Hempton edits his "greatest hits" at his home studio in Indianola, Washington.
Tom Banse

The man who identified the quietest place in the Lower 48—dubbed the "One Square Inch of Silence"—is going deaf.

This Olympic Peninsula fellow campaigned against noise pollution, particularly at his symbolic spot in the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. The self-described "Sound Tracker" is now in a race to edit his life's work before he loses more of his hearing.

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I-5 bridge collapse
8:46 am
Wed June 19, 2013

Drivers, business owners relish return to normal as bridge reopens

Traffic began rolling across the repaired Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River Wednesday morning, completing a hasty, around-the-clock salvage and reconstruction job.

The repair started less than four weeks ago after an oversize load brought down the vital bridge.  Northwest Washington drivers and businesses are relishing a return to normal.

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I-5 bridge collapse
5:07 pm
Tue June 18, 2013

Temporary Skagit I-5 bridge to open Wednesday morning

Drivers and businesses in Northwest Washington are voicing elation now that there is a firm date for reopening the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River. The Washington Department of Transportation says the temporary replacement bridge will start carrying traffic Wednesday morning.

It took just three and a half weeks to clear the wreckage of the collapsed I-5 bridge and to build a new span across the gap. State transportation secretary Lynn Peterson says the temporary replacement can carry 99 percent of the usual car and truck traffic; no oversize loads will be allowed.

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Electric Cars
11:02 am
Wed June 12, 2013

Fueling Up For 84 Cents Per 'eGallon'

Tom Banse Northwest News Network

Originally published on Tue June 11, 2013 4:04 pm

Imagine paying less than a dollar per gallon for your commute, compared to today's statewide averages of $3.84 in Oregon and Washington and $3.80 in Idaho for a gallon of gas. Eighty-four cents in Idaho and Washington -- or 96 cents in Oregon -- per gasoline gallon equivalent is how much the US Department of Energy figures it costs to recharge an electric car in each state.

The agency's assistant secretary David Danielson announced an online cost comparison calculator Tuesday for what he calls the "eGallon."

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NPR Story
9:58 am
Thu June 6, 2013

Low Cost Leases Electrify Plug-In Car Sales On West Coast

Tom Banse Northwest News Network

Originally published on Thu June 6, 2013 3:17 pm

A couple of years ago, Democratic politicians at the state and national levels set heady goals for battery powered cars. For example, in his 2011 State of the Union speech, President Obama said, "With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015."

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northwest fish
12:01 pm
Sat June 1, 2013

Farmed trout go vegetarian (sort of), but what about the taste?

Alternative feeds resulted in slightly different colors and textures in trout fillets.
Tom Banse

The search is on for a cost-effective alternative fish food in the form of pellets. A key ingredient in commercial feed is other fish caught in the wild. Northwest trout farmers and some salmon growers recognize the practice is unsustainable.

But trout are carnivores; they can't just become vegetarians, or can they? Washington State University recently held a taste test to see if seafood consumers can tell any difference.

Put to the test: Difference in taste?

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green design
10:33 am
Wed May 22, 2013

Super-energy efficient homes built to inspire more stringent codes

A NEEA "Next Step Home" pilot home in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood.
Tom Banse

The homes of the future will come with remarkably low heating bills. At least that's the hope of a Portland-based nonprofit group showcasing 13 super-energy efficient homes in four Northwest states. The question is: can you afford to buy one of these houses?

The model homes are scattered among many of the big cities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. The houses don't look unusual from the outside. But all have been designed to use at least 30 percent less energy.

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small business in the digital age
11:32 am
Sun May 19, 2013

Should the state OK equity crowdfunding?

Throwboy founder Roberto Hoyos is seen at work on his sewing machine.

Crowdfunding websites have grown rapidly as a way to raise money for creative ventures—everything from movies to scientific research, to clever inventions. You might have heard of Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Rockethub. It would be just a small leap to use those same platforms to sell shares in a startup. That's illegal right now, but maybe not for long.

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electric vehicles
12:01 pm
Thu May 16, 2013

Nissan electric car sales booming in Washington state

In this photo taken May 26, 2011, show a Nissan Leaf charging in Portland, Ore.

The automaker Nissan says sales of its fully-electric Leaf compact surpassed all other Nissan models at dealers in the Seattle and Portland areas this spring. The announcement Wednesday runs counter to the prevailing wisdom that adoption of plug-in cars has been sluggish.

At Nissan USA headquarters, director of electric vehicle marketing and sales Erik Gottfried says he's scrambling to ship enough Leafs to meet demand in the Pacific Northwest. The car maker juiced its plug-in sales by slashing the sticker price and offering low-cost leases. Gottfried says that was made possible by opening a domestic production line in Tennessee.

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protecting songbird
9:30 am
Tue May 14, 2013

Can this rare songbird be lured away from risky neighborhoods?

A streaked horned lark is seen in this photo.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

A songbird called the streaked horned lark has a curious propensity for risky neighborhoods. That's not a good quality for a bird proposed for listing as a threatened species. Its preferred hangouts include airports, Army training fields, and dredge spoil dumping sites along the lower Columbia River. A two-state experiment seeks to find out if these rare larks can be enticed to safer habitats.

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Boeing & U.S. Air Force
9:43 am
Tue May 7, 2013

Air Force says new air refueling tanker program on track

U.S. Air Force graphic by Corey Parrish Caption: Artist's rendition of a KC-46A tanker refueling a stealth bomber.

Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane is planning a public memorial service for three of its airmen killed in a mid-air explosion over central Asia.

The cause of the air refueling tanker accident last Friday remains under investigation, but the crash renews attention on a Boeing Company contract to replace the Air Force's aging tanker fleet.

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protecting honey bees
4:29 pm
Tue April 30, 2013

Wash. state pressed to save honey bees by restricting pesticides

Beekeeper Mark Emrich checks his hives near Rochester, Wash.
Tom Banse

This is the time of year when local farmers count on bees and other insects to pollinate orchards and vegetable and berry fields. The change in the seasons is not the only thing creating a buzz in the world of beekeeping.

This week, the European Commission put a moratorium on the use of three popular pesticides judged to pose high risk to bees.

Beekeepers have started to push Washington State's Department of Agriculture to go in that direction, too. And that could have an effect on what's available at your local garden center.

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