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.

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Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

After last month's Japanese tsunami, some coastal Northwest Indian tribes are expressing new urgency about the same danger they face. Two Washington tribes actually have plans to move parts of their villages to higher ground.

Elaine Thompson / AP

The Washington State Climatologist is out with a report card on how the weather phenomenon La Niña treated the Northwest. If you thought it’s been wetter and colder than usual since November, you’re right. But overall, this La Niña was milder than predicted. KPLU's Tom Banse reports:

Courtesy Ecola Architects, PC

If you’re near the coastline and a major earthquake strikes, the advice as always is to scramble for higher ground. But sometimes, high ground is far away. For example, if you’re in Ocean Shores or Seaside, Ore., the best option could be to head for the rooftop of a sturdy building, if there is one.

In Westport, and communities along the Northwest coast,  the horrible and gripping images of destruction from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami are still top-of-mind. In this fishing and beach resort town, retiree Linda Orgel is one of hundreds of coastal residents spurred to become better prepared. That interest is being channeled into planning and design meetings for a possible string of manmade refuge towers.

Ted S. Warren / AP

When disaster response in Japan turns to rebuilding, Northwest timber companies and sawmills should see an increase in exports. But an industry consultant says the slow pace of disaster recovery means those new orders may not come for months. 

Stock prices for some North American timber companies spiked in the immediate aftermath of the Japan disaster. Wall Street anticipates a surge in Japanese demand for logs, lumber and plywood to rebuild homes.

Jim Bryant / AP

There’s good news and bad news for logging and saw-milling jobs in the Northwest. The bad news is new figures out show construction spending dropped in February to the lowest level in more than a decade. The good news is that timber demand from China is soaring.

Russia has traditionally been China’s main wood supplier. An export tax by the Russians combined with the expanding Chinese economy has created an opening for exporters on the West Coast.

U.S. Army

He was the sole survivor of a massive roadside bomb in Afghanistan that killed seven of his comrades and their interpreter. Now, Corporal Roger Scherf, Jr. has also died, the victim of a car accident on an icy highway.

AP

Record numbers of parents in the Northwest are seeking waivers from mandatory child immunization requirements. The trend alarms public health officials. They say it creates increased risk for disease outbreaks. Washington, Oregon, and Idaho are all moving to sway vaccine skeptics.

All U.S. states require parents to immunize their children before sending them to school.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Gourmet food company Harry & David hopes to make a quick trip through bankruptcy reorganization. The legendary Northwest retailer filed a “pre-arranged restructuring” plan with a Delaware court.

The struggling retailer will use the bankruptcy process to shed its heavy debt load and repair its balance sheet. The century-old Medford, Oregon icon filed papers saying the majority of its bond holders have agreed to swap their debt for equity in a restructured company.

Tom Banse / N3

To consumers, the welter of eco-labels on various food products can be nebulous or confusing. But the first crab fishery on the West Coast to get a green friendly label says it is seeing a really quick payoff.

Automated traffic ticket cameras could soon show up in a new place. They’d be attached to school buses. Opponents of photo traffic enforcement are mounting a late effort to stop the idea in the sate Legislature.

Brenner Beck is a school bus driver in Gig Harbor. He says motorists go around his bus when the flashing stop sign paddle is out.

Riders on the nation’s biggest ferry system, Washington State Ferries, should brace themselves for another round of fare increases. The only remaining question is how much. 

The state House and Senate have come out with competing spending blueprints for roads and ferries. One thing the budgets have in common is higher ferry fares. The  increase this fall ranges between 2.5% and 5% and another 2.5% coming next fall.

At events in Olympia and Salem Tuesday, an activist group called on Washington and Oregon's governors to stop spending taxpayer dollars on bottled water.

Organizer Sriram Madhusoodanan, with the group Corporate Accountability International, says those little plastic bottles, sometimes available at public meetings and events, create unnecessary waste and undermine confidence in the quality of public water supplies.

State lawmakers have heard tearful pleas this legislative session from victims of child rape who advocate the statute of limitations be eliminated. A bill with that provision passed unanimously in the state House recently. But it appears destined for oblivion because a state Senate chairman won’t hear the bill.

Columbia Power Technologies

An Oregon-based alternative energy company is one step closer to generating electricity from the ocean's waves. The company has launched a prototype wave energy buoy. For testing, the startup chose the gentler waters of Puget Sound.

AP

Unemployment ticked downward in Washington state in February as hiring picked up. The changes were small, but the job market seems to have “turned the corner,” according to the State's Employment Security department. 

Washington's chief labor economist Dave Wallace, spoke about the fresh data released Tuesday. Wallace says the hard-hit construction industry showed surprisingly strong gains regionally and nationally:

Tom Banse / N3

One of the best known Northwest brands is on the verge of bond default or bankruptcy according to financial analysts. Gourmet food retailer Harry & David is one of the biggest employers in southern Oregon. It also has a network of anxious suppliers around the region.

Tidal gauges detected a tsunami wave along the Washington and Oregon coasts Friday morning. But the swell, up to 1.5 feet, went unnoticed by coastal residents who chose not to evacuate.

"Very disappointing." That's how Oregon Senator Ron Wyden describes a series of Army investigations into the treatment of injured Oregon National Guard soldiers last year. Those inquires conclude the Oregon troops were not treated as second class soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

West Coast lawmakers want to take shark fin soup off restaurant menus. The Washington, Oregon and California Legislatures are all considering measures to criminalize the trade in shark fins.

The owner of the largest coal-fired power plant in the Northwest has agreed to phase out coal-burning by the end of 2025.

Washington’s governor and environmental groups announced an agreement with TransAlta Corporation Saturday. Within hours, the Washington State Senate passed a bill to turn the deal into law.

USFS

One of the rarest mammals in North America is staging a comeback here in the Northwest. Wildlife biologists have tracked wolverines on mountainsides where they haven't been seen in many decades. But several new studies also suggest the recovery could be short lived if mountain snowlines retreat due to global warming.

Tom Banse / N3

Starting this week, the first of roughly 900 electric car owners in the Northwest will each have a free charging station built into their garages. The deal comes with a catch though.

Google Maps

A remarkable piece of scientific detective work has constructed a 6,000 year climate history of the Pacific Northwest. The record reveals a pattern of drought cycles and wet cycles.

Researchers drilled into the sediments at the bottom of Castor Lake near Omak, Washington. It's a telltale lake because with no river running out of it rainfall and evaporation rule there.

Kristian Foden-Vencil / OPB

Irate drivers in four Washington cities are filing ballot initiative paperwork this week to unplug automated traffic enforcement cameras.

So far, driver rebellions have ignited in Longview, Bellingham, Monroe and Wenatchee. Signature drives have started in those cities to unplug their red light cameras. Professional initiative promoter Tim Eyman is involved in all four of the nascent municipal campaigns.

Josh Landis / National Science Foundation

If an iceberg cracks in Antarctica and no one's there to hear it, does it make a sound? Now we know the answer is, in fact, yes.

A University of Washington oceanographer has released a recording of the breakup of one of the largest icebergs ever observed in Antarctica.

FBI

The FBI says a backpack bomb found along the Martin Luther King Day parade route in Spokane could have hurt many people. A bomb disposal unit safely defused the device Monday. Now the federal government has enlisted a joint terrorism task force to track down the would-be bomber.

David Zalubowski / AP Photo

The merger of two of our region’s biggest telephone companies is generating relatively little static. CenturyLink appears likely to get regulatory clearance soon to take over Qwest Communications. But the merger comes with conditions.

Tom Banse / N3

Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer is trying to clear the way for coal exports through the Pacific Northwest. He’s worried Washington state will block a proposed Columbia River shipping terminal for Montana and Wyoming coal. Schweitzer is making a hastily scheduled trip to southwest Washington Wednesday.

In the new year, Washington state is raising taxes. But you'll need sharp eyes to notice where.  Lawmakers have hiked and expanded a telephone tax to support 911 service.

Flickr/Ravenelle

Ever had a summer beach vacation chilled by dense fog? Then you might be interested in new research at the University of Washington. A scientist there is looking at how fogginess along the coast has changed over time. 

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