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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A snowboarder raised in Sun Valley, Idaho soared over better known and more experienced rivals to grab the gold medal in women's halfpipe at the Winter Olympics.

The Northwest has its first Olympic gold medal from the 2014 Sochi Games. Snowboarder Kaitlyn Farrington of Bellevue, Idaho triumphed in the women's halfpipe Wednesday.

David Nogueras / OPB

When Team USA marched into the stadium for the Winter Olympics Opening Ceremony, they were swathed in the warmth of the Northwest, quite literally. The wool to make the U.S. parade uniform sweaters came from a sheep ranch in rural Oregon.

The Team USA sweater is a colorful patchwork of patriotic symbols and Olympic rings. The symbolism runs deeper for Oregon rancher Jeanne Carver. Her Imperial Stock Ranch sold the 8,000 pounds of homegrown wool to garment maker Ralph Lauren Corp.

Matthew Brown / AP Photo

State lawmakers in Olympia are going down divergent tracks in how to respond to the rapid increase of crude oil trains crossing the region. Timely public disclosure of train cargoes and safety risks is one point of contention.

Four recent derailments and explosions of crude oil trains in other parts of North America have raised alarm in city halls and state capitols in the Northwest. But state and local officials soon discovered their hands are largely tied because the feds have sole jurisdiction in this arena.

Sara Melikian / Flickr

The Super Bowl-winning Seattle Seahawks had one. Professional baseball teams have them. And the U.S. Olympic women's ice hockey team found one in Tacoma. We’re talking about a mental skills coach.

And some of this coach's advice to U.S. Olympians could help the average recreational athlete, too.

Professor Colleen Hacker is taking a break from teaching exercise science and sports psychology at Pacific Lutheran University to travel to Russia with the U.S. men's and women's hockey teams for the Winter Olympics. Hacker's job title is “mental skills coach.” And what is that exactly?

Sergei Kazantsev / Wikimedia

 

The 2014 Winter Olympics begin next week amid persistent concerns about security.

Recent bombings in Russia have stoked worries, but local athletes and coaches are expressing confidence they'll be safe in Sochi. Not a single member of this year's U.S. Olympic Team has changed his or her mind about going to Sochi because of the terrorism threat. 

Still, as American athletes leave for Russia this weekend, some are leaving their families behind.

Jude Freeman / Wikimedia Commons

It's every Olympic athlete's worst nightmare. After years of preparing, training and fundraising, an accident just weeks before the Olympic Games derailed everything for Roberto Carcelen of Seattle.  

But the cross-country skier insists on competing at the Sochi Olympics despite a doctor's advice not to.

Tom Banse

The slow uptake of electric cars by Northwest drivers is prompting calls to extend a tax break in Washington state for new vehicles powered by alternative fuels. A sales tax exemption is set to expire next year.

Washington and Oregon have been among the best sales markets in the country for plug-in cars. But still, the number of fully electric and other alternative fuel vehicles on the road remains a tiny fraction of total registrations.

Dirk Heldmaier / Wikimedia

The Northwest contribution to U.S. Olympic team goes beyond athletes. A bunch of top coaches, ski tuners, wax technicians and physical therapists from here are Sochi-bound, too. And then there's the cross-country ski coach from Bend, Oregon who is heading to Russia, but not with Team USA.

J.D. Downing runs the XC Oregon race team and training camps in Bend. Now he's wearing several additional hats, including head coach and "chef de mission" for the 2014 Dominica Olympic Team. Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, Dominica is a former French and British colony in the Eastern Caribbean.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The unemployment rate in Washington state has fallen to the lowest level in five years.

New numbers for December from the state Employment Department peg the current jobless rate at 6.6 percent. The figure hasn’t dipped lower since November 2008.

Sam Morrison

In order for the Winter Olympics to take place in Sochi, Russia, there must be snow.

One Northwest snow-making expert has been working at the Russian resort zone for nearly two months now, helping ensure a snow-covered Olympics.

Sarah Brunson / U.S. Freeskiing

It's not just the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl that will make for an exciting February for Northwest sports fans. The Winter Olympics start just days later, and more Northwest athletes have punched their tickets to the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Federal securities regulators recently cleared the way for small, Kickerstarter-style campaigns for startups to sell shares. But many entrepreneurs view the federal process as too cumbersome. Now, Washington state lawmakers are contemplating a state-only version to help small businesses raise capital more easily.

Randy Wilder / Monterey Bay Aquarium

It's not something we often think about, but as we go about daily life, we're constantly shedding little flakes of skin. So are animals and fish. This fact now makes it possible to estimate which species are most plentiful in a lake or bay.

University of Washington professor Ryan Kelly is jazzed.

"This is about the coolest project I have been involved in,” Kelly said.

John Campbell

Next month, Sochi, Russia will host athletes from more than 85 nations at the Winter Olympics. Some of those countries might surprise you. They get no snow or have no mountains.

Remember the Disney movie "Cool Runnings?" It immortalized the Jamaican bobsled squad. Team Jamaica is coming back for more this year.

And so is the U.S. Virgin Islands. The U.S. territory will likely be represented by a Whitman College student who calls Sun Valley, Idaho home.

David Goldman / AP Photo

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has approved an unusual way for prospective immigrants to earn a U.S. green card and permanent residency. They can loan money to independent Northwest truckers who want to upgrade to less-polluting rigs.

The idea was the brainchild of Bellingham immigration attorney David Andersson and a cross-border association of state Legislatures and parliaments called the Pacific Northwest Economic Region.

Robert Whitney

Athletes headed to next month's Winter Olympics in Russia can be expected to leverage any advantage that nature or nurture provides, though only a select few could bring the advantage of having a sibling teammate.

Siblings Erik and Sadie Bjornsen grew up in Washington’s Methow Valley, flanked by former Olympic skiers as neighbors. An enviable 120-mile Nordic trail system starts practically at their doorstep.  

Tom Banse

Some causes just seem hopeless some days. Like world peace. Or ending poverty. Or in a different vein, getting rid of non-native plants.

But you've no doubt met people who insist on tackling intractable problems here locally and around the world. One particularly dedicated fellow wages a solo fight each weekday morning against English ivy.

Tom Banse

The month of January promises to serve up lots of excitement, angst and pressure for the many Olympic hopefuls from the Northwest. They’ve got about three weeks left to qualify for a spot on the U.S. team bound for the Winter Olympics which begin in Russia in early February.

More than two dozen skiers, snowboarders and skaters from Oregon, Idaho and Washington have a plausible shot at making the U.S. Olympic team in 2014. Relatively few American athletes have secured their Olympic berths so far. Most slots are still up for grabs.

Mike Groll / AP Photo

The unemployment rate in Washington dropped a notch in November. New numbers released by the state Wednesday peg the jobless rate at 6.8 percent — down from a flat 7 percent the previous month.

Tom Banse

Just like consumers who postponed new car buying during the recent recession, so did government agencies put off vehicle replacements. But now procurement officers are getting busy again. In this buying cycle, every Western state is under a directive to buy alternative fuel vehicles and to reduce fossil fuel use.

The legislation or executive order always comes with a caveat: do so, except when it's not economically or logistically possible. A western Washington driver is showing what is possible when you push an electric car to its limit.

J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press

Northwest farmers hired significantly more foreign guest workers this season under a special immigration program. Farms in Washington state accounted for most of the increase in this region, followed by Idaho. Oregon farmers tend not to use the special visa much.

Farmers worried about having enough hands to process labor-intensive crops can hire temporary foreign workers after they prove they can't find anyone in this country. The guest workers recruited here through this legal avenue mostly come from Mexico.

Tom Banse

Natural gas is cheaper and burns cleaner than the gasoline or diesel that goes into most vehicles. Those are two reasons trucking fleet operators in the Northwest are showing growing interest in filling up with natural gas instead of diesel.

The problem is there are very few filling stations for natural gas. Now several big utilities in this region are asking to get into this line of business. But the proposed expansion comes with some controversy.

Brewbooks / Flickr

Timber industry and environmental groups will make a stab at collaboration to boost both logging and habitat restoration in the Olympic National Forest.

The Congressman from Washington's Olympic Peninsula announced that effort Tuesday. It's modeled on successful collaborations elsewhere in the Northwest, including the Colville and Siuslaw National Forests.

Washington State Ferries

The nation's biggest ferry system is setting a course to convert some of its fleet from diesel to natural gas propulsion. This month, Washington State Ferries formally asked the U.S. Coast Guard to review the proposed changeover. The latest move is another example of fleet operators in the Northwest taking a hard look at cheaper fuel.

Tom Banse

A passel of daredevils is aiming to succeed where the king of stunt performers once famously failed. They want to attempt Evel Knievel's jump over the Snake River Canyon.

But first, one of the modern stuntmen has to secure the rights to both a launch and a landing spot on opposite sides of the canyon near Twin Falls, Idaho. That has the potential for another wreck in the making, a bureaucratic one that involves the wooing of the Twin Falls City Council.

Washington state hit a soft patch in hiring and saw slow overall growth, according to two new data points released Wednesday.

Washington state's unemployment rate essentially held steady at 7 percent from August through October. Federal government furloughs delayed the release of the data last month, which resulted in the release of two sets this month.

Aaron Kingery / NASA

If you wake up early and the skies are clear, you could be in for a treat this week. A comet named ISON should be visible through binoculars over the southeastern horizon. Astronomy websites have hyped the passage of this comet as the best in more than a decade. But a lot depends on a close encounter with the sun next week.

Rachel La Corte / Associated Press

Time capsules run a high risk of being forgotten once they're buried. In 1989, the organizers of the Washington State Centennial Time Capsule took measures to guard against such loss.

The Time Capsule has some unusual features. For one, the big green safe is not buried; it's on display on the ground floor of the state Capitol. That makes it possible to update the capsule at regular intervals—in this case, every 25 years.

Ashley Gross / KPLU

The state Legislature is plowing ahead with a package of tax breaks and incentives to convince the Boeing Company to build its next big jet in Washington. But this is happening against a backdrop of new doubts about Boeing's willingness to commit given labor turmoil.

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