Stories about the environment focused on the Pacific Northwest, with many from KPLU's Environment reporter, Bellamy Pailthorp.

JPellgen / Flickr

Facing pressure from federal regulators, Governor Jay Inslee has directed state officials to take another stab at updating clean water rules, tied partly to how much fish people eat.

Ted S. Warren / AP

More than 150 groups in Washington state have come together to form the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy. It’s an effort to fight climate change that some are calling “historic in scope.” The consortium has announced plans to put a statewide carbon-capping initiative before voters in 2016. 

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

A five-month-long quest to swim the entire length of Seattle’s Green-Duwamish River has come to a successful end. Mark Powell, Washington Environmental Council’s Puget Sound Program Director, says it gave him new perspective on the river that runs through the industrial heart of the city. 

Jeannie Stafford / U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Interior Department says the greater sage grouse does not need federal protections across its 11-state Western range after some limits were put on energy development and other activities.

Tuesday's announcement signals that the Obama administration believes it has struck a balance to save the widespread, ground-dwelling birds from extinction without crippling the West's economy. It follows a costly conservation effort, and could help defuse a potential political liability for Democrats heading into the 2016 election.

Ted S. Warren / AP

The administration of Washington Governor Jay Inslee has officially begun crafting new rules to cap greenhouse gas pollution from large industrial sources. Inslee is flexing his executive powers to bypass the state legislature, which has repeatedly chosen not to put a price on carbon.


When Chinese President Xi Jinping arrives in the Seattle area tomorrow, one of his first stops will be a forum focusing specifically on clean technology and economic development.  Five U.S. governors are also expected to attend, along with six Chinese governors and other officials. 

On the agenda will be the question of what can be done with emerging clean energy technologies to add not just to commerce but also to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions that cause air pollution and contribute to climate change.

Steve Wagner

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says two salamanders in Oregon and Washington may qualify for Endangered Species Act protection. The findings on Tuesday about the Cascade torrent salamander and Columbia torrent salamander mean the agency will initiate full status reviews for the species to see if they warrant protection.

Don Ryan / AP

The devastating wildfires in eastern Washington and California this year are pointing to the need for new policies. More focus on managing fire and less on suppression is what is needed, according to a panel of scientists, including one from the University of Washington.

Paula Wissel

Replacing aging bridges and re-paving major arterials are two things a Seattle levy on this year’s ballot promises to do.  Seattle Proposition 1 would put $930 million into transportation projects over the next 9 years.  It's a replacement, of sorts, for Seattle's Bridging the Gap levy, which is expiring. However, the new property tax measure will cost homeowners more than the old one did.


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is making good on its promise to put forward a clean water rule for Washington, in case the state doesn’t come up with its own plan in time.

At issue is how much fish the government says is safe to eat, if it’s caught in polluted water. 

Firefighters hose the edge of a controlled fire.
Elaine Thompson / AP

Firefighters are starting to get a handle on two giant wildfires burning in northcentral Washington.

The largest wildfire in state history, the Okanogan Complex, has now grown to 231 square miles but as Wednesday morning it was 45 percent contained.

The Okanogan Complex is being managed as part of one big fire including the 146-square-mile Chelan Complex. The Chelan Complex was 55 percent contained as of Wednesday morning.

The Chelan and Okanogan Complex fires total more than 230,000 acres. Both fires still threaten more than 8,000 homes.

Unhealthy smoke continued to blanket large parts of central and eastern Washington state and north Idaho Wednesday. Some workers in north central Washington were sent home because the dense smoke was rated downright “hazardous.”

AP Images

This summer’s extreme drought is becoming increasingly deadly for fish in the northwest.

The state department of Fish and Wildlife had already lost about one and a half million juvenile fish in overheated rivers and streams in Washington at the end of July, due to this summer’s historically warm temperatures and low water levels.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

Mount Rainier is famous as the most glaciated peak in  the contiguous United States. But the massive flows of ice and snow that cover the mountain are retreating rapidly, likely more rapidly than ever in the record warmth of this summer.

Participants in the 2015 "Climate Boot Camp" put on by the Northwest Climate Science Center gathered this week in Mount Rainier National Park to learn more about the dynamics behind this phenomenon. 

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

Energy efficiency is not just a money saver. The freed up capital also drives economic growth and productivity. That’s the message in a new study released in Seattle Tuesday by the non-profit Northwest Energy Efficiency Council. 

The study was commissioned to show the benefits of conserving. It concluded that recent energy efficiency investments by utilities and consumers pumped an extra $216 million dollars a year into Washington state’s economy. That’s money that is spent on productivity instead of wasted.

AP Images

Environmental groups are calling the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan the strongest action the U.S. has ever taken to fight climate change.

Yet in Washington State, a plan to cap-and-trade carbon emissions failed to get through the legislature – despite a Governor who won an election on the promise of a clean-energy economy.

Gov. Jay Inslee blames the legislature for the lack of a clear climate policy in the state. He acknowledges his political reputation is riding on it. But, he says, lawmakers are not cooperating with him.  

“They’ve produced zero when it comes to any meaningful carbon reduction plan," Inslee said Monday. "So now it’s time for the Executive branch to act because it is our responsibility.”

That’s why Inslee last week directed the state department of Ecology to forge ahead with the cap portion of his cap-and-trade plan.

Bellamy Pailthorp

A who’s who of scientists from about a dozen local agencies gathered on Thursday to share what they’re learning about the warm patch of water off the west coast that’s been keeping temperatures higher than normal.

Standing near the Viking statue at Seattle’s Shilshole Bay, State Climatologist Nick Bond said he could go on and on about all the local temperature records being broken lately. But what’s concerning many scientists now, he said, is how warm the water is becoming. And some of those concerns focus specifically on "the blob."

AP Images

Humans should be part of any consideration of how well Puget Sound’s ecological recovery is going. How we’re thriving and benefiting are critical parts of the equation, according to new research conducted for the state agency in charge of the cleanup.

The agency, called Puget Sound Partnership, is adding indicators of human well-being and quality of life to the “vital signs” it tracks. They’ll be included on the colorful pinwheel “dashboard” that anyone can see online.

Erin Hennessey / KPLU

Seattle, Tacoma and Everett have activated their water shortage response plans. The hot, dry weather has increased demand for water just as river levels are at historic lows. Seattle Public Utilities, Tacoma Public Utilities and the city of Everett issued a joint  release announcing the implementation of the first stage of the response plans.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

Upgrades to old infrastructure are often needed to help reduce the risk of flooding. That can lead to inconvenient road closures.

But the payoff is not just for humans. Replacing old culverts and pavement can also help endangered fish.

Backhoes and bulldozers will be working alongside SR 522 at Lake Forest Park Towne Center for the next couple of months. The city is re-plumbing the culverts beneath this roadside mall. The main motivation for the work, at least initially, was major flooding.

AP Images

A year ago Friday, an oil train from North Dakota derailed under Seattle’s busy Magnolia Bridge during the height of the morning commute.

No one was hurt and nothing burned in that accident but the scare has prompted changes to the emergency response to a similar accident should one occur. The reason? As many as two thousand black oil tanker cars now roll through Seattle each week, carrying crude from North Dakota’s Bakken region.

AP Images

It's been nearly a year since a train derailed under a busy Seattle bridge, tipping three oil tanker cars off the tracks in Magnolia during the morning commute. No one was hurt in the accident but the near-miss spurred city officials into action.  

A new resolution is going before the city council that outlines Seattle's wish list for regulations of crude oil shipments by rail. 

AP Images

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is in Rome this morning (Tues.)  for the first ever gathering of mayors at the Vatican.

They’re there to discuss human trafficking – as well as climate change and the role of cities in fighting it. 

Murray joins mayors from New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Portland as well as Mexico City, Berlin and Oslo, among others. Pope Francis invited the municipal leaders, calling for a renewed international conversation about ending social and environmental exploitation.

David Neiwert

If you ever thought of Puget Sound Orcas as some kind of magical being, you’re not alone. A new book by local author and investigative journalist David Neiwert details some of their most impressive qualities.

Of Orcas and Men –What Killerwhales Can Teach Us weaves personal narratives with the latest science.

The clouds and cooler temperatures might have some Seattle homeowners thinking it’s okay to get out those sprinklers and garden hoses again and bring the green back to their lawns.

Actually, it’s still pretty hot out there and the small amount of rain coming in won’t make much of a difference.  Seattle Public Utilities recently changed the water supply outlook from “good” to “fair ” because people are using more water this summer due to the unprecedented heat.

NASA's Earth Observatory

A number of forest fires are continuing to burn in British Columbia.  As Craig McCulloch reports, the cost and smoke permeating the Vancouver area is getting attention.

The British Columbia Wildlife Service is reporting that 76 active fires larger than 25 acres (10 hectares) are currently burning across the province. There are many more smaller fires engulfing forests.

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.

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. 

It’s the latest front in the growing global movement to stop fossil fuel extraction. The Port of Seattle, a longtime staging point for expeditions to cash in on Alaska’s natural resources, has been home this spring to a standoff between oil giant Shell and legions of protesting “kayaktivists” and others hoping to foil the company’s plans to send a massive drilling rig to the Arctic Ocean next month.