Environment

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

Imagine being on a rural island when a major earthquake hits off the coast. After five minutes of shaking that registers 9.0 on the Richter scale, devastation is all around. Food, water, medicine and fuel are in short supply.  Along with power and phone service outages, all bridges and ferry connections are down.

Friday’s oil train derailment and fire comes as Washington state prepares to put new oil shipment safety rules into effect. In fact, the derailment in the Columbia Gorge happened just as the first public hearing on those rules was wrapping up in Vancouver, Washington.

Early this winter, skiers in the Northwest were excited. But then after about Christmas things turned dour. The once-epic snowpack is now long gone. In Washington state, it melted down in record time to less than half of average for early June.

And there hasn’t been much rain this spring either. The Cascades, Olympics and Blues are all hurting.

Since 2013, Braun has led a team putting together a military response plan should an earthquake and tsunami happen in Washington state, as part of federal, state and military preparation for the "Big One" along the Cascadia Subduction Zone.
Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

A massive, four-day earthquake drill kicks off Tuesday in the Pacific Northwest.  The region is ripe for what officials say could be the biggest natural disaster the nation has ever seen. The exercise, called ‘Cascadia Rising,’ will test the readiness of responders at all levels of government.

courtesy Ted Griffin and Jason Colby

These days, the prospect of seeing the Pacific Northwest’s iconic orca whales in the wild attracts thousands of tourists annually to whale-watching boats or shore-side excursions.  But it wasn’t that long ago that these majestic endangered creatures were seen as a menace.

Minhae Kim didn't check air pollution levels before bringing her one-year-old to Seoul's Yongsan Family Park.

Perhaps she should have. On this day — and on most days this spring — the measures of the most dangerous kind of pollution in Seoul exceed the World Health Organization's recommended limit. And Korea ranks near the very bottom for air quality in Yale University's latest 180-country Environmental Performance Index.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Washington state’s Department of Ecology says the magnitude of threats from climate change are so severe, it needs to set limits on air pollution. The agency released an updated rule to cap carbon emissions that it says will be more effective than the draft Clean Air Rule it released in February. But the rewrite is controversial.  

Monarch butterflies are disappearing.

Populations of these distinctive black and orange migratory insects have been in precipitous decline for the past 20 years, but scientists aren't exactly sure what's causing them to vanish.

Ted S. Warren / AP

Mounting risks because of climate change are putting pressure on insurance companies. That has Washington's Insurance Commissioner worried. He’s hosting a climate risk summit meeting at the University of Washington this week.  

The Florida Everglades is a swampy wilderness the size of Delaware. In some places along the road in southern Florida, it looks like tall saw grass to the horizon, a prairie punctuated with a few twisted cypress trees. The sky is the palest blue.

But beneath the surface a different story is unfolding. Because of climate change and sea level rise, the ocean is starting to seep into the swampland. If the invasion grows worse, it could drastically change the Everglades, and a way of life for millions of residents in South Florida.

Courtesy City of Seattle

Seattle and state officials have announced plans to move people out of the notorious homeless encampment along Interstate 5 known as “the Jungle.” The area is beneath I-5, roughly between Dearborn and Spokane Streets, as well as in the Duwamish Greenbelt east of the freeway. The plan comes several months after a shooting at the camp left two people dead and three wounded.

AP Images

Hundreds of activists are gathering in Anacortes this weekend for protests aimed at keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

The Pacific Northwest “Break Free from Fossil Fuels” event is part of two weeks of actions that have been taking place in dozens of cities all over the globe. Other U.S. cities on the list include Denver, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. 

Local authorities are warning residents to prepare for congestion.

A fire crackles along the banks of the Yamuna River: a cremation of a young mother, struck by a car while she was fetching water.

The stench of the river engulfs the sad assembly.

Before the hissing funeral pyre, floating down the river, white blocks of what looks like detergent appear like icebergs. It is 95 degrees in Delhi this night. This is chemical waste from factories that have sprung up across the city, manufacturing leather goods, dyes and other goods.

Downstream, the living reside along garbage-strewn banks.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

The Army Corps of Engineers has denied the permit for a proposed coal export terminal near Bellingham. The controversial facility at Cherry Point would have been the nation’s largest.

The Tacoma Public School District has been scrambling to make sure its water is safe to drink after some schools showed high levels of lead, but water isn’t the only potential source of lead exposure – contaminated soil is also a risk. 

A new environmental nonprofit is scouting the Pacific Northwest coast for a suitable cove or bay to establish a refuge for retired captive orca and beluga whales.

The board and staff of the new outfit, called The Whale Sanctuary Project, includes a number of people who helped return Keiko, the star of the Free Willy movie, to Icelandic waters from Newport, Oregon.

Deep in the ocean, a mission is underway to explore the "unknown and poorly known areas" around the Mariana Trench.

When the weather turns balmy and the sun goes down, there’s nothing like the coziness of a backyard fire. At least that’s how some people see it. But if your neighbors don’t agree, the law is on their side. 

courtesy Arboretum Foundation

After multiple full-weekend closures for final work rerouting and restriping, the new 520 bridge across Lake Washington should improve traffic flows.

Another side effect of the new construction will be better access to parts of one of Seattle’s most loved parks. The Washington Park Arboretum that borders on the Seattle side of the bridge is losing nearly five acres of land to the wider bridge and staging work as it has been built. But it's also getting millions of dollars in mitigation funding. 

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

It’s Earth Day. And one of the most pressing issues for the green movement these days is the idea that environmental justice needs to reach all kinds of people, not just a privileged, white few. The city of Seattle marked the day with the unveiling of its new Equity & Environment Agenda. 

U.S. Postal Service

Mount Rainier will appear on a U.S. postage stamp, as part of a series commemorating the centennial of the National Park Service. The photo used on the "forever" stamp was snapped by an amateur photographer who was working for a short stint as an interpretive ranger last year.

Yellowstone National Park, a wilderness recreation area stretching for nearly 3,500 square miles atop a volcanic hot spot in Wyoming and parts of Montana and Idaho, may be in trouble.

Each year, Yellowstone attracts millions of visitors and provides a home to countless animal species, including the once-threatened grizzly bear and bison. But finding the right balance between tourism and preservation can be tricky.

Courtesy Tesoro Anacortes / PublicMeeting.info

Petrochemicals used in the production of plastics are causing concern among Northwest environmentalists. First there was the methanol plant proposed for construction in Tacoma’s tide flats. That’s now on hold.

But the comment period for a new proposal in Anacortes just wrapped up over the weekend.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council has adopted limited summer salmon fishing seasons off the Washington and northern Oregon coasts. At a meeting on Thursday in Vancouver, the council avoided a complete closure of the season, a possibility that had been discussed in March.

Bellamy Pailthorp / KPLU

Salmon returns in the Northwest are on many people’s minds this week as fisheries managers meet in Vancouver. They’re considering what might be the first full closure of ocean salmon fishing in nearly 22 years.

But you might not notice much change in what’s for sale in local markets. Step up to a seafood counter looking for salmon and you’ll likely find a lot to choose from.

Coastal cities across the globe are looking for ways to protect themselves from sea level rise and extreme weather. In the U.S., there is no set funding stream to help — leaving each city to figure out solutions for itself.

New Orleans and Philadelphia are two cities that face very similar challenges of flooding from rising tides. But they've chosen to pay for the solutions in very different ways.

New Orleans: Post-Disaster Payments And Grants Pave Future

Parker Miles Blohm / KPLU

For the first time, a river that connects Seattle and Tacoma has been included on a list of the 10 most endangered waterways in the country.  American Rivers is highlighting the Green-Duwamish watershed this year. The national conservation group says the issue it wants addressed is outdated dams that lack passage for endangered fish.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

The next few months will be crucial in determining whether the West Coast serves as a gateway to the Pacific Rim for U.S. exports of fossil fuels. Anti-coal- and oil-train activists say their work, combined with global economic realities, is pointing increasingly toward a future free from energy exports that move through Northwest ports.

Sardines, herring and other small fish species are the foundation of the marine food web — they're essential food for birds, marine mammals and other fish. But globally, demand for these so-called forage species has exploded, with many going to feed the livestock and fish farming industries.

Gary Davis / KPLU

 

Seattle’s Green Lake is known for having water resembling pea soup. But by the end of this week, the color of the lake will we be transformed to a color that’s almost tropical.

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