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.

Ways to Connect

US Forest Service. A trail crew widens the tread on the Tubal Cain Trail in the Olympic National Forest.

Remember the "sequester" cuts? The dust is finally settling and the consequences becoming real for a program in the U.S. Forest Service that sends money to timber counties.

At the beginning of sequestration, the Forest Service demanded that rural counties pay back some of the timber payments they'd already received and spent. But all of the recipients of the federal aid refused to go along with this approach to across-the-board federal budget cuts.

Tom Kleindinst, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Upgraded minisub Alvin was loaded onto R/V Atlantis at the WHOI dock on May 13, 2013.

A storied research sub that explored and filmed the wreck of the Titanic is making an appearance in the Northwest. The deep-diving submarine "Alvin" is in Astoria this week while its support ship changes crews.

It's actually one of two well-known submersibles passing through the port town.

In addition to exploring the Titanic, the stubby three-person submarine Alvin has also found a lost H-bomb in the Mediterranean Sea and discovered dramatic hydrothermal vents. Alvin departs Astoria at the end of this week to begin sea trials to test out a $41 million upgrade.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Northwest beekeepers are applauding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for requiring certain pesticides to carry a clearer warning label. The idea is to prevent home gardeners and farmers from inadvertently harming beneficial pollinators, like bees.

The EPA directive applies to widely used bug killers, rose and flower treatments, and grub controls. Future product labels will have to carry specific warnings under a picture of a bee.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

As signature landmarks go, Seattle has its Space Needle. Newport, Oregon has the Bay Bridge. Astorians are proud of their iconic Column.

And in Longview, Washington, you've got ... well, let's have Norma Davey explain. She is one of the organizers of this year's Squirrel Fest in Longview.

"Here we are standing underneath the historic Nutty Narrows Bridge," she says.

The skybridge is about 60 feet long. It spans a busy, tree-shaded thoroughfare and is just wide enough for... a squirrel.

Andreas Klinke Johannsen / Flickr

Washington's statewide unemployment rate is staying "pretty flat" this summer according to a state labor economist. A fresh jobs report released Wednesday shows the unemployment rate ticked up a tiny bit to 6.9 percent in July, from 6.8 percent in June.

But state economist Paul Turek says he puts more stock in a different number from the monthly jobs report. He says the number of new jobs created last month continues to expand at a "decent" pace.

WSDOT. This is one of eight mudslides across SR 20, the North Cascades Highway.

Washington's Department of Transportation (WSDOT) doesn't know yet what day the North Cascades Highway will reopen. Intense thunderstorms over the weekend unleashed eight mudslides that have closed the northernmost route across the Cascade Range.

WSDOT spokesman Jeff Adamson says optimism is rising now that big bulldozers and other heavy equipment has arrived. He says his agency awarded an emergency contract last night (Mon.) to get more muscle on scene.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

What do these things have in common: an Idaho gold mine, a proposed wind farm in central Washington, a new hotel in Portland and the replacement floating bridge across Lake Washington?

They're all investment vehicles for well-to-do families seeking U.S. green cards.

Under U.S. immigration law, wealthy foreigners can get a green card by investing at least $500,000 to create at least 10 jobs here. In the Northwest, an increasingly diverse range of projects are competing for such foreign investment.

Warmer climes

Mercy for Animals. Pacific Crest Trail hiker Josh Garrett

Two athletes have separately set new speed records for hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. On Wednesday, a Bellingham woman completed the long distance hike in 60 days. Then Thursday night, a California man topped her by accomplishing the feat in 59 days.

Colin Fogarty / Northwest News Network

Much of Oregon's population would face extended fuel shortages, natural gas outages and blackouts after a catastrophic earthquake. That according to a seismic risk study re-released by the state.

But there's pushback from the energy companies put under the spotlight.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Olympic athletes from the Northwest are steering clear of politics as they head for Moscow, Russia this week for the 2013 World Championships in track and field.

Springfield, Oregon half-miler Nick Symmonds condemned anti-gay bias in Russia in a blog entry he posted before departure. But he said he would avoid further comment, in his words "out of respect for the fact that I will be a guest in the host nation."

Anne Shaffer / Coastal Watershed Institute

The Port of Port Townsend, Wash., is providing a temporary home to a piece of literary history. But the dry-docked sardine fishing boat once chartered by the writer John Steinbeck faces an uncertain fate. 

The 76-foot boat's original name was the Western Flyer. In 1940, John Steinbeck and marine biologist Ed Ricketts (who later inspired the character Doc in "Cannery Row") chartered the wood vessel for a cruise around Baja California.

That journey resulted in a book still widely read, "The Log From the Sea of Cortez."

Bonneville Power Administration

 A top executive at the Northwest's biggest electricity wholesaler defended her agency in front of Congress Thursday.

Bonneville Power Administration chief operating officer Anita Decker and her boss were both placed on indefinite leave last month. This, after the Department of Energy's inspector general found evidence of hiring bias against veterans and retaliation against whistle blowers.

Decker was reinstated for four days this week, just long enough to prepare testimony for the U.S. House Oversight Committee.

Bonneville Power Administration

The plot thickened Thursday in the hiring scandal that's enveloped the Bonneville Power Administration. One of the two top executives who was suspended last month told her side of story in public for the first time. 

BPA Chief Operating Officer Anita Decker testified reluctantly but voluntarily to the U.S. House Oversight Committee.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

"Hackerspaces" are popping up all over the Northwest. But these aren't dens of computer infiltrators.

What we're talking about are community workshops for tinkering, machine tooling, 3-D printing and any other hands-on creativity you can think of. Some market themselves under the more benign-sounding label of "maker space." These workshops are now drawing attention as private incubators for entrepreneurship.

But let's straighten out this name business.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Fares on Washington state ferries are going up again. The Washington State Transportation Commission approved a two-stage increase Tuesday afternoon.

The fare increases are designed to meet a $328 million revenue target set by the Washington Legislature.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The viability of carbon capture and storage can spark lively debate among climate scientists, activists and industry. This week, technicians in southeast Washington continue a field test to show how carbon dioxide could be injected and trapped deep underground.

It's an experiment led by the Pacific Northwest National Lab. Injection of fifty tanker truck loads of CO2 will take about four weeks. Then comes about a year and a half of monitoring to see if the global warming gas stays locked away forever beneath ancient lava flows.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

A long delayed experiment to demonstrate how a global warming gas can be locked up forever deep underground has finally started. Technicians working with the Pacific Northwest National Lab are injecting carbon dioxide down a well south of Pasco, Washington.

WSDOT. Viewed from above Medina, Washington, the new SR 520 floating bridge takes shape next to the current bridge.

For a while, it looked like a major highway project across Lake Washington near Seattle could end up as a "bridge to nowhere" for nearly 100 immigrant investors. But now after a long wait, the federal government has given the green light to process the green card applications of these wealthy businesspeople in exchange for their help financing the new SR-520 floating bridge.

Droughtmonitor.unl.edu.

Federal agencies have expanded how much of the Northwest they think is suffering from drought.

An updated map released Thursday shows 88 percent of Idaho's territory is now categorized in moderate to severe drought. Just over half of Oregon is similarly parched. Washington state is faring better with just a sliver of land on the Idaho border classified in drought conditions.

Andreas Klinke Johannsen / Flickr

The unemployment rate held steady in Washington state in June. It stands at 6.8 percent according to the monthly update released in Olympia Wednesday.

For state labor economist Paul Turek, the biggest headline is found is deeper in the numbers. He sees signs of stronger hiring in the private sector. That has the side effect of motivating new job seekers to join -- or rejoin -- the labor force.

"We're seeing -- four years after the recession was declared over -- more decent signs of recovery taking place."

Greg Hernandez/Wikimedia

We now know what killed Cory Monteith, one of the stars of the popular TV series "Glee." The British Columbia Coroners Service Tuesday said toxicology testing points to a fatal overdose of heroin mixed with alcohol.

Monteith grew up in Victoria, BC. On Saturday, the 31-year-old actor was found dead in a Vancouver, Canada hotel room where he is believed to have stayed alone.

Bonnevill Power Administration

There's been a management shakeup at the Bonneville Power Administration. The U.S. Department of Energy replaced BPA's agency head and chief operating officer without explanation. The move came just before the Tuesday morning release of a damaging Inspector General report.

You won't find BPA's name on the masthead of your electricity bill, but the federal agency probably has a big role in keeping your lights on. Bonneville is this region's biggest wholesale electricity and transmission supplier.

Rik Rose / Flickr

Federal land managers have banned the use of exploding targets on public lands in the Northwest. The concern is wildfires.

Fire investigators suspect exploding targets sparked at least half a dozen wildfires in Washington and Idaho over the past year. The chemical explosives give target shooters instant feedback that they've hit their mark from long range.

Spc. Reese Von Rogatsz / US Army

Urban development around military bases in the Northwest and across the nation is creating a headache for the U.S. Defense Department. So Wednesday, several federal agencies announced they will pool money to preserve buffer lands, starting with Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma.

Federal and state money will be used to buy conservation easements or buy property outright to prevent development on more than 2,600 acres of farmland and prairie. The land is in Thurston County, Washington near Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Graeme Ellis / Fisheries and Oceans Canada

The fairy tale ending for a young orphan killer whale keeps getting better.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Here's a little known fact that may affect your power bill: Every year, public utilities in the Northwest give British Columbia several hundred million dollars worth of electricity. That's to compensate Canada for managing the upper Columbia River to minimize flooding and maximize hydropower downstream.

Americans are pushing for a better deal, but the B.C. government is preparing to defend what's now considered an entitlement.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

Police in British Columbia Tuesday announced that they foiled a terrorist plot to bomb Monday's Canada Day celebration in Victoria.

Matt Cooper / University of Oregon

This week a research ship is retrieving dozens of seismometers that have spent the last year on the ocean floor off the Northwest coast. Earthquake scientists hope the data they're about to get will shed more light on the structure of the offshore Cascadia fault zone. That plate boundary will be the source of the Big One whenever it rips.

Port of Vancouver USA

Many of the same groups that oppose coal exports from the Northwest are lining up against a new foe: crude oil trains and the associated marine terminals.

That was evident Thursday when two corporations outlined their plans for a big new crude oil terminal at the Port of Vancouver, Washington. One critic likened it to the Keystone pipeline controversy. Here as there, jobs and energy independence are in play.

Port of Vancouver USA

Oil refiner Tesoro and a terminal operating company named Savage detailed plans Thursday for the biggest crude oil shipping terminal to be proposed in the Northwest. It would be located on the Columbia River at the Port of Vancouver, Washington.

Pages