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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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.

National Weather Service

The weather forecast calls for an abrupt switch from cloudy and showery to a heat wave beginning as soon as Thursday. Next week could start with the hottest days of the year so far in many places around the Northwest.

For Portland, the National Weather Service is forecasting a high of 88 on Sunday and 91 on Monday.

For Seattle, a high of around 80 on Monday.

Spokane could see the mercury hit 96 on Sunday and near 99 by Tuesday.

Boise and Medford could hit triple digits by Saturday and 105 degrees on Monday.

Thomas Lersch / Wikimedia

The National Institutes of Health Wednesday announced it will retire the great majority of chimpanzees used in federally-supported medical research.

The institute director says the use of our closest animal relative for invasive studies can no longer be justified in most cases. That means more than 300 chimps are headed into retirement. But neither of the two chimpanzee sanctuaries here in the Northwest say they're prepared to take new chimps.

US Customs and Border Protection

The U.S. Senate wants to put a stop to Border Patrol checkpoints and warrantless searches taking place far from the border with Canada. The policy change was included in an amendment to the larger immigration overhaul being debated this week. It pleases civil liberties and immigrant advocates, but concerns frontline Border Patrol agents.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The Canadian dollar -- affectionately known as the "loonie" -- is dropping in value. 

US Department of Energy

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee says the disclosure of a worsening leak at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is "the most disturbing news."

The U.S. Department of Energy Friday said an underground tank that holds some of the nation's most troublesome radioactive waste may be leaking into the soil. An Oregon official said the development adds "urgency" to the long-running Hanford cleanup. 

Ed Bowlby / NOAA

Civilian use of aerial drones is still greatly restricted, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has won permission to test a small unmanned aircraft off the Olympic Coast of Washington. 

A two-week trial run by the federal science agency is now underway.

The NOAA drone looks like an oversized remote-control model airplane. It has a 9-foot wingspan and can fly for about two hours on battery power.

Andreas Klinke Johannsen / Flickr

Slow improvement in the labor market continues in Washington state. The latest unemployment rate came out Wednesday.

Washington's employment department said the jobless rate for May ticked down two-tenths of a percent from April to land at 6.8 percent.

State labor economist Paul Turek says it's the first time since late 2008 that the unemployment rate stood below seven percent.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Traffic is rolling across the repaired Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River Wednesday morning, marking the end of  a hasty, round-the-clock salvage and reconstruction job.

Work started less than four weeks ago, when an oversize load brought down the vital bridge.  Northwest Washington drivers and businesses are relishing a return to normal.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Drivers and businesses in Northwest Washington are voicing elation now that there is a firm date for reopening the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River. The Washington Department of Transportation says the temporary replacement bridge will start carrying traffic Wednesday morning.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The man who identified the quietest place in the Lower 48 - dubbed the "One Square Inch of Silence" - is going deaf. This Olympic Peninsula fellow campaigned against noise pollution, particularly at his symbolic spot in the Hoh Rain Forest in Olympic National Park. The self-described "Sound Tracker" is now in a race to edit his life's work before he loses more of his hearing.

For Gordon Hempton, it started with a common experience -- having to keep saying, "What, what?" Then the stakes got higher.

USGS

The earthquake and tsunami threat to the Northwest from the offshore Cascadia fault was in the news in multiple ways Thursday. Canadian researchers have reconstructed a prehistoric record of great earthquakes on that shared fault. It reconfirms that we're due for another Big One.

Coincidentally in Oregon, tsunami preparedness is getting a renewed look.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Imagine paying less than a dollar per gallon for your commute, compared to today's statewide averages of $3.84 in Oregon and Washington and $3.80 in Idaho for a gallon of gas. Eighty-four cents in Idaho and Washington -- or 96 cents in Oregon -- per gasoline gallon equivalent is how much the US Department of Energy figures it costs to recharge an electric car in each state.

The agency's assistant secretary David Danielson announced an online cost comparison calculator Tuesday for what he calls the "eGallon."

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

A couple of years ago, Democratic politicians at the state and national levels set heady goals for battery powered cars. For example, in his 2011 State of the Union speech, President Obama said, "With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015."

Washington Office of the Attorney General

Former Washington Attorney General and Republican candidate for governor Rob McKenna is back in the public eye. McKenna launched a political website and blog Monday called Smarter Government Washington.

McKenna says he has no plans to run for office, but wants to stay in touch with the many supporters he's gathered over the years.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

As of June 1, it will be one year since grocers, big box stores and other private retailers started selling liquor in Washington state. The voter approved privatization initiative has sent prices unexpectedly higher. Also, the government is collecting more tax revenue than anticipated.

The initiative to privatize the state's liquor monopoly was designed to keep public treasuries whole. It's done that and a lot more. The state expects to collect around 37 percent more from liquor taxes and fees in this current fiscal year compared to the final year under state control.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

A key ingredient in the commercial feed that fish farmers buy is other fish caught in the wild. Northwest trout farmers - and some salmon growers - recognize this practice is unsustainable, so the search is on for a cost-effective alternative fish food.

But trout are carnivores. They can't just become vegetarians, or can they? And would seafood consumers be able to notice any difference?

Tasting the difference

A renewable energy consultant and the Oregon Institute of Technology have come up with an unusual financing plan for an even more unusual power plant idea.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The homes of the future will come with remarkably low heating bills. At least that's the hope of a Portland-based non-profit showcasing 13 super energy efficient homes in four Northwest states. The question is, can you afford to buy one of these houses?

The model homes are scattered among many of the big cities in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana. The houses don't look unusual from the outside. But all have been designed to use at least 30 percent less energy.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Crowdfunding websites have grown rapidly as a way to raise money for creative ventures -- everything from movies to scientific research to clever inventions. You might have heard of Kickstarter, Indiegogo or Rockethub. It would be just a small leap to use those same platforms to sell shares in a startup. That's illegal right now, but maybe not for long.

Here's a story of small business in the Internet Age. Five years ago, Roberto Hoyos of Seattle founded a company to make what he describes as "geeky" pillows.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The automaker Nissan says sales of its fully electric Leaf compact surpassed all other Nissan models at dealers in the Seattle and Portland areas this spring. The announcement Wednesday runs counter to the prevailing wisdom that adoption of plug-in cars has been sluggish.

At Nissan USA headquarters, electric vehicle marketing & sales director Erik Gottfried says he's scrambling to ship enough Leafs to meet demand in the Pacific Northwest. The car maker juiced its plug-in sales by slashing the sticker price and offering low-cost leases.

The unemployment rate in Washington state is down to a flat 7 percent. That news from the state employment department Wednesday. The agency recorded a drop in the jobless rate of 0.1 percent in April.

State labor economist Scott Bailey says that puts Washington's rate at the lowest it's been since the end of 2008. "Overall, we're seeing accelerating growth in terms of jobs compared to say a year ago."

Bailey estimates a net gain of 3,800 jobs statewide last month.

US Fish and Wildlife Service

A songbird called the streaked horned lark has a curious propensity for risky neighborhoods. That's not a good quality for a bird proposed for listing as a threatened species. Its preferred hangouts include airports, Army training fields, and dredge spoil dumping sites along the lower Columbia River. A two-state experiment seeks to find out if these rare larks can be enticed to safer habitats.

A case that featured harrowing testimony of combat-related mental illness ended Monday with a guilty verdict. Army Sergeant John Russell was convicted for murdering five fellow servicemen at a military mental health clinic in Baghdad in 2009.

A military judge found the 48-year-old Texas native guilty of premeditated murder. A public affairs spokesman at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma says Sergeant Russell showed no visible reaction.

Corey Parrish / US Air Force

Fairchild Air Force Base near Spokane is planning a public memorial service for three of its airmen killed in a mid-air explosion over central Asia. The cause of the air refueling tanker accident last Friday remains under investigation. The crash renews attention on a Boeing Company contract to replace the Air Force's aging tanker fleet.

The doomed Fairchild Air Force Base crewmates were flying a KC-135 Stratotanker built by Boeing in the early 1960s. By all accounts, Air Force mechanics keep the 50-year-old tanker fleet in good condition.

Staff Sgt. Paul Clifford / US Air Force

The fate of the three crew members on board a crashed Air Force tanker is unknown as of Friday afternoon PDT. It's now night time in Kyrgyzstan where the Boeing-built K-C-135 tanker plane went down. Many airmen from Fairchild Air Force Base outside Spokane are deployed to the airfield in Central Asia where the plane took off.

The Associated Press quoted a farmer near the crash scene in rural Kyrgyzstan who said he heard an explosion in the sky. The witness said he looked up and saw fire as the falling jet broke apart in mid-air.

Scott Butner / Flickr

A swarm of factors is causing heavy losses in honey bee colonies. That's the bottom line of a report issued jointly Thursday by the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Agriculture. The report identifies a parasitic mite as a leading culprit in combination with diseases, poor nutrition, genetics and pesticide exposure. People who care about bees here in the Northwest were underwhelmed.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Fresh statistics from the U.S and Canadian governments show cross-border traffic between British Columbia and the American Northwest surged in the first quarter of 2013. Canadian visitors account for nearly all of the increase, despite a mild slowdown in economic growth there.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

For about seven years, many Western beekeepers have been plagued by unexplained die-offs in their hives. It happened recently to Mark Emrich.

"I was doing great until about five weeks ago," he says. "Then I came down and opened up the hives and I had five dead boxes of bees. That was a huge hit."

He lost one third of his production on his small farm near Olympia.

Beth Redfield

The White House says President Obama will sign a fast-tracked Congressional bill to end the furloughs of air traffic controllers. Operators of smaller Northwest airports hope the measure also stops the planned closure of their control towers.

As of now, more than a dozen of the less busy airport control towers in Oregon, Washington and Idaho remain on a list to be deactivated in early June. They're potential casualties of across-the-board federal budget cuts at the Federal Aviation Administration.

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