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

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.

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.

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