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

The unemployment rate in the state of Washington is falling again after being stuck in holding pattern for three months. The state Employment Security Department Wednesday pegged the jobless rate at 7.3 percent. That number for March is down .2 percent from February's rate.

State labor economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman says Washington's unemployment rate is at its lowest point in more than four years.

edkohler / Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Utility regulators Tuesday ordered an end to the automatic delivery of White Pages phone books to Washington households. Legislation to do the same in Oregon hasn't gone anywhere.

For decades, Western states commonly required their local phone companies to deliver a phone book to each landline customer. But telecom companies contend most consumers no longer want a printed copy of the White Pages dropped on their doorsteps. So the three-member Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission voted unanimously to strike a blow against waste.

Columbia River Crossing

OLYMPIA, Wash. - A costly new interstate highway bridge over the Columbia River is spurring brinkmanship in Olympia. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood joined Democratic Governor Jay Inslee Wednesday to press state lawmakers to commit hundreds of millions dollars to the proposed new toll bridge between Portland and Vancouver, Washington.

A collector of World War II memorabilia has succeeded in a daunting quest thanks to help from the Japanese government. The veteran from Clarkston, Washington has found the right person to receive a Japanese war flag taken in battle nearly 70 years ago.

Years ago, memorabilia collector George Koller bought an inscribed "good luck flag." It originally belonged to a Japanese fighter pilot killed in combat. Last year, Koller asked the Japanese consulate in Seattle for help to give the flag back.

Beth Redfield

Some Northwest cities and counties are exploring whether to use local or private money to keep their airport control towers open. By mid-June, the federal government plans to close the control towers at 13 small to medium sized airports across the region.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - The Defense Department has suspended a workplace benefit cherished by many soldiers, airmen and Coast Guardsmen. The agency has put tuition assistance on indefinite hold because of the automatic federal budget cuts known as the "sequester."

The paychecks of active duty military are exempt from the across-the-board federal budget cuts. But some of their fringe benefits are not, as we're now finding out.

At Joint Base Lewis-McChord, I Corps Command Sergeant Major John Troxell says the suspension of tuition assistance stings.

Courtesy of John Thomas

PORTLAND - During World War II, a popular song called "Rosie the Riveter" turned female assembly workers into icons. Women filled in at places like the Boeing airplane factory in Seattle and the Kaiser shipyards in Portland while the men went off to war.

But one famous guitar company allegedly tried to hide the fact that it was using female replacements to keep making its musical instruments. Now, seven decades later, a Portland guitarist is helping to tell that story.

Stan Dammel

The Navy has identified the three aviators who died in a military jet crash Monday in eastern Washington. The fiery crash 50 miles west of Spokane killed all three crew members on board.

Pilot Valerie Delaney of Maryland was 26 years old. Naval flight officer William McIlvaine of Texas was 24. And Alan Patterson from Tennessee, also a naval flight officer, was 34.

Washington Legislature

OLYMPIA, Wash. - In the decades since the Iranian Revolution, immigrants from there have made it to the corner offices of corporate America, academia and Hollywood. But they're largely absent from the political scene.

In the U.S., the highest ranking Iranian-American elected official is a freshman state representative from suburban Seattle. But his heritage is not the only thing worth noticing about Representative Cyrus Habib.

Oregon Emergency Management Division

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan served as a wake up call for coastal residents and visitors on our shores. But two years later, it is hard to measure how much that disaster has changed tsunami readiness on the Pacific Northwest coast.

Althea Rizzo is the geologic hazards program coordinator for Oregon Emergency Management. She says she's certain tsunami awareness has increased.

"There have been a number of academic studies over the last 10 to 15 years that have shown that people are becoming much more aware about the earthquake and tsunami hazard here."

OLYMPIA, Wash. - The state of Washington recorded unusually strong job gains in January. That's according to new numbers released Wednesday by the state Employment Department. A regular survey of businesses found more than 24,000 new jobs created.

The state's chief labor economist, Joe Elling, says there's evidence of gathering "momentum" in the economy. But the January job gains are so strong, he doesn't quite believe them.

Beth Redfield

According to an airport industry association, control towers at 14 small to medium sized airports around the Northwest will close on April 1 in response to automatic federal budget cuts: Four in Idaho and five each in Oregon and Washington. But regional airlines intend to keep flying to those cities they now serve.

Colin Fogarty / Northwest News Network

A union lock out at a big grain export terminal brought all ship loading and unloading to a halt at the Port of Vancouver, Washington Wednesday. It's one of several developments in a long-running labor dispute involving longshore workers and grain handlers.

Colin Fogarty / Northwest News Network

There are several new developments Wednesday in a long-running labor dispute between unionized longshoremen and Northwest grain terminal operators. One grain exporter announced it reached a contract agreement, while another locked out its union workers after discovering what it called sabotage.

Picket lines sprung up almost immediately in front of the United Grain terminal at the Port of Vancouver, Washington. This, after the terminal operator notified the International Longshore and Warehouse Union Local 4 of a lock out.

Jimmy Emerson / Flickr

The Northwest's public universities pull in massive amounts of federal research dollars. It totaled $1 billion last year at the University of Washington. Oregon State University won close to $200 million in federal research funds. The University of Idaho is counting on $100 million this year. So it's no surprise that university administrators are hanging on every scrap of news about imminent automatic federal budget cuts.

I Corps, US Army

Northwest military bases, universities, national labs and parks await guidance for how to implement automatic federal budget cuts. The so-called "sequester" is scheduled to take effect on Friday, March 1. Not much else is certain beyond that including who in the region could feel the pain immediately, if anyone.

Google

OLYMPIA, Wash. - What if you could just start your car, tell it where you want to go and then sit back and relax until you get there? Well, Google and many automobile manufacturers are hard at work on self-driving "robocars." Now lawmakers in Salem and Olympia are trying to figure out how to update the rules-of-the-road to keep pace with the cars of the future. But automakers are flashing a stop sign, saying it's too soon for new regulation.

Ecola Architects, PC

SEATTLE - Building codes cover fire prevention, energy efficiency, and seismic safety among other things. Now a group of civil engineers from around the West is developing additions to the code to cover the threat of a tsunami.

Kent Yu of Degenkolb Engineers in Portland is one of the members of an American Society of Civil Engineers subcommittee drafting standards for "tsunami loads and effects."

"I think it is going to help make our communities more resilient."

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

KETCHUM, Idaho - A winter's worth of racing and training for the best disabled skiers and shooters culminates later this month at the Paralympic Nordic World Championships in Sweden. For the first time, the U.S. team headed to the competition is made up entirely of disabled veterans. It's a good example of how some wounded soldiers are finding a new mission and purpose.

Sun Valley, Idaho has become a hub for healing veterans through sports and one ex-soldier went from infantryman to badly wounded warrior to pro athlete.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

KETCHUM, Idaho - A ceremony in Sochi, Russia a few days ago started the one year countdown to the 2014 Winter Games. Here in the Northwest, the Sun Valley, Idaho ski team has set a goal to get at least six of its skiers or snowboarders on Team USA in Sochi.

The Paralympic Games for physically disabled athletes follow right after the Olympics. That U.S. team will also likely have lots of Northwest ties. Sun Valley is developing a reputation for uncovering exceptional paraplegic and amputee athletes through programs geared toward injured veterans.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

DONNELLY, Idaho - The real estate crash triggered some big bankruptcies in the Northwest, but few are as spectacular and convoluted as the foreclosure of the unfinished Tamarack Resort in western Idaho. What was supposed to be the Northwest's newest destination resort remains in extended legal limbo, but plucky homeowners are keeping it alive until a new buyer arrives.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

ABERDEEN, Wash. – The Northwest is on the verge of becoming a gateway for crude oil. Three different developers have plans to use docks on Grays Harbor, Washington to transfer crude oil from trains to ships. Other projects are getting off the ground in Tacoma, Vancouver, B.C. and on the lower Columbia River.

There was a huge turnout Wednesday night at an introductory public workshop in Aberdeen, Washington. The response indicates crude-by-rail may be the region’s next big environmental controversy.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

TURNER, Ore. - When a dog finds its first truffle -- the fungus, not the chocolate candy -- the sound you hear will most likely be the voice of a very excited dog handler.

And you might be as excited as Mia MacCollin of Bend if your pet showed an aptitude to find buried treasure. And treasure it is. The native Oregon white truffle can fetch several hundred dollars per pound at retail.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

JOINT BASE LEWIS-McCHORD, Wash. - The Pentagon's decision to allow women in combat roles has some female soldiers rethinking their career trajectories.

Army Spc. Heidi Olson received a Purple Heart last year for shrapnel injuries she got during a foot patrol in Afghanistan. She feels she's earned the right to call herself a combat medic.

"Originally as a female, I wasn't allowed to be titled as a combat medic," Olson says. "It was a 'health care specialist.'"

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. - When you order that special filet at a restaurant or store, you're often going on trust that the fish actually is what the menu or label says it is. In Washington, two state agencies are asking for tougher penalties to deter seafood fraud.

Investigators for Consumer Reports recently found more than one-fifth of the fish they submitted for DNA identification was mislabeled at the point of sale.

Washington Fish and Wildlife police deputy chief Mike Cenci says the penalties for false labeling need to be stronger.

Just about all the cities in the Northwest have endured a stretch of abnormally cold weather. Now an updated three-month climate outlook suggests the past could be prologue.

The latest computer model run by the National Climate Prediction Center increases the likelihood for below normal temperatures during the next three months in most of our region. This applies to all of Washington, nearly all of Oregon and the northern half of Idaho.

Washington State Climatologist Nick Bond says to get used to "chilly."

EPA

A small engineering firm in Seattle says it has developed a system to capture carbon dioxide going up power plant smokestacks and convert it to methanol. The solvent is also known as wood alcohol and as an Indy race car fuel.

Brett Scott is chief counsel for Emission Resource Group. He says having a viable method to refine CO2 into methanol could make it worthwhile for fossil fuel burners to capture the greenhouse gas.

US Fish & Wildlife Service

A federal agency plans a major effort to preemptively rescue about 65 deer upriver from Astoria. The animals live on a floodplain beside the lower Columbia River.

These aren't just any deer. They're an endangered species: the Columbian white-tailed deer. One of this animal's strongholds is a national wildlife refuge near Cathlamet, Washington. But now the Columbia River is on the verge of bursting through a failing dike at the edge of the refuge.

National Park Service

A dock that washed ashore on a remote Washington beach last month is now confirmed as debris from the March 2011 tsunami in Japan. This news comes just as the federal government requests bids from salvage companies to get rid of the huge hulk.

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Unemployment has dropped to a four-year low in Washington. The state Employment Department Wednesday released the latest jobless stats. During December, Washington's unemployment rate fell to 7.6 percent -- one-tenth of a percentage point lower than the revised rate for November.

The state's chief labor economist, Joe Elling, tempers his enthusiasm though. He says the decline is mostly caused by a shrinking labor force.

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