Environment

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

Ways to Connect

It doesn't take more than a few episodes of the Discovery Channel's Deadliest Catch to get the idea that commercial fishing can be a career path rife with risk, making it one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S.

Driving up the coast toward Bay Center, Wash., it's obvious when you start to approach Willapa Bay. Fifteen-foot high piles of empty shells begin to appear on the side of the road. This is an oyster town.

But it's also home to a sinking piece of history.

Update 7:06 P.M. Eastern: The EPA says it's reversing course and keeping chlorpyrifos on the market.

That's despite the agency's earlier conclusion, reached during the Obama administration, that this pesticide could pose risks to consumers. It's a signal that toxic chemicals will face less restrictive regulation by the Trump administration.

President Trump issued a sweeping executive order on Tuesday that will begin to undo a slew of government efforts to fight global warming.

Among those worrying and watching to see how the executive order plays out are scientists who actually are in favor of exploring bold interventions to artificially cool the climate.

Over the weekend a large diesel spill developed on the Columbia River near downtown Wenatchee, Washington. So far state officials haven’t been able to locate the source of the spill.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Temporary fans and sump-pump hoses are whirring along inside the West Point Treatment plant. It’s still dark inside the tunnels where on February 9, a flood of sewage busted doors off and submerged everything up to 12-feet high.

Where we’re standing, we would have been underwater.  Plant manager Robert Waddle switches on a flashlight to show me around.

In some parts of the country, cold weather is threatening crops. Meanwhile, California has been so unseasonably wet that its deserts are experiencing what's called a "super bloom." After years of drought, the normally arid desert is lush.

"It just looks like a sea of flowers," says Janet Gordon, a geologist from Los Angeles.

"You got purple, red, yellows and blues," adds Joe Sheidness, visiting from San Diego.

In 2016, a mass bleaching event caused unprecedented destruction to the Great Barrier Reef and other coral reefs around the world.

Now, a new study in Nature has concluded that securing a future for coral reefs "ultimately requires urgent and rapid action to reduce global warming."

It finds that local measures, such as protecting reefs and water quality, ultimately yield little protection against bleaching caused by higher water temperatures.

Ned Ahrens / King County Wastewater Treatment Division

The breakdown last month of Seattle’s wastewater treatment plant has poured hundreds of millions of gallons of untreated stormwater and raw sewage into Puget Sound. Repairs alone will cost an estimated $25 million. And it’s expected to take till the end of April to get the West Point Treatment Plant back to normal. Until then, the broken wastewater facility will be violating its permit and polluting Puget Sound.

This month, I ventured to ask the man behind the counter at a Whole Foods Market what kind of shrimp he was selling. "I don't know," he replied. "I think they're just normal shrimp." I glanced at the sustainable seafood guide on my phone. There were 80 entries for shrimp, none of them listed "normal."

What about the cod? Was it Atlantic or Pacific? Atlantic. How was it caught? I asked. "I'm not sure," he said, looking doubtfully at a creamy fish slab. "With nets, I think. Not with harpoons."

Sea ice in the Arctic has been melting at a record-breaking pace. Scientists blame a warming climate for most of that, but researchers have now teased out a natural cycle for how Arctic sea ice melts year-to-year.

Based on that cycle, they conclude that 30 percent to 50 percent of the melting is due to natural causes, while human-caused warming is responsible for the rest.

COURTESY OF KING COUNTY WASTEWATER DIVISION

What caused the catastrophic failure of Seattle’s main wastewater treatment plant and how can the public be sure it won’t happen again?

King County Council members took emergency action Monday to ensure there’s a fully independent investigation.  

More Than Stormy Weather

The Northwest has had above-average snowpack and rain in many areas this winter. That’s good -- it’s wiped out drought. But all that water has wildland fire managers concerned about the terrain’s greening cheatgrass.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

AquAdvantage salmon were the first genetically engineered animal product meant for human consumption to be approved by the FDA. It combines the genetic material of Chinook and Atlantic salmon with eelpout to make it grow nearly twice as fast as its conventionally farmed counterparts.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo / file

The recent settlement of a lawsuit alleging that coal trains are polluting waterways in Washington and Oregon secured $1 million for mitigation projects.  BNSF has also agreed to pay for cleanup of spilled coal in five sites along the Columbia River Gorge.

The latest Washington state water supply forecast is out and managers said Monday there’s no reason to believe the state might face drought this year.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo / file

Environmental impact statements are often in the news. They’re lengthy public documents that government agencies have to issue before taking actions that might cause harm to ecosystems or public health.  Most often, they’re required before permitting of major infrastructure, such as sports stadiums or export terminals.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

U.S. Representatives from Washington have pledged to fight hard against cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency that would devastate efforts to clean up Puget Sound. They say a draft plan from the Trump administration would slash federal funding for the Sound by 93 percent, to just $2 million. 

Congressman Derek Kilmer says he’s expecting to see substantial cuts to the EPA, including money for Puget Sound.  He says the Trump administration has confirmed an intention to cut the agency overall by at least 25 percent.      

The U.S. is producing less air pollution, but smog levels are still rising in the western U.S. because of pollutants released in Asian countries that then drift over the Pacific Ocean. Researchers say their findings show the importance of a global approach to preserving air quality.

"Scientists found Asian air pollution contributed as much as 65 percent of an increase in Western ozone in recent years," NPR's Rob Schmitz reports from Shanghai. "China and India, where many consumer products are manufactured, are the worst offenders."

Updated 5:35 p.m. ET

The Trump administration is moving to roll back an environmental rule intended to define which small bodies of water are subject to federal authority under the Clean Water Act.

Scientists have new cautionary predictions based on the low Northwest snowpack levels of the last two winters.

Brennan Linsley / AP Photo

Dozens of scientists and their supporters will fill a library meeting room at the University of Washington this weekend, for a six-hour data rescue event. They’ll be joining a national effort to copy information from government websites that they fear might go missing under the Trump administration. 

In the Wilmington neighborhood of Los Angeles, residential streets dead end at oil refineries. Diesel trucks crawl through, carrying containers from nearby ports. Longtime resident Magali Sanchez Hall says the pollution from all that has taken a toll, right on the street where she lives.

"The people that live here, the mother died of cancer," she says, pointing to a modest one-story home. "The people that live here, three people died of cancer."

John Froschauer / AP Photo

More people than ever before are using mass transit in King County. Authorities say rides on buses and light rail totaled about 150 million last year, making Seattle the nation’s fastest growing large metropolitan region for transit use.

Sitting inside a glass-encased cockpit, two men fiddle with joysticks controlling giant claws outside. They look like they're playing at a vending machine at a mall, where you try to grasp a stuffed animal. But these are engineers. The claws they're manipulating are as big as houses, and they're sifting through hundreds of tons of garbage thrown away by the world's largest consumer class.

Bellamy Pailthorp / knkx

The race is on to get clean energy technologies to market, to help reduce the greenhouse gas pollution that causes global warming. A new lab at the University of Washington opened Thursday. It aims to close a critical gap in getting innovations from idea to prototype. 

The new facility is called Washington Clean Energy Testbeds. It’s a 1,500 square-foot lab inside the UW’s Clean Energy Institute, which was founded in 2013.  Director Dan Schwarz says they can now accelerate ideas that might otherwise never make it to market.

Mead Gruver, File / AP Photo

Plans to build North America’s largest coal export terminal in Southwest Washington may be moving forward. Project backers have filed an appeal, challenging the state’s denial last year of a lease. But questions remain about the financial viability of the project.  

The developers of the terminal in Longview are challenging the state Department of Natural Resources’ decision not to sublease state aquatic lands to them, saying it infringes on their property rights.

Urban development is encroaching on forests and impacting the love lives of some songbirds in the Pacific Northwest.

Updated at 7:40 a.m. ET

By the time Ceree Morrison found hundreds of pilot whales washed ashore on a remote beach in New Zealand 250 to 300 of them were already dead. The rest remained alive on Farewell Spit, a long strip of land that hooks from the country's South Island into the sea.

The scene was devastating.

For the first time in more than a century, plains bison are roaming in Canada's oldest national park. Banff National Park is hailing their return as a "historic and cultural triumph."

Helicopters lower the shipping containers carrying bison into a valley, in video posted on CBC. Then the doors of the containers swing open and bison charge into the park where they have deep historical roots.

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