Environment

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

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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.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Hundreds of anti-pipeline demonstrators chanted and waved signs outside of Seattle’s City Hall early Wednesday, before dozens crowded in to council chambers to testify in front of Seattle’s Finance Committee.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

A good weekend for getting outdoors and enjoying nature lies ahead, with mild temps  and mostly dry conditions in the Northwest, and sun peeking through the clouds.

“It’ll be very nice, said knkx weather expert Cliff Mass on Friday morning. “A ridge of high pressure is building over us as I speak.”

He says the low clouds that are hanging around in places such as the South Sound will give way as the day progresses.

“It will be partly sunny by the afternoon, temperatures getting up into the upper 40s to around 50. So, really decent day,” Mass said.

Tjflex2 / Flickr Creative Commons

The Suquamish Tribe and two environmental groups have filed notice that they plan to sue the Navy over work on the decommissioned USS Independence that they say is polluting Sinclair Inlet near Bremerton, in violation of the Clean Water Act.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP Photo / file

Though the Dakota Access Pipeline is more than a thousand miles away, many voices in the fight against it are local — and not just the protestors in the streets.    

A Seattle lawyer is representing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe: Jan Hasselman, with Earth Justice says they will push back against President Trump’s order to push the pipeline through.  

The Oregon Department of Agriculture said it's recorded the largest Japanese beetle infestation in the state's history. But officials hope to stop the pest from spreading with an aggressive eradication program.

Washington Dept. of Ecology / AP Photo / file

State legislators concerned about oil transportation safety in Washington have introduced new proposals to strengthen spill prevention and response. They’re concerned about the increasing use of pipelines and tankers and the potential impacts that could have on Puget Sound.

Canada’s approval of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline is expected to increase oil tanker traffic through Puget Sound by as much as sevenfold. But there’s concern that regulations to keep it safe are lacking.

Leonel I. Mallari / AP Photo / file

Each year, as lawmakers get to work in Olympia, the state’s largest environmental groups agree on legislative priorities. This session, the Washington Environmental Council and the Washington Conservation Voters are focused on water rights, oil transportation safety and cleaning up toxics.   

Grizzly bears have been listed as threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act since 1975. In Washington, they are considered endangered. Last week, federal officials unveiled their draft plan to reintroduce grizzlies in North Central Washington.

Scientists are trying to determine why a group of at least 95 false killer whales stranded themselves on a remote coast in Florida's Everglades National Park. At least 82 of the animals have died, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"This is the largest mass stranding ever for this species in the United States," NOAA Marine Biologist Erin Fougères said, "And one of the largest mass strandings we've ever had in the southeast."

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Donald Trump takes office later this week as President of the United States. After his election, many students in the Seattle area walked out of classes in protest. At a small public school in Redmond, they took a different approach. Students there have vowed instead to counter Trump’s threat to pull out of the Paris Agreement on climate change. They say even if the U.S. doesn’t meet the carbon reduction goals in the accord, they will.

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