Environment | KNKX

Environment

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

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Kevin Butt's job is to find cleaner ways to power Toyota. One of the hardest places to do that is at the automaker's sprawling plant in central Kentucky, a state where nearly 90 percent of electricity still comes from coal.

Butt points out a new engine assembly line, where a conveyor belt moves in a slow circle. He says it was specially designed with a more efficient motor. There are also enormous fans overhead and LED lights, all changes that save millions.

April is the traditional start of the whitewater rafting season. The hefty snowpack in the mountains this year is good news for commercial rafting companies and recreational enthusiasts across the West.

NOAA Fisheries

Passions run high on the issue of how to best protect resident killer whales in the waters off the San Juan Islands.

A public comment period on a proposal that could help them ends Thursday.

Orca whales communicate underwater with complex calls that researchers say are a language all their own. And they use echolocation to find their way around.

AP

This week, some coastal communities in Washington will have the opportunity to better prepare for tsunamis, among other natural disasters. Workshops with Washington State Emergency Management officials are planned for coastal towns that could be at risk if a tsunami strikes.

Pesticides based on fungi are just one example of biopesticides, a group that also includes bacteria and biochemicals derived from plants.

Biopesticides are a tiny segment of the market for now – but their use is projected to grow at a faster rate than traditional synthetic pesticides over the next few years.

The growth of the organic produce industry is one factor giving biopesticides a boost. So, too, are regulatory hurdles, says Sara Olson, a senior analyst at Lux Research.

About a month after an anti-predator device spit sodium cyanide in the face of an unsuspecting boy and killed his dog, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced it is ending its use of the M-44 mechanisms in Idaho indefinitely.

Bellamy Pailthorp / knkx

Climate change is one of those issues that tends to turn people off. It’s not much fun to think about the consequences of the carbon pollution and the subsequent warming of the atmosphere. But Seattle Times Writer Lynda V. Mapes spent the better part of two years studying how it affected one tree while she was on a science fellowship in upstate New York.

Her book about that experience is called "Witness Tree: Seasons Of Change With A Century-Old Oak."

Lincoln Bormann / San Juan County Land Bank

When funds are tight, it might be tempting for government to try to raise taxes or fees. But what if you could just inspire people to opt in and pay extra to support something they love? That’s the idea behind a new campaign for a specialty license plate that would generate funds to support conservation lands in the San Juan Islands.

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. 

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