Tom Banse | KNKX

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.

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The Pacific Northwest is famous for churning out jet airliners, computer software and huckleberry syrup. The U.S. Olympic Track and Field Team Trials beginning June 18 in Eugene will showcase another local product: Olympic distance runners.

Nineteen-year-old Nevin Harrison of Seattle has pictured herself competing in the Olympics for many years, mostly as a track sprinter like in the 100 or 200 meter dash.

"My mom always tells the story of me being four years old and watching the Olympics and saying, 'I'm going to go one day, mom,'' Harrison recalled. "She was like, 'Sure, Nevin. Whatever.'"

Later this month, Olympic team trials and Team USA coaches will fill out the roster for the delayed Tokyo Olympics. Some familiar names in women's soccer from Portland and Seattle, as well as the WNBA Seattle Storm's biggest stars and a pack of Pacific Northwest-based distance runners are likely Tokyo bound. Some other athletes from this region have already locked in their spots, including Harrison.

Memorial Day weekend traditionally marks the beginning of the summer camping, vacation and recreation season. Last summer, Pacific Northwest public lands and trailheads were overrun by people seeking COVID-safe getaways in the fresh air. The pandemic may be winding down, but it doesn't look like the crowds are abating.

Hesitancy to get vaccinated against the coronavirus has justifiably drawn considerable attention because some counties and neighborhoods are lagging far behind in the campaign to stamp out COVID-19. Less often do you hear about the COVID-19 vaccination overachievers. In recent weeks, pockets of the Pacific Northwest have exceeded the threshold for community immunity. But the variability of inoculation rates across the region limits the protection earned, according to health officials.

The United States and Canadian governments confirmed Thursday that pandemic border crossing restrictions will continue for at least another month to June 21. This is the fourteenth month-by-month extension of the closure of the northern border to nonessential crossings. The lengthy closure has been especially wearing on Point Roberts, a community in northwestern Washington state that is cut off from the U.S. mainland by the Canadian border.

As the story of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Pacific Northwest changes from scarcity to surplus, one northwestern Washington community says it is in a unique position to extend a helping hand across the border.

Point Roberts, USA, is attached to British Columbia and doesn’t connect by land to the rest of Washington state. Inoculation shots are scarcer in Canada. So, Point Roberts officials want to offer surplus vaccines to their northern neighbors. But bureaucratic hurdles stand in the way.

Stargazers across the Pacific Northwest were treated to quite a light show in late March when the errant reentry of a spent rocket sent fireballs streaking high overhead. The uncontrolled disintegration of the rocket rained debris onto eastern Washington state, where fortunately no one was hurt. While the search for mangled rocket parts goes on, the event also provided a great learning opportunity for researchers that could foreshadow a space junk warning system.

Washington public schools with Native American-themed team names or mascots have a decision to make now that Gov. Jay Inslee has signed into law a ban on such symbols. The schools have until year's end to find a new mascot or try to win the blessing of a nearby tribe for continued use under an exception.

Few among us have tried our luck at competitive ski jumping, and there is no shame in that considering these skiers can reach speeds around 60 mph before they take flight. But there's something riveting about the daring sport even for casual onlookers. The Pacific Northwest was once a "hotbed" for Nordic jumping as detailed in a new book and a parallel museum exhibit.

The number of wolves in Washington state rose strongly last year, according to an annual report from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife released Friday. The rate of increase was more than double what Oregon reported earlier in the week for its wolf population in 2020.

In another sign of the rebound in travel, Amtrak and the state transportation departments of Oregon and Washington announced plans to restore a good chunk of the passenger train service that was curtailed due to low ridership in the pandemic.

Nearly a year after the Washington Legislature voted to legalize sports betting, terms have been agreed for the first sportsbook to open. It will be inside one of the two Tulalip tribal casinos alongside Interstate 5 north of Everett.

In a time of reckoning about historical monuments, Washington state lawmakers found a bipartisan path to change out a prominent statue. A bill signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Wednesday begins the process of putting a statue of the late tribal treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr. in the U.S. Capitol.

The 100 day countdown to the opening ceremony of the rescheduled 2020 Tokyo Olympics begins Wednesday. Yes, the summer games are proceeding amid an ongoing global pandemic. Olympic hopefuls and Pacific Northwest athletes already picked for Team USA invariably said they are eager to go.

Idaho legislators gave a sympathetic ear Monday to an Oregon group that wants to redraw state lines so that conservative eastern and southern Oregon would become part of the expanded state of "Greater Idaho." A separate group formed by Washington state farmers is pursuing the same idea for eastern Washington.

The space agency NASA has chosen a small Tillamook-based aerospace company to design and test robotic balloons for future scientific exploration of Venus. Near Space Corporation is working on the Venus project with some of the same NASA team members currently managing an historic helicopter drone flight on Mars.

The Pacific Northwest might seem like an unlikely place for mermaids and mermaid culture to catch on given the cold water here. Yet, putting on an eye-catching tail and pretending to be a mythical sea being is a thing across the Northwest. There's even a brand new mermaid museum near Aberdeen, Washington.

More folks from Pacific Northwest government and industry are jumping on the hydrogen bandwagon to test if the alternative fuel could be a viable and green replacement for diesel and gasoline in some situations. The potential converts include more than half a dozen transit agencies from Everett to Eugene, state legislators and Boeing's drone subsidiary in the Columbia River Gorge.

Small ship cruise lines are pressing ahead with plans to restart overnight cruises on the Columbia and Snake rivers, around Puget Sound and in Alaska. They aim to cast off in April and May while the big cruise ships remain laid up by a red light from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

With March Madness getting into full swing this weekend, it's a safe bet that some area fans want to wager on their favored teams in the NCAA basketball tournament. Placing a legal bet on college basketball is virtually impossible in the Pacific Northwest for the time being, though there are changes afoot.

This coming Sunday, March 21, will mark one year since the U.S. and Canada closed their shared border to nonessential crossings due to the pandemic. It's anybody's guess when the border might reopen for discretionary trips. In the meantime, every weekend rain or shine, Peace Arch State Park in Blaine, Washington, becomes a happening meetup point for couples and families separated by the northern border.

Residents of the Pacific Northwest will have to set their clocks ahead by an hour this weekend to move onto daylight saving time. The Oregon and Washington legislatures voted nearly two years ago to stay on daylight time year-round -- joined later by Idaho and British Columbia -- but still the biannual time change ritual and associated grumbling persists.

A public utility in North Central Washington broke ground Monday for a hydrogen production facility. It's one of several related actions in the Pacific Northwest that reflect renewed interest in hydrogen as a clean alternative fuel.

Like many Americans, people behind bars are waiting to see if they will be getting checks from the federal government as part of the new stimulus bill -- provided it passes Congress this month as expected. The majority of incarcerated people in Washington and Oregon were likely eligible for the first two rounds of relief money.

Advocates for prisoners say the all too common refrain of "What happened to my check?" shows the system for the incarcerated needs to be improved. This comes after a federal judge reversed an initial attempt by the Internal Revenue Service to disqualify inmates from receiving stimulus payments.

Smartphone users who opted in to a test of the West Coast earthquake early warning system got an early taste on Thursday of what is to come. Mobile phones from Seattle to Olympia blared with an alarm for imaginary incoming shaking. The earthquake warning system -- already operational in California -- will launch for the general public in Oregon on March 11 and statewide in Washington in May.

Washington state senators have teed up a mileage-based tax for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles as the first step toward changing how the state pays for road maintenance and other transportation needs. Policymakers expect gas tax revenue to decline long term. Oregon has been experimenting with a per-mile charge for years.

Fishing and hunting license sales jumped in 2020 across the Pacific Northwest as more people flocked to outdoor activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Total license purchases rose even though part of last spring was crimped by stay-home orders and in some states by the suspension of non-resident permits.

Rescheduled fall sports seasons for high school athletes are kicking off this month in large parts of Washington state and Oregon. The general happiness this brought came with a dose of consternation among some coaches and families over strict COVID-19 safety guidelines set down by state health authorities.

Leaders of seven Pacific Northwest tribes testified this week in favor of replacing a statue of Oregon Trail pioneer and missionary Marcus Whitman in the U.S. Capitol. A proposal pending in the Washington Legislature would install a statue of the late Native rights activist Billy Frank Jr. in Whitman's place of honor.

You may be used to hearing a pushy car salesperson ask the timeless question, "What can I do to get you in this car?" But one big thing could be different in Washington state a decade from now. Proposals introduced this winter in the Washington Legislature would end sales of new gasoline-powered cars in the state by 2030.

The Democrat-backed proposals face opposition from Republicans, the oil industry and auto manufacturers. A prior version failed to advance out of committee in Olympia last session and the inside politics do not appear to have changed substantially since. However, the concept is catching on in a few other states and in countries overseas.

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