Tom Banse

Regional Correspondent

Tom Banse covers business, environment, public policy, human interest and national news 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 heard 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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A bunch of world-class golfers and some men's U.S. basketball team nominees have announced they'll skip the Rio Olympics. Concerns about contracting the Zika virus are the most common excuse. By contrast, American track and field athletes seem eager to make the U.S. team for Brazil.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Kenichiro Sasae signed a Memorandum of Cooperation Tuesday to strengthen trade between the Evergreen State and Japan.

In a surprise move, sportswear giant Nike has withdrawn a contract enforcement lawsuit against U.S. track and field star Boris Berian.

The madcap flotilla of engineless boats entered in the Race to Alaska is safely moored in Victoria. Stage one of the 750-mile adventure race from Port Townsend, Washington, to Ketchikan is in the books.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Forty-three teams will cast off from Port Townsend, Washington, Thursday for the second running of an epic marine adventure contest. The 750-mile Race to Alaska has just a few rules: no motors, for one. And no chase boats or support crews. Last year, race co-founder Jake Beattie made the comparison to another great race.

Routine operation of small drones for commercial or civilian purposes have clearance for takeoff. The Federal Aviation Administration Tuesday finalized rules to replace the previous case-by-case assessment of drone uses.

Professional runners from the Northwest say the expulsion of the Russian track and field team from this summer’s Olympic Games sends a strong message about fair play.

Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee will further review Russia’s participation. Late last week, track and field’s world governing body, the International Association of Athletics Federations, barred Russia from the 2016 Olympics based on allegations of systematic doping.

You may have heard about "rails-to-trails" conversions. Thanks to some entrepreneurial bicycle enthusiasts, you don't need to wait for the rails to come out in two Oregon counties. Friday, a company begins offering scenic tours along Tillamook Bay using pedal-powered contraptions that ride on the rails.

Traffic accident fatalities are rising at a faster rate in Northwest states than anywhere else in the country according to preliminary data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Drug-impaired drivers and distracted drivers appear to be factors involved in the increase.

An inventory by public radio of Northwest geography found more than 200 places with names some people might consider ethnically or racially offensive. For instance, there's Negro Ben Mountain in southwest Oregon, Chinamans Hat in western Idaho, Jew Valley in southern Oregon and Redman Creek in north central Washington.

The statewide unemployment rate in Washington is not budging despite steady hiring by employers. It's stuck at 5.8 percent in the latest monthly jobs report released Wednesday by the Washington Employment Security Department.

Boats have to stay 200 yards away from the Northwest’s endangered resident killer whales. But what if one of those boaters launches an aerial drone to take better pictures from closer up?

It's not a theoretical question. And the answer is not as clear as law enforcement would like.

Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The Warrenton-Hammond School Board on the northwest Oregon Coast voted unanimously Tuesday night to remove Native American symbolism from its school mascots. The Warrenton Grade School Braves will get a name change and the high school "Warriors" logo will be redesigned. The small coastal district is among the first to come into line with a new state policy

A new environmental nonprofit is scouting the Pacific Northwest coast for a suitable cove or bay to establish a refuge for retired captive orca and beluga whales.

The board and staff of the new outfit, called The Whale Sanctuary Project, includes a number of people who helped return Keiko, the star of the Free Willy movie, to Icelandic waters from Newport, Oregon.

A frenzy of last minute bidding on eBay Thursday produced a nice payday for two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds of Seattle.

An ancient skeleton known as Kennewick Man moved a major step forward toward reburial Wednesday. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced it has accepted DNA analysis that ties the remains found in the Tri-Cities to modern Native Americans.

Western Washington will get a new telephone area code next year pending a vote of the state utilities commission. Idaho is rolling out a new area code as well. 

Alaska Airlines executives sounded upbeat after their first meeting with antitrust regulators about Alaska's proposed acquisition of rival Virgin America.

"So far, so good" was Alaska Air General Counsel Kyle Levine's summary of how the initial meeting with the U.S. Department of Justice went.

The early heat wave across most of the Northwest is forecast to start winding down Wednesday. It might have felt nice while it lasted, but the unusual warmth --record-setting, in some cases-- compounded the rapid melting of the Northwest's precious mountain snowpack.

When winter officially ended last month, snow measurements showed near normal to above normal snowpack across the Northwest. In four short weeks though, the snowpack in Oregon, Washington and Idaho has significantly eroded.

An apparent surge in leakage from a huge tank of radioactive waste set off alarms at the Hanford nuclear site in south-central Washington. This involves an aging, double-shelled tank that contractors were slowly pumping out.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee Monday signed into law an update to the state's two-year budget. It puts more money into the state's mental health hospitals and pays for costs from last summer's wildfires.

The governor also wielded his veto pen.

Come July, a wider range of fully electric and extended range plug-in hybrid cars will benefit from a sales tax break in Washington state. Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation Monday to raise the cutoff for a tax incentive.

An Oregon-based nuclear company presented a detailed timeline Thursday for the deployment of its first small modular nuclear power plant. An executive from NuScale Power presented the roadmap during a keynote address to the International SMR and Advanced Reactor Summit taking place this week in Atlanta.

People who are interested in solar energy but don't own the perfect roof on which to install solar panels may have the option to buy into a bigger, centrally-located project. These are called shared solar or community solar. There's a boomlet of such projects in Washington state right now, while there are hardly any in sunnier Oregon and Idaho.

But Washington's generous solar incentives are coming under scrutiny.

The unemployment rate in Washington state held steady at 5.8 percent for the fourth consecutive month in March. But in its latest jobs report out Wednesday, the state employment department reported steady hiring across most of the economy.

"Limited" commercial advertising is coming to Washington State Parks. The state park system will begin placing ads in parks as early as this summer to make itself more self-sustaining.

Alaska Airlines management is expressing confidence about integrating its rival Virgin America, whose pending acquisition was announced Monday. Any airline merger poses challenges and this one is no exception.

Alaska Air outbid rival JetBlue Airways to acquire Virgin America in what Alaska Air CEO Brad Tilden described as "a hard fought competition." Alaska Air won the bidding war with a $2.6 billion all-cash offer that was announced Monday.

April 1 is, on average, generally considered the date of the peak snowpack in the Northwest. And around now, is when many irrigation districts begin filling their canals to get ready for watering season.

There are grounds for optimism as well as caution.

Washington state lawmakers have flushed a proposed ban on state business travel to Victoria, British Columbia. The travel restriction surfaced last month in one version of a state budget. It was meant to pressure Victoria to stop dumping raw sewage into shared border waters.

A U.S. bankruptcy judge Tuesday approved the sale of the profitable core of the Haggen grocery chain to rival Albertsons. That brings to a close the dismantling of the Washington-based company.

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