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.

Ways to Connect

Alex Ragone / Northwest News

Emergency managers and National Weather Service forecasters have a new way to alert you to imminent danger. They've teamed up with all of the Northwest's major cellular providers on a system to broadcast emergency alerts to mobile devices. You don't need to sign up for anything; it's automatic.

Wash. Employment Security Dept.

The latest jobs report for Washington state contains a paradox. It shows strong job growth in the private sector. But at the same time, the state unemployment rate also rose.

Washington's Employment Department Wednesday reported a May jobless rate of 8.3 percent, up slightly from the revised 8.2 percent rate of April.

State labor economist Anneliese Vance-Sherman said in a conference call that the higher unemployment rate was caused primarily by once-discouraged workers resuming their job hunts.

Dozens of state Fish and Wildlife officers fanned out to seafood retailers, wholesalers and exporters late last week. It was a coordinated West Coast sweep. The cops were looking for mislabeled fish, poached product and banned seafood. Correspondent Tom Banse reports if you're a fish consumer, the results are mostly encouraging.

A giant piece of Japanese tsunami debris on the Oregon coast is now scraped free of what marine biologists worried were invasive species. The floating dock landed on the beach near Newport this week. Park rangers and volunteers worked quickly [today] Thursday to remove seaweed, mussels and barnacles, some of which are found only in Japanese waters. Meanwhile, the massive hulk has attracted hundreds of onlookers. Correspondent Tom Banse spoke with O.J Cortez of Reedsport.

Photo courtesy Oregon Parks and Recreation Dept.

Park rangers and volunteers worked quickly Thursday to defuse an invasive species time bomb that washed up near Newport, Oregon. They scraped off and sterilized a huge boat dock that was set adrift by last year’s terrible tsunami in Japan. Correspondent Tom Banse reports from the Oregon Coast.

Photo by Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

You might find it unsettling to move to a place where some residents routinely scan their groceries with a Geiger counter. Also in this place, automated radiation monitors stand guard outside parks and schools. The place we're talking about is Minamisoma, Japan... just down the road from the nuclear reactors that melted down last year. But a 23-year-old art instructor from Pendleton says volunteering in this shaken city is like living a dream. She's helping out in her hometown's sister city. Correspondent Tom Banse visited Japan's Fukushima Prefecture and has this report.

Photo by Tom Banse / Northwest News Networ

Over the past year, people and businesses in the Pacific Northwest have contributed tens of millions of dollars to Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief. It's an unfamiliar situation for a wealthy, industrialized country like Japan to be the recipient of international relief funds. Correspondent Tom

Elite Northwest runners and throwers tested themselves against Olympic-caliber competition this weekend in Eugene. Some athletes found the experience sobering, while others drew encouragement with about two months to go before the Summer Olympics. Correspondent Tom Banse reports from Eugene.

Photo credit: Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Private liquor sales start Friday in Washington. On the eve of the changeover, the state Supreme Court has upheld a voter-approved ballot measure to end the state's liquor monopoly.

The justices on the Washington Supreme Court reached a speedy decision on a challenge to the liquor privatization push. But the ruling was a close one. Five members of the high court upheld the voter-approved ballot measure, while four dissented.

At issue was whether the ballot measure violates the single subject rule. The liquor initiative includes provisions to privatize sales, raise the tax on spirits and earmark some revenues for public safety.

State of Washington

A King County judge Wednesday ruled that Washington voters cannot impose a two thirds majority requirement to raise taxes on the state legislature. Superior Court Judge Bruce Heller found voter approved anti-tax Initiative 1053 to be unconstitutional. But the ruling is far from the last word on the matter.

A group of Democratic state lawmakers and their allies sued to overturn the requirement for a two-thirds vote of the legislature to raise taxes. Washingtonians have repeatedly approved that high threshold at the ballot.

But a county judge in Seattle accepted the plaintiffs' argument that the supermajority requirement conflicts with the state constitution. It says a simple majority is all it takes to pass a bill.

Photo courtesy of NOAA.

One quarter (12 of 39) of U.S.-operated tsunami warning buoys in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans are out of service. That includes the two tsunami detection buoys directly off the Pacific Northwest coast. But as Correspondent Tom Banse reports, the warning system has some redundancy built in.

Photo by David Baxter. / Northwest News Network

Another piece of confirmed tsunami debris – part of a restaurant sign – has washed ashore in Alaska. But marine scientists can’t say how much other Japanese disaster debris is trailing behind. This problem surfaced at a U.S. Senate hearing Thursday. As correspondent Tom Banse reports, researchers are now getting some access to spy satellite imagery.

Photo by Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

The U.S. women's basketball team dominated China in an exhibition game played in Seattle Saturday. Final score: 100 to 62. The prelude to an upcoming Summer Olympics showdown coincided with the U.S. squad's first team training camp. Correspondent Tom Banse reports on why that's in Seattle.

Photo by Lyle Wirtanen / Northwest News Network

A granite memorial arrived by helicopter Tuesday at a remote cove in Hells Canyon on the Idaho-Oregon border. The stone will mark the site where a large group of Chinese gold miners was massacred way back in 1887. Correspondent Tom Banse reports.

Private contributions paid for the engraving and transportation of the 1,100 pound granite marker. Memorial project treasurer Lyle Wirtanen says the stone was inscribed in English, Chinese and the native Nez Perce language.

Photo credit: Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

Just in time for another anniversary of the catastrophic Mount St. Helens eruption, the U.S. Forest Service is reopening an architecturally striking visitor center. The Coldwater Ridge facility has been closed for the last four seasons. the center reopens next week with a new mission and purpose.

Photo credit: Dartmouth Electron Microscope Facility, Dartmouth College / Northwest News Network

Here in the Northwest, you hear lots of complaints about the abundant rain. But this year's cool March weather and above normal rainfall in April may have eased the suffering of people with pollen allergies.

Photo courtesy WSDOT

Fresh snow in the mountains has slightly delayed the reopening of one high mountain pass in the Washington Cascades. Highway crews are on track to reopen two other scenic cross state routes before Memorial Day. Correspondent Tom Banse reports the snowpack is deeper than average for this time of year in Washington, north Idaho and the northern Oregon Cascades.

Photo by Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

A pair of U.S. Geological Survey studies counted 14 schools in Oregon and 48 in Washington that could be underwater after a major tsunami. Administrators and parents in some of those places are talking about relocating their vulnerable schools. The Seaside, Oregon school district has the largest number of students in the tsunami zone along the Oregon coast. Correspondent Tom Banse reports on a drill there that shows why some school districts want to rebuild on higher ground.

At 11 o'clock sharp, students at Seaside High School get the order to evacuate.

Photo Credit: Patriarca12 / Wikimedia commons

The sound of tsunami warning sirens sent hundreds of people in Seaside, Oregon scurrying on foot to higher ground Wednesday. The resort town held a community-wide evacuation drill.

Courtesy of Riverbank Power

If you thought the great dam building era of the Northwest was long over, you might be mistaken. But we're not talking about damming rivers here. This is about building long earthen dams to make new off-stream hydropower reservoirs. They're being designed to act as giant batteries and shock absorbers for the electric grid. Correspondent Tom Banse explains.

Image courtesy Oregon State University

Rare, once-lost historic records about pioneer Chinese immigrants to the Northwest have found a new life online. The digital archive is hosted by Oregon State University. A Chinese-American civic group hopes the document trove can help families locate ancestors gone missing early in the last century. Correspondent Tom Banse reports.

Photo courtesy U.S. Navy

The first items of debris swept into the Pacific Ocean by last year's big tsunami in Japan are turning up on the Northwest coast. More is out there drifting our way. The state of Washington hosted a meeting Wednesday to prepare local governments and beachgoers for what to do about this. Oregon held similar meetings last week. Here's the takeaway: tsunami debris pickup depends largely on you. Correspondent Tom Banse is beach side with the latest.

Photo Credit: United States Navy

Thursday in Ocean Shores, Washington, dozens of people from government, tribes and community groups strategized how to respond to marine debris from last year's Japanese tsunami.

Photo Credit: Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

This month's auction of state-run liquor stores in Washington raked in nearly $31 million. The state liquor control board revealed the winning bidders Monday.

Photo courtesy Hanson Dodge Creative

Some Olympic hopefuls are lucky. They have six-figure endorsement contracts and can concentrate solely on training for peak performance. More commonly, dreams of Olympic glory mean scrounging for dollars. One runner from Eugene even auctioned his left shoulder on eBay recently. Correspondent Tom Banse reports on some creative personal fundraising by elite local athletes.

Photo courtesy Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines and its subsidiary Horizon Air continue to make money despite sharply higher fuel prices. Executives with the Seattle based airline group Thursday reported a twelfth consecutive quarterly profit. CEO elect Brad Tilden says the 28 million dollar net profit in this year's first quarter is "marginally" smaller than the same quarter last year.

Brad Tilden: "Given this quarter's solid results and the current demand environment, we're cautiously optimistic about 2012. The biggest headwind is high fuel prices and their impact both on our cost structure and on the pocketbooks of our customers."

Photo Credit: USGS / Northwest News Network

Geologists have discovered two previously unknown earthquake faults, and possibly a third, near Bellingham, Wash. The scientists working for the U.S. Geological Survey believe the shallow faults are capable of spawning damaging tremors.

A day after Oregon delivered a virtually unchanged monthly jobs report for March, neighboring Washington did the same. Washington's employment department pegged the state's unemployment rate last month at 8.3 percent. That's the same as the revised rate for February.

Photo credit: Tim Melbourne, CWU / Northwest News Network

A prototype, earthquake early warning system, worked as designed when an actual quake gently shook California last Friday. Researchers reported the results Tuesday at the annual meeting of American seismologists.

Last year, a private foundation in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey gave a multimillion dollar grant to create an automated earthquake warning system for the Pacific Coast states. The idea is to provide advance notice to prepare people for severe shaking. It could come via a cell phone alert or a pop-up on your computer or TV screen.

Photo Credit: Tom Banse / Northwest News Network

A new market survey finds many of the region's farmers in an optimistic mood because demand is strong and commodity prices are high. Exceptions to the overall trend include dairy and onion farmers.

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