Tom Banse

Regional Correspondent

Tom Banse, KPLU’s and N3’s Regional Correspondent, roves the Northwest to report on broad themes and telling details. His topics run the gamut from business to the environment and human interest. Home base is in Olympia, a legacy of a previously held state government beat from 1991-2003. Although he grew up in Seattle, Tom's radio career began by chance in Minnesota at Carleton College’s student radio station. Tom's memorable moment in public radio: "I am indebted to many people for tips and tutelage, but certainly some of the bluntest -- at times unprintable -- guidance came from NPR correspondent Nina Totenberg. I interned at NPR in 1989 and was privileged to keep Nina's chair warm at the U-S Supreme Court or at the high-octane Iran-Contra trial of Oliver North, wherever she wasn't at the time. Heady stuff for a tenderfoot reporter."

Pages

On Perseverence
4:29 pm
Tue December 31, 2013

A Modern Greek Saga: Sisyphus And The Ivy

Volunteer Kevin Head clears ivy in the pre-dawn darkness.
Tom Banse

Some causes just seem hopeless some days. Like world peace. Or ending poverty. Or in a different vein, getting rid of non-native plants.

But you've no doubt met people who insist on tackling intractable problems here locally and around the world. One particularly dedicated fellow wages a solo fight each weekday morning against English ivy.

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Olympic Hopefuls
1:32 pm
Mon December 30, 2013

January Full Of Excitement, Stress For NW Olympic Hopefuls

Slalom specialist Hailey Duke of Sun Valley, Idaho.
Tom Banse

The month of January promises to serve up lots of excitement, angst and pressure for the many Olympic hopefuls from the Northwest. They’ve got about three weeks left to qualify for a spot on the U.S. team bound for the Winter Olympics which begin in Russia in early February.

More than two dozen skiers, snowboarders and skaters from Oregon, Idaho and Washington have a plausible shot at making the U.S. Olympic team in 2014. Relatively few American athletes have secured their Olympic berths so far. Most slots are still up for grabs.

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Jobless Rate
1:28 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Washington Unemployment Drops, But Economic Weakness Still Seen

File image
Mike Groll AP Photo

The unemployment rate in Washington dropped a notch in November. New numbers released by the state Wednesday peg the jobless rate at 6.8 percent — down from a flat 7 percent the previous month.

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Electric Cars
1:01 pm
Tue December 17, 2013

Government Fleets Soon To Include More Fully-Electric Cars

Commuter Steve Marsh, left, of Kent, Wash. was honored Monday as the first in the nation to log 100,000 miles on an all-electric Nissan Leaf.
Tom Banse

Just like consumers who postponed new car buying during the recent recession, so did government agencies put off vehicle replacements. But now procurement officers are getting busy again. In this buying cycle, every Western state is under a directive to buy alternative fuel vehicles and to reduce fossil fuel use.

The legislation or executive order always comes with a caveat: do so, except when it's not economically or logistically possible. A western Washington driver is showing what is possible when you push an electric car to its limit.

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Northwest Farmers
1:41 pm
Fri December 13, 2013

Big Jump In Use Of Temporary Foreign Farmhands In 2013

File image
J. Scott Applewhite Associated Press

Northwest farmers hired significantly more foreign guest workers this season under a special immigration program. Farms in Washington state accounted for most of the increase in this region, followed by Idaho. Oregon farmers tend not to use the special visa much.

Farmers worried about having enough hands to process labor-intensive crops can hire temporary foreign workers after they prove they can't find anyone in this country. The guest workers recruited here through this legal avenue mostly come from Mexico.

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Natural Gas
3:07 pm
Wed December 11, 2013

Utilities Want to Offer Natural Gas Truck Refueling, Competitors Object

This is Washington's first LNG refueling station, opened in Sumner by Blu LNG.
Tom Banse

Natural gas is cheaper and burns cleaner than the gasoline or diesel that goes into most vehicles. Those are two reasons trucking fleet operators in the Northwest are showing growing interest in filling up with natural gas instead of diesel.

The problem is there are very few filling stations for natural gas. Now several big utilities in this region are asking to get into this line of business. But the proposed expansion comes with some controversy.

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habitat restoration
10:31 am
Wed December 4, 2013

Timber, Enviro Groups to Try Collaboration in Olympic Forest

A logging truck is seen near Port Angeles, Wash.
Brewbooks Flickr

Timber industry and environmental groups will make a stab at collaboration to boost both logging and habitat restoration in the Olympic National Forest.

The Congressman from Washington's Olympic Peninsula announced that effort Tuesday. It's modeled on successful collaborations elsewhere in the Northwest, including the Colville and Siuslaw National Forests.

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Fuel economy
4:47 pm
Mon November 25, 2013

State Ferry System Sets Course to Convert to Cheaper LNG Fuel

Schematic showing LNG fuel tank retrofit atop a Washington state ferry.
Washington State Ferries

The nation's biggest ferry system is setting a course to convert some of its fleet from diesel to natural gas propulsion. This month, Washington State Ferries formally asked the U.S. Coast Guard to review the proposed changeover. The latest move is another example of fleet operators in the Northwest taking a hard look at cheaper fuel.

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Geronimo!
10:03 am
Fri November 22, 2013

Daredevils Woo Twin Falls to Recreate Evel Knievel Jump

This photo shows Snake River Canyon. Evel Knievel’s 1974 launch ramp is the hump on the rim, top right.
Tom Banse

A passel of daredevils is aiming to succeed where the king of stunt performers once famously failed. They want to attempt Evel Knievel's jump over the Snake River Canyon.

But first, one of the modern stuntmen has to secure the rights to both a launch and a landing spot on opposite sides of the canyon near Twin Falls, Idaho. That has the potential for another wreck in the making, a bureaucratic one that involves the wooing of the Twin Falls City Council.

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economic recovery
3:10 pm
Wed November 20, 2013

New Data Points Show 'Soft Patch' in Hiring, Slow Overall Growth

Washington state hit a soft patch in hiring and saw slow overall growth, according to two new data points released Wednesday.

Washington state's unemployment rate essentially held steady at 7 percent from August through October. Federal government furloughs delayed the release of the data last month, which resulted in the release of two sets this month.

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stargazing
11:23 am
Tue November 19, 2013

Look to the Sky before Dawn This Week to Catch Comet ISON

Comet ISON passed through Virgo earlier this month.
Aaron Kingery NASA

If you wake up early and the skies are clear, you could be in for a treat this week. A comet named ISON should be visible through binoculars over the southeastern horizon. Astronomy websites have hyped the passage of this comet as the best in more than a decade. But a lot depends on a close encounter with the sun next week.

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preserving moments
7:01 pm
Tue November 12, 2013

'Keepers' Make Sure Time Capsule Doesn't Get Lost In Time

Volunteer "keepers" stand near the opened doors of a safe containing time capsules at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., on Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. The safe contains 16 mini-time capsules which are filled with new items every 25 years, starting in 1989.
Rachel La Corte Associated Press

Time capsules run a high risk of being forgotten once they're buried. In 1989, the organizers of the Washington State Centennial Time Capsule took measures to guard against such loss.

The Time Capsule has some unusual features. For one, the big green safe is not buried; it's on display on the ground floor of the state Capitol. That makes it possible to update the capsule at regular intervals—in this case, every 25 years.

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boeing package
10:17 am
Fri November 8, 2013

Wash. Legislature Plows Ahead with Boeing 777X Tax Breaks

Boeing's 777 assembly line in Everett, Wash.
Ashley Gross KPLU

The state Legislature is plowing ahead with a package of tax breaks and incentives to convince the Boeing Company to build its next big jet in Washington. But this is happening against a backdrop of new doubts about Boeing's willingness to commit given labor turmoil.

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Columbia River Treaty
4:21 pm
Thu November 7, 2013

U.S. Columbia River Users Call for 'Better Bargain' with Canada

Anomieus Flickr

U.S. Senators from the Northwest say it’s time "to strike a better bargain" with Canada over hydropower generated along the shared Columbia River. That was one upshot of a Thursday Senate hearing to discuss how to renegotiate a nearly 50-year-old cross-border treaty.

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Business
3:28 pm
Tue November 5, 2013

Boeing Offers Deal to Keep 777X in Wash., Inslee Calls Special Session

This image shows the Boeing 777x assembly line in Everett, Wash.
Ashley Gross

 

Boeing Co. has proposed an eight-year labor agreement that would guarantee construction of the new 777X in the Puget Sound.

In response, Gov. Jay Inslee said he would call a special legislative session on Thursday in hopes of swiftly approving a package of bills to appease Boeing.

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