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KUOW Blog

News, factoids, and insights from KUOW's newsroom. And maybe some peeks behind the scenes. Check back daily for updates.

Have any leads or feedback for the KUOW Blog? Contact Dyer Oxley at dyer@kuow.org.

Stories

  • A downtown institution returns to Seattle's dining scene this summer

    caption: A rendering of FareStart's renovated restaurant, which will have a fast, casual atmosphere.
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    A rendering of FareStart's renovated restaurant, which will have a fast, casual atmosphere.
    Rendering by NBBJ, provided by FareStart

    Nonprofit restaurant and training center FareStart once again will welcome guests to its South Lake Union location on 7th and Virginia.

    RELATED: This Seattle culinary program helps people get out of homelessness

    For more than three decades, the restaurant was a staple for office workers and a training ground for people transitioning from homelessness, making it a steady pipeline for restaurant jobs. But like many businesses, FareStart closed during the pandemic.

    It's now expected to reopen in early July.

    The training never stopped even while it was closed to the public, though, said CEO Patrick D’Amelio. Students continued to cook as they prepared community meals for people in need.

    “We produced close to 2 million meals a year for various partner agencies, communities, and folks that would’ve otherwise experienced hunger,” D’Amelio said.

    D’Amelio said those years of pivoting during Covid gave them fresh ideas to expand the job training program to include other food-related industries.

    RELATED: FareStart helps students find jobs beyond the food industry

    “It’s not just about a job as a line cook in a restaurant, but there’s farming, grocery, there are food distribution jobs,” D’Amelio said.

    Continue reading »
  • Pierce County hopes to cultivate community gardens with new seed libraries

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    The Pierce County Library System is calling all gardening enthusiasts and wannabes to get excited about their new sustainable seed libraries.

    So, what exactly is a seed library? It’s similar to the standard library books system. The library is a place to store and collect a variety of diverse seeds.

    The seeds are shared with the community, where the cycle continues with patrons planting, sowing, growing, and harvesting seeds to return to the library program.

    RELATED: What Ciscoe Morris says you should know about spring gardening around Seattle in 2024

    The goal is to promote sustainability — while also cultivating a passion for gardening in the community. Patrons don’t need to already know how to save seeds to use the seed library, but program operators encourage anyone interested to take the time to learn how, in order to keep as many seeds as possible available to all. The library system sometimes offers free classes on how to save seeds. The Pierce Conservation District website also has tips on the best way to harvest seeds.

    Seven branches of the Pierce County Library System are participating in the seed program: Ander Island, Fife, Milton-Edgewood, Parkland-Spanaway, Steilacoom, Tillicum, and University Place. Find more information about when these branches are open here.

    RELATED: Gardening in the time of climate change

    Plus, this isn’t the only — nor the first — such sustainable “library” system in the Pierce County area.

    The main branch of the Tacoma Public Library also houses a tool library for the DIY inclined and curious who don’t own all the tools they need for various projects. That program offers low-barrier access to over 2,500 types of tools.

    Seattleites and residents of King County may be familiar with local seed and tool libraries, too.

    Continue reading »
  • Puget Sound electrical workers vote on whether to end 2-month strike

    caption: Members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46 picket outside the National Electrical Contractors Association office in Shoreline, Washington, on June 6, 2024.
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    Members of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46 picket outside the National Electrical Contractors Association office in Shoreline, Washington, on June 6, 2024.

    About 1,000 electrical workers in the Puget Sound region were voting on Thursday whether to go back to work.

    International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 46 has been on strike for two months in pursuit of better pay and benefits.

    “Part of it is the holidays, we've never had paid holidays,” electrician Patrick Davis of Arlington said on the picket line outside the National Electrical Contractors Association office in Shoreline. “Holidays to us are just kind of an unpaid forced day off. So we'd really like to spend time with our families and not worry about working more for that.”

    RELATED: Striking Seattle electrical workers demand better pay, improved safety

    The Puget Sound chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association, which represents the electricians’ employers, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon.

    The union and the contractors association have been in contract negotiations since January.

    Votes are to be tallied Thursday evening to determine whether the electrical workers will end their two-month-long strike.

    Continue reading »
  • Fatal drug overdoses declining slightly in King County after 2023 surge

    caption: Tinfoil left behind from fentanyl use is shown on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Port Angeles.
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    Tinfoil left behind from fentanyl use is shown on Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Port Angeles.
    KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    Officials in King County say after a bleak year of increased drug overdoses in 2023, they are starting to see signs of hope. At the county’s fourth annual conference on substance use Thursday, officials said fatal drug overdoses are trending down slightly in 2024.

    Brad Finegood is a strategic advisor with Public Health – Seattle & King County. He said when they met last year, “hope was hard to find. We were in a place of escalating overdose. Today I’m super excited to let you know that in 2024 our overdose numbers are actually going down a little bit. Where that exponential rise happened, right now year-to-date from last year, we’re down about 8.4% of people who have experienced fatal overdose. That’s because of all of us coming together with hope.”

    RELATED: Influx of deadly street fentanyl reaching the U.S. continues to grow, research shows

    Finegood said last month that Washington state appears to be following a similar curve to the rest of the country, just with a slight delay. King County officials said there were 1,338 overdose deaths in 2023, of which 1,087 were due to fentanyl. So far in 2024, King County has had 433 overdose deaths.

    Jon Ehrenfeld, the Mobile Integrated Health Program Manager for the Seattle Fire Department, said when it comes to overdose response, his teams have more tools now than they did just six months ago.

    Last fall they revived one man, and provided him with the overdose reversal drug Naloxone, only to see him die of another drug overdose the next day, Ehrenfeld said. This spring after reviving people, paramedics in the field started offering those people the medication buprenorphine to stop their cravings for 24 to 48 hours.

    RELATED: Everett reports 3 fentanyl overdoses in young children in 1 week

    In one example, Ehrenfeld said for one teen it gave them time to call recovery specialists to the scene.

    “They come out, they meet us on the scene in about two hours, we medically clear him, they get him into an inpatient treatment facility that night,” he said.

    Last month Seattle also announced plans to build an overdose recovery center where people who have experienced an overdose can stay for up to 23 hours to receive care, medication assisted treatment, and connections to services.

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  • 17-year-old student dies after being shot multiple times at Seattle’s Garfield High School

    Updated at 4:40 p.m. 6/7/2024.

    A 17-year-old Garfield High School student died on Thursday after being shot multiple times in the chest and abdomen during the lunch hour.

    The shooting took place in the parking lot in front of the Quincy Jones Performing Arts Center on the school campus, in Seattle's historic Central District.

    Harborview Medical Center announced the boy's death six hours after the shooting. He has been identified by family and his football team as Amarr Murphy.

    According to Deputy Chief Eric Barden, Amarr had tried to break up a fight. Afterward, his assailant pulled a gun on him, shooting him at what appears to be close range. An image of the shooter standing over Amarr, who is on the ground, trying to get away, was circulated to police in an attempt to identify the suspect, who remained at large Thursday evening.

    "This is an extraordinary tragedy for the community ... Unfortunately gun violence emerged again today at our high school and we have a victim right now at Harborview," Barden said at a press event following the shooting.

    According to a police source, Amarr was shot multiple times in the chest. He was unresponsive when police arrived, according to a source. They immediately rendered first aid, including a "chest seal," until relieved by Seattle Fire Department medics.

    According to Deputy Chief Barden, a fight broke out at the school between two individuals and Amarr stepped in to break it up. Then, a "high school-aged" male produced a gun and shot the victim multiple times. According to Barden:

    Our victim, it appears, tried to intervene and break up that fight. Subsequent to that, one of the original combatants approached the victim and an additional altercation broke out. The suspect produced a weapon and fired multiple rounds at our victim. The suspect fled the scene and remains large.

    The shooting took place over lunch, according an email sent to parents by Principal Tarance Hart.

    Police said the suspect is a high-school aged male who was wearing a red hoodie. They do not know his identity and ask that people call the tip line with information.

    At 12:45 p.m., Seattle police announced that officers were responding to a shooting in the 400 block of 23rd Avenue, the block where Garfield High School is located in Seattle's Central District. Shortly after that, it was announced that the school was in lockdown.

    Following the lockdown, Seattle Public Schools sent an email to parents with a message from Principal Hart:

    "Today at lunch, shots were fired in the Garfield parking lot. A student was injured. The student is being treated at Harborview Medical Center. Garfield High School is currently on lockdown. All students inside our building are safe. Seattle police have secured the school and are working with the district's Safety and Security team. We will keep families updated with additional information including if students will be released early. Sincerely, Principal Hart."

    Gun violence surrounding Garfield High School

    In recent months, students and families at Garfield High School have raised issues with safety around the school. Protests were spurred in March, after another off-campus shooting at a nearby bus station.

    A 17-year-old girl was injured during that incident. In October 2023, a series of incidents involving two students, followed by an off-campus shooting, also put the school on lockdown. As did three nearby shootings (that did not involve students) in June 2023.

    After organizing protests in March, parents called for the district to bring back school resource officers which were removed from the schools in 2020. At the time, one parent told KUOW that they would like 23rd Avenue, adjacent to the school, shut down each afternoon to increase safety.

    RELATED: Put cops back in school and shut down the street, Garfield High parents say after another shooting

    Outside of Garfield High School Thursday afternoon, parents were again expressing similar sentiments as they waited for their students to be released from lockdown. Christle Young told KUOW that her son, a freshman, would not return to Garfield again.

    “We're transferring. This is his last day at Garfield," Young said.

    "I already talked to my wife and we are already calling other schools today," she said. "We moved here from New Orleans to have him in a safer environment and give him a better life. So I'm just going to do what I can to protect him."

    Young was waiting outside the school at the time of the shooting. She was there to drop something off for her son. That’s when she heard gunshots and saw “like 40 or 50” students scattering.

    "I'm a former police officer so I ran toward the gunshots,” she said.

    Young found "a kid on the ground" with gunshot wounds. She said began providing CPR. Seattle police arrived and took over. After things calmed down, she was able to wash up, but her phone was still stained with blood while speaking with KUOW.

    Anjali Rao had a similar thought. She too would like more police around the school, though she says that she feels Garfield is safe.

    “I don't have an issue with my son coming to this school,” Rao said. “I do worry about the safety outside of the school, when he's doing soccer practice in the morning. I don't let him come on the bus. We always come and pick him up. It's not the school, it's the outside of the school that we worry about. And I wish there was more that was happening outside to keep the kids safe in school, on the fields, waiting for the bus."

    Lesina Heffa has two students at Garfield, a son and a daughter. She too was waiting outside the campus Thursday afternoon. She heard about the shooting when the school district sent a text to parents. Heffa immediately contacted her children, who said they were safe while in lockdown.

    "(My son) said, 'Yeah we're fine, but pray for my friend, he got shot,’” Heffa said.

    On the day of the shooting, the front page of the Seattle Public Schools website featured a graphic for National Gun Violence Prevention Day, encouraging people to wear orange in support of the effort, and promoting a series of gun lockbox giveaway events. The closest event to Garfield, at 23rd and Jackson, was scheduled for Friday.

    This is the second on-campus shooting at Garfield High School. The other shooting was in 1995.

    Reporting by Katie Campbell, Liz Jones, Kate Walters, Ashley Hiruko, Dyer Oxley, Ann Dornfeld and Isolde Raftery.

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  • At 50, Seattle Gay News starts a new chapter

    caption: In 2024, Seattle Gay News celebrated 50 years of publishing news for the region's LGBTQ community, elevating their voices over decades, through good times and bad.
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    In 2024, Seattle Gay News celebrated 50 years of publishing news for the region's LGBTQ community, elevating their voices over decades, through good times and bad.

    Seattle is a city that flaunts its queer bonafides, but it’s easy to take hard-fought cultural change for granted. Anti-gay initiatives emerged in Seattle in the 1970s around the same time the city’s first Pride celebrations began. In the 1980s, the AIDS crisis spurred far-reaching fear. In 2015, gay marriage became legal across the United States. Through all these milestones, Seattle Gay News has been instrumental in organizing the queer community and making its stories visible.


    “There’s not many organizations in this community that can say they’ve made it to 50 years," Renee Raketty told Seattle Now. "We’ve lost a lot of legacy organizations, and to be honest with you, the SGN is an institution in our community here in Seattle. And I’m so proud to carry that forward for the next 50 years.”

    RELATED: Northwest Asian Weekly newspaper turns the page to a new generation

    After writing and editing for the newspaper for many years, Raketty now takes over as publisher. In the wake of the death of George Bakan, editor and publisher since 1983, his daughter Angela Cragin stepped into the role. Bakan suddenly died at his desk in 2020, working on the newspaper that has become a fixture of Seattle's LGBTQ community. Cragin later sold the paper to Mike Schultz, who took on the role of publisher in 2023. Raketty has worked under all three publishers during her time at Seattle Gay News.

    Seattle Gay News actually started as a newsletter run out of the local Gay Community Center in the 1970s. Its writers depended on local gay bars for donations and businesses for supplies. Since then, the newspaper has been a fixture of the community, through good times and bad. It’s been involved with the city’s Pride celebration since its inception. Even in the early days, the paper became a sort of hotline, fielding calls from people who were kicked out of their homes and had nowhere to go. The newspaper published during the era of “gay cancer,” when HIV and AIDS hit the community hard through the 1980s and 1990s. Raketty recalls a time when it was legal to fire someone for being gay, making it difficult for people to find and keep a job. The paper was there for them, too.

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  • Train carrying hazardous sulfur derails in Whatcom County

    caption: A BNSF Railway freight train passes through Shoreline, Washington, in January 2021.
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    A BNSF Railway freight train passes through Shoreline, Washington, in January 2021.

    A BNSF Railway freight train derailed in Whatcom County late Tuesday night, with six cars going off the rails near the town of Custer, Washington.

    At least two railcars containing molten sulfur — a hazardous material used in oil refining and paper milling and transported at about 290 degrees Fahrenheit — tipped over on their sides.

    Officials say there were no injuries and no spill. Local officials closed Portal Way, the main route into the town of Custer, for the day at BNSF's request.

    “Our priority is always life safety, and it is gratifying that there was and is no risk to the public from this event,” Whatcom County Sheriff Donnell “Tank” Tanksley said in a press release.

    This is the same stretch of tracks where an apparently sabotaged oil train — its brakes and couplings disabled — pulled apart and crashed into itself, bursting into flames, in 2020.

    RELATED: Sabotage caused Washington oil-train disaster, rail union says

    The cause of Tuesday’s crash is under investigation.

    “The train was not carrying crude oil,” BNSF Railway spokesperson Lena Kent said by email. Kent did not respond to KUOW’s questions on the size, destination, and origin of the train. Kent said BNSF’s main rail line, used by freight trains and Amtrak trains passing between Canada and the United States, was not affected.

    According to a federal hazardous materials database for emergency responders, molten sulfur cools and solidifies quickly if it spills.

    "Exercise caution walking on the surface of a spill to avoid breakthrough into pockets of molten sulfur below the crust," the CAMEO Chemicals database warns.

    Continue reading »
  • What does June rain mean for Western Washington's 2024 summer?

    caption: The early June 2024 atmospheric river may have dumped rain across Western Washington, but the National Weather Service still expects the summer to lean warmer and drier than normal.
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    The early June 2024 atmospheric river may have dumped rain across Western Washington, but the National Weather Service still expects the summer to lean warmer and drier than normal.

    June rain is not unique in Western Washington, but heavy atmospheric rivers are perhaps not as common. That's what dumped rain across the region last weekend and set records.

    "We had two atmospheric rivers, and they were really winter-like storms, and not something we usually see in early June," Deputy State Climatologist Karin Bumbaco told Seattle Now. "With that said, we’ve had plenty of wetter-than-normal Junes before, so it wasn’t really the rain that was unusual to me.”

    RELATED: How are atmospheric rivers affected by climate change?

    The heavy wind stood out more to Bumbaco. Still, the National Weather Service noted a few rainfall records that were broken for Sunday, June 2. Seattle recorded .65 inches of rain (beating its previous record of .48 inches set in 2001). Olympia had 1.08 inches of rain (much more than the .48 inch record set in 2010). NWS records go back as far as 1953.

    Atmospheric rivers are common, natural weather patterns. In short, it's how water from the tropics in the Pacific Ocean evaporates up into the atmosphere, and travels to North America where it falls down as rain or snow. You may have also heard this referred to as the "pineapple express." When a lot of water heads our way, we note it as an atmospheric river and expect to get dumped on. These are mostly expected in winter, and not so much during the first week of June, which is what just happened.

    “For the future, we are expecting to see more atmospheric rivers and more winter rain in a warming climate, we’re not really expecting to see those in June. If anything, we’re expecting drier summers in the future," Bumbaco said.

    With a heaping, fresh dose of rain, could this have any implications for the upcoming summer, and the drought that Washington state currently faces?

    RELATED: Big Northwest floods a ‘dress rehearsal’ for a hotter climate

    Looking ahead, Bumbaco had a few points to consider.

    • The recent rain means that Western Washington will probably record a wetter-than-normal June this year, which strays from forecasts published in March/April. However, the June/July/August forecast, as a whole, is still expected to be warmer and drier than normal. This comes as Washington has much lower-than-normal snowpack in the mountains, which many communities rely on for summer water. This is the reason Washington is in a statewide emergency drought.
    • Despite the below-normal snowpack that has put the state in an emergency drought declaration, Seattle’s water supply is looking good. The city was able to store more rain than usual over the past winter to help maintain a buffer in its reservoirs. Also, recent wetter and cooler weather caused less water consumption.
    • As for summer wildfires: A higher-than-normal wildfire season is expected for Western Washington, while Eastern Washington faces normal fire risk this year.
    • Wildfire smoke: While California's fire risk is reduced this year, British Columbia faces elevated fire risk this summer, and could send smoke down into Washington state over the summer months.
    • El Niño is switching over to La Niña right now, but that likely won't affect the summer months. This is more likely to impact winter weather and Bumbaco doesn't expect this factor to be a "drought buster." Winter could see more precipitation, however.

    The National Weather Service's long-term weather forecast for August, September, and October 2024 still predicts warmer-than-normal temperatures for Western Washington, with equal chances for below or more-than-normal rain.

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  • Seattle's once controversial soda tax may be paying off via children's health

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    A new University of Washington study concludes Seattle's soda tax is helping lower children’s body fat.

    Seattle is among seven U.S. cities that have imposed such taxes in an effort to curb the consumption of sugary beverages that have been linked to chronic diseases, such as diabetes. Earlier research showed the tax has deterred people from buying sugary beverages since the tax took effect in 2018.

    RELATED: Seattle soda tax works in curbing consumption, study says

    Now, UW School of Public Health Prof. Jessie C. Jones-Smith said the tax not only had an impact on people’s pocketbook, but it also may be affecting their health. Jones-Smith is lead author of the latest report on the tax, which focused on the policy's health outcomes; basically, she wanted to know whether people buying fewer sugary drinks translated to better health.

    "If people really decreased their purchasing, or not substituting with other caloric beverages or snack foods, maybe this could actually have an impact on BMI," she said.

    RELATED: Seattle's low income communities benefit from soda tax revenue, UW study says

    Researchers tracked the height and weight of more than 6,000 children, between the ages of 2 and 18, over five years. In that time, researchers found a "statistically significant reduction in BMI," or body mass index, among the children included in the study.

    "The findings of this cohort study suggest that the Seattle sweetened beverage tax was associated with a modest decrease in [BMI] among children living in Seattle compared with children living in nearby nontaxed areas who were receiving care within the same health care systems," the study concludes. "Taken together with existing studies in the U.S., these results suggest that sweetened beverage taxes may be an effective policy for improving children’s BMI."

    RELATED: Some Seattle doctors are ditching the scale. They say focusing on weight drives misdiagnoses

    Jones-Smith said their next study will look at whether the tax has a similar impact on adults.

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  • Seattle and Spokane are slated to get 25 electric school buses each

    caption: Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell in October 2022 at an announcement for new electric school buses coming to Washington state communities. Funding for the new buses was provided by the Clean School Bus Program that is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
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    Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell in October 2022 at an announcement for new electric school buses coming to Washington state communities. Funding for the new buses was provided by the Clean School Bus Program that is part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.
    Sen. Patty Murray's Office

    Federal funding is coming to 16 Washington state school districts to help pay for a total of 111 electric or propane-powered school buses.

    Seattle is slated to get 25 zero- or low-emission school buses, and another 25 will be rolling into Spokane now that federal funding for cleaner buses has opened to school districts across the United States.

    RELATED: This transit agency could be the first in the Northwest to use hydrogen-powered buses

    A total of 16 school districts in Washington will get a share of $24 million in federal funding, dedicated to nixing diesel-powered buses and replacing them with cleaner versions. The money will ultimately pay for 111 clean buses across the state — most will be electric, and some will be powered by propane.

    The money comes from the Clean School Bus program that was woven into 2021's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D–Wash) is credited with pushing the program through.

    “Clean school buses are a huge improvement over diesel buses — they’re better for the environment, better for public health, they save school districts money on fuel, and we’re building them here in America — which is why I worked so hard to get my bill passed as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law," Sen. Murray said in a statement. "Soon, kids from Seattle to Spokane will be riding to school in clean buses and breathing in cleaner air as a result. This is a big win for our kids, our environment, and our economy — and I’m proud to have helped make it happen.”

    The electric / propane bus funding was first announced in 2022, when Sen. Murray and Vice President Kamala Harris held an event in Seattle to showcase electric buses. Grants for electric buses were also given in 2022 and 2023.

    RELATED: Fire trucks are going electric, too. Portland and Redmond, WA, getting there first

    For 2024, it was recently announced that 16 schools districts in the state will benefit from the federal money in the form of "rebate funding."

    Seattle and Spokane will be getting $7.8 million in rebate funding, and $9.1 million respectively, to purchase electric buses. Other districts, such as Snohomish and Mount Vernon, will put the money toward the purchase of propane buses.

    RELATED: A lot more electric buses are coming to Western Washington roads

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  • Free Amtrak for kids in Washington state – funded by big polluters

    caption: The Amtrak Cascades heads north in Shoreline, Washington, on Nov. 30, 2023.
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    The Amtrak Cascades heads north in Shoreline, Washington, on Nov. 30, 2023.

    Young passengers can travel free on Amtrak trains and buses between Bellingham and Vancouver, Washington, thanks to fees paid by major polluters in the state.

    Amtrak Cascades service within Washington state is now free to anyone 18 years old or younger. Reservations must be made in advance, and passengers below the age of 16 must travel with an adult, who has to pay the regular adult fare.

    With the addition of Amtrak Cascades discounts, youth can now travel free on trains, ferries, buses, and light rail. Of 31 local transit agencies in Washington, only Selah Transit in Yakima County is not providing free service for youths.

    Youth fares remain unchanged on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight and Empire Builder routes.

    Washington State Department of Transportation spokesperson Janet Matkin said the free Amtrak Cascades fares are expected to cost about $1 million a year.

    “Train travel is significantly better for the environment than driving,” Matkin said by email.

    State-run auction of permits to emit carbon dioxide and other climate-harming gases have raised more than $2 billion since February 2023. Most of the proceeds are going to projects aimed at reducing pollution or helping communities weather the impacts of fossil fuel burning.

    Since 2023, climate-harming emissions from major polluters have been limited under Washington state’s cap-and-trade policy. Some industries get their pollution allowances for free, while other polluters have to compete for a limited number of permits to keep harming the climate.

    Which businesses have actually paid to pollute is a state secret.

    To prevent market manipulation, the cap-and-trade law, known as the Climate Commitment Act, prohibits auction participants from disclosing their bids or even whether they participated in the quarterly auctions. The Washington Department of Ecology only releases the names of businesses that are qualified to bid for the carbon allowances. In the latest auction in March, 39 businesses, including oil, gas, and utility companies, were qualified.

    Opponents of the carbon cap argue that it has driven up gasoline prices and are seeking to repeal the policy through a ballot initiative in November.

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  • Skip the clam digging. Washington coastline off limits to shellfish harvest, for now

    caption: Vernon Cayou carries bags of clams that will be used primarily as bait after a commercial clam dig on Tuesday, August 27, 2019, at Ala Spit County Park.
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    Vernon Cayou carries bags of clams that will be used primarily as bait after a commercial clam dig on Tuesday, August 27, 2019, at Ala Spit County Park.
    KUOW Photo/Megan Farmer

    If you’re planning to head out to the beach this weekend for some clam digging, you’ll need to ditch the harvesting part. That’s because shellfish harvesting is off limits for now, as health officials have closed Washington coasts and bays due to high levels of biotoxins.

    “This is very serious,” said Jerry Borchert, who manages the marine biotoxin program for the Department of Health. “Things are still changing quickly as we get more samples in our lab.”

    Borchert and his team are working overtime to deal with samples coming in, including those from commercial growers. Right now, they’re most concerned about the coastal areas of Willapa Bay along with Grays Harbor.

    Borchert says the high biotoxin levels are a result of warmer temperatures, creating the right conditions for this kind of toxic bloom, and for the type of plankton that produces paralytic shellfish poison.

    “And the shellfish are really good at filtering them out of the water," Borchert said. "So if you have a lot of these cells, the shellfish then becomes toxic.”

    Borchert notes this is one of the earliest closures in a long time. Longer, warmer days has helped expand toxic algae’s growing season, requiring earlier harvest closures than usual.

    Borchert also recommends throwing away shellfish harvested during Memorial Day weekend. Cooking shellfish does not remove the toxins.

    The Department of Health said two Washington residents are reportedly ill from shellfish harvested in Oregon. Currently there are no reports of any illness stemming from harvests here.

    Oregon closed its entire coastline to mussel harvesting last Saturday. Twenty people there became ill with paralytic shellfish poisoning.

    Correction notice, Monday, 6/3/2024: A previous version of this article mentioned Oregon's closure affecting shellfish harvesting. It has been corrected to reflect the closure affects mussel harvesting only.

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