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Sightline's Top News of 2014

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Will Thirsty Californians Swallow the Pacific Northwest's Culture? During the 1930s, the Dust Bowl drove millions of people out of the Great Plains. Thousands of the residents who left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina never went back. Not that many thousands of years ago, shifts in Ice Age glaciers drew people from Siberia across a then-existing land bridge to spread through the Americas. So America has experienced climate migration before. But it's different when you see it coming. Especially if it's coming toward you. California is in the midst of the worst drought in five centuries. As Lynn Wilson, chief executive of the Sea Trust Institute, said this summer, “We may have to migrate people out of California.”

Naturally, here in Oregon, we're terrified. The great issue of the West, at least on this side of the legendary 100th meridian, has always been the shortage of water. Clifford Mass, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington, writes a weather blog that can read like a direction pointer. But this time looks different. How “Granny Flats” and Suburban Downtowns Are Creating a Different (and Better) Kind of Density by Jay Walljasper. Density has become a dirty word in some circles because people associate it with big, ugly buildings. Luckily, there are other ways to get people living close together. posted Dec 30, 2014 This article originally appeared at On the Commons. Battle lines are shaping up across American cities and suburbs today over the issue of urban density. On one side stand neighbors and developers who explain that convenient transit, walkable communities, environmental protection, and continuing economic growth depend on welcoming more people per acre to our communities.

On the other side stand developers and neighbors who plead that everything we cherish about our communities is about to vanish in the wake of hulking mega-projects. Declining malls offer prime suburban ground for building compact, attractive neighborhoods from scratch. But there’s a middle ground in this conflict—which turns out to be quite a nice place to live. Suburbs can enjoy even richer rewards for embracing density. Read more: The Rise and Fall of Wind Power in America. Back in the 1990s, wind turbines were a rare sight in the United States — and sprawling wind farms even rarer.

The wind boom may soon be coming to an end — or at least slowing down Things changed considerably in the years since. Thanks to a series of tax credits from Congress and renewable-energy mandates from the states, wind power expanded at a torrid pace. Last year, wind turbines produced 4.1 percent of America's electricity. But the US wind boom is likely to start slowing sharply in the near future. That pattern continued this year. Below are six key charts looking at the rise — and possible coming fall — of US wind power: 1) Wind power has grown since 1998, mainly due to subsidies <img alt='(<a href=" Wind Technologies Market Report</a>)' src=" Around 2004, things changed.

Race to Build on River Could Block Pacific Oil Route. Photo VANCOUVER, Wash. — Environmental passions, which run hot in the Northwest over everything from salmon to recycling, generally get couched in the negative: Don’t fish too much, don’t put those chemicals up the smokestack, don’t build in that sensitive area. But here in southern Washington, some environmental groups are quietly pushing a builder to move even faster with a $1.3 billion real estate project along the Columbia River that includes office buildings, shops and towers with 3,300 apartments. The reason is oil. Two miles west of the 32-acre project, called the Waterfront, one of the biggest proposed terminals in the country is going through an environmental review, with plans to transfer North Dakota crude from rail cars to barges.

Up to four trains, carrying 360,000 barrels of oil, would pass every day through this city’s downtown, only a few hundred feet from the Waterfront’s towers, westbound from the Bakken shale oil fields.. Continue reading the main story The Waterfront Mr. How Native Americans have shaped the year's biggest environmental debates. This September, hundreds of thousands of Native Americans began receiving checks in the mail. The money was the final installment of the Cobell settlement, which altogether paid out $3.4 billion in overdue royalties to compensate for more than a century of poorly managed mining on reservations. Two months later, Montana’s Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes moved a step closer to closing a deal that will make them the first in the nation to own a hydroelectric dam.

Such stories stand out, because though Native Americans have deep stakes in some of the West’s most pointed environmental debates, their voices continue to be more often marginalized or outright ignored by state and federal lawmakers. The past year has been no exception. Last week, Rep. As we head into 2015, here’s a look back at how Western tribes shaped — or tried to shape — some of the year’s biggest natural resource stories. Krista Langlois is an editorial fellow at High Country News. Weekend Reading 12/19/14. Ted Have you wondered why the cast, promos, and maybe even the audiences for the new hit movie “Wild” (based on the 2012 memoir by Cheryl Strayed) include so few nonwhite faces? African-American writer Brandon Harris did; his essay “Why is Camping a White Thing?” Poses a question that lingers like the proverbial pebble in the boot. Could Forest Schools offer affordable early learning in settings intended to connect the next generation to nature?

Already popular in the U.K. and beginning to appear in the U.S., nature-centered preschools may offer one way to break down that racial divide in relating to the wild. Meaghan Earlier this week I stumbled across this essay on gender socialization and the sharing economy, specifically in regard to home-sharing: Women: Claim Your Share of the Sharing Economy. It’s a personal essay by a woman, Erica Karnes, reflecting on her experiences as an Airbnb host in Seattle. It’s a thoughtful read. Clark Vox does the math of driving for Lyft. Anna Alan Serena Eric. Oil Trains: The Industry Speaks for Itself. A year and a half after an oil train inferno ended 47 lives in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, the crude-by-rail industry rolls on, virtually unimpeded. It’s hard not to feel horrified when, one after another, we register the place names of oil train explosions—Aliceville, Alabama; Casselton, North Dakota; Lynchburg, Virginia—as grim warnings of what could happen in so many other North American communities.

Government regulators have been slow to act, their responses painfully milquetoast. As a result, much of what I do involves research into the often-complex details of federal rulemaking procedures, rail car design standards, insurance policies, and the like—all the issues that Sightline is shining a light on. Yet on some level it’s not about any of that. It’s about a reckless and unaccountable oil industry that—in the most literal and obvious way—profits by putting our lives at risk. Lac-Mégantic Derailment by David Charron (All rights reserved, used with permission.) Regulating Coal Hazards in Seward, Alaska, and Beyond. Northwest communities faced with the prospect of new or expanded coal terminals would do well to study their real-life impacts in other places. As Sightline has reported extensively, coal terminals have a marked tendency to produce chronic local pollution.

To take just one nearby example, consider the Seward Coal Loading Facility in Alaska, which has plagued its neighbors for years and now faces serious legal actions because of its practices. The current dustup in Alaska can be traced back to at least the spring of 2007 when coal terminal operators in Seward loaded a ship during high winds, releasing large clouds of coal dust in the process. In response, the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance, a community organization, brought the dust clouds to the attention of Alaska State regulators by supplying photos and video evidence of dust blowing off the terminal’s stockpiles, covering nearby fishing boats and neighborhoods. Their concerns were well-founded. How much do we spend on fossil fuels? Why 20 Is Plenty on Neighborhood Streets. Next time you’re in a car driving through a residential neighborhood, try this experiment.

Glance at the speedometer when you’re in the middle of a block. You’ll probably find it’s pretty easy to reach or top 25 mph, the standard residential speed limit for cities in Oregon and Washington. I did this yesterday on my way to pick up my daughter from elementary school. And you know what I got from other parents walking on the sidewalk, often with a toddler or two in tow? To someone on foot navigating narrow streets with parked cars and unprotected intersections, it feels like you’re driving too fast. Then drop your speed to 20 mph. It turns out that the mom scowl is grounded in science. Next year, for instance, Seattle plans to pilot “20 mph neighborhood zones” in five to ten areas of the city where collision data, pedestrian and bike traffic, and community input indicate lower speed limits spanning a few blocks could improve safety.

Image by Seattle Department of Transportation. 2014’s Five Fave Flashcards. The Top 14 of 2014. 2014 was a big year for Sightline, inside and out. We took deeper dives into family-friendly urban policy, money’s influence on our democracy, and making polluters pay for their carbon pollution. We also continued our leading research on coal and oil exports out of Cascadia; traffic trends, transit funding, and rideshare safeguards; and a number of other key topics for promoting sustainability across the Northwest. And you, dear reader, you dove right in with us!

Thanks for a great year of wonking out, and cheers to 2015! Now a look back at your faves: 14. Bertha vs. the Bus: As Seattle prepared to vote on key funding for King County public transit earlier this year, a snappy infographic from Jennifer Langston proved a jaw-dropping comparison between the cost of digging a single foot of Seattle’s doomed tunnel and that of funding a better transit system. 13. 12. 11. 10. 8. 7.

Chart by BC Budgets 2008-2013 (Used with permission.) 6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.