Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

by jhwygirl

This is a public service announcement. Northern Plains Resource Council is sponsoring a panel in Helena tomorrow night. If ya’all are so inclined, it’s a worth discussion with some well-informed panelists.

Democratizing the Grid with Clean Energy
Thursday, February 6
6:00 – 7:30 p.m.
Helena College Lecture Hall, Room 125

Join Sleeping Giant Citizens Council for a panel discussion on renewable energy.

· Learn about available rebates, tax incentives, and how you can save money AND start producing clean energy.

· Discuss policy changes to increase Montana’s renewable energy portfolio and ongoing advocacy efforts (and how to push back against fossil fuel interests).

· Hear success stories from homeowners who have installed small scale renewable energy projects.

Panelists will include representatives from Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Montana Environmental Information Center, Sage Mountain Center, and local homeowners with renewable energy installations.

This event is free, but donations will be accepted.

Questions? Contact Page at
page@northernplains.org

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by jhwygirl

I’ve seen way more than just 40 coal trains heading west on the Burlington Northern to Seattle where the toxic mercury and arsenic laden coal will be exported to China…and that number is sure to increase with the impending approval of the Youngs Creek railroad which will move a significant amount of Wyoming’s more higher quality coal through Montana on it’s way to China.

Missoulians are concerned about this carcinogenic coal moving through their backyards. In March the Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council gathered over 100 people along with economists, government officials and railroad representative for a two-day conference which discussed the impacts of this coal traffic…while Yellowstone County Commissioners refused to discuss the impacts.

Tomorrow, the Northern Plains Resource Council will host a public meeting and panel to discuss the impacts of the increased coal train traffic traveling through Bozeman. At 7 p.m., in Bozeman’s gorgeous and recently remodeled Public Library’s large conference room, four Montana residents and energy experts will gather and offer their insight into the issue:
– Beth Kaeding, Northern Plains Resource Council: overview of the situation.
– Clint McRae, landowner near Colstrip: impacts to the land and agriculture.
– Dr. Richard Damon, retired physician: health issues and concerns.
– John Vincent, Public Service Commissioner: alternative energy options and solutions.

China has notoriously dangerous and dirty mines. Just as exploitation of workers here in the U.S. in the late 1800’s resulted in unionization and regulation of the industry, Chinese workers are demanding higher pay and greater regulation. Instead, what is China doing? Seeking their coal here, at a time that the market for coal has declined in the United States. U.S. coal companies are planning to export more coal to lucrative Asian markets from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. The most direct route is by rail to the West Coast. Across Montana.

From Beth Kaeding: “With up to 40 additional coal trains, full and empty, passing through Bozeman each day, it’s time for the community to come together to discuss what this will mean to our lives. There will be increased traffic congestion and noise as well as public safety and public health concerns that we need to understand.”

The Northern Plains Resource Council is a fine grassroots group that is comprised of ranchers and resource managers working to effectively balance economic resource development and the Montana natural resources that are the world’s treasures.

When I ask “What is Montana without i’s water?” I know that NPRC is working to ensure that none of us ever have to contemplate a Montana whose rivers aren’t something our children couldn’t enjoy.

by jhwygirl

I’m going to admit something here that is going to date me quite a bit, so here goes: I remember the recession of the mid-70’s. I remember gas rationing, I remember the calls to eliminate the very new EPA. I remember the Cuyahoga River out in Ohio catching on fire. I remember strong pro-American anti-foreign anything sentiment surrounding the purchase of anything. Honda owners and dealerships were objects of criticism and picket lines.

No where in there – or any of the other 4 recessions since then (which doesn’t include this current one) – do I recall America pimping itself out as much as it is now.

And no – I’m not talking about the Keystone Pipeline or the MSTI line…or Otter Creek coal and the railroad that’s taking the stuff to China.

I’m talking about the idea of speed-tracking citizenship to rich foreigners in exchange for investment here in America.

The program is known as EB-5, or Greencard Through Investment program.

For one million buckaroos and the creation of 10 “permanent” full-time jobs, U.S. citizenship can be yours.

Half a million if you pull it off in a “high unemployment or rural area.”

I don’t begrudge anyone citizenship here in the United States. Our country was founded by immigrants – and more importantly, it was built by immigrants. All but war criminals (we’ve got our own) are welcome in my mind.

It is, though, patently unfair to grant U.S. citizenship to the richest of the poorest and worse of nations. The Missoulian story I link to above cites Missoula developers Ed Wetherbee and Kevin Mytty’s quest for a Chinese investor.

A Chinese investor that likely paid barely living wages to people who (between work and commute) pull 15 hour days in order to make that million. A Chinese investor who likely paid off government party officials in exchange for stolen public lands that resulting in the displacing of whole communities or any other number of beneficial arrangements. The Chinese economic system is not only notoriously corrupt, it’s a shell-game of fake investment.

Of course, that sort of corruption is just par the course for someone seeking U.S. citizenship, isn’t it?

I don’t like it. It isn’t fair. It’s ripe with the stench of corruption. U.S. citizenship should not be beholden to the highest bidder, on the easiest speediest path.

Leaving the poorest behind or at a disadvantage in what the U.S. should consider the most valued is not the right thing to be doing.

by Pete Talbot

Can sustainability reduce crime?

The Bakken oil boom is drawing some less-than-desirable elements to Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota.  Of course, crime in boom towns is nothing new: think Henry Plummer, the vigilantes and Alder Gulch.

And apparently we haven’t evolved much from gold camps of the 1800s — environmentally or culturally.  One can still see the mountains of tailings from the dredges that plied Alder Creek over a hundred years ago.  Or visit the Virginia City Museum where Clubfoot George’s clubfoot, looking a bit like a standing rib roast, is on display (apparently he was dug up after being hanged by the vigilantes and his foot was removed for posterity).

And what have we learned, environmentally, since those days? Witness the Berkeley Pit, Colstrip, ASARCO, Basin, the Barker-Hughesville mining district … (and who really knows what all those chemicals pumped deep into the ground in the name of fracking will do to the water tables in the Bakken Play).

But it’s the cultural degradation that’s in the news these days: crime, infrastructure issues, housing shortages, Walmart parking lots filled to capacity with RVs, overcrowded schools and man camps.  And, according to Dennis Portra, the mayor of the metropolis of Bainville, Mont., on the North Dakota border, “Korean prostitutes parking their RV in Bainville for a summer.”

Now I’m pretty sure there’s no way you can sustainably drill for oil or gas but there has to be a more sensible approach.  A permit system that slows development comes to mind, more regulation of where, when and how.  A greater pay-to-play system so that the impacts on schools and neighborhoods and highways and, well, everything is at least somewhat mitigated.  Make sure that there is land, sacred land, that just isn’t touched.  And slow the development way down so that locals get first crack at the jobs to reduce the influx of alleged murderers like these two or this guy.

I realize that we aren’t going to go cold turkey on our oil addiction but really, this cyclical boom and bust is absurd.  How’s this helping to stabilize oil prices or getting us to look at alternatives to an ever dwindling supply of oil? What’s the Williston Basin going to look like when the boom plays out in 20 years?  This is one bad economic model.

And now they’re sinking test wells further west: Choteau, Lewistown, on the lands of the Blackfeet Nation:

“This entire region of the Rockies holds untapped potential that can contribute much needed supplies to help meet U.S. demand,” says Marathon spokesman Paul Weeditz.  The Rockies, apparently, were put here for oil, gas and mineral extraction to meet our never-ending needs.

We really need to get a handle on this, for the sake of a sustainable energy future, for our environment and for our way of life.  It could even put a dent in our homicide rate.

by Pete Talbot

Pearls Before Swine by Stephan Pastis

Pearls Before Swine

This is in response to the Polish Wolf’s post over at Intelligent Discontent.  While some of his stats are interesting, his premise is flawed.  Basically he says that the 99% are responsible for their economic plight by shopping at WalMart, buying imported clothing and purchasing gasoline.  There’s a grain of truth to this, I suppose, but I’m thinking that the policies of the last few decades have more to do with wealth inequalities: economic policies that favor Wall Street over Main Street, Free Trade agreements that benefit corporations more than workers, and energy policies that promote carbon-based fuels over renewables and conservation.

Montana Supreme Court rules

Or maybe I should say the Montana Supreme Court rocks!  I certainly have more respect for the majority of Montana Supremes than the majority of SCOTUS justices.  In a 5-2 vote, the justices ruled against the kooky triumvirate of Western Tradition Partnership, Champion Painting Inc. and Gary Marbut’s Montana Shooting Sports Association Inc.  Unlike the U.S. Supreme Court, Montana justices don’t believe corporations should be able to buy and sell elections.

Look up pompous ass in the dictionary

And you’ll see a picture of George Will.  In his latest column, he promotes the Keystone XL pipeline, the Canadian tar sands and fracking in general.  He pooh-poohs climate change, the EPA, the National Labor Relations Board and student loans.  He believes “conservatives should stride confidently into 2012” … “because progressivism exists to justify a few people bossing around most people … ”  He has that backwards, of course, but because he uses a lot of two-dollar words, people think he’s smart.  He’s not.

And locally

Usually reliable reporter Gwen Florio reports on a woman who’s attempting to disqualify Justice of the Peace John Odlin.  This stems from two misdemeanor charges against the woman for “community decay.”  What the hell does that mean?  Did she beat up on some curbs and gutters?  Forget to paint her porch?  Dump raw sewage into a neighborhood park?  I’m dying to know.  Anyway, the Montana Supremes call her case against Odlin “frivolous.”

by jhwygirl

Some good news from out near Hood River.

Yesterday the Condit dam was breeched by PacifiCorp, freeing the river for the famous Pacific Northwest steelhead and chinook fisheries.

There’s some pretty dramatic footage of the breech to be found around the innertubes – I’ll offer this video from The Oregonian:

Pretty impressive, huh?

The University of Montana Geomorphology Lab were there for the scene – but instead of watching the dynamite do its deed, the went to watch the rebirth of the White Salmon River. Here is a 2-hour time lapse of the White Salmon’s rebirth – and the draining of lake:

Somewhere I read this morning that it had been estimated it would take 6 hours to drain.

UM student Josh Epstein was there in the group, and he has 3 videos posted. Here’s One, Two, and Three.

Fascinating. The Condit dam is the second tallest dam to be removed in the U.S. The Seattle Times had a great piece today reporting on some of the history of the dam.

BPA, for its part, had to say goodbye to the Condit, which was able to generate power about 7,000 homes in the northwest.

While hydropower seems to be their predominate source for power, it appears BPA (Bonneville Power Administration) is relying more and more on wind and biomass. This map shows their power generation locations and sources.

I tried to look for a similar resource at Northwestern Energy, but couldn’t find one.

~~~~~
Free the sturgeon of the Kootanai

by jhwygirl

Don Brown in a landowner near Fort Peck who will be directly affected by the proposed KeystoneXL pipeline. He’s been a vocal opponent to the Keystone XL pipeline since early on. He’s criticized Max Baucus’s attempts at circumventing legal process for the pipeline, and more recently, he signed a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President Obama that included signature of affected landowners in 5 states.

Keystone XL pipeline will utilized eminent domain to obtain the land this Canadian company needs to transport its Athabasca tar sand oil from Canada across the State of Montana and down to Texas.

This weekend Don Brown asks Montanans whether this pipeline is in our national interests. I ask whether it is in Montana’s:

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and President Barack Obama have a decision to make soon — whether TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is in the “national interest.”
As a landowner along the route who has much to lose when this pipeline comes through, I hope that our decision-makers are absolutely clear about whether this pipeline is in the national interest when it is permitted, but I think there are questions that still haven’t been answered.
Since TransCanada is a foreign corporation, is this pipeline in the national interest? Since this pipeline goes to a port on the Gulf Coast, and they already have a pipeline going to a refinery in Illinois (Keystone I pipeline), that would lead me to believe they plan on exporting the product carried on the Keystone XL. Is that in the national interest? And tar sands, which Keystone XL is going to be carrying, are especially corrosive, and the Keystone I pipeline has already had 14 leaks in about a year of operation — is that in our national Interest?
Should we just be the nation where the pipe crosses, potentially with leaks, en route from one foreign country to another? Is that in our national interest?

by jhwygirl

James at 2nd Grade Bike Rack has a fine piece up on the ‘Draft’ Long Range Restoration Priorities and Fund Allocation Guidance Plan out of the Montana Department of Justice Natural Resource Damage Program.

It’s a great write up, so I encourage you to go read all about it there – he’s plenty of links. James points out some pretty disheartening issues, if you ask me. When I read the draft final long-range plan, and there’s a list of projects – virtually all of which have been approved, I gotta ask what kind of draft long range whatever can it be when public opinion is being solicited for a long-range plan after-the-fact of allocating just about the whole kit-and-caboodle.

By JC

(Note: starting after this article’s note, I will no longer be linking to Lee Enterprises online newspaper articles, as they have instituted a paywall that prevents readers here from accessing those articles unless they have paid the subscription fee. Beings as I have not, and will not pay the fee, I will be linking to information from alternative sources).

“… A tearing away, an undermining, and a disrespect for the fundamental idea of the rule of law.”

“… A talisman that ipso facto sweeps aside Separation of Powers concerns.”

“Policy changes of questionable political viability, such as occurred here, can be forced using insider tactics without debate by attaching riders…”
— Federal District Court Judge Don Molloy

In a stunning decision with a scathing commentary, Federal District Court Judge Don Molloy declared that Senator Jon Tester’s wolf rider supporting delisting of wolves in Montana and Idaho, in his opinion, is unconstitutional. He also found that a 9th Circuit Court precedent prevented him from ruling against the rider, and was forced to let Tester’s controversial rider stand.

Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center For Biological Diversity, one of the groups that challenged the rider, was quoted in the Lewiston Tribune article:

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “He is not only intimating the wolf rider is unconstitutional and the 9th Circuit is wrong but he is laying out a road map on how to appeal his own ruling and take it all the way to the Supreme Court. He does everything but buy us a bus ticket to Washington, D.C.”

Judge Molloy expounds on the role that the doctrine of Separation of Powers played in his decisions, and is must reading for any who would critique the power of Congress. And his analysis sets the framework for the inevitable appeal to the 9th Circuit.

I’ve had much to say here and elsewhere about Senator Tester’s use of riders to pass policy and this court case, so I needn’t go there again. You can read the Judge’s Final Order for yourself to get a sense of how upset he was that he was constrained from upholding the plaintiff’s case against the constitutionality of Tester’s rider process.

Here are some pertinent statements from the Judge about Senator Tester’s wolf rider:

“This case presents difficult questions for me. The way in which Congress acted in trying to achieve a debatable policy change by attaching a rider to the Department of Defense and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act of 2011 is a tearing away, an undermining, and a disrespect for the fundamental idea of the rule of law. The principle behind the rule of law is to provide a mechanism and process to guide and constrain the government’s exercise of power. Political decisions derive their legitimacy from the proper function of the political process within the constraints of limited government, guided by a constitutional structure that acknowledges the importance of the doctrine of Separation of Powers. That legitimacy is enhanced by a meaningful, predictable, and transparent process.

In this case Defendants argue—unpersuasively—that Congress balanced the conflicting public interests and policies to resolve a difficult issue. I do not see what Congress did in the same light. Inserting environmental policy changes into appropriations bills may be politically expedient, but it transgresses the process envisioned by the Constitution by avoiding the very debate on issues of political importance said to provide legitimacy. Policy changes of questionable political viability, such as occurred here, can be forced using insider tactics without debate by attaching riders to legislation that must be passed.

You can read more excerpts from the Judge’s Order below the fold:
Continue Reading »

by jhwygir

For up-to-the-moment news from an affected landowner, please read Alexis Bonogofsky’s twitter timeline.

Of greatest interest today, she reports that Exxon did not send out their specialized crews today.

Nice, huh?

While MSNBC reports that Exxon officials are now saying the spill could extend beyond the 10 miles they’ve originally reported.

You don’t say? And I’m loving those qualifiers (could? Really? We’re in flood!)

Please take notice of the wildlife photos on that MSNBC story.

On that note, Ms. Bonogofsky, ranch owner of Blue Creek Farms has also reported on the immediate loss of wildlife from her Yellowstone River ranch.

I cry for her loss. It is heartbreaking to hear of this devastation. I wish there was something I could do.

Watch Mike Scott, who is co-owner with Alexis of Blue Creek farms, question Exxon in this KTVQ-NBC Billings report and video.

And again – on that note – ranch owners Alexis and Mike were kicked out of the press conference and public officials did nothing to stop this banishment.

The agriculture industry is being ruined down there along the Yellowstone and public officials are allowing Exxon to clean up their image by keeping affected landowners out of press conferences? Shame to any and all who escorted Alexis and Mike out of that press conference.

by jhwygirl

The story develops – this from the Seattle Post Intelligencer:

Pruessing (Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. president) also said that the 12-inch pipeline had been temporarily shut down in May because of concerns over the rising waters on the Yellowstone. He said the company decided to restart the line after examining its safety record and deciding the risk was low.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees pipelines, last year issued a warning letter to Exxon Mobil that cited seven safety violations along the ruptured Silvertip pipeline. Two of the warnings faulted the company for its emergency response and pipeline corrosion training.

And this…

The 20-year-old pipeline was last inspected in 2009 using a robotic device that travels through the line looking for corrosion, dents or other problems, Pruessing said. Tests to determine the pipeline’s depth were taken in December, and at the time, the line appeared to be 5 to 8 feet below the riverbed, he said.

So Exxon inspected the line and provided the report. These are guys with a history of safety violations – yes, here in Montana too.

Please notice the language “the line appeared to be 5 to 8 feet below the riverbed”. Did they inspect it or not? How could you be off by 5 to 8 feet? Or was that a guess?

Why the government hasn’t learned its lesson over self-regulation is beyond me. At minimum, the permitting process should included ongoing fees for inspections, and the government should be hiring 3rd party contractors to do these inspections.

by jhwygirl

A crime has occurred in our great state along the mighty Yellowstone River. There are private landowners affected by this spill – their property has been trashed, and to what degree of damage has yet to be known.

These landowners could use your assistance. Apparently, state officials are referring Montana citizens to Exxon’s help line.

It seems to me that the state would want to hear all they can about this violation on our major waterway? Isn’t there some sort of state investigation that is going to ensue?

Beyond that, you should be well aware of Exxon’s record of safety issues and their less-than-thorough clean-up efforts both in Valdez and the Gulf. The fishing industry of both of those disasters would undoubtedly send Montana a very strong warning about trusting Exxon to clean-up.

So please Mr. Attorney General – please make sure that landowners along the Yellowstone River and irrigation users that may be miles and miles away from their intakes on the Yellowstone have their concerns documented properly (so that Exxon doesn’t go screwing them like they did to the citizens of Alaska and the fishing industry of the Gulf). If the state’s response is that Exxon is heading up the clean-up of its own mess (both literally and legally), they’re sure going to go ahead and repeat the same thing they’ve done elsewhere.

This is an area where you have excelled Mr. Attorney General – holding corporate America responsible.

History does have a purpose. It’s a good harbinger of what happens if we do the same thing as before. Let’s hope Montana doesn’t have to suffer the same ‘clean-up’ results of Alaska and the Gulf. Exxon needs oversight, not just emergency efforts (though that is certainly priority at this time) – Exxon needs oversight to keep them from covering up any damages that busy evacuated landowners might not have time to document.

In closing, please hear the words of Alexis Bonogofsky describing the devastation on her ranch adjacent to the Yellowstone River to the Billings Gazette. If this doesn’t break a Montanan’s heart, I don’t know what would:

by jhwygirl

All of that being reported in the local press. Property owner adjacent to the river have been evacuated….and ditch owners all along the Yellowstone are doing what they can to keep the toxic mess out of their systems.

The NYTimes just got the story up in the last two hoursdo make sure to hit that link and see the devastation.

Exxon? YOU SUCK.

Below are some pictures from the owner of the Blue Creek Farms ranch who is now faced with dealing with this absolutely devastating spill of crude. I hope to be able to speak with him tomorrow.

Montana Department of Environmental Equality has a 24 hour hotline where spills are to be reported. I hope some industrious reporters are out there finding out what role the state and the feds are taking in dealing with this. Let’s hope Exxon isn’t out there on their own on this holiday weekend.

Good Goddess.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal is reporting the early estimate is that 1000 barrels have spilled into the Yellowstone River.

Tim Thennis, a spokesman for the Montana Disaster and Emergency Services division, provided that initial estimate. He added that although no cause of the spill has been determined, it’s possible that heavy flooding affecting that part of the U.S. could have played a part. Thennis said that flooding is also interfering with the clean-up effort, meaning the oil could reach the Missouri River, of which the Yellowstone is a tributary, making the task even more difficult for emergency responders. Montana emergency officials have notified officials in North Dakota that the oil could be heading their way, Tennis said.

“There’s no way to capture [the oil] right now,” Thennis told Dow Jones Newswires. “The further it spreads the more difficult it becomes.”

Pictures in the Billings Gazette turn my stomach. Wildlife, farm fields – all coated in oil. 150 miles of river and counting. North Dakota has been warned.

By CFS

We all know that corn ethanol takes away resources from growing food, but by how much might astonish you.  According to author Alexis Madrigal in his book Powering the Dream, USDA statistics from 2010 show that fully 1/3 of the United States corn harvest went into our collective gas tanks.

That 1/3 of US corn production is akin to a subsidy for the wealthy.  You see, the more wealth and income a person has the more cars a person owns and consequently the more miles a person tends to drive (who wants to be on a bus with a bunch of stinky people), consuming proportionally more gas.  Conversely, the higher up the income scale one climbs the less a person spends on food as a proportion of their income.  The exact opposite is true of the lower-income scales, whome spend a much larger proportion of income simply feeding themselves and their families while spending less on transportation.  So, corn ethanol subsidies are essentially robbing from the poor and giving to the rich, a kind of reverse Robin Hood.

Bringing it down to the scale of Missoula, would you rather help out the people that live on the South Hills in Mansion Heights, or the people that live in doublewides in East Missoula?

Just how much is 1/3?  The US corn harvest in 2010 was 13.1 billion bushels.  Yes that is 13.1 with a B! A record-setting year in terms of acreage under production and yield even in the face of record grain prices.

So, fully 4.3 billion bushels of corn was converted into ethanol.  Those 4.3 billion bushels yielded 12.1 billion gallons of ethanol (based on my calculations from the ratio I derived thanks to this link) out of a total US supply of 13.2 billion gallons of ethanol which gives us 10% of the total gasoline supply.

That’s a lot of numbers… but bear with me.

So, to fill just 10% of our voracious appetite for fuel (18 million barrels of oil/day) uses roughly 26.4 million acres of American (Fuck Yeah!) farmland.  So while the addition of corn ethanol to our fuel supply hasn’t put much of a dent into American gas prices or our consumption of foreign oil, you can see in the chart below just how much biofuels have effected the price of corn.  The steep increase in price coincides nicely with the increase in total corn used for ethanol seen in the chart here (scroll down toward the bottom).

And also coincides nicely with the increase in the commodity price of beef.  Beef, it’s where most of the corn goes.

Obviously, the increase in price isn’t all due to increases in the amount of corn ethanol produced, but the pattern fits nicely together.  The real point of all these numbers I’ve thrown in front of you is to show the sheer scale of the impact that ethanol has on the food market (quite a lot) and the extent of the impact on the fuels market (almost non-existent).

In the end ethanol subsidies are part of the larger package of policies in this country that give breaks to those with an excessively disproportionate share of this country’s wealth.  These subsidies might not be that large in the scheme of things relating to our total budget deficit, but they are symptomatic of our larger cultural tendency to reward the rich and punish the poor.

Guest post by Matthew Koehler, Ian Lange and John Snively (promoted by JC)

Last fall news broke that the University of Montana was planning to construct a $16 million wood-burning biomass plant on campus next to the Aber Hall dormitory. UM officials claimed the biomass plant would save UM $1 million annually and protect Missoula’s air quality by reducing emissions over the existing natural gas heating system.

As interested citizens, we attended the university’s biomass “poster presentation” last December, which, unfortunately, raised more serious questions than it answered. So we continued to ask questions and research the proposal. In March, we even conducted an “open records” search of UM’s biomass project file, pouring over hundreds of documents and emails between UM officials and representatives of Nexterra, a Canadian biomass boiler manufacturer, and McKinstry, a Seattle energy services company. Suffice to say, our records search turned up even more troubling questions, especially related to costs, maintenance and emissions.
Continue Reading »

BCFS

So… My better half is contemplating purchasing a new vehicle, which means that I get to have some fun doing internet research and reading car magazines on possible options.  She decided that she wanted better gas mileage than her current Subaru provides (28 mpg), and I convinced her that she if she wanted a significant improvement that she should go with a diesel, specifically a Jetta TDI (used or new).  The only problem it seems is that you can’t find a diesel car within 500 miles of Missoula: of course you can find hundreds of diesel Chevy Silverado 3500s.  The dealers seem to think that they wouldn’t sell which means that the closest diesel cars are embargoed in Seattle, Denver, or Salt Lake City.

This isn’t the only barrier that crops up when you want to get your right foot on the gas pedal of a diesel.  Prices of diesels in the used car market have significantly risen in the last half decade as fuel economy suddenly became important to people.  Used Jetta TDIs routinely go for several thousand dollars above their suggested blue book value making a slightly used TDI almost as expensive as a brand new one.  A diesel Jetta is the “cheap” option as many of the other diesels available in America are European luxury models.

And that gets me to my question of the day… Where the fuck are the American diesels?  Half of all cars sold in Europe are diesel.  If you want to buy an American made diesel vehicle in this country you have a lot of option that look like this:

Other than that you have to go with a European manufacturer if you want a car and not a truck.  Audi has 4 diesel models available in the US; BMW 3; Mercedes 7; Volkswagen 7; GM 0, Ford 0; Chrysler 0.  And Audi, BMW, and Mercedes cars aren’t exactly cheap and so aren’t feasible for most Americans to purchase.

Petrol prices are once again averaging $4/gallon and are nearing the record high reached in 2008 and yet the mix of cars available in America has changed very little even in the face of rising prices spanning the last decade.  As of 2008, the average passenger vehicle in America got 25.6 mpg compared to 25.1 mpg in 2001.  That’s American innovation for you.

But this being America, we like big sweeping plans to solve issues, the simple solutions are just plain boring.  T. Boon Pickens has his idea for converting the American passenger vehicle fleet to natural gas and Obama wants us to believe that plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles (EVs) are the technological answers to our commuting nightmares.  Both of those options might be viable long-term solutions to our dependence on oil to drive our economy, but in the short-term neither really makes all that much sense.

The problem with both EVs and NGVs is that they both require whole new systems of distribution and manufacture to develop.  We are talking about investments in the trillions of dollars here to undertake the necessary research, develop new, scalable manufacturing techniques, convert factories, and build the distribution system that will allow Americans to plug-in or fill up their car with natural gas.

Diesel doesn’t require any of that.  The distribution system is already in place.  American car makers might have to spend $50,000 grand buying an advanced diesel car from Europe and reverse-engineering the engine but that’s about all the research they would have to undertake to catchup with European manufacturers.  And diesel cars could show an immediate impact on fuel efficiency, often providing two or three times the fuel efficiency than gas engines currently in use in America.

In the end, diesel isn’t the answer to our oil-dependence (and talk of our energy addiction would make this post too long) as we are going to run out of crude anyway.  What diesel can provide is a bridge between today and whatever system comes along in the future… whether that may be flying cars or living in termite mounds.

By JC

The blowback from Senator Jon Tester’s Wolf Rider has begun in earnest. Three environmental groups filed lawsuit in federal district court today challenging the constitutionality of his wolf rider.

Alliance for the Wild Rockies, Friends of the Clearwater, and WildEarth Guardians charge in their complaint that the delisting rider violates the U.S. Constitution, as it specifically repeals a judicial decision. While Congress has the right to make and amend laws, the wolf delisting rider (Section 1713 of the budget law, HR 1473, PL 112-10) does not amend the Endangered Species Act. Rather, it orders the reinstatement of the 2009 wolf delisting rule.

“The rider goes against a bedrock principle of our democracy: checks and balances between branches of government,” stated Nicole Rosmarino of WildEarth Guardians. “Legislators can’t pick off specific court decisions they don’t like. That’s not fair for the wolf, and it’s certainly not good for our democracy.”

This debate over the wolf rider is no longer about the issue of wolf reintroduction or science or politics. It is about the role of the three branches of the federal government–checks and balances–and the right of the public to participate in that process, no matter how out of the mainstream those actions may be portrayed in an attempt to intimidate dissenters.

Jon Tester’s wolf rider was merely an attempt by him and his most ardent and vocal supporters to repress dissent among those who would use the processes guaranteed to them by the Constitution and codified in important federal legislation like NEPA and the Endangered Species Act to act on behalf of their constituencies, the mission of the nonprofits they work for, and the principles they advance.

Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber in an April 18, 2011 letter to President Obama weighed in on the issue:

“I write to express serious concern over the inclusion of policy language unrelated to the budget. Specifically, using policy “riders” within the budget to de-list gray wolves in the Northern Rockies region from the federal Endangered Species Act (ESA)… sets a highly undesirable precedent for making decisions on important social and natural resource issues that deserve open and informed debate.

A six-month budget resolution negotiated through backroom discussions is clearly the wrong vehicle to make permanent changes to significant public policy. For nearly 40 years, the Endangered Species Act has assured decisions about our nation’s natural heritage are driven by science, fish and wildlife professionals, and public input. Removing protection for an endangered species by congressional mandate, much less through a budget bill, stands in unprecedented contrast to this history. This action erodes the integrity of the ESA, excludes important public involvement, and usurps the agency structure, established based on a balancing of executive and legislative branch power, that exists to undertake important decisions affecting America’s wildlife.”

Of course, Senator Tester developed his political chops in the Montana State Legislature, a hotbed of extra-constitutional legislating (which has been abundantly documented here at 4&20). One would have hoped that the futility of unconstitutional legislating would have been left behind in Montana when the Senator went to Washington, but that doesn’t appear to have been the case.

This issue will continue to be attacked by those who merely see this as a battle over wolf numbers, or when/how they were delisted (legally or not). But Senator Tester’s having elevated this to a constitutional battle raises the issue to one of majority tyranny: the repression of dissent, as expressed in the right of a vocal and active minority who are willing to challenge the status quo and the forces that maintain them. Those who have been fighting for the wolf have been doing so in a time-honored fashion, and doing it the old fashioned way: through legal public process, which to the chagrin of the majority, includes the judiciary.

Senator Tester’s action to legislate a judicial decision raises a far greater question than one of how to properly delist a species from the Endangered Species Act. And that question is: how far is Congress and mainstream America willing to go to repress the democratic bedrock upon which citizens are allowed to redress their grievances?

“We’re back in court for two reasons,” concluded Mike Garrity, Executive Director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies. “First and foremost, it’s to continue to protect wolves from indiscriminate slaughter. Second, someone has to stand up when the basic tenets of our government are under attack by unscrupulous politicians.”

Let the armchair lawyering begin…

————-
Update: As Matthew Koehler noted in the comments, The Center for Biological Diversity filed suit in federal court today, also:

Today’s lawsuit is based on Article III of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes the principle of “separation of powers.” This principle dictates that the judicial power of the United States lies in the federal courts and not in Congress. In this case, Congress violated the principle by inserting itself into an ongoing legal case brought by conservation groups over the fate of wolves in the northern Rockies.

 
Airing: Thursday April 28th, 7pm on Montana PBS

By JC

Our byline here at 4&20 references “politics and culture” and perhaps nowhere else is the clash between politics and culture better illuminated than in documentary.

High Plains Films, in its own words “dedicates itself to exploring issues about the relationship between nature and society.” With almost 30 films under its belt, and 35 national awards to its credit, High Plains Films newest feature–nearly 10 years in the making from inception to final cut–will air Thursday April 28th on Montana PBS at 7pm. The 78 minute documentary will be shown in its entirety.

The film is the result of the collaboration of diverse Montana talent, and is an ITVS/Montana PBS co-production.

High Plains Films is located in Missoula, Montana and has been producing documentaries for almost 20 years. You can learn all about them by visiting their recently redeveloped website, which is chock-full of video trailers, clips, deleted and extra scenes, interviews and accompanying information about their 30 films. Much of the footage shown is in spectacular HD! Spend some time wading through the material and exploring their window on the world, and you’ll see a whole ‘nother exposition of many, many issues.

There are several short documentaries shown in their entirety in addition to some sample scenes from works-in-progress like Two Rivers, a film about the confluence of the Blackfoot and Clark Fork Rivers, and the impact decades of mining and a dam had on its ecology and nearby residents.

There is an illuminating and articulate 20+ minute interview with Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer about the bison/brucellosis issue, as well as a tribute piece to Buffalo Field Campaign activist Brian “Frog” Gharst, and an amazing short clip showing a golden eagle harrassing a deer. Facing the Storm also includes original stop-motion animations from Missoula’s Andy Smetanka, and an original score from Ivan Rosenberg.

The new HPF site was designed by UM School of Media Arts professor Greg Twigg and constructed by a local developer. The HPF website also offers free music downloads from film scores and other original material from Ned Mudd, Aaron Parrett and Ivan Rosenberg. There is a stock-footage library being constructed where High Plains FIlms can showcase much of its thousands of hours of footage.

Check out the documentary this thursday, and spend some time exploring their new site when you have some free time!

hpf site

By JC

“If you want to be a malleable politician, you campaign from the center. But if you want to be a leader, you define the center. You don’t rely on polls to tell you where to go. At best, polls tell you where people are, and it’s pointless to lead people where they already are. The essence of political leadership is focusing the public’s attention on the hard issues that most would rather avoid or dismiss.” — Robert Reich, Reason

With those words firmly planted in mind, I’m going to relate a story of how Jon Tester’s candidacy for the Senate was given a huge boost by a contingent of Montanans throwing their weight behind his candidacy in the 2006 primary against John Morrison and others.

And we start the story with a poll: John Morrison +1%.

That was the number that was staring at Democrats a few weeks before the June 6th, 2006 Democrat primary for Senate in Montana. Coupled with that number were other polls that showed Morrison at a serious disadvantage compared to Jon Tester in a one-to-one matchup against 3-time incumbent Republican Senator Conrad Burns.

Sitting back in the pack of Democrats running in the primary was Paul Richards, polling at about 2%. While 2% isn’t much, during the general election, almost 200,000 votes were cast Democrat. So around 4,000 people could have been said to support Paul. Not a large number, and not a particularly big political base from which to attempt to influence the statewide race. Or so it seems.

But let’s consider for a moment whom those 4,000 people may have been.
Continue Reading »

by Pete Talbot

It was one of the broadest coalitions I’ve seen in years.

But it was hard to get crowd estimates in the rolling front yard of the Capitol — over a thousand for sure.  Folks kept pouring in from around Montana, connecting with friends and sharing the wrath.

The rally literally took off at the end: a march around the Capitol grounds with all the signs and fired-up people, just as the sun was breaking through the clouds, and to the PA playing “We’re Not Going to Take It” by Twisted Sister.

This followed the speeches which were many, but short and to the point: a Billings firefighter, a Bozeman pastor, a Missoula small business owner, a veteran, a Blackfeet Indian, to name a few.

The themes were “Courage, Not Cuts,” “These Cuts Hurt,”  “We Have the Money, Reverse the Cuts,” and “Work That Matters.”

It was an eclectic mix: ironworkers and teachers, environmentalists and health care activists, Crow and Blackfeet, emergency service workers and the disabled … and kids.

(More photos and copy below the fold.)

Continue Reading »

by Pete Talbot

Montana’s governor isn’t Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker.  And there aren’t quite the same union-busting laws being advanced by either the executive or legislative branch here in Montana.  But there’s potential for a Wisconsin-like rally on Friday, April Fool’s Day, in Helena.

This is very apropos, considering the many foolish bills, radical cuts and a special session offered up by the Republican majority during this legislature.

The rally is scheduled from noon to 1 p.m. at the Capitol.  Here’s some background from the Havre Daily News.

One of the organizers of the event, Molly Moody, said the rally represents union members, community leaders, neighbors, teachers, firefighters, nurses, snowplow drivers, health workers, business owners, conservationists, cowboys, police officers …

No one is sure what the turnout will be yet.  Buses are being chartered in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Havre, Great Falls, Kalispell and Missoula, so I’m betting it’s larger the March 3 Tea Party rally. I know I’m going.

Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

25 American mayors around the U.S. signed a letter off to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlining their concerns over the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport Canadian Tar Sands oil.

I’m pretty sure our council has a resolution out regarding the transport of the big rigs for the nasty dirty Tar Sands…and I’m pretty sure it does, in part, refer to the overall impacts of the extraction. Seems Missoula should be continuing to represent its opinion in these matters.

In other news, the state department recently announced that it would be doing a supplemental EIS on the pipeline.

Let’s hope Missoula provides official public input.

One fact they’ll have to look at?

The firms involved have asked the U.S. State Department to approve this project, even as they’ve told Canadian government officials how the pipeline can be used to add at least $4 billion to the U.S. fuel bill.

U.S. farmers, who spent $12.4 billion on fuel in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, could see expenses rise to $15 billion or higher in 2012 or 2013 if the pipeline goes through.

At least $500 million of the added expense would come from the Canadian market manipulation.”>

Let’s hope our Senator Jon Tester is looking out for Montana’s agricultural community on this one – and saying “NO” to this pipeline.

by jhwygirl

Otter Creek is never going to get mined. All Arch Coal wants is to be able to run a railroad through it, to get it to the port it owns a third of. to export the stuff to China.

That is, please note, the second port agreement for Arch is less than a month.

If that isn’t colonialism, I don’t know what is.

We’re waving traffic flags for $10/hour for Korean-built drilling equipment for China….and we’re condemning state federal and private property for a railroad to get it there.

Nice.

State Attorney General Steve Bullock talked about the economics of the bonus payment in relation to the amount of money that Arch will save immediately by shipping its coal across Montana with the railroad it’d be building (via eminent domain) in the Tongue River Basin. His staff researched that information pretty thoroughly.

How is that for an example of fine government coal subsidy on the backs of the taxpayers of Montana?

And keep in mind that Montana’s coal isn’t the quality of stuff that Wyoming has. That’s fact.

That $80 million so-called “bonus bid”? Nothing more than shush money to members of both parties for paving the way to a situation that has brought about ridiculous destructive environmental legislation in the name of “jobs”.

What’s even more hilarious is that the feds are complicit in this – the federal Surface Transportation Board has already approved the route and has told Montana (translate, so no one misses it: State’s Rights) Fish Wildlife & Parks to figure things out over the route that crosses a federally-funded sturgeon fishery.

Someone’s getting rich. It won’t be Montanan’s, you can bet on it.

Follow the money.

by jhwygirl

We first wrote about Montana’s HD Rep. Joe Read a few weeks ago. Read, as you may recall, has proposed a bill – HB549 – that says that global warming is good for Montana.

The Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert picked up on Read’s bill, and did a really nice segment the other night.

Who doesn’t love Tip of the Hat, Wag of the Finger?

Since I wouldn’t know how to embed this, please enjoy this segment that begins with the words “Opinions are like assholes, in that I have more than most people.”

Love this, from Stephen: “OK, it’s law now. A reasonable amount of CO2 – which means any amount produced in Montana – has no verifiable effect on global warming. Just as a reasonable amount of science has no verifiable effect on Joe Read.”

~~~~~
Fortunately, the House Natural Resources has the good sense to table the thing. Wish I knew the vote.

by JC

Come stand in solidarity against the right-wing onslaught around the country against environmental, labor and human rights!

for the love of montana

* Free coffee and hot chocolate for people who bring a reusable mug *

Bus schedules and car pooling info from around the state to Helena after the jump.
Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

The Indy’s Matthew Frank has an excellent article on the Montana GOP’s attack on a “clean and healthful environment”.

He starts it off with Ann Hedges testimony on SJ10, which I actually heard. It was late on a Friday and as I heard one of the legislators say that carbon dioxide was good for Montana I really really felt sorry for her.

Then I was glad I donate to MEIC.

Goddess Bless Anne Hedges. If I were Soros, that organization would have a million bucks donation from me.

by jhwygirl

Hydraulic fracturing gas extraction?

While I’ve written a little (and what the hell do I know other than what I read) about it – but one excellent Montana blog research is The Editor at to get some background on why you should be concerned about fracking here in Montana (and beyond, actually).

Because the what is Montana without its water?

Two Montana grassroots environmental groups watching over the debate in Helena over energy development’s continual encroachment on environmental rules designed to protect our land and water are the Northern Plains Resource Council and the Montana Environmental Information Center. Both of those links will take you directly to their information papers on fracking.

AND – to provide industry-sourced information on fracking (and even a little bit of background noise on the GOP’s cry about how there’s no drilling in this state), check out a major Montana oil & gas lessee holder in the Bakken Reserve: Northern Oil & Gas, Inc. This is their great video explaining the process.

And after watching that, I didn’t feel that it was any safer.

Northern Oil & Gas holds a pretty large number of leases in the Bakken – both here and North Dakota. Why would a company hold a whole bunch of leases and not drill them? Because there’s only so many drills to go around and only so many skilled laborers to go around. Not only that – but housing too. It’s a well-known fact that they can’t even hire people because there is no where for them to live. Companies hold leases because the price of oil is controlled on a larger scale and profit is always important so putting more oil out on the market only hurts profits. Because they have to work out agreements and permits with all sorts of governmental and private entities

So the rumbling that there isn’t any drilling going on in Montana and somehow it’s the fault of the Montana Enviromental Policy Act is a bunch of malarky from corporate welfare lapdogs and the companies that donate to them.

I see I’ve digressed. Blame it on the flu.

~~~~~~~
Inform yourself on fracking – check out “Gasland” which will be shown in Bozeman Tuesday, January 25th at the Emerson Theater at 6:30 p.m. The cost is $5, and it is sponsored by Northern Plains Resource Council.




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