Archive for the ‘Private Property Rights’ Category

by jhwygirl

What could get me wanting to try and throw out a few words? A bill seeking to repeal last session’s eminent domain debacle, HB198.

I won’t go into the past gory details on the 2011 eminent domain bill – you can click that link above for that – what I will do is offer a heartfelt THANKS to Sen. Debby Barrett, a Republican out Dillon.

Sen. Barrett has proposed SB180 which is a straight all-out repeal of HB198, which handed eminent domain powers straight to the utility corporations, and eliminating any role of assuring that the taking of private property was for public gain, yet alone fair compensation.

In other words, big business who’s priority is only bigger profits, and not necessarily Montana’s best interests, could crisscross this Montana with whatever form of transmission infrastructure they choose, to deliver their energy from..say…Canada to Colorado…and little old property owner in Dillon Montana is left to deal with the barrage of lawyers from big business.

Thank you? You have to wonder what the hell the people who voted for HB198 were thinking and you can’t really paint the Democrats with the lack of respect for private property rights – plenty of Republicans voted for this crappy bill, including Republicans Sen. Dave Lewis and Reps. Janna Taylor, Wendy Warburton and Duane Ankney.

For the Missoula people that care about private property rights, know that only Sen. Dave Wanzenried and Rep. Ellie Hill voted NO to that bill. Occasional commentor (from way-back) Rep. Mike Miller – a self-described Libertarian, I believe – also voted NO to this bill.

Last week, Sens. Wanzenried, Augare, and Windy Boy signed on as co-sponsors to Sen. Barrett’s bill. I’ll be watching this one closely.

Let’s see who respects private property rights, and who wants to let private corporations do what they will, with only the promise of “fair compensation” from their army of lawyers knocking on our Montana neighbor’s doors.

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by Pete Talbot

So utility companies can claim eminent domain over private property but citizens (i.e.: our local government) can’t claim eminent domain over utilities.

I’m talking about our water.  The stuff we drink, cook with, bath in and use to water our gardens.

This is a screwy deal.  Missoula’s privately-owned Mountain Water Company can sell our resource — the aquifer that sits beneath us and the streams that flow from our mountains — to a multi-billion dollar private equity firm.

Meanwhile, our vaunted state legislature passes a bill that allows utility companies to exert eminent domain on private property owners so these corporations can build pipe and power lines anywhere they please.

Our legislature didn’t see fit to grant these same powers to citizens so they could control their own resource destiny.

I know it’s more complicated than that.  A city can invoke eminent domain but it costs many thousands of dollars, takes years and the outcome is uncertain.  From the Missoulian:

It took the town of Felton, Calif., population 6,000, five years to gain public ownership of its water. Felton’s water had always been privately owned, bouncing from company to company. The final straw came when owner American Water requested a huge rate increase.

So the City, with assistance from the Clark Fork Coalition, has entered into negotiations to have the right of first refusal if and when the Carlyle Group sells.  I call this a fallback position.  I applaud the coalition’s and the city’s efforts, but it seems so after-the-fact because the sale to the city hinges on the “if and when,” and, of course, what sort of mark up Carlyle will want in the sale.  Carlyle isn’t known for its philanthropy.

Now the Montana Public Service Commission has a role in all this but it’s not clear how many legal teeth the PSC has for mitigating the sale — what sort of caveats in can impose — or could it, indeed, stop the sale (which is doubtful).

The Missoulian is doing a good job giving us background and following the story.  Start here and also take a look at the related stories.  I’m waiting for that hard-hitting editorial demanding public ownership of our water, though.

In the meantime, be thankful that air isn’t for sale.  If so, the Carlyle Group would be buying it up and under current statutes, there’d be little we could do about it.

It’s enough to make a mellow guy like me into a radical.


by jhwygirl

Word is that Sen. Jeff Essmann is preparing to add his name to the pile – and I do mean pile – of Montana Republicans seeking to the GOP gubernatorial nomination.

His soon-to-be entry brings the number of candidates on the GOP side up to a 6-count: Rick Hill (who will quickly reduced to “Rick who?” after Essmann’s entry); former state senator Ken Miller (going for a second shot after losing to Bob Brown in a 2004 run for the GOP nomination); Cory Stapleton, another former state senator; Neil Livingstone, some sort of national security I-don’t-know-what; and Jim O’Hara, a Choteau County Commissioner.

Essmann’s fame of late is authoring the medical marijuana repeal bill that Governor Schweitzer allowed to lapse into law. He met recently with medical marijuana advocates, and apparently it didn’t go over too well.

Democrats have two declared candidates: Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula and DINO Sen. Larry Jent of Bozeman. Jent was quite the advocate for repeal, and in fact much has been said behind closed doors of his and as-of-yet undeclared Attorney General Steve Bullock involvement in the state-wide raids that still remain without indictment (while leaving behind dozens of damaged commercial properties.)

I’ve got a number of reasons for why I don’t want Bullock to run, but one I’ll put out there is that the AG office is pretty important and Steve has worked towards seeking beneficial solutions for Montana consumers.

Incumbency has advantages and energy and funds should be funneled prudently.

In other words – wait until 2016.

For me, I’m going with Wanzenried. I’ve been a fan for some time. He’s fiscally prudent and practicle. Wanzenried knows how to work across the aisle, and he’s gained a tremendous amount of respect from all sides of everything up there in Helena.

Wanzenried is also one of the hardest-working senators this state has, and his experience on the legislative side could go a long way. One of the larger errors of Schweitzer’s administration is his lack of active productive participation in the legislative process, especially when it starts getting all haywire. This session could have used some guidance instead of showboating – which, while showy and great for the camera really did nothing more than throw more divisiveness into the already toxic mix.

You simply don’t see Wanzenried playing into that. He’ll discuss issues with analysis and a presentation of the issues. That’s the kind of leadership I want to see.

Most recently, Sen. Wanzenried has stepped up front-and-center rallying against HB198, this last session’s abomination “Eminent Domain Bill” which hands private property taking rights to private corporations. Wanzenried’s also successfully pushed through the senate a bill to abolish the death penalty the last two sessions, only to have it die in the House.

In fact, I’m still wanting to write up Wanzenried’s statement on that ugly bill – and I WILL get to it one day. Sen. Wanzenried was the only Senator of the Missoula delegation to vote against HB198. (As for the house delegation, Rep. Ellie Hill was the sole Missoula rep. to maintain a “NO” vote for HB198.)

Want to get an idea of the name recognition and early polling on Montana’s 2012 election? Jack the Blogger over at Western World has some stats on the 2012 races in a post from back in February.

Footnote: When is the SOS going to update for the 2012 election? The list of candidates is still from the 2010.The SOS office can’t register candidates until January 1st, which answers my question.

by jhwygirl

HB198, the eminent domain bill, is ugly folks.

Governor Schweitzer knows it, having promised the day a majority in the Senate was fooled (having been heavily lobbied by not only NWE and Tonbridge, but by the Governor’s office) into voting for the thing.

This is a bill that was pushed through the legislature with the help of the thugs of NWE. A bill that was tabled in Senate committee.

On the floor of the Senate just 8 days before the close of the session the beast was blasted onto the floor with lobbyists having worked the Senators the night before with drinks and dinner. Amendments to HB198 were offered that even proponents of agreed were worthy and needed to protect private property right, but they failed because there wasn’t enough time to get the thing back through the House.

Apparently though Governor Schweitzer has forgotten the legislative process…or he’s telling us something over and over in the hopes that we will start to believe it (like I said in an earlier post on this subject)…..but when Schweitzer bloviated about his successes to the press on Thursday, he included his “amendment” to HB198, the eminent domain bill:

The Democratic governor also talked up successes like the passage of a business equipment tax cut, workers’ compensation reform and revisions to Montana’s eminent domain laws, which he called the most important “job creator” of the session.

Schweitzer said his recent amendment to House Bill 198, which addresses eminent domain, will terminate the law in two years. The amendment ensures the 2013 Legislature must take another look at landowner issues, while allowing job-related development to flourish in the meantime; without passage of HB198, Schweitzer said badly needed energy development projects would have been jeopardized.

“That energy bill did not consider the rights of landowners, and they were worked up. So it was a balancing act for legislators to say, ‘We need to develop Montana and we need to develop our resources,’ ” Schweitzer said, commending lawmakers for meeting in the middle.

Now – that’s not just Schweitzer saying something in passing about his successes – this is the Governor going on for quite a bit about how he fixed the bill and what it does and what it doesn’t do…along with his own version of the bill’s benefits that many dispute.

Trouble is, Schweitzer started complaining that the bill needed amended – as I pointed out at the top of this post – and that he was going to amendatory veto the thing before the sun had gone down the day of the vote’s successful second reading vote in the Senate which gave the bill the necessary approval in both houses.

So the Republicans, in control, decided to hold back on the thing, not handing it up to him until last Friday, April 29th. A tactical move on their part.

Governor Schweitzer can not amendatory veto the bill – the session is closed.

His choices are two: He has until Sunday to veto the thing or sign it into law. He can also let it lapse into law, but the effect is the same as approving the thing. Letting lapse into law is a choice of the Governor’s, and is equal to signing it into law.

And when it does become law, it will not have a sunset clause.

Look – I know this stuff is boring for you folks but realize this – the effects of handing over eminent domain authority to any private transmission business that comes into this state under the major facilities siting act should be utterly offensive to you.

It is the rise of the ghosts of the Copper Kings. It will be a turning point in our history, just as the sale of Montana Power.

If you have questions, I encourage you to ask – we’ve had some very informed people on this issue, including Kate Orr and John Vincent, who sits on the Montana Public Service Commission (so how’s that for expert, huh?). That’s me kinda openly soliciting his help there, too.

It’s that important.

Please stand up for your fellow Montanan ranchers and property owners out in the eastern and central part of this state that are fighting this thing and contact the governor by email governor@mt.gov and tell him that working solutions to this issue require full analysis which fully weighs the concerns of Montana’s citizens.

In the meantime, Tonbridge can play fairly. Is that asking too much?

by jhwygirl

HB198 was transmitted to Governor Schweitzer last Friday, April 29th.

In his hands sits a bill that he knows is bad.

Schweitzer is, in fact, quite the hypocrite when it comes to this eminent domain bill. He lobbied heavily for this bill, from the opening of the session when he called this eminent domain bill one of the the legislature’s “most important acts” in his State of the State address back in January:

Third and this might be your most important task and if you get it right it will create thousands of jobs in Montana, if you get it wrong or you don’t finish it there will be pink slips that go to workers across Montana.

I guess Governor Schweitzer thinks if he keeps telling the press that the eminent domain bill is bad and crappy and the legislature needs to fix it, that the property owners in Northwest Energy and Tonebridge’s sights and the large number of people in opposition to this bill will feel better about the bill if (when?) he signs it or let’s it lapse into law.

In reality, what’s likely going to happen when Tonbridge go to court to force a takings on a private property owner, more property owners around the state are going to realize exactly and precisely the affects of HB198. Someone will be to blame. Since the bill had opposition and supporters on both sides of the aisle, it’s pretty easy to see where the finger-pointing is going to go.

And since he will represent to many “The Democrats,” it’s going to be “The Democrats” that are going to get targeted as anti-private property rights for…well – forever. Kinda like everyone blames Racicot and the Republicans with selling off Montana Power.

It’s a legacy that Democrats who voted on the wrong side of this bill may want to consider.

Who got played?

There was a straightforward way to do this if that is truly what they wanted to do – but the legislature and the Governor back-doored this bill in the Major Facilities Siting Act, which is amended every darn session it seems to get around any number of regulations.

So Montana becomes a colony for Canada when we hand over eminent domain power to Tonbridge, a Canadian company. And don’t forget China, either, as Otter Creek will also bring with it a railroad to transport the stuff for Wyoming and for China.

Which is another thing Governor said wouldn’t happen in his 2011 State of the State:

We will develop Montana’s energy on Montana’s terms, not as a colony for our energy hungry country.

What I want to know is while Governor Schweitzer is very vocal (lately) about how crappy this bill is…and while he lobbied very heavily for this bill – having his staff on the floor for both debates….why didn’t he speak up sooner?

Why didn’t he propose a bill?

He could have offered testimony during committee. His office did it for other bills.

This eminent domain bill HB198 will have the impact that the sale of Montana Power had on this state.

Veto it, good Governor.

by jhwygirl

Started to write this post, but it appears there is a motion to reconsider on the House floor and now they’ve gone to recess.

Time will tell whether they (and the citizens of Montana) got played…but it more than a few of them are wanting to correct the current deplorable situation.

Update
Well, looks like many in the House, but not enough, tried to correct their vote. A 62 to 34 majority voted to reconsider HB198, the ugly eminent domain bill that we’ve written about here a number of times (hit the search for HB198 or “eminent”).

So we’re back to a bill that is going to be transmitted to the Governor who said he wanted a sunset clause.

A sunset clause on a bill that Governor Brian Schweitzer said he knows is bad. A bill that hands the takings of private property into the control of very profit-driven private businesses that have no obligation to public gain.

I’d call the situation bizarre if it didn’t involve private property owned by citizens of this great State of Montana. And for that reason, it’s tragic. People will look back on this law – if it does become law – as a turning point for this state much like the deregulation of Montana Power.

Governor Schweitzer has two options, really: Veto or approve. With no chance of an amendatory veto, any failure on his part to take one of those two formal actions – and let’s be clear here: Not signing it and allowing it to lapse into law is equal to approving it – is weak. Especially after the fiasco he created out of the 2007 legislative bill he allowed to lapse.

by jhwygirl

HB198 was passed on third reading this morning in the Senate. I won’t rehash the ugly mess of this bill that will enable private major facility businesses to take private property for private gain – you can just put HB198 into the search there on the right for that background.

That being said, the bill is heading to the Governor’s desk after a debate yesterday that had proponents of the bill push off amendments they felt were worthy because they had to ‘get this thing done for MATL.’

So we have a bill that’s bad, even by proponent’s standards.

What is probably not so shocking since he’s been demanding this bill, is that Governor Schweitzer is willing to sign off on this bill that he, too, admits does not protect private property rights.

Schweitzer is going to offer an amendatory veto to this bad bill that will have it sunset it in 2013. That means that Montanans will have a bill that has a special retroactive clause to capture up and (hopefully for them) cure MATL’s legal issues and its failure to negotiate in good faith with Montana property owners being signed by the Governor – even though he admits it’s a shitty bill. From the good Gov:

“The Legislature has got to spend the next two years putting together an eminent domain law that makes sense for developers and for landowners of Montana,” Schweitzer said at a Capitol news conference. “This bill is not right; it didn’t address landowner concerns.”

I’m not a landowner, but if I were in the path of anything that has a major facility line or pipeline anywhere near it, I’d be darn pissed off right now.

Voters can not point the blame of this horrible legislation at any one party – both sides of the aisle voted on both sides of the issue, and ardently defended their positions. Being the one signing it into law, though, is a different matter.

(Addendum)
Read the Billings Gazette edition of this story and the comments are interesting. Not many in support of the thing, and the only people being blamed are Democrats.

And that will be how it goes. A whole bunch of people that will never check the actual vote on that bill (that saw the likes of Verdell Jackson voting for the thing) will blame it on “Democrats” when in truth there were a whole lot of “Republicans” who voted for it, too.

by jhwygirl

Proponents of HB198, the 62nd Legislature’s eminent domain bill, repeatedly admitted during debate on the Senate floor this afternoon (after a successful morning “blast” of the bill to get it to 2nd reading) that this bill was written and moved through the legislature to solve one issue, and one issue only – the Montana-Alberta Tie Line’s failure to negotiate in good faith with property owners along the line.

Not one proponent suggested that the bill was written to protect Montana citizens.

There was discussion about jobs – the 70 or so jobs (as put forth in the information provided by Tonbridge to the U.S. State Department and the State of Montana) as justification for handing over private property takings rights to private entities.

So now “jobs” is a sufficient public interest. Jobs. Economic development – all key words being lobbed around like crack candy on the floor today. Wasn’t that the case in Kelo v. City of New London?

At least one proponent of the bill tried to argue that Kelo wasn’t even related, but clearly he hadn’t read the case.

Amendments were offered and proponents argued that there wasn’t enough time to get ‘er done because they would have to go back to the House and so the bill needed to be passed as it was written.

One Democrat Senator said he knew the bill was bad and while there wasn’t time to fix it, he was going to vote for the bill because he was counting on Governor Schweitzer to fix it with amendatory vetoes.

These are your private property rights we’re talking about here, Montana! Hell be damned with them, I guess!

Debate was long, impassioned and respectful. It was – as gubernatorial candidate Senator Wanzenried pointed out – an excellent and fine example of good honest debate on a bill that had strong supporters from both sides of the aisle debating both sides of the issue.

An interesting example of that was proponent Sen. Wittich (R-Bozeman) who questioned Senate President Jim Peterson (R-Buffalo) for passing out what he identified as a “Fact Sheet” on HB198….a fact sheet that was prepared by a Tonbridge/MATL attorney.

A “fact” Peterson tried to deflect.

~~~~~~
A disappointing 28 – 22 vote puts HB198 to third reading tomorrow at 8 a.m.

I hope you have read previous postings here on HB198 – and if not, clicking through the links provided here will get you to most of it. If you’ve done that, you know that this is a dangerous bill – a lazy bill thrown together with little real analysis of the situation and written to resolve a big business issue (that arose out of Canada, in fact) instead of being written to address and protect private property interests.

In Texas they’re strengthening private property rights and here in Montana they’re giving them away to private companies out of Canada.

Please take the time to CONTACT A SENATOR or two or five…..in fact, I’d focus on any one of the 28 that voted in favor of HB198.

Of note, Senator Kendall Van Dyk switched his vote – switiching not only his committee vote to table this behemoth, but switching his vote of NO to blasting this thing into second reading.

Some other disappointments (on both sides of the aisle)?
Senator Mary Cafferro, normally someone whose vote I’ve never questioned.

Senator Brad Hamlett and Senator Bob Hawks both who – also – switched their vote from NO on the blast to YES for this ugly.

Senator Verdell Jackson? Isn’t he supposed to be conservative?

Same with Ravalli County Senators Bob Lake and Jim Schockley – Schockley notably a lawyer and one who, too, admitted that this bill was bad as written but there “wasn’t enough time to fix it.”

Tomorrow’s Senate floor session begins at 8 a.m. Take the time tonight to email these Senators….and if you are reading this in the morning, phone lines open up at 7:30..and often they start late because of caucus, so DO give a call at 406-444-4800 and leave a message for up to 5 senators telling them NO WAY on HB198.

by jhwygirl

This is a press release from the Northern Plains Resource Council and the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group regarding today’s Senate 2nd reading vote on HB198, the 62nd Legislature’s eminent domain bill.

Northern Plains Resource Council, a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group since 1972, strongly condemned actions by the Montana State Senate on Tuesday to pass HB 198, the session’s eminent domain reform bill, on a second reading floor vote. A majority of Democrats joined with Republicans to vote in favor of the bill. The bill had previously been stalled in committee on a 6-6 vote until it was blasted onto the Senate floor this morning on a 26-23 vote.

Northern Plains members, many of whom are landowners facing condemnation themselves, have fought HB 198 for most of the session. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ken Peterson (R-Billings), would clarify a public utility’s right to condemn private land for corporate use. Buried in the bill is a retroactivity clause that will set a dangerous precedent for landowners in Montana. Northern Plains calls this bill what it is – a corporate bailout.

“The members of the Montana Senate who voted in favor of this bill had a chance to stand up for landowners and the interests of rural Montana today; instead, they caved to the bottom line of one corporation, granting them the biggest corporate bailout of the session,” said Darrell Garoutte, Chair of the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group. This group of landowners crossed by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline in eastern Montana has organized to negotiate with TransCanada an equitable contract which protects landowners and public safety.

“This bill is about one corporation, Tonbridge Power Inc., that treated landowners dishonestly, lost in district court, and, rather than going through the appellate court system like any other citizen of this state, came to the legislature with its hands wide open threatening legislators with alarmist claims and rhetoric. It certainly sets a dangerous precedent for landowners moving forward, and folks in rural Montana will remember this vote.”

HB 198 arose out of a district court decision issued in December in Glacier County where Tonbridge Power of Toronto is building the 214-mile Montana Alberta Tie Line. The judge halted construction of the power line, ruling that the project did not meet the public need test and therefore did not have the power of eminent domain. HB 198 effectively reverses the decision and puts the landowners in the project’s path in the crosshairs. Parties in the case filed arguments with the Montana Supreme Court last week, promising that a decision will be reached soon by the state’s highest court.

“We in the agricultural sector take this as a personal affront to our ability to do business in Montana, and the economic hardship of stealing our land. If you take something from me and give it to somebody else, it is stealing. This will put us in a position where we cannot deal fairly with anyone trying to use eminent domain. We are simply asking for respect and fairness. This bill sets a grave precedent for those of us that make a living on the land in this state,” said Garoutte.

by jhwygirl

The Senate Energy & Telecommunications tied 6-6 today in committee on HB198, and then subsequently voted to table the bill, effectively killing it.

Senate Legislative Rules allow for the committee to reconsider its votes providing the committee has not yet reported to the Secretary of the Senate.

Which is the likely explanation for why Sen. Olson, chair of Senate Energy & Telecommunications, called a special meeting of his committee for tomorrow at 3 p.m.

Reporter Mike Dennison the story on what happened today.

Despite continued reading of information concerning HB198, I still think it is a dangerous door to open. Eminent domain statutes are situation under Title 70, Chapter 30. Public uses are defined there under Part 102.

Only that isn’t where HB198 changes the law. It adds a more expansive definition of what a public utility is under Title 69 – a definition that was exclusive to that Title….and applies it to the not-that-narrow constraints of eminent domain in Title 70.

The key word there in Title 70 resting on public uses that are used by the public in Montana. Title 70 allows for condemnation of a long laundry list of things – including distribution lines for electricity. To suggest that some major crisis happens should pass-through lines owned by private companies be unable to condemn is hysterics.

What is different here with MATL is that those lines are passing on through Montana. They will not be regulated for Montana. There is simply no assurance that that these lines can be used by smaller users.

Nor is there any guarantee of fairness to those seeking accessibility to these lines.

Until such time that the state can guarantee a true fair and equitable public use of those transmission lines.

The current bill, as it stands, is lazy and inadequate to protect the citizens of Montana against unchecked private interests. If approved it will surely stand as yet another famous Montana give away to private interests.

By relying on the Major Facilities Siting Act, it allows major decisions to be made about private property large and small without any input whatsoever from the private property owners. Keep in mind, at least one county has sued for being left out of the loop – so involvement and scoping under the Major Facilities Siting Act is clearly flawed (to say the least).

So, like I wrote yesterday, please take the time to contact members of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee and let them know that HB198 has significant flaws and does NOT provide for public uses and as such should not allow for condemnation of private property for purely private purposes.

Information on contacting your legislators can be found here.

You can also contact the entire Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee by calling 406-444-4800 and leaving a message.

The legislative desk begins taking calls at 7:30 a.m.

Here are the members of Senate Energy and Telecommunications. The ones with a * voted NO today…and are being pressured to change their vote:
Chair: Alan Olson (R-Roundup)
Vice Chair: Verdell Jackson (R-Kalispell)
Vice Chair: Ron Erickson (D-Missoula)
*Shannon Augare (D-Browning)
*Jeff Essmann (R-Billings)
Bob Lake (R-Hamilton)
*Lynda Moss (D-Billings)
*Jason Priest (R-Red Lodge)
*Mitch Tropila (D-Great Falls)
*Kendall Van Dyk (D-Billings)
Chas Vincent (R-Libby)
Edward Walker (R-Billings)

by jhwygirl

Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words. Click on it and you’ll get a nice full-size version of it.

It’s astounding, really, the politicians of both sides of the aisle lining up to hand over private property rights to corporations and private interests large and small.

And foreign, at that! Tonbridge, a Canadian company is the big push on this bill, with Northwestern Energy also a big player in lobbying efforts on HB198.

As the Montana Farmers Union said

“It has been said that politics can make for strange bed-fellows. Watchers of the 62nd Montana Legislature certainly can attest to that.”

All eyes are on Senate Energy & Telecommunications today as they take executive action on HB198.

Have you called 406-444-4800 to leave a message for the Senate Energy & Telecommunications Committee telling them NO to handing private property rights to private entities?

Protect private property rights.

by jhwygirl

Eminent domain has been something that our Governor Brian Schweitzer wants addressed.

What he and a whole bunch of others in both the legislature and in Canada and elsewhere want is for the Montana-Alberta Tie Limited (MATL) to be able to build its line where they want to build it. Meaning that Canadian company Tonbridge Power, Inc. needs to be able to condemn private property for the many that are standing in the way.

Wasn’t there an outcry back in 2005 over Kelo v. New London? In that case it was one homeowner.

Aren’t there whole skyscrapers built around little houses in NYC?

It seems to me this is capitalism and the free market at its finest. There’s a ranch owner up near Choteau that doesn’t want the lines going through a particular area on his property. Tonbridge is a private company. They don’t have the power of eminent domain. Eminent domain is for public uses. Tonbridge just wants to move its power from Alberta to Colorado and California.

Shouldn’t the private company then deal in the true free market?

Offer him more money. At some point, it’s either going to be cost effective or not. Then you move the line.

And I understand what that means – but that’s the free market. Embrace it, baby!

The Montana GOP is floating a new proposal. Remember, there’s a whole bunch of people that want this thing, not just Schweitzer, not just Tonbridge, not just Northwestern Energy, (who also wants to be able to condemn for its Mountain States Transmission Intertie (MSTI), and not just some Democrats.

The original bill, HB198 , was truly bipartisan creation..

Sen. Essmann, from Billings, has an amendment that would not allow condemnation of “collector” lines from smaller energy sources (say, a wind farm here in Montana?)…but would still bring the straight line of authority and loss/benefit between the private property (Tonbridge or Northwestern Energy).

The idea that the the state would not want to step in on this issue like is astounding.

Further, this opens a key to corporate interests picking the shortest most profitable line. Plan first, takings later. Guaranteed.

Essmann’s proposal, frankly, ensures that we’ll have tons of lines crossing the landscape and no planned consolidation which would make investment significantly easier and reducing impact on Montana’s greatest resource (and I shouldn’t have to say what that is).

The solution needs to eliminate that direct authority of private interests over private property and the individual Montanan.

There also has to be some true public benefit. not a handful of jobs.

One of these days – and especially after this session – someone’s going to count all the jobs, who they went to (brought in from out-of-state?) and what they did (my bet is that we end up with a whole bunch of attorneys, judges and copy stores).

Alas – those darned Montanans and their crazy property rights ethic. They take offense to handing over eminent domain powers to private corporations. I don’t know that it matters much that they’re from Canada..or that the people, benefiting from the power line are in California and Colorado.

And Canada too, I guess.

What Montanans don’t want to see is an open door for a private entity to come in and decide that they want to profit off of what many have called the west’s breadbasket of wind and have the feds authorizing lines with no regard to whether the private property owner or the locally and state-level elected authorities approve of the thing.

This reversion to and embracing of Montana colonialism astounds me. We’re prostituting ourselves with the state’s resources that are not unlimited.

Coal? Otter Creek, we gave that away. Oil & gas? Nowthey’ll be drilling first and then doing an environmental review.

Even these powerlines. While advocates for allowing a private corporation to condemn private property for their own private interests gain cry “this is for green energy” their calls are fake. Aside from the particular facts of MATL, the issue isn’t what it carries – it’s the power it gives to private entities.

Tonbridge and Northwestern Energy are ramping up pressure. Northwestern recent filed an amicus brief in the current case in Tonbridge’s appeal of a lower court which ruled that eminent domain authority only rests with the state. Teton County’s Choteau Acantha has the fullest reporting I’ve seen on this.

Concerned Citizens Montana is a website formed by those not supporting eminent domain ability for private companies, and it has an aggregate of information from many places.

Will the legislature hand over private property takings rights to private entities?

Let’s hope some true conservative libertarian sense reigns.

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 Pete Talbot

Missoula County Democrats held the traditional transmittal potluck dinner Sunday evening at University Congregational Church, recognizing the work Missoula’s delegation has done at the halfway point of this legislative session. Our state representatives and senators updated the crowd and took questions.

Before my take on their message, here are some general impressions:

About 150 folks attended and the food flowed. The mood was upbeat — which is what everyone needed after a brutal first half. The mix — the usual suspects and the new, younger faces; the organizers, the party faithful, some newbies — were there to support the daunting work the delegation has done to date. Legislators were happy to look out over a sea of friendly faces, which has not been a common occurrence for them in Helena.

I counted ten Missoula area legislators. I didn’t go there to take notes, so these are rough observations.

One of the big concerns was the number of referendums that could appear on the 2012 ballot. You know, some of those wacky bills that didn’t make it out of the legislature or were vetoed by the governor: nullification, the assualts on the environment, land use, abortion rights, etc.

Just what Montana needs, a dozen unconstitutional, anti-voter and just plain silly referendums that will clutter the ballot. The far right will continue pushing regressive legislation long after this session is over.

And enough crazy bills have already been introduced that they’re getting national attention, something the Missoula delegation noted: most Montanans don’t like the negative publicity.

Also, legislators mentioned some of the bad bills that could cost the state millions in federal dollars; which doesn’t seem to upset the Teapublicans. Health, human services, and environmental programs that generate funding and jobs; all looking at cuts.

And then there’s education, especially higher education (when we need it the most). More cuts.

Our legislators noted they’d been able to kill some of the most heinous bills. The delegation has been holding together well. They’re not in lock step, though, as evidenced in their varying support on eminent domain bills.

Many Missoula ordiances are under attack, and legislators noted the irony of the anti-big governement forces that advocate for local control and then dismiss the will of Missoula voters.

Budget issues are coming up in the next 45 days. There’s the governor’s budget, the legislative analysist’s budget and the Republican budget; the Republican budget being the most pessimistic and least forward thinking, as usual.

I’m just scratching the surface but here’s what I came away with: Keep those Capitol visits, emails and phone calls coming. Write a letter to the editor. Get ready to work hard on the 2012 elections.

And from me: support your Missoula Area legislators — they’re doing as good a job as is humanly possible up there in Helena.

by jhwygirl

Updated below.

First of all, a shout-out to the fabulous Helena bureau chief for CBS news (out of Great Falls) reporter Marnee Banks. I poached this pic right off of her yfrog account. Banks has been doing some great work, long before the session even began. I am a huge fan and have been trying to drum up a name for her, much as I’ve bestowed Supermontanareporter on John S. Adams. Goddess Bless her.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 show this evening featured a segment on birther bills, and grabbed up an interview with Montana’s Rep. Bob Wagner, a Republican out of Harrison.

Wagner’s SB205 was the bill he was bragging about.

I caught it on a tweet, “re-tweeted” it to make sure everyone knew..and guess what? Missed it. It was on within the first 25 minutes. So now I’ve set the Tivo and I’ll have to enjoy it later tonight or in the morning.

And we’ll definitely be checking back on CNN’s website to see what AC gets up on his site. Maybe someone will grab it up for YouTube.

In the meantime, one can only hope that Anderson Cooper comes back. He was talking about unconstitutional bills tonight – and SB254 would of fit the bill just fine – it provides for eminent domain authority over the federal government.

How’s that for both irony and hypocrisy from conservatives?

As for Anderson? Maybe he just didn’t want to dedicate the whole show to Montana. Arizona might get jealous.

But I’m sure we out-gun them in pro-gun laws. What do you want to bet?

~~~~
Oh. My. Goodness. Anderson Cooper 360 has video up.

Wagner hints enough at another lunacy bill – HB392, that “eliminates the misapplication of the 14th amendment to the US Constitution” by saying that you are only a citizen of Montana if you reside in Montana, are born in U.S. and at least one of your parents is a U.S. citizen – that Cooper points out to America that we’ve got that bill knocking around up in Helena too.

By CFS

The Montana GOP loves them some freedom, but only when its smothered in their own special GOP brand of Freedom Sauce. While they push issues such as setting up local militias, giving sheriffs ultimate local law enforcement authority, giving healthcare providers freedom to deny services to patients because of differing morals, and expanding individual gun rights including no longer needing a permit to carry a concealed weapon; on many other issues currently up for debate in Helena the GOP is proving that they want to curtail local decision-making and even the role that individual citizens play in politics and policy making.

Perhaps the biggest GOP attack on individual freedoms in Montana is the GOP’s push to override voter initiates and weaken the voter initiative process in the future. If Montana voters had passed initiatives banning abortion or abolishing the state’s DEQ I’m sure conservatives would be praising the Montana citizenry’s grounded and well thought out votes. But as it stands our current crop of Tea Party clowns are trying to circumvent our rights as Montana citizens. Numerous proposed bills target our ability to have a say in our own state.

  • HB 161 aims to reverse the voter’s will in legalizing medical marijuana
  • SB 204 would double the number of signatures required for a voter initiative to make it onto the ballot
  • HB 292 aims to modify our state constitution, taking away our right to a “clean and healthful environment.”
  • HB 280 and SB 176 both restrict in some way a women’s right to choose
  • HB 392 aims to redefine Montana citizenship, excluding many that are currently citizens
  • They killed a proposal to switch to a mail in ballot system which would have greatly increased voter turnout
  • SB 116 aims to take away a person’s right to decide how to end their own life.
  • HB 198 expands eminent domain powers to the benefit of large corporations over Montana landowners
  • SB 209 takes away a city/county’s discretion in deciding what factors should be considered when approving a subdivision
  • SB 228 would prohibit the state from setting up insurance exchanges
  • HB 431 would remove the day of state general elections from the list of recognized state holidays, making it more difficult for people to vote.

So the GOP loves individual freedom and choice and advocates for legal authority to be vested in institutions that are closest to the citizenry… except when people or local governments make the wrong choices… in that case it seems the GOPers don’t want us to have the freedom to choose our own path.

by jhwygirl

Travis over at Electric City Weblog wrote up a nice piece on the recent court case surrounding the MATL transmission line, the law, and his musings on the issue. Recommended.

by jhwygirl

Odd, no?

Great Falls Tribune reported yesterday on a ruling by District Judge Laurie McKinnon which found that private corporations do not have the power of eminent domain.

You’d think freedom-loving pro-property right’s Montanans would be out banging pots and clanging lids but instead? Thud.

You’d think the Chamber of Commerce and every other Ayn Rand freak would be out decrying the ruling, but instead? Crickets.

The Montana-Alberta Tie Line – this thing is probably in its 6th year of running at high gear – was told that they didn’t have the right to condemn Shirley Salois’ property:

In July, a Montana subsidiary of Tonbridge Power Inc. of Toronto filed a complaint to condemn their land in Glacier County District Court after Salois argued the proposed route should be adjusted across his property farther from tepee rings and a wetland.

Lund argued Tonbridge could not exercise the right of eminent domain because it is not an agent of the state that has been given express legislative authority to acquire private property.

So this is a pretty big deal. What’s Tonbridge to do? Do they appeal? Do they open the book for a state-wide ruling that’ll become precedent for every other jurisdiction in the state? Or do they move these lines?

This ruling can have major impact Northwestern Energy’s Mountain State Intertie (MSTI) too. A 500kv line being built across Montana and Idaho in an effort to move electricity to California and Colorado, it has run into plenty of trouble. Proponents tout that it is for wind energy, but the reality is that virtually all of it is to move coal-produced electricity. There has been considerable public outcry against this project too – with Jefferson County officials going so far as suing DEQ, successfully, to halt the process.

MSTI will be – or perhaps they won’t be – relying on condemnation powers to construct this line. So ouch on those plans.

Who else? Well, that Otter Creek coal was relying on a railroad through, in part, some candy-heir ranch owner’s land out east. You can bet they were going to try and pull our Montana’s eminent domain laws there too.

A while back I called the PSC – I think I might have mentioned this in some comments at Left in the West – to ask some questions about both of these lines. Mainly, what I wanted to understand was why could they condemn private property when the lines weren’t for public use – they weren’t regulated by the PSC, and they weren’t available to any public project that might want to access it.

In other words – not only were they going to condemn property, they were causing an increase cost for infrastructure for power because of the monopoly-like nature of their use. Brad Molner explained to me that the lines weren’t common carriers and they fell under some federal interstate clause that didn’t allow them to be regulated by the PSC. I lamented to him the inability of the state to regulate them because of our lack of infrastructure which was inhibiting wind energy development.

It’s an interesting mix of situations here – does Tonbridge appeal? Can they apply for common-carrier status? Does this become some sort of federal-state showdown? Might this be a turning point for energy development in Montana?

I’ll be watching this case closely, as I’ve often pondered how Montana’s eminent domain laws can be used by private entities when – despite they provide services to anyone who purchases them – are private for-profit not government entities. Remember the outcry about the Kelo v. City of New London Supreme Court ruling?

I mean – look at the list of things that private entities could – and have – condemn private property for – it’s crazy, really, and all listed under Public Uses enumerated.

Parking lots….urban renewal projects…roads..for the benefit of..the inhabitants of a county, city or town…

Interesting stuff, no?

It’ll be interesting to see how the new legislature being sworn in January 3rd is going to want to – perhaps – fix what I’m sure a whole bunch of them are going to try and twist as some egregious miscarriage of justice to the public good.

by jhwygirl

That’s what many said to the State Land Board (and to 3 of its 5 members, Governor Schweitzer, Secretary of State Linda McDulloch and Auditor Monica Lindeen) before then went ahead anyway and approved the Otter Creek coal leases.

Not before – let’s not forget – a poorly orchestrated show between Governor Schweitzer and Linda McCulloch, who first added a bonus bid of 15 cents/ton. Four of ’em played along in that one (with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau casting the lone dissenting vote), but in the end, even Attorney General Steve Bullock changed his mind, seeing through the corporate welfare that was, eventually, approved – a 40% drop in price (and let’s not feign that this was in any way a “bid” given that only one entity could competitively bid on it, given the land-locked nature of the state lands involved and the fact that the bidder is the one that land-locks the land) along with a $57 million instant subsidy of the coal corporate giants.

Can’t forget, either, that a railroad that will also need to be condemned through Montana’s eminent domain laws – that’s condemnation of private land in the interest of a private corporate entity, folks – a railroad that will save that private corporate entity well in the range of $100 million a year in hauling costs from Wyoming’s extensive coal fields down south.

Don’t try and tell me that coal isn’t subsidized – a industry as old as the world is still gaining both federal and state subsidy to operate. Ridiculous.

Oh, yeah – there was more. The votes were disappointing (Schweitzer, McCulloch and Monica I-campaigned-on-a-biodiesel-bus Lindeen). Even Button Valley was getting an overload of it, as was I, as Governor Brian Schweitizer headed out around the state pushing on communities to sign a oath to coal in order to get their legislatively appropriated stimulus money.

An illegal transgression that was largely overlooked – as was the stashing of that Otter Creek bid money in this year’s general budget instead of going to schools as it is legally obligated to do (along with that whole the-legislature-is-the-only-lawful-appropriator-of-money thing). It’s something that is coming home to roost, those illegal transgressions, and quickly becoming a private joke amongst many of us who railed against both of these things when they were occurring.

But we’ll leave that for another post, and the real journalists who are already asking the questions. Enable once, shame on you..enable twice, shame again…but sure as hell don’t get indignant about it the third time around…

Enter now Northern Plains Resource Council, the Wildlife Federation, Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club, who collectively filed two lawsuits this week challenging the Otter Creek coal lease approval.

NPRC and WF said that the state land board failed to adequately analyze the environmental effects of the project. MEIC and SC challenged on the basis of the economic and global warming effects of the project.

There are a myriad of problems with Otter Creek. I’m mystified as to the embracing – in a state that seems to champion individual property rights – of a project that will railroad over the private property rights of individuals (pun intended).

I’m also mystified that a state – in a time of general budget distress not only internally, but nationwide – would dish out such corporate welfare to the detriment of our very own children’s education funding.

What’s the real shame is that Montana’s citizens – and its very worthy non-profits – have to sue to get the state to meet its constitutional obligations outlined in what is known in our state constitution as the Montana Environmental Policy Act.

This can not and should not be taken lightly. I don’t care how many laws that the legislature passes or tries to pass attacking it. This is a constitutional guarantee. Guarantee. And this word can not be overemphasized enough. This isn’t some old state constitution. It is a modern document, with words that were carefully chosen, discussed and debated in modern many-remember-them times. Guarantee was not a word chosen or placed lightly, and it leaves little room for discussion.

It is the law of the land. Our state agencies, our land board and our Governor all have the obligation to make sure that guarantee is met each and every day. Shame on them for having to be sued to comply with constitutional obligations.

by jhwygirl

I’m over the maddening part…and at this point I actually find solace in the fact that I did not vote for him. I voted none of the above.

Bear with me…We’ve got 3 more years…it’s all I got.

Governor Brian Schweitzer really is a megalomaniac. That isn’t news, but his over-the-top demand for a pledge to coal has everyone I know cracking jokes that end with “well, maybe you can write Brian and pledge an oath to coal and it’ll all work out.”

The story itself is pretty hard to believe, frankly…but add the letter and you clearly have major delusion going on there.

Button Valley was first on it, calling it Political blackmail. The Editor also goes on to ponder whether ultimately, if what’s next is a pledge to cow dogs.

God only knows, right?

Matt’s calling it Jumping the Kingfisher. Jay’s got it pegged pretty accurately at extortion.

My personal editorial savior, The Indy’s George Ochenski sliced and diced it up as darned near thoroughly as you can, calling it “coercion” and here’s the basics:
1.) Only the legislature appropriates money.
2.) The $89,000,000 Otter Creek bonus payment is school trust money.
3.) By law, 95% of that must be put back into the school trust, and 5% of it goes towards schools.
4.) Directly equating Otter Creek money with road repair and the like exposes the state to lawsuit from any darn person in the public that doesn’t like the fact that school trust money is being used not only for roads, but also for political gain.

Of course, he goes through plenty of other relevant facts: The “645 money” (as local officials are calling it) was approved lawfullly and signed into law by Governor Brian Schweitzer. He could have line-item vetoed it. He didn’t.

Keep that in mind while he flies around the state in a plane that is pretty expensive to operate, heading down to Republican represented districts for what Montana Cowgirl touted the The Say Uncle Tour. I couldn’t even leave a comment on that post, I was speechless that even the most rabid of Schweitzer supporters wouldn’t stop to think of what they’d think if the tables were turned.

What is my favorite epithet? Hypocrite? And all to stroke an ego? At the state’s expense, nonetheless.

What else does Ochenski point out? This gem:

Public sentiment, if last week’s unscientific poll in the Helena Independent Record is any measure, runs 75 percent against the decision. And, of course, the impacts of global warming are eminently visible in western Montana, with an estimated 2 million acres of dead, beetle-killed trees.

This isn’t just lost on just the blogs – here’s a roundup, in no particular order:

The Bozeman Chronicle
The Missoulian
The Helena IR
The Helena IR (again)
The Flathead Beacon
The Flathead Beacon (again)

Update

Great Falls Tribune
Firedoglake
The New York Times
Triplepundit

I said he was dangerous – “This is not a monarchy,” were my words back in December when he was picking on leaning-conservative town Bozeman. Those loving the 30-second news cycle thought it was great…hell be damned to the laws and the constitutional issues.

Triangulation anyone? I’m starting to think that Governor Brian Schweitzer is Montana’s very own Sarah Palin…and not only that – I’m betting it’s exactly what he wants!

A few weeks ago – and supermontanareporter John S. Adams gets the goods here – Governor Brian Schweitzer’s office (story gets into a who-said-what realm) “rushed along” the retirement of a Dept. of Commerce employee that spoke out against Schweitzer withholding stimulus funds:

During a hearing at the Capitol, legislators questioned Kelly Casillas, acting administrator for the Department of Commerce’s Community Development Division, about why grants for some 50 projects aren’t being released to local communities.

“The state had to make the difficult decision to put them on hold pending the current fiscal situation,” Casillas told the panel….

Cole said earlier this week that the Schweitzer administration forced him to resign last Friday after the release of a list of local grants that had been frozen by the Schweitzer administration.

Schweitzer spokeswoman Sarah Elliott said the administration didn’t know about Cole’s early retirement until after it happened.

Makes you wonder what he’s gonna do with this guy.

Democrat leaders need to speak out. This is damage being done, and a bill will come due, and I’m not talking about stimulus cash. Thought Judy Martz was bad? Imagine what the product is going to be of this behavior. Of course – Schweitzer is termed, so this year’s election is of little concern. For him.

Ask yourself: Do you want a Republican governor running around doing the same thing Schweitzer’s doing? What if it becomes cuts to DPHHS? Education? I don’t like birth control pills under Medicaid? Let’s quit with all this fancy forestry stuff – clearcut! CHIP sucks and I never liked it anyways?

See where this has the potential to go?

So – considering that I didn’t vote for the guy, what do I regret? I regret that he was allowed and enabled to get to such a point that sending out written letters demanding adherence to his coal carbon Church of Brian are now part of the ordinary course of business for the guy who calls himself “Montana’s CEO”.

~~~~~
(I want to point out, as I know I was pretty rabid on Otter Creek and have been on coal and carbon issues – I’ve wanted to let this Otter Creek thing go. They’ll be other battles to save the Tongue – and frankly, it ain’t over. But gosh giddy god darn, The Brian sure is doing his best to keep the thing in the news.)

(I also continue to cast shame on State Auditor Monica Lindeen and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch. They basically produced this current episode that is part of what will be a scour on our state for decades to come.)

TGFGOAAH

by jhwygirl

Superprogressiveeditorialist The George Ochenski has his latest column up for the Missoula Independent taking on the Fire Sale that the state land board put forward (by a 3-2 vote) on Monday by dropping the .25/ton bid price on Otter Creek coal by a full 20% 40% to .15/ton.

(I should note I stole that headline right out of GO’s post, too)

He lays out the hypocrisy of saving the Flathead from coal mining, while approving Otter Creek, knowing darn well it will destroy that valley.

That’s the difficult thing to reconcile. And while I’ve been called “bitter” for railing on Otter Creek (and yes, as a pro-coal cheerleader for Otter Creek, Governor Brian Schweitzer has been on the receiving end of this wrath) while not mentioning a peep about the wind projects approved – one was actually approved by Judy Martz (Judith Gap) – I believe that is a bit unfair.

Since Brian likes to tell stories – he compared the dropping of the bid price to an auctioneer trying to sell a couch – I’ll put forth my reasoning for not championing these wind projects.

Two rights don’t fix a wrong. If your 16-year old son takes your car for the night and comes home drunk, but still makes it home safely and by curfew, do you reward him because he came home on time without a scratch on the car? I doubt it. You aren’t going to overlook that he is drunk and that he drove drunk. Frankly, once you realize he’s drunk, the fact that he got home on time and the car was unharmed won’t mean a damned thing. And if he says to you as you drill down on him for drinking and drinking and driving “but I got home on time,” that might even piss you off more.

So approving 3 wind projects (this is kind of an extension of that hypocrisy that Ochenski was talking about, isn’t it?) over the last 5 years doesn’t make approving Otter Creek right.

These kinds of decisions aren’t like elections. It isn’t a popularity contest. There are people that don’t keep a score of good and bad and whichever you do more of in the end negates all that other stuff. I dare say that most people expect their electeds to do the right thing.

And Otter Creek was the wrong thing.

And George Ochenski kicks ass.

~~~~~~
There are other things that don’t have me all happy and cheery about those wind projects. Every single one of ’em is taking power to California or Oregon or Washington or Colorado or Nevada. They require major transmission lines crossing our state – and those transmission lines are going to mean private property is going to be taken in some cases under eminent domain (or threat of – most people end up knowing that they really can’t afford a fight with those big corporations).

So it’s kind of hard to champion wind power when we aren’t getting any of it…but what we are getting is a whole bunch of power lines crossing the state, carrying that power over our heads and over to California. AND private landowners (ranchers), some of which are reluctantly acquiescing to the presence of those lines, under the inevitable threat of a government takings lawsuit.

What is Montana? A colonial outpost for California’s electricity and Wyoming’s coal rail road market line?

Call me crazy, call me whatever – but when someone’s talking green energy, I expect it to be for us here in Montana. At least some of it.

by jhwygirl

Inquiring minds are wondering. Tomorrow’s Land Board meeting may provide the answer, as the state’s executive branch (Gov. Schweitzer, Sec. of State Linda McCulloch, Attorney General Steve Bullock, State Auditor Monica Lindeen and Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau) consider whether to lower the minimum bid for the Otter Creek coal tracts.

Most readers may recall that the Land Board, after delaying the vote in November, went ahead and approved the leases (sans Denise Juneau’s vote), back in December.

But not before listening (for the upteenth time) to hours of opponent testimony that ranged from environmentalists, tribal members and ranchers who will be directly affected by the rape of the land, litany of industry lies, and the permanent assault on both the environment and private property rights.

Their testimony of which, notably, was kept to a 3-minute time limit while proponents representing big coal interests (the Montana Coal Council) and the only likely leaser (Great Northern/Arch Coal) were allowed to ramble on. Watch the video in JC’s post on Otter Creek to hear what one opponent had to say about that treatment.

And not before adding a .15/ton bonus to the minimum bid recommendation, which was, perhaps not so ironically, arrived at through negotiation with the only potential leaser Great Norther/Arch Coal.

So it should be no surprise that the only potential bidder on the coal is whining about the minimum bid. Which, speaking of – it’s a little ridiculous to call this a bid process, IMNSHO. It sorta creates an image that there is the potential for the bid to go higher – that someone else might place a bid. Which isn’t the case here.

~~~~~~
The level to which we find our electeds here in Montana kowtowing to corporate interests all in worship to the almighty – yet elusive – “business” and “jobs” still astounds me. Proponents say that these tracts will create massive numbers of jobs, yet the total of all 5 working coal mines here in Montana doesn’t employ even 1,000 people. Factor in that the highest paid of those jobs go to out-of-state engineers and corporate big dogs, and that number becomes even lower. Mining is highly automated – and is becoming more and more automated with larger and larger machines.

The level of corporate kowtowing won’t stop with a lower of the bid price – if they do it….it’ll continue with a tromping of private property rights over those of (yep, you guess it) the developer Great Northern Arch Coal.

Certain members of the Land Board (no sense in calling anyone out in particular, and yes, Denise Juneau can be exempted here) have gone through great pains through the several hearings on Otter Creek to say that “this isn’t about the rail road” and “this isn’t about the actual mine – what we’re talking about here is just the lease” as if leasing the tracts doesn’t bring the other two.

In federal language, this is called “connected actions” and this is where federal agencies often meet their legal woes. Simply put, actions that are a result of the intended outcome must be considered.

In this previous post, titled Montana GOP leaders support federal condemnation for Otter Creek, I explained how the railroad will require condemnation (i.e., eminent domain takings) of private property. Whether the railroad will be looked at as a common carrier has yet to be seen, but even if that doesn’t occur, state law can and will be used in an attempt to condemn for that railroad.

Great Northern/Arch Coal will use MCA 70.30.102 – using a pretty wide interpretation of “public uses” (since the only one truly benefiting from the railroad will be Great Northern/Arch Coal) – to condemn private property to build this railroad. A railroad that will help Arch Coal move its Wyoming coal more cheaply to markets both east and west.

And before any wingers go screaming “tax revenue” as a public use, let me remind you of the Kelo case (which is linked to within the condemnation piece above).

I’ll also remind you that the private property of Kelo, condemned in the Kelo case, still sits unused by a now bankrupt private entity that had successfully gained the property through eminent domain.

Yessiree, this Otter Creek is one big mess. The Land Board added the .15/ton bonus payment saying it wouldn’t sell the coal cheaply. That the kids would benefit (McCulloch had some constitutional blackout with that one, since only the legislature can appropriate). Even the Good Gov has long said he would not sell Otter Creek cheaply.

We’ll see, won’t we.

~~~~~~~~
For those of you interested, you can watch the Land Board hearing live by watching it on TVMT (Channel 67 here in Missoula, other channel listings for around the state can be found here.)

You could also stream it live from the state’s website, links which can be found here, at the top of the page.

Oddly – and even the Land Board’s website is pretty clear about this – the Land Board doesn’t archive its audio or video of the Land Board meetings. This is opposite the very efficient and public-information friendly legislative branch who archives not only audio and video from years past sessions, but committee meetings along with the written minutes.

SO – if you want to watch the Land Board hearing, you best set 4 or 5 hours on the DVR or VCR to tape, or catch it live. Because after that, it’s only a memory. Of course, a month later you can read the typed minutes, but those aren’t complete transcriptions.

Nothing like seeing your elected officials in action, peeps.

~~~~~~
In closing – please take the time to call or email the Land Board members tonight…or before 9 a.m. tomorrow. Tell them that leasing that coal at a lower price further perpetuates corporate welfare.

Also, don’t just listen to me – read Button Valley’s 2 most recent Otter Creek-related posts: Value of school children plummets and “If not now, when? If not us, who?”. You can also search the term “otter” over there for a whole wealth of informative posts on Otter Creek.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer — (406) 444-3111, governor@mt.gov

Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau — In-State Toll-Free 1-888-231-9393, Local (406) 444-3095 OPISupt@mt.gov

Attorney General Steve Bullock – (406) 444-2026 contact doj@mt.gov

State Auditor Monica Lindeen – (406) 444-2040 mlindeen@mt.gov

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch – (406) 444-2034 sos.mt.gov

by jhwygirl

That’s really what they’re saying when they they send a letter to the Land Board telling them to support leasing the Otter Creek tracts.

As Wally McRae, a rancher who will be on the receiving end of such eminent domain condemnation proceedings has said:

“If you vote in favor of leasing the Otter Creek coal, come say to me, face to face, that you don’t mind if the Tongue River Railroad, a for-profit corporation, condemns my land under federal eminent domain.”

And – just to be clear here – if Montana’s state Land Board votes in favor of the coal leases, they, too – the state’s 5 highest elected officials, all Democrats – will be sending an “all clear” message to Montana’s citizens – and the federal courts – that condemnation of private property in the name of a private entity (isn’t this sounding strangely like Kelo v. City of New London Connecticut?) is OK, and we support it. Because that coal has no access right now…and it is a public entity approving that lease.

And landowners around Montana – and ranchers around the state who own land interspersed with state trust land – will then wonder how well Democrats in this state will protect their private property rights when a private entity like Great Northern Coal comes a-knockin’.

by jhwygirl

Left in the West’s Yellowstone Kelly has a post up predicting tomorrow’s state Land Board decision regarding the leasing of the Otter Creek coal leases in eastern Montana.

I won’t be so bold as to make a prediction – and even if I were, it wouldn’t be the 4-1 supposition that Yellowstone Kelly put up, mainly due to my continued hope that Montana’s 5 highest elected officials will see the sense in their party’s platform that supports clean energy and the lunacy in bringing up a billion tons of coal from the ground. Someone’s gonna burn it, and it’s gonna be dirty and that is an unchanging fact.

Not only do we – do Democrats – have a responsibility to our school children, we have a responsibility to the environment. Leasing 1 billion tons of coal is not environmentally responsible.

Sec. of State Linda McCulloch can speak all she wants about funding the school children, but she makes that statement without any regards to the other income potentials to the Otter Creek tracts – income that can be cleaner and sustainable (as opposed to mining for coal).

In fact, the decision on Otter Creek has been framed as being “for the children” and “for the schools” – and anyone saying that is taking advantage of the public’s lack of knowledge concerning trust land revenue and how it effects school funding. It’s irresponsible, and it is dangerously close to being untruthful.

Let’s say this to be clear: Leasing the Otter Creek tracts will have NO direct effect on the funding levels for schools. That is a fact, pointed out aptly enough by MEA-MFT president Eric Feaver MEA-MFT is the union which represents teachers, and has been behind repeated calls for increased funding to the state’s K-12 schools.

Funding for schools is set by the legislature. Revenue from any income generated on school trust land is deposited in the trust (which is really what having a trust is all about) and the interest is what may be used to fund schools. It is the interest, and that amount it what helps fund schools. What is available and what the legislature uses are completely independent of each other.

Montana’s citizens – and its press – would do well to better understand the school trust and the school funding system. It’s complex – I won’t pretend to be an expert – but I will say that hearing what I’ve heard from a number of elected officials has made me cringe over the years.

Leasing of the Otter Creek tracts has along list of ramifications – degradation to the environment, degradation to water quality…condemnations under governmental actions of eminent domain – all of which being with the destructive act of bringing the stuff up out of the ground.

Help out the many ranchers who live in and near the Otter Creek tracts that will be effected, and write a short email to the Land Board members tonight and let them know that leasing the tracts is a bad, bad idea. Monday’s meeting is 9, so time’s a wastin’ people – get ‘er done:

Gov. Brian Schweitzer — (406) 444-3111, governor@mt.gov

Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau — In-State Toll-Free 1-888-231-9393, Local (406) 444-3095 OPISupt@mt.gov

Attorney General Steve Bullock – (406) 444-2026 contact doj@mt.gov

State Auditor Monica Lindeen – (406) 444-2040 mlindeen@mt.gov

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch – (406) 444-2034 sos.mt.gov

OR you could cut and past these into your email: governor@mt.gov; OPISupt@mt.gov; doj@mt.gov; mlindeen@mt.gov; sos@mt.gov Be sure to put “Otter Creek” in the subject line.

~~~~~
For more information on Otter Creek, you can put the words “otter” or “Tongue” into our search here (over there on the rigth) or, even better, head on over to The Button Valley Bugle and do the same. The Editor at The BV Bugle has done the finest of jobs in covering the issues on Otter Creek – and both of us have peppered our posts with plenty of links providing additional sources of information. In fact, I see The Editor has a “final push” post up too – titled “Otter Creek and Utter Rhetoric” that shouldn’t be missed.

by jhwygirl

This comes to me via a reader from Bozeman. I’ve edited it slightly for posting.

The Billings Gazette reports on the Otter Creek coal tracts and the decision to be made Monday by the State Land Board. Letters sent via email are needed NOW to stop the giveaway of state resources to out-of-state corporate coal. Slow down. Coal is not clean, coal power is not clean, and coal mining is not clean. If coal development happens, it should not happen in rushed manner without benefit to Montana.

This is NOT about jobs. With six big strip mines and a new underground mine, Montana is already the 5th largest coal producer in the country, and that has translated into only 1008 jobs total, according the the coal companies’ own Montana Coal Council.

The important thing is write an email NOW and send it to the members of the Montana State Land Board:

Gov. Brian Schweitzer — (406) 444-3111, governor@mt.gov

Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau — In-State Toll-Free 1-888-231-9393, Local (406) 444-3095 OPISupt@mt.gov

Attorney General Steve Bullock – (406) 444-2026 contact doj@mt.gov

State Auditor Monica Lindeen – (406) 444-2040 mlindeen@mt.gov

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch – (406) 444-2034 sos.mt.gov

OR you could cut and past these into your email: governor@mt.gov; OPISupt@mt.gov; doj@mt.gov; mlindeen@mt.gov; sos@mt.gov Be sure to put “Otter Creek” in the subject line.

~~~~~
Monday’s Land Board hearing begins at 9 a.m., so as you can see action is needed now.

Many have blogged on Otter Creek. For a great start, Button Valley has done a number of pieces. Remember the Tongue River Valley and Maybe We Shouldn’t Otter are two that contain a number of links to other sources, including one to 4&20 hero and Indy columnist extraordinaire George Ochenski.

The Northern Cheyenne, who darn near border the area and who will be affected directly by any development, have – officially – barely endorsed the plan. As you can see from their comment provided to the Land Board earlier this year, they are suspicious that the promises made to them for jobs won’t be followed through. Seeing the facts on jobs from the Montana Coal Council, they should be suspicious.

Despite the official response of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, meetings held this summer showed even less support amongst the tribes, and native American news source Reznet has that perspective.

Coal isn’t clean. Montana is not the Saudi Arabia of coal as the Governor and Arch Coal and Great Northern would want us to believe. Many organizations have been working hard to drive this message home to the Land Board, including Northern Plains Resource Council and the the Montana Environmental Information Center, two very fine organizations that have fought the good fight, taking up against the state in a number of environmental cases and winning. Economists here in the state (and elsewhere) have said the Otter Creek tracts are overvalued.

Arch Coal will now use pressure to get final approval of its leases at the Land Board on Monday. They have no access – they have no railroad. Two significant impediments to that access are the heir to the Mars candy fortune – who has said “NO” to the railroad moving through his property – and FWP, whose board recently denied a request from Great Northern for its railroad through some of its land. Condemnations and eminent domain requests are messy and lengthy. Why should the state lease its land now when not only is access lacking, but once (and if) major impediments are removed, the value of that coal (if there really is value) and the leases themselves will increase immensely?

Please take the time as you read this to send and email and ask the Land Board to say “NO” to Otter Creek until all effects and affects of both the mine and the railroad can be assessed.

Below is the news alert from the Sierra Club. Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

NW Montana – Columbia Falls, to be specific – is taking another significant living-wage job loss hit, this time in the form of the closure of the Columbia Falls Aluminum (CFA) plant. The Missoulian’s Michael Jamison has a meaty story up on the closure and how the plant got to that point.

Cheap subsidized electricity, or rising electricity costs, depending on how you look at it.

Jamison details the court challenges that brought the cost of power for the plant to where it is today. A few things strike me, first being the tenacity of both BPA (a quasi-governmental outfit that moves power around the Pacific Northwest) and CFA: BPA was sued for providing at-cost power. BPA lost. BPA and CFA immediately put together a “bridge” agreement to continue more of the same. BPA is sued again. BPA loses again.

Screw the courts, they were determined to do what they wanted to do.

Secondly, I wonder about that relationship between BPA and CFA. And who else is getting that kind of deal? BPA is a quasi-government entity. They operate with a pretty swift hand when the see fit, under the umbrella of eminent domain and all other sorts of perks afforded to it where they operate. But they were also created out of an act in Congress, for the sole purpose of moving power from the NW’s dams to other areas in the West for no cost. That is (ah-hem) non-profit.

So when BPA was providing so-called “no cost” power CPA – and keeping in mind, BPA is a non-profit, so they’re not actually cutting their losses by cutting someone a deal – consumers were paying whatever it is we were paying.

Someone was paying for CPA’s power, and it wasn’t some for-profit corporate executives salary (it rarely is) – it was the taxpayer. You and me. Anyone using electricity here in Montana – anywhere here in the West or the region BPA serves – Montana, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and parts of Wyoming, Utah, Nevada and California.

Many people wonder where the power produced here in Montana goes. So do I. Montana can champion all those windmill sites (some going back to having been approved by Martz) – but if the power’s going to California, big friggin’ deal. If the consumer here in Montana is paying for the infrastructure that moves Montana-made power down to California, well – now that there would be pretty screwed up now, wouldn’t it?

Montana can run around championing a 210 megawatt plan near Glacier but if the power is bound for California, its Montana championing green energy for California while creating just a dozen full time jobs here in Montana and a whole bunch of powerlines running across our landscape.

Montana’s not gonna get green browning up our landscape with powerlines for California. That’s all I’m sayin’.

And as for the free market? Seems everyone loves it until they actually have to live with it.

by jhwygirl

Please consider this an open thread

What do you think is going to happen when the Army Corp of Engineers tries this crap here in Missoula??

Ten toxic things you should never discuss on the internet

I think we’ve only discussed 4 of ’em here…

A majority of conservatives think that Colbert is pretending to be joking on his evening show “The Colbert Report”

Still? Even after that famous roast of George W. Bush? Oy vey!

Two action items, folks: Button Valley Bugle reports that FWP is considering allowing the proposed Tongue River Railroad run right through the Miles City hatchery. This railroad is needed to open up the Otter Creek tracts, which the state acquired in some boondoggle scheme to stop gold mining that was never going to happen on the edge of Yellowstone National Park.

The Tongue River, on the other hand, is being called The National Sacrifice Area by the Editor, and sadly they’re quite right. Coal bed methane activities are polluting the precious water resource of the Tongue and salinating wells across the land, and now the Otter Creek tract proposal. A number of environmental affronts would occur should the State Land Board decide to open these tracts to leasing for coal mining – the railroad and not only its large environmental footprint on the landscape and the spreading of pollution it will leave across landscape, but its trampling of private property rights that the eminent domain activities of the state will seek along the way. Clean Coal is a myth, something we’ve written about a number of times…and in case you had any doubts, check out the latest fallacy concerning coal

Well, I’ve tuckered myself out. Looks gorgeous out. I’m hitting the sunshine. What say you?

.




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