Archive for the ‘Water Quality’ Category

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.

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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

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 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

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 Pete Talbot

Special session?

There are rumors in Helena that this session could end early.  It’s all coming down to the budget, now, and since the Republicans aren’t accepting any amendments or, really, compromising on anything, their budget proposal will head straight to the governor. Schweitzer will veto it.  That pretty much guarantees an early out — I’ve heard April 2 instead of the scheduled April 21 end date — and a special session.  Thanks, GOP, for not reaching across the aisle and getting the people’s business done in 90 days … and costing the state more money in a special session.

Champ is still a chump

They don’t mind spending money on a special session but are loathe to spend money on children, Montana college kids, seniors and the poor.  Republican Champ Edmunds (HD-100) has a letter to the editor today that plays fast-and-loose with the facts-and-figures in explaining the Republican budget.

A more accurate description comes from Democrat Carol Williams (SD-46):

“The Governor’s budget is balanced, funds critical services and maintains the second largest savings account in Montana history.  The Republican budget is balanced on the backs of women, children and seniors.  Republicans took an ax to the budget when we have money in the bank,” she said.  “I had hoped that we would be able to say to Montana’s families: we’re going to take care of your children if they get sick, make sure you put food on your table, and keep your homes warm.  But the Republican majority turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Montanans who came before the committee asking for services to be restored.”

Here are some of the facts:

* $206.2 million in cuts to the Montana families, kids, students, and seniors

* $49 million eliminated from Medicaid which would result in 4,084 babies losing coverage.

* $34.9 million cut from SNAP/Food Assistance impacting 53,000 kids, 30,000 seniors, and 42,000 adults who would go without food benefits for two months.

* $35 million rejected in healthcare information technology for 47 critical access hospitals in rural areas across the state.

* $26 million slashed from Healthy Montana Kids that would boot 5,000 children off of health insurance.

* $9.6 million removed from LIEAP that will force 12,000 families to go without heating assistance the next two winters.

* $4.7 million cut from family services eliminating services used by over 27,000 Montana families every year for healthcare, screenings and reproductive care.

* $32 million in cuts to higher education, which will result in a tuition increase of 26% over the next two years.

Williams added that with the $174.2 million in cuts to the Health and Human Services budget, Republicans turned back over $80 million in federal money, which could go to other states.  She also noted that the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana estimates that for every $10 million cut in healthcare, about 144 jobs are lost.  These cuts could result in a loss of over 2,508 healthcare jobs.

The tale of two headlines

I’ve been visiting the Magic City of Billings and reading the Billings Gazette. Here was the Front Page, above the fold, headline on Sunday:

Poll: Tightening up medical marijuana law preferable to repeal

When I checked my hometown paper, the Missoulian, here was its Front Page headline:

Most Favor Repeal

And it had a subhead that read: Lee Newspaper poll shows that 52 percent support dumping law.

Here’s the story, and while the Missoulian headline is technically correct, if you read the entire piece you’ll notice that if not given any other choice, yeah, Montanans would be in favor of a repeal. But, if given the option, 57 percent backed stricter regulations and licensing requirements, while 31 percent wanted to repeal the law and 11 percent favored keeping the current law intact.  So basically, 68 percent don’t favor repeal.

The Gazette got it right.  Missoulian: that’s lazy headline writing.

Molnar screws Missoula

I was pleasantly surprised when two of the three Republicans on the PSC voted to allow the Clark Fork Coalition “intervenor status” in the review of Mountain Water’s sale to the Carlyle Group, a private global investment firm.  Republicans Bill Gallagher and Travis Kavulla joined Democrats Gail Gutsche and John Vincent in the votes.  Volatile Republican Brad Molnar voted against CFC in intervening on behalf of Missoula water drinkers saying, “it’s a purchase issue and they don’t have standing.”  Thanks, four out of five, for voting (initially at least) in Missoula’s interest.  The Garden City needs all the friends it can get while battling this international conglomerate.

Some newspaper kudos

I’m one of the first to throw brickbats at our state’s newspapers. We are, however, extremely fortunate to have veteran Lee Newspaper reporters Mike Dennison and Chuck Johnson covering the state capitol.  An unscientific poll over at LiTW (you’ll have to scroll down a little) has blogs being the first source for information on the Montana Legislature — among bloggers, naturally.  That’s a nice ego stroke but I still continue to turn to seasoned reporters as my first source for news and analysis. Then I go to the blogs.  (I particularly respect anything Dennison writes on health care issues.  His Montana perspective on the effects of the national health care debate has been Pulitzer Prize calibre IMHO.)

John Adams of the Great Falls Tribune has done some outstanding legislative reporting although I don’t follow him as much.  There just aren’t enough hours in the day.  Same with Montana Public Radio.  Thank you, all, and keep up the good work.

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.

by jhwygirl

The latest meme from our bloviating Governor Brian Schweitzer is that the Canadian tar sands – slated for expansion – are (get this) “conflict free”:

“I would say this is conflict-free oil and I don’t want to send one more son or daughter from Montana to defend an oil supply from one of these dictators and become dependent on that energy supply,” he said in an interview with the Canadian Press from his office in Helena.

Really?

There are Canadiansordinary citizens, doctors and Fort Chipewyan tribal members – that would disagree with you.

Does the fact that they don’t have bombs and guns make it conflict free? Because I don’t agree with that. I know I’m not the only one.

Hypocrisy and ignorance barely begins to describe the irony behind Schweitzer’s comments to the Canadian press this past week. Governor Schweitzer is a guy who doesn’t want to see the Flathead mined, yet approved a coal mine next to a Class 1 air shed (tromping on Crow tribal rights) and an alluvial floodplain right in Montana’s Tongue River valley.

Governor Schweitzer is a guy – born in Montana – who doesn’t seem to know his history, or even the higher cancer rates we saw right here in the upper Clark Fork basin because of the rape and pillage by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company (think Atlas Shrugs by Ayn Rand) that polluted everything near it from Butte to Missoula and beyond.

Schweitzer’s comments were made all the more pornographic given they occurred 30 years from when corporate irresponsibility suffocated Anaconda Montana.

Maybe The Brian should read Anaconda native Patrick Duganz’s words?

If they aren’t enough to expose him to the conflict of corporate irresponsibility, perhaps he should try and learn the lessons so many others haven’t forgotten of the dirty filth that mining has layed upon our lands.

Schweitzer sure is oblivious to this stuff isn’t he – and consider he’s got 130 million or so dollars of Natural Resource Damage Protection Program funds to spend to try and buy back lands to mitigate that environmental disaster thrust upon our state 100 years ago.

Maybe he forgot where that money came from?

Schweitzer is spouting off his newest talking point of “conflict free” as pressure mounts, nationwide, to stop the transport of the Korean-built Kearl modules up and over the Montana-Idaho border, adjacent to the Clearwater and Lochsa River, adjacent to Lolo Creek…through Missoula and next to the Blackfoot A-River-Runs-Through-It River, then up and over another mountain pass and on to the tar sands in Alberta.

Movie director and producer James Cameron? This Montanan thanks you.

Our Governor feigns to respect tribal peoples – yet the Nez Pierce, over who’s native lands these modules will travel – have objected to the modules.

Scientific journals are confirming high levels of carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium being thrust upon the native peoples of Canada. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America has published a paper explaining the pornography of the situation.

Discover Magazine has a pedestrian-friendly article on the issue.

Governor Schweitzer? You call yourself a scientist, don’t you? If cancer was reigning down in your watershed, would you call that “conflict free”?

Did Montana call that conflict free when it happened here?

by jhwygirl

Journalist extraordinaire Jodi Rave – who covers Native issues and the issues that affect Native peoples not just here in Montana, but worldwide – announced her new blog Buffalo’s Fire a few weeks back, kicked off for me with a post announcing that one of the most amazing social activists evah, Winona LaDuke, was coming to Montana to speak about environmental justice and to participate in a two-day event that would also bring the Indigo Girls.

The first day of the two-day event is tonight with a buffalo feast that will honor Elouise Cobell for her work towards seeking a settlement in the long and hard fought Cobell v. Salazar lawsuit.

Saturday presents an extraordinary opportunity for Montanans to hear Winona LaDuke moderate a panel that includes an amazing set of speakers Eriel Deranger from the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations of Canada, speaking on the impacts of tar sands oil development; Gail Small of the Northern Cheyenne Reservation will talk about her community’s ongoing struggle to stop coal development; Francis Auld, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes cultural preservation officer will address sacred sites; Rich Janssen, acting director of the CSKT Natural Resource Department will address environmental concerns of the Flathead Reservation.

Yes – this all ties in with the Exxon/Imperial Oil/MDOT/Schweitzer plan to transport Korean built oversized loads up along the historic and scenic Lochsa River, down along Lolo Creek, through Missoula and on up adjacent to the historic and scenic Blackfoot River. From there it’ll be over Rodger Pass (yep, they’re doing this in winter, folks), and on up through Great Falls to Canada’s tar sands.

It’s “jobs, jobs, jobs,” as Governor Brian Schweitzer put it – but what it really is is jobs for N. Koreans and Canadians…and one-time only highway flag-waving jobs for Montanans. Yipee!!

I saw Winona LaDuke once. She left me breathless with her impact as a speaker. I was moved for days. Still am when I think about it.

Winona and the panel discussion begins tomorrow at 1:30 in Pablo at Johnny Arlee/Victor Charlo Theatre at the Salish Kootenai College. Click on that link above for more information.

~~~~~
The Kearl Transport Exxon/Imperial Oil modules have many ramifications. Widening of roads for turnouts – roads that are adjacent to important fisheries like the Lochsa, Lolo Creek and the Blackfoot River. Widenings that will increase turbidity discharge into these important waters. Travel of these oversized loads represent jobs lost to Americans and Canadians – and support of N. Korea. North Korea.

Those tar sands? It’s some of the filthiest stuff and the nastiest process on earth. Massive large-scale destruction of boreal forests to scoop up the stuff for processing. It ruins watersheds, and it destroys water tables. The Athabasca Chipewyan native peoples suffer from the air poisoned by its toxins, and die from the rare cancers it has brought to the region.

Then there’s the larger scale impact of the use and reliance on oil.

Here are a couple links to the health issues that processing these tar sands brings:
An Interview with Mike Mercredi, Athabasca Chipewyan First Nations
Pollution flows downstream
Why is Cancer Sweeping Tiny Fort Chipewyan?

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

Ravalli County Health Department is considering postponing the issuance of certain septic permits – in areas of known high groundwater – due to low snowpack, which ranges from 51% to 60%.

That number has now slipped to 50% in the Bitterroot (which equals the Lower Clark Fork basin, which is also at 50%.)

Groundwater monitoring is necessary to determine proper placement of septic fields. The state discourages groundwater monitoring if the April 1 to March 31 precipitation is less than 75 percent of normal.

Which means we’d have to get an awful lot of precipitation in the next few days here to reach that 75% threshold.

What does that mean for Missoula? Well, the Lower Clark Fork makes up much of Missoula County. The Lower Clark Fork basin is comprised of 3 sub-basins. You can check this map to see all of the basins.

I don’t know if any ya’all been up the Blackfoot lately – or in Seeley Lake, but spring has definitely sprung up there – and I caught dustclouds and a quad rolling on what is usually a snowmobile trail up there about three weeks ago.

With the state making recommendations – or discouraging (whatever that means — gotta love Montana’s laws when it comes to water quality, huh?) – to hold on testing when water equivalent is below 75%, that puts a wide area of the state at that less-than-75% threshold.

Of course, I don’t know that Missoula County is considering this – or if they’re even monitoring it…but I did find it interesting that Ravalli County was monitoring the situation and already discussing the actions that might be taken Given the situations appear to be very much the same, it seems a worthy question to ask.

by jhwygirl

Back in early December, 5 senior water rights holders in 4 different basins filed a complaint to the state over its Administrative Rules regarding exempt wells. The complainants claim that the failure to adequately review the impacts of each water right as it may harm senior water rights holders can not continue – that the interpretation of what a combined appropriation (as it is in Administrative Rules) does not meet the lawful obligations under the Constitution, nor do the ARM meet the lawful intent under Montana Code Annotated.

I am in full agreement – here are just two previous posts on the subject of “exempt wells” – HERE and HERE.

Billings Gazette had a brief release today, noticing that a hearing had been set for June on exempt wells. While the brief post didn’t explain much, it’s clear from the comments that people are paying attention to the issue.

From the DNRC’s website:

HELENA, Mont. – The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation (DNRC) today announced the appointment of a hearings officer and a schedule for submitting briefs and public comment on water appropriation rules governing exempt wells in Montana.

“The use of exempt wells is an issue of statewide importance, with statewide implications,” said DNRC Director Mary Sexton. “This briefing and public hearing process will allow formal input from all interested parties.”

DNRC Deputy Director Joe Lamson will serve as hearings officer and will make the final determination on the issue, Sexton said.

Opening Briefs and Position Statements are due at DNRC’s Water Resources Division Hearings Unit by 5 p.m. on April 30, 2010. Responses are due by 5 p.m. on June 4, 2010.

Sexton said the Public Hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on June 17, 2010, in Room 303 (the Old Supreme Court Chambers) of the State Capitol, 1301 E. Sixth Avenue, in Helena.

In December 2009, the Western Environmental Law Center on behalf of five petitioners requested DNRC to make a ruling on whether the combined appropriations rule governing exempt wells is consistent with applicable law.

Petitioners additionally requested DNRC adopt a new definition of the rule. Sexton said the Dept. would refrain from taking up the amendment request until a determination is made on the declaratory ruling, which is expected in July, 2010.

“This process may not be the final step in determining the appropriate use of exempt wells,” Sexton said. “Further court or legislative action made be necessary to ensure we have clarification of the term ‘combined appropriation.'”

I hope Montanans take notice of this issue – as now is the time to speak out. The problem, in a nutshell, is the state’s current exemption for review on wells (typically domestic) of up to 35 gallons per minute. And interpretation which has made its way into ARM rules allows for subdivisions to be approved as having adequate water if the developer relies on each lot drilling its own well (as opposed to looking at the combined appropriation of water for the entire subdivision and its impacts on senior water rights at the time of subdivision reviews. The rules conflict in complete ignorance to the guarantee and protections to senior water rights holders.

Developers are skating the review process for adequate water in new subdivisions by relying on exempt wells. This is occurring in closed basins – basins that the state already acknowledges are over-appropriated.

What is Montana? Is there room for ranching and farming? Water is a big part of that. Do we preserve those rights? Or do we punt the Constitution and the property rights of the individuals over the desirous property rights of those who wish to develop?

by jhwygirl

A timely post, given that the corporate welfare 15 cent bid (or bids) for the Otter Creek coal tracts were announced late Monday.

Below are Attorney General Steve Bullock’s comments at the February hearing where the Land Board (in a 3-2 vote, with Bullock and Superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction Denise Juneau voting no) lowered the bid price from 25 cent/ton to 15 cent/ton, a 40% reduction.

Governor, my colleagues – this is certainly a decision that’s received its share of attention and I think that often the loss of the arguments both for and against – and it always doesn’t fit into a two-minute news story – are the requirements that the Constitution imposes upon us as Land Board members.

This isn’t a policy decision like a legislator can make for or against continued development of coal. And it’s not like the decision to sell off a piece of surplus property. Montana Supreme Court has said that we have a duty to the public that goes beyond that of the ordinary business man. The courts have also said that the Land Board must get full market value – the largest measure of legitimate advantage – for any property that we lease or sell.

When I voted in December to lease Otter Creek I said that I’ll support the project if it’s done right…and doing it in a manner consistent with our Constitutional duties carries with it in my mind at least three considerations: First, the coal must be leased and developed in a way that follows our environmental laws and includes continued oversight by this board. Second, the lease must maximize the benefit to the trust as the Constitution requires, and third – that Montana taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for a railroad that benefits coal and power companies.

I don’t believe that lowering the bid price to 15 cents per ton or monkeying with royalty payments fulfills that obligation to maximize the benefit to the state treasury. And I think it’s easy to think that all we’re talking about today when we’re talking about the difference between 25 cents and 15 cents per ton for a bonus bid is one thin dime.

The drop in our bonus bid of 10 cents will cost the state $57 million. That’s $57 million dollars.

This 10 cent reduction will cost the treasury about the amount generated by every timber sale this board approved over the last 5 years.

Even in these tough times, Montana’s budget is in a stronger position than just about every other state because we’ve been fiscally conservative. Unloading the coal with a bonus bid that’s a fraction of what our neighbors are charging isn’t’ consistent with that fiscal responsibility that we’ve shown.

And it certainly, in my estimation, doesn’t meet the Constitutional obligations to maximize the amount of money we return to the state treasury.

And as the board is looking and considering to lower the bidder royalty to make this more attractive for the coal developers I don’t think that we can do that without acknowledging that we will be funding the Tongue River Railroad. I’ve said since the beginning that what I don’t want to see is Montana taxpayers footing the bill for a railroad to get coal and energy companies a windfall. And I’ve also said that were the railroad in place I think everyone would agree that we’d be getting more for this lease than what Arch has so-far signaled that it is willing to pay.

I’ve asked rail economists to independently analyze this..and provided that to the Board and they concluded that the Wyoming-originated coal will save $2.83/ton in shipping costs if this railroad is completed.

While we’re debating whether to reduce our bonus bid by another 10 cents a ton, Wyoming shippers will be getting a discount of 28 times that if the railroad is completed. And while we’re talking about reducing the amount to our treasury by $57 million, this review shows that a railroad in the Tongue River can save existing coal mines and power companies potentially well over $100 million each and every year.

I just don’t think that in these tough economic times Montana taxpayers should be asked to effectively be bailing out multi-national coal and energy companies. That’s not the state’s role.

Now – there will be a time when this project makes sense and I think there will be a bidder that will be willing to pay full market value for the right to develop this resource. And as members of the Land Board that at that time we do have a Constitutional obligation to lease that land. Until then, I don’t think that we need to have a fire sale. I will be voting against the motion to reduce the bonus bid from 25 to 15 cents.

After which the room broke out in applause.

Bullock’s decision was not easy. It showed. Saying the things he said contradicts much of what the proponents of the leases (on both sides of the table) had said.

Doing the right thing should not be so hard. Insider politics makes doing the right thing hard. I hope Bullock has seen the support that has stuck to him his decision to do the right thing.

I know I will remember. Thank you Denise – Thank you Steve.

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

In a 3 – 2 vote (Schweitzer, McCulloch and Lindeen voting yes), the Land Board voted to lower the minimum bid price on the Otter Creek tracts from .25/ton to .15/ton.

I’ve yet to stomach a viewing of the entire hearing – but thanks to my DVR (and since the Land Board doesn’t archive its audio and video like the legislature has been able to do for quite a number of years), I’ll be watching it tonight.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and Attorney General Steve Bullock both voted against the project. For that, I am deeply grateful.

I hope to transcribe the testimony and comments of at least two individuals from today’s hearing. AG Bullock spoke to the corporate welfare that he saw about to be dispensed. Another opponent spoke to the corporate money of Arch Coal – where they put it and the return they would get if the leases were approved.

Those words – like Juneau’s “no” vote in December – need to be out there so that people can be reminded of precisely what was at stake when Otter Creek becomes the disaster that will be.

And make no mistake, those that voted yes were keenly aware of that impending disaster. Lee reporter Mike Dennison captured that awareness by referencing Governor Schweitzer’s promises to Montana’s water resources prior to the yes vote by he and Lindeen and McCulloch. I’ve gone ahead and transcribed them word for word. Read them and ponder why the taxpayers must forego $5 million in coal revenues to the general fund or to the school trust (he didn’t say where he planned to take that $5 million) to protect Montana’s water resources.

I’m going to instruct my budget director, to put in my budget that we take to the legislature, $5 million so that every high school in Montana will either have solar panels or a wind turbine at their school and in order for them to receive this money – which is approximately $32,000 per school – they’ll have to sign a contract with the Department of Commerce that they will spend a minimum of 5 hours teaching time in each of those classrooms with every high school student in Montana explaining to them how this alternative energy works and how it is the energy of the future. I’m also going to instruct the budget director to put $5 million in the budget to protect those that live in Otter Creek and their water. I don’t know who the director of DEQ will be 8 years, 12 years, 20 years from now. I’ve no idea who will be seated on this land board…who will be responsible at the DNRC. We can’t control that – the people of Montana will elect those positions, and the rest of ’em will be appointed. So that’s why whether the DEQ or the DNRC has the fortitude to make sure that the mining companies are protecting the water assets of the people that live there and farm there and ranch there and raise children will not be in doubt – because there will be $5 million put aside. And those monies – $5 million and $5 million – would come from this bonus bid.

While the “people that live there and farm there and ranch there and raise children” can’t take that $5 million to the bank – only the legislature can appropriate – what they can take to the bank is proof, given to us today by the 3 yes votes, that corporate coal money reigns supreme over their water, their lives, their farms, their ranches and their children.

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

“We, as students from Big Sky High School, do not want our school funding to come from coal,” said Allison Lawrence, one of the protesters at the rally. “We would rather live with old books than get blood money for shiny new computers.”

by JC

This came across my email via the Missoula Community News listserve:

Via KPAX:

MISSOULA – Several dozen Big Sky High School seniors took their opposition to an eastern Montana coal mining project to the next level by walking out of class to protest.

As many as 100 students left class before the end of school on Tuesday to protest the State Land Board’s recent decision to lease the Otter Creek coal tracts.

The grassroots environmental group Northern Rockies Rising Tide took pictures as the students carried home-made signs and marched down South Avenue to Reserve Street.

Protesters say that money from the Otter Creek leases is supposed to support public schools but it’s “unclear” whether the money will be directly used that way.

Go Big Sky High!!!

by jhwygirl

I’d been waiting….frankly, I was a little concerned that he might be recruited by some org in the private sector, and we’d loose a legislative superstar.

Senator Dave Wanzenried announced on Wednesday that he would be once again seeking the senate seat in senate district 49.

Wanzenried currently sits on several senate committees: Finance and Claims, Highways and Transportation, Natural Resources and Rules committees. He is also on the Joint Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

In 2007-2008, he chaired the Environmental Quality Council, a product of the Montana Environmental Protection Act in our state constitution. He’s now moved over to vice-chair the Water Policy interim committee.

Ya’all know how I feel about water and natural resource issues.

Which brings me to reference the Missoulian article on his announcement. The article points to two issues Wanzenried highlighted. One being the value of small business to Montana’s economy, and fostering an environment that both bolsters business and enhances expansion.

The other? Water. Wanzenried is committed to solving Montana’s water issues. Issues and events are bringing water issues to an apex or a disaster, depending on your perspective. Here’s the senator on the issue:

“As water flows decline while the demand for water increases, there will be tensions amongst a large number of users: agriculture; municipal, hydroelectric, recreationists, fisheries,” he said. “In our efforts to plan for a drier future, we must preserve the rights of senior water rights holders, the cornerstone of Montana water law.”

by jhwygirl

The joint interim Water Policy Committee meets this Wednesday and Thursday to discuss water issues. Day one is pretty much water permitting and exempt wells, while Thursday will encompass coalbed methane (CBM) and its water-related issues.

You can listen or watch the sessions live by streaming from links on the legislative main page or watching it on local cable (channel 67 here in Missoula).

Some of you may recall that Governor Schweitzer had the good sense, this past session, to veto HB575, which would have given free reign for CBM developers to drain the aquifer and be limited to a minimal amount of liability to the ranchers they affect.

All very interesting stuff…and most interesting will be the discussion regarding exempt wells. Just last month, 5 senior water rights holders (including the Clark Fork Coalition) filed a formal request to the DNRC for new rules regarding exempt wells. Their request centers on the belief that failure to provide any review of exempt wells is ignoring and endangering senior water rights.

I mean – come on…..this state is allowing exempt wells in closed basins. How, pray tell, will they shut off all those exempt wells should a senior water right holder call for water?

Imagine the public health and safety issues.

It’s not clear what is to become of that formal request. Per state law, the state has 60 days to respond and either initiate the requested rule-making or explain why they don’t feel it’s necessary. Some might view it as the water rights holders having served notice: Get it done or we’ll see what the courts have to say.

Button Valley, of course, does a nice rundown on exempt wells and some of the issues that the Water Policy Committee will be looking at.

Montanan’s are lucky to have two water quality superstar advocates on the committee – Missoula’s Senator David Wanzenried and Bozeman’s Representative J.P. Pomnichowski. Both have worked tirelessly on water quality and quantity issues – and it’s good to see their institutional knowledge being continued in such an important committee for such an important issue.

Both are up for re-election, too…just in case you’re wondering where to h$lp on on a worthy legislator’s re-election.

Remember: What is Montana without its water?

(jhwygirl) Public comment for the proposed leasing of the state’s Otter Creek coal closes soon. A public hearing, continued from last month, is next Monday. I question our state’s commitment to green energy. You don’t pull a billion tons of coal out of the ground to look at it. Coal is filthy. Someone’s burning it somewhere. Ironically, Otter Creek is an area identified as viable for wind energy. The Button Valley Bugle (who has been on a roll lately) reminds us that some dogs are best left sleeping.

Anne Millbrooke, of Bozeman, has done a lovely job at touching at the myriad of issues surrounding the decision on whether to lease the coal tracts. I thank Anne for sharing her letter to our State Land Board, which is comprised of Governor Schweitzer, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, Attorney General Steve Bullock, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, and State Auditor Monica Lindeen:

Dear Montana Land Board:

As the state’s website says, the Montana Land Board oversees more than five million acres of school trust lands in order to generate revenue for the trust — for schools in the state. But the task is not simply economic. Inherent in public education are responsibilities for the health and well being of the students and the future of the students. That is why the Land Board should carefully consider all decisions about coal lands.

The environmental damage and health consequences of mining and burning coal are enormous, and the projected 40-year life of the proposed Otter Creek mines means any contemporary decision to lease coal lands binds the future to a dirty-energy infrastructure.

Otter Creek is the decision at hand. There are options for revenue that do not required strip mining the land and polluting air, land, and water, and the associated negative impacts on the health and well-being of children. Coal is not clean, coal power is not clean, and coal mining is not clean: step by step, decision by decision, we should be going green.

Furthermore, Otter Creek is not about jobs, nor the economic health of Montana families. According to the coal companies’ own Montana Coal Council website, the five big strip mines and the new underground mine in the state employ a total of only 1008 people. The state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation estimated in its June fact sheet that two proposed mines on Otter Creek lands would employ fewer than 500 people. Coal mining is highly mechanized. It is not labor intensive. The poorest counties in the poor state of West Virginia have coal mines: corporate coal takes the local resources to enrich distant stakeholders.

In the big picture, Otter Creek is not really even about revenue. The nearly $6 million coal revenue reported for 2008 is helpful, but it is a very small percent of the school funding in Montana. Coal mining is not funding our schools, and not mining will not financially break our schools.

By treaty and ethics, the State of Montana has responsibility for the young people of the indigenous tribes of Montana. A few jobs will not compensate for the negative impacts on Native Americans and their lands. Coal’s negative impacts on Native Americans are fact, as recorded in the documentary film “Power Paths” about the Navajo experience with coal.

Montana’s state lands are held in trust, for perpetuity, not for a limited revenue stream. There is a responsibility to protect the land in trust. Yet reclamation remains more promise than reality in lands already disturbed by coal mining, and much of the restoration done has not been to natural habitat.

The out-of-state corporation that holds an in-state railroad monopoly and the out-of-state coal corporation that wants Otter Creek coal could take the educational, economic, environmental viability and sustainability of coal development beyond state’s borders and perhaps beyond the state’s control and regulation.

There is even a question whether development would happen, or whether the coal corporation simply wants to acquire the rights as a immediate tax maneuver and for possible development someday in the future under the financial and regulatory terms of this depressed economy. According to the Trust Land Management Division’s 2008 Annual Report, there are currently 29 coal leases, but only four producing leases. I think the coal industry has plenty of reserves on hold without acquiring the leases to more state lands.

Coal need not be developed at Otter Creek, where the wind blows mightily; for example, the school trust lands could become fields of wind turbines. Now is the time to transition away from coal, not the the time to expand the dirty-energy infrastructure in Montana. Mining Otter Creek coal — with current technology — would not teach our children well about living in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner, and it would harm the health of school children near the mines as well as downstream and downwind of the mines and coal-fired plants burning the coal.

Building new dirty-energy infrastructure designed to operate for 40 years is not in Montana’s interest in terms of the health and education of school children, the sustainability of local economies, clean air and water, and respect for downstream and downwind neighbors of the mines and the coal-fired plants to be fueled by Montana coal.

Please understand that Otter Creek has potential beyond coal and that coal lands should not be leased lightly. High environmental standards for any coal operations in Montana are necessary. Regulation and enforcement are necessary. But coal development is not necessary.

Yes, coal is a reality in our existing energy structure. Any new coal mining to support the existing infrastructure during our transition to clean-energy technologies, and any coal burning, should require CO2 sequestration. Coal seams sequester CO2 naturally. Mining and burning coal releases the CO2. The cost of developing and using new sequestration techniques will be offset by savings in terms of the health and in terms of the environment. Any plant burning Montana coal should be sequestering CO2 — by terms of contract as required by the State of Montana.

It is time to move beyond our historical reliance upon coal. In a popular and accurate analogy, we live in a global coal mine. We have since the 19th century. Now the “canaries” are dying: frog, bee, and bat populations are plummeting around the world, and those deaths are but symptoms of the larger problem of polluting our planet, our state, our homes. It’s time to clean-up our act, step by step, decision by decision.

Montana’s students need a clean, healthy environment in which to live and learn. They need a sustainable economy in which some day to work. They need to grow and learn in a setting with sustainable energy more than they need royalties from another coal lease. Please remember this as you consider appropriate use of Otter Creek and other trust lands.

by jhwygirl

I won’t belabor you all with how I feel about about exempt wells, except to say that I believe the exemption to be an affront to senior private property rights across the entire state.

How it has gone on for so long – and considering the general reaction, statewide, to just the term “zoning” – boggles my mind. It’s one example of many, though, where the accusations of being “anti-business” or “anti-industry” (as in land development or real estate) win out over the rights of the individual property rights.

The Montana Association of Realtors have spent their hundreds of thousands of dollars well in Helena and around the state – their lobbyists have been extremely well at shutting down any real legislation to address these wells and they’ve poured money into candidates that wouldn’t dream of voting to halt or reduce the exemption.

Via The Button Valley Bugle, word comes that the Clark Fork Coalition and four other senior water rights holders, all from three different watersheds, have filed a petition for a ruling declaring invalid the convoluted administrative rule which has resulted in the 200,000+ wells that were exempt from review (and 1,000’s more being drilled every year – even in closed basins!) They are also requesting that a new rule be implemented that complies with both the Montana Constitution and Montana Code regarding water rights.

The group is represented by the Western Environmental Law Center, who has its Northern Rockies Office in Helena.

Here’s a link to the petition. It nicely lays out the history, the convoluted rule which results in the well free-for-all and the obligations under the law in comparison to what is actually taking place.

by jhwygirl

This is in follow-up to a previous post.

Somewhat surprisingly if only for who made the motion, the State Land Board voted to delay decision on the Arch Coal Inc. leases of the state’s Otter Creek coal holdings for 30 days to allow for additional time for public comment regarding the leases.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch made the motion. McCulloch has been a vocal supporter of the Otter Creek coal project since her days as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Does this signal weakening support for the leases? At least from what any local citizen can see here at either the city or county level, when approval is expected to go south, elected who support a project will often make a motion to return the thing back to committee rather than face a death-knelling vote. Delaying the vote is usually a last ditch effort to try and solidify an affirmative vote.

Was McCulloch sensing the vote heading south? Time will tell.

Lee Newspapers Mike Dennison first story on the vote made mention of the massive amounts of carbon dioxide that will be released into atmosphere should the 1.3 billion tons of coal be burned. His second story on the vote provided information from the two counties that provided proponent testimony on the project, which included Powder River County Commissioner Don McDowell – who is also listed as Treasure of the Montana Association of Coal and Gas Counties.

Given there are 30 more days, those interested might want to go back to my previous post which links to many great resources on the subject of Otter Creek. For some related stuff around these parts, you can search “Tongue River” “coal” and “sequestration” for additional information concerning issues of Otter Creek, coal production and the water quality and quantity degradation that it brings to Montana and the residents of the Tongue River.

If coal could be shown to be clean, I’d be fine with it. It’s not, though. The EPA, until recently, exempted carbon dioxide from NEPA analysis when permitting coal-fired plants. Montana’s CO2 output is increasing.

With less of a market for coal and with rising CO2 outputs in the state – and aren’t we supposed to be going green or something? Isn’t would that what the Good Governor campaigned on back in 2004? – why would we facilitate the extraction and consumption of more coal and CO2? Isn’t that bass ackwards considering that it is 2009 and “renewable” and “sustainable” are the names of the game now?

There are many factors here where public comment and testimony depart from the economic analysis done last fall (prior to the EPA decision regarding coal-fired plants). The leases are based upon that older analysis that is in dispute. Certainly, given that this is one of the largest leases ever put out by the state ever, a thorough, accurate and timely analysis is in order.

Let’s hope that the additional 30 days provides all with sufficient time to more thoroughly look at all factors surrounding the Otter tract leases to determine whether it is what proponents are saying it’s going to be.

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

Please consider this an open thread

7 Montana businesses were amongst 140 that went to Washington to lobby Senators Baucus and Tester to pass “strong” climate and energy policies that would cut carbon pollution and create over 1.7 million jobs.

The two mentioned in that link from Bozeman.

Our Sen. Jon Tester is filing an amicus brief, along with Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson and Rep. Mark Souder, to the U.S. Supreme Court which sides with the National Rifle Association in challenging Chicago’s handgun registration laws. Great Falls Tribune has a local perspective, as does KFFB in Great Falls.

Ellie Hill, Director of Missoula’s Poverello complex of facilities is celebrating her 4th year anniversary at the job. She’s still a lawyer, she says, and says the Pov’s biggest perk for her is being a celebrity in dark alleys. Ms. Hill contributes immensely to Missoula, so next time you see her on the street (or in an alley), say “Thank You, Ellie Hill,” because without her a whole hell of a lot would not be happening.

This past Thursday, Rehberg voted in support of a bill that included the expansion of the definition of hate crimes to include sexual orientation.

The newest self-promoting, fund-us-with-a-new-tax boondoggle pitching to Missoula is the Tourism Business Improvement District . Bunk in the West has the story.

The Button Valley Bugle always has something interesting to say. Daily must read. One of the latest best is this one which thanks tourism for pumping $168,000,000 into Montana’s economy. That generated 45,000 jobs. People who stayed the longest? People who were here to fish. Here to use our waterbodies; Our streams and lakes and rivers. Beautiful in its simplicity, isn’t it?

Goes to show, you don’t always know that good old clean streams is all it takes to get people out here to spend some cash. TBID’s? Fuggedaboutit!

Montana should sit back and take a serious look at that: Montana’s open space and mountains and streams and rivers are what people come here to see. Taking care of ensuring that there’s water – clean water at that – in our streams and rivers, and taking steps to maintain our agrarian roots will help keep people wanting to come here and spend their cash for far longer than some new tourism bureau designed to merely add to tourism magazines and play 2nd fiddle the local chamber of commerce.

OK. That was a bit preachy for a Saturday. My apologies.

Wanna smile? Check out this post from Chris LaTray, who is naked-in-your-face open about his love for the rock band KISS.

Some newer blogs? Montana Wildlife Gardner, Duganz, A Heretic’s Life, and A Drunk Goes Jogging, the latter being painful at times…but you can’t help but root for him.

Got any other blogs you wanna share?

by jhwygirl

Had to read this in the Clark Fork Journal, given that there is nary a mention of this on the Missoula County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) webpage, nor the Boards and Commissions page.

Two unexpired seats need filled immediately for the Lolo Community Council. These seats are all the more important given that the Lolo Regional Plan is in the updating stages (the current one was approved in 2002). The intent behind the update as I hear it is to impose zoning in the area once the plan is updated, much like the Seeley Lake Regional Plan, which is running several months behind schedule.

Application for appointment to either of the two seats – which would go to special election in 2010 and 2012, respectively – closes Friday, September 18th. You can download the application off of the website. For more information call 258-3432 or 258-4877.

Good planning and zoning is important for this fast-growing area of Missoula county. Citizens who are willing to openly look at the issues and seek well-written planning documents can help ensure that Missoula and the Lolo area grows responsibly.

If not you, think of others you know in the Lolo community that would be good for these important volunteer positions.

Let’s not forget the gravel pit issues of not too long ago. Or the sprawling new subdivisions – approved in the name of affordable housing (yeah, right) that are popping up like leafy spurge and spotted knapweed along the highway 12 corridor. This important watershed is being poked and punched with exempt wells, dropping water flows to Lolo Creek each and every year.

The emergency zoning to stop the gravel pit? That was extended into its second year this past May – which means that some sort of zoning regulation regarding gravel pits needs to be in place prior to its second year expiration.

There’s lots of stuff in these pages regarding gravel pits.

Which makes the fact that the Seeley Lake Regional Plan is running behind schedule all the more important. May 2010 will be here so soon, we’ll all be wondering where 2009 went.

Lolo residents need to pay attention to these deadlines, and need to remain not only pro-active in this process, but pro-active with the BCC, ensuring that they don’t get caught with a too-old plan and no easy route towards zoning and land use planning of the area come May of next year.

The regional plan update is the first step in seeking resolution to the uncertainty of unzoned land.

by jhwygirl

Bull trout are a threatened and endangered species.

Are irrigators exempt from complying from the Federal Endangered Species Act?

This stuff goes on every day. Irrigation diversion structures blocking main channels of important fisheries, large and small. No fish passage, no fish screens required.

In the lets-not-require-too-much-of-anyone mentality of Montana, it’s all voluntary.

In other words, rarely ever done.

MEPA? Schmepa.

Some of these structures are built and torn down every year. Others are effectively overflow dams, that are annually given the OK by an assortment of local and state agencies. I think even the Army Corp of Engineers exempts these from environmental review.

Kinda like how the EPA has been exempting carbon dioxide from regulations which was great for coal-fired plants.

I’ve asked – What is Montana without its rivers and streams?

We can champion our rivers and streams and fisheries – use that for selling Montana as a vacation spot in ads around the world – but if we are going to criticize FWP for shooting a Boone and Crockett record bighorn sheep for what it takes away from the citizens of Montana, we should be looking at the statewide unregulated takings of threatened and endangered bull trout from our public waterways.

Tourism is the fastest growing economic sector in Montana. Apparently fishing and our streams and rivers have nothing to do with it, author Norman Maclean not withstanding.

We can also sing songs and laud the tear-down of the Milltown dam – but with structures above it, on the Blackfoot, and another more permanent structure like it below, what in the hell are we celebrating? Really? I mean – think of all the fish tagging going on. Just where are they actually getting to? Where should they be able to get to?

This picture, below, of a diversion on the Clearwater river near its confluence with the Blackfoot – both bull trout fisheries. Maybe a better word instead of fisheries is habitat. It is put in place each year by using bulldozers in the river, and torn out each fall, again, by using bulldozers in the river.

Imagine the state of our fisheries if these things were required to provide both fish passage and fish screening.

(Ed. note: This post was corrected after clarification from elkamino.)




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