Friday, July 19, 2013

Daines drums up money, with a little help from a Senator

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 2:16 PM

Rep. Steve Daines is slowly building up his campaign war chest in advance of 2014—though exactly what office that money will be used to fight for remains to be seen. The freshman congressman’s latest foray into fundraising went down Wednesday evening at a reception in Washington, D.C. The invite, obtained from the Sunlight Foundation’s politicalpartytime.org, listed a suggested individual contribution amount of $500, and boasted that the evening’s special guest would be Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio.

UF-DainesChoteau_courtesy_of_the_Office_of_Steve_Daines__copy.jpeg
  • Courtesy Office of Steve Daines

Portman’s name might ring a bell or two. He sits on the Senate Finance Committee alongside Sen. Max Baucus, and served on the much-ballyhooed debt-reduction supercommittee back in 2011. He also worked closely with Sen. Jon Tester last year on legislation designed to avoid future government shutdowns. Portman was even talked about as a possible running mate for Mitt Romney shortly after the Republican presidential primary in spring 2012. It goes without saying, he’s a powerful ally for someone a mere seven months in office.

Alee Lockman, Daines’ communications director, told the Indy that the congressman was “happy” to have Portman join him for the event. Apparently the two have developed a solid working relationship through Daines’ efforts on the House version of Baucus’ North Fork Watershed Protection Act. Lockman said Portman has a “deep passion for what we have to offer in Montana,” and he and Daines have found much common ground on issues relating to conservation and natural resource development. Asked if a fundraising appearance by a powerhouse like Portman indicated any aspirations for higher office on Daines’ part, Lockman said Daines is still weighing his options. He’s not ruling out a bid for Senate, she said, but “Steve is taking the time to consider how he can best serve the people of Montana.” Either way, she added, Daines will be running a campaign in 2014.

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Rockies Today, July 19

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2013 at 11:22 AM

Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

Stevensville couple seeks Montana permit for lynx, bobcat farm
Gerald and Deborah Roe have applied for a permit from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to operate a commercial farm to raise and sell bobcat and lynx and bobcat and lynx kittens to the public on their land about 10 miles north of Stevensville.
Great Falls Tribune; July 19

More evacuations ordered as W. Montana wildfire moves toward Superior
The West Mullan Fire has now burned 4,150 acres in Western Montana near Superior, and on Wednesday afternoon, more people were ordered to evacuate as it moved closer to town.
Missoulian; July 19

U.S. Senate confirms President Obama's nominees for EPA, Labor
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate confirmed Gina McCarthy as the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and Thomas Perez as secretary of Labor, but neither of Wyoming's U.S. senators, Mike Enzi and John Barrasso, voted in favor of the confirmations.
Casper Star-Tribune; July 19

BLM trucks water to wild horses in drought-throttled Utah valley
While wild horses in the Seaman herd in Nevada are dying of thirst, despite the Bureau of Land Management's providing them with water, the horses in the Cedar Mountain herd are taking advantage of the water troughs in the Skull Valley in Utah's Tooele County, where persistent drought has dried up natural watering holes.
Deseret News; July 19

Heat, drought, low water levels blamed for fish kill at Utah Reservoir
Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist Alan Ward has worked at Strawberry Reservoir for 13 years, and this year's low water levels are the lowest he's seen, and with high temperatures and continued dry conditions, the fish kill reported in one area of the reservoir could happen in other areas.
Deseret News; July 19

Benzene again exceeds federal limits in Colorado's Parachute Creek
Six months after a spill occurred at Williams Co. gas-processing plant near Parachute, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reported benzene levels in water samples taken from Parachute Creek exceeded the federal drinking water standard of 5 parts per billion, with a July 11 sample indicating 5.5 ppb, and a July 15 reading of 9.2 ppb.
Denver Post; July 19

Colorado bridge built at 'farm' will roll into place Saturday
Rather than close the intersection at West 47th Avenue and Pecos Street for a year to replace an aging bridge over Interstate 70, the Colorado Department of Transportation built the structure a block away, and on Saturday, the 2,400-ton bridge will travel that block and be put into place.
Denver Post; July 19

Coal miner asks Colorado county to revise permit to allow more truck traffic
Twentymile Coal Co.'s special-use permit for its coal mine in Colorado's Routt County will expire at the end of the year, and on Aug. 1, the Colorado county's Planning Commission will consider the coal-mining company's request to expand its operations in the county, as well as increase the number of truck loads allowed daily on Routt County Road 27 from 40 to 55.
Craig Daily Press; July 19

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

Legislation aims to help natural resources agencies adapt to climate change

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 11:24 AM

U.S. Geological Survey ecologist Dan Fagre is standing behind an interpretive sign that says “Going, going, gone,” as he describes how Glacier National Park’s glaciers have been wasting away over the past century. Each year, when he visits them, Fagre finds newly exposed rock that was once buried under ice. His research predicts that the park will lose most of its large “charismatic geological phenomena”—its iconic glaciers—by 2020.

Those glaciers made it into the Congressional Record last month, when Rhode Island climate hawk Senator Sheldon Whitehouse addressed the Senate about legislation he recently introduced with Montana Senator Max Baucus, to jumpstart climate adaptation on federal lands. (Baucus was the only Senate Democrat to vote against the failed 2009 climate bill, and he recently issued his own climate change directive for Montana that promoted Keystone XL, while also stating the risks warming poses to his state’s natural heritage).

The Safeguarding America’s Future and the Environment (SAFE) Act aims to make climate adaptation planning a requirement of all federal natural resources agencies. It would also establish a National Climate Change and Wildlife Science Center within the USGS, to focus efforts on helping public land and natural resources stand up to climate change. Depending on how it’s implemented, it has the potential to reshape how we think about conservation, shifting from strategies that focus on restoring the past, and preserving the present, to those that prepare for the future.

USGS scientist Dan Fagre, who estimates that Glacier National Park could lose its glaciers by 2020.
  • USGS scientist Dan Fagre, who estimates that Glacier National Park could lose its glaciers by 2020.
In Glacier, Fagre, who didn’t speak about the act, posed the type of question that agencies need to confront: “What will happen when a glacier is no longer at the head of the basin?”

Without a glacier spilling out meltwater, the cold-adapted ecosystem would suffer, Fagre said — from stream macroinvertebrates to the bull trout and west slope cutthroat trout that attract anglers to Montana.

Some agency officials are already thinking about preparing for the altered ecosystems of the future, as detailed in a recent Government Accountability Office report on what the U.S. Forest Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and National Park Service are doing to adapt to climate change.

Of the five agencies that appear in the GAO report, only the BLM (the nation’s largest land manager) is lacking some kind of strategic climate change adaptation plan, though it is working on one.

In 2007, park officials told the GAO they were not addressing climate change because they had not received specific guidance or funding. But now the park is monitoring climate sensitive species like pikas, and alpine plants, and working on plans that include climate change adaptation. Park officials told the GAO that if they had more funding, they would prioritize issues such as spruce budworm infesting forests. The insect’s infestation cycle has lengthened from 3 years to 7- to 15-years, as a result of warming climates, and managers worry that the bugs are increasing the park’s fire susceptibility.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has also begun to recognize that as ecosystems respond to climate change, today’s desirable habitat may not be the same as tomorrow’s. According to the GAO, the service is considering setting aside land that may not be ideal habitat today, but could be in the future. The agency is also looking at planting fire-resistant species when restoring devastated landscapes.

Senator Whitehouse told the Westerly Sun newspaper that, “the principle of the SAFE Act is you need to look ahead….I like to think that the faster you’re driving, the better your headlights need to be.”

Cross-posted from High Country News, hcn.org. The author is solely responsible for the content.

Rockies Today, July 18

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

Exxon Mobil contests $1.7M federal fine for Montana pipeline spill
In a closed-door hearing in Denver on Wednesday, attorneys for Exxon Mobil argued against a $1.7-million fine levied by the federal government over a pipeline break in 2011 that released an estimated 63,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana.
Billings Gazette (AP); July 18

Wednesday's erratic winds push firefighters off the line of W. Montana wildfire
Fire crews were pulled off the front lines of the West Mullan Fire near Superior as high winds pushed the Montana wildfire across hundreds of acres on Wednesday afternoon.
Missoulian; July 18

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Wednesday, July 17, 2013

BP's annual review paints a grim picture of global energy use

Posted By on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 3:26 PM

It’s a bit like Christmas time for energy geeks, and Halloween for environmentalists.

Every summer, bp, née British Petroleum, releases its Statistical Review of World Energy, a big fat pile of data detailing the world’s energy production, consumption and trade. Energy geeks revel in it. Nowhere else can one find so much up-to-date information in such an easy to peruse package. Yet the data are also terrifying. They reveal that with each passing year, more and more fossil fuels are dug and sucked from the earth and then burned up in cars and power plants and homes, spewing out greenhouse gases and other pollutants. For those concerned with the fate of the planet, the Statistical Review is the quantification of imminent doom.

True, squint hard enough and you can pick out a few glimmers of hope from the document. The U.S., for example, is using 10 percent less oil than it did just eight years ago. Some of this is due to the economic collapse, but at least as much credit goes to high oil prices, a phenomenon that’s not likely to go away (for reasons we’ll get into). And we’re also using some 20 percent less coal than we did a decade ago. Again, a bad economy contributed, but so have the promise of stricter emissions rules and cheap natural gas (more than half of the decrease in coal consumption has been offset by an increase in natural gas consumption domestically). Even better, we’ve increased our consumption of renewable energy by 170 percent. The world’s fattest energy hog finally may be easing up on the fossil fuel trough.

But it’s not nearly enough. The Statistical Review reminds us over and over again that when it comes to energy use and its impacts, we can’t be isolationists: We’re in this with the rest of the globe. That can be disturbing. Over the last decade, the planet’s teeming masses have collectively increased energy consumption at a startling rate. China and India have led the feeding frenzy, along with a host of developing countries in Africa and elsewhere. This is not, despite what some U.S. greens might want you to believe, the result of exploding populations. It’s just that larger portions of those populations are getting access to energy — China’s primary energy use jumped 150 percent even as the population grew by only five percent — thereby improving their quality of life. But it comes at a cost. A bulk of that new energy is coming not from wind turbines or solar panels, but fossil fuels. Over the last decade:

• global oil consumption increased by 14 percent;
natural gas consumption shot up by 31 percent; and,
• the world’s coal consumption increased by 54 percent(!).

Carbon emissions have shot up accordingly, further exacerbating climate change everywhere, while in parts of China pollution from coal-burning has reduced life expectancy by as much as energy access may have increased it. And even though the so-called War on Coal may be making headway here at home, it hasn’t even been felt on a global level. Even relatively green Germany is burning more coal these days.

And don’t expect energy consumption or fossil fuel use to level out anytime soon. While China, India and most of Africa will never guzzle as much energy as the U.S. on a per capita basis — there’s simply not enough fuel to support such gluttony — we can’t blame them for, nor should we try to stop them from, reaching a level of per capita energy consumption on par with, say, Japan, or Germany (about half of the U.S. level). Yet even getting there will mean a doubling of overall energy use for China, and a tripling for India. Some of this will surely come from cleaner sources: The globe has tripled its renewable energy use over the last decade, and the trend is likely to continue, but the contribution is limited by the fact that renewables still make up less than 5 percent of the global energy mix. Nuclear, though it emits no carbon, is faltering on a global level — consumption is off about 12 percent from 2006 levels — and the U.S.’s abundantly cheap, slightly cleaner-burning-than-coal natural gas is still pretty much confined to North America. That leaves coal and oil as the popular fuels for the next decade, at least.

And that brings us back to the U.S., and the West. Poring over the Statistical Review, one can’t help but feel a certain tension in the global energy world between the burgeoning demand from far-flung parts of the globe and the abundance of supply in the U.S. Asia and Europe are eying the coal from Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, and are surely even more covetous of our cheap natural gas. It seems only a matter of time before our coal and natural gas flow across the world as freely as oil does now, shaking up both the domestic and international energy market.

Oil is a true global commodity, as seen in the map on the left. Natural gas, on the other hand, is a global commodity in Europe, Asia and Africa, but is only regional in North and South America (as seen on the right). Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy.
  • Oil is a true global commodity, as seen in the map on the left. Natural gas, on the other hand, is a global commodity in Europe, Asia and Africa, but is only regional in North and South America (as seen on the right). Source: BP Statistical Review of World Energy.

Indeed, it’s oil’s status as a purely global commodity that has kept prices here sky-high, even as demand has dropped and drilling in North Dakota has gone wild — global demand simply overwhelms domestic market forces. And despite all the talk of the current oil-bearing shale bonanza leading to oil independence, we’re nowhere close to ending our need for oil imports. We pump about 9 million barrels of oil from domestic wells each day. Yet we and our cars and trucks and planes guzzle 18.6 million barrels per day, making us the world's biggest oil guzzler by far.

Now that’s a scary set of numbers.

Cross-posted from High Country News, hcn.org. The author is solely responsible for the content.

Rockies Today, July 17

Posted By on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 11:21 AM

Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

Energy Department replaces BPA administrator
Bill Drummond, the former head of the Western Montana Electric Generating and Transmission Cooperative in Missoula, Mont., who became top administrator of the Bonneville Power Administration in January, was removed from that position on Monday, after an inspector general's audit found the BPA was not giving federally required hiring preference to veterans.
Great Falls Tribune; July 17

Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council director dies in Billings
Gordon Belcourt, the Blackfeet tribal member who served as the director of the Montana-Wyoming Tribal Leaders Council for 15 years, died Monday in Billings.
Billings Gazette; July 17

Montanans urge governor to work with WGA to expand Amtrak service
Missoula City Council member Dave Strohmaier, Chuck McMillan of Helena and J. Kirk Thompson of Stevensville met with Montana Gov. Steve Bullock and others in his administration to urge him to work with other members of the Western Governors Association to restore passenger service on the North Coast Hiawatha route across southern and central Montana, as well as two other Amtrak routes where passenger service has been suspended: the Pioneer route between Denver, Portland, Ore., and Seattle, and the Desert Wind route which carried passengers between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles.
Missoulian (Lee State Bureau); July 17

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Your future, a little early

Posted By on Wed, Jul 17, 2013 at 9:00 AM

Find Rob Brezsny's "Free Will Astrology" online, every Wednesday, one day before it hits the Indy's printed pages.

ARIES (March 21-April 19): The 19th-century Italian composer Gioachino Rossini was a prolific creator who produced 39 operas. Renowned for his lyrical melodies, he was sometimes referred to as the "Italian Mozart." So confident was he in his abilities that he bragged he could set a laundry list to music. I trust you will have comparable aplomb in the coming weeks, Aries, since you will be asked to do the equivalent of composing an opera using a laundry list for inspiration. This will be a different challenge than making lemonade out of lemons, but it could be even more fun and interesting.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rockies Today, July 16

Posted By on Tue, Jul 16, 2013 at 11:30 AM

MountainWestNews.jpg
Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

Montana DEQ issues initial assessment on mine near White Sulphur Springs
The Montana Department of Environmental Quality issued its draft Environmental Assessment Monday on Canada-based Tintina Alaska Exploration, Inc.'s proposed copper mine near White Sulphur Springs.
Helena Independent Record; July 16

Montana wildlife, livestock agenices release draft plan for bison
A draft environmental assessment of setting out six different options for allowing bison to roam out of Yellowstone National Park into areas of Montana north and west of the park was released by the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and Department of Livestock on Monday.
Helena Independent Record; July 16

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Monday, July 15, 2013

Hangriest Hour: Summer tapas at the Top Hat

Posted By on Mon, Jul 15, 2013 at 12:46 PM

Hangriest Hour this week is all about the tapas lifestyle. Nothing’s more fun than kickin’ it with a pack of good friends and eating your way European-style through a menu of delicious summer morsels.

What you’re getting: Tapas are a Spanish tradition, but the term has been expanded to include any menu of small-portion appetizers. The Top Hat started serving a tapas-style menu earlier this year, and though there is a variety to choose from, many of the options adhere to traditional Spanish recipes.

HH_Top_Hat_Tapas.jpg

Favorite tapas dish No. 1: Ahi tuna nicoise. This is a spicy one, but it’s also light, so it’s perfect for summer. Crisp green beans, olives, potatoes, tomatoes and red onion make for a tiny salad. The olive oil and Murray River sea salt give it a rich, bright flavor. $8.

Favorite tapas dish No. 2: The tortilla espanola looks like bite-sized lasagna, but it’s actually made from potatoes, mushrooms, leeks and spicy pepper aioli. It’s potato salad’s sophisticated cousin.

Favorite tapas dishes Nos. 3 and 4: The braised beef brisket and the sautéed brussels sprouts are staples that carried over onto the summer menu. In particular, the braised beef brisket, speckled with garlic chips, melts in your mouth—especially when you dip it in the sherry honey aioli. It’s almost unbearably good. Server Cara Webb says these two dishes stay on the menu because customers love them so much. “I’ll ask you how they are as a formality,” she says, with a confident smile. “But I already know they’re good.”

The man behind the tapas: Top Hat owner Nick Checota has final say on what stays on the menu, but the ideas and recipes are developed by Chef Erin Crobar. Crobar recently won the Local Fest chef competition and he’s also won Iron Chef at the Western Montana Fair the last two years.

Why get tapas: Tapas are best eaten with a group, and the experience of trying different things off the menu facilitates a social atmosphere. There’s no chance of ordering remorse because you can try so many different dishes. It’s like speed-dating, only you’re dating food.

How to find it: Top Hat Lounge, 134 W. Front Street, open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Hangriest Hour serves up fresh details on western Montana eats. To recommend a restaurant, dish or chef for Hangriest Hour, email editor@missoulanews.com.

Rockies Today, July 15

Posted By on Mon, Jul 15, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Top news links, courtesy of Mountain West News.

USFWS, tribes at odds with Montana over trout management in Flathead Lake
The agreement between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the state of Montana guiding management of Flathead Lake expired in 2010, and a new draft environmental impact statement on a new management plan prepared by the tribes and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service that calls for aggressive action to remove lake trout to sustain bull trout populations is at odds with what Montana believes what is needed for a sustainable fishery in the lake.
Helena Independent Record; July 14

U. of Montana researchers link virus, parasite to bees' disappearance
Pesticide use, climate change, urbanization, change in habitat and management practices are among the suspects in the mysterious colony collapse disorder where bees simply disappear from their hives, but research done at the University of Montana is honing in on a virus and parasite that may be the culprits.
Missoulian; July 14

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