Industry-funded regulation board takes over Alberta oilsands oversight
The industry-funded Alberta Energy Regulator has hired 75 employees of the province's environment department and another 75 are expected to make the jump as the Canadian province completes the handing over of responsibility for ensuring energy companies comply with the Water Act, Public Lands Act, and the Environmental Protection and Enhancement Act over to the industry-funded board.
Edmonton Journal; Dec. 23
Eagles a factor in California utility, Montana wind farm lawsuits
A pair of dueling lawsuits were filed last week over Montana's largest wind farm, with San Diego Gas and Electric suing NaturEner USA for not meeting its contractual responsibilities on the level of bird protection at the Rim Rock wind farm, and NaturEner suing the California utility, alleging that the utility is using the avian conditions at the wind farm as an excuse to default on its contract to buy renewable energy credits from the project.
Great Falls Tribune; Dec. 23
Curses, Foiled Again
Police investigating 15 home burglaries in and around Lakewood, Colo., identified Brandon Campbell, 27, as their suspect because he was wearing a GPS ankle monitor that placed him at the crime scenes. “I would say it’s a prosecutor’s dream to have GPS,” Arapahoe County Deputy Prosecutor Chelsea Koch said. “That’s an excellent piece of evidence to put him at every single burglary at the time it was burglarized.” Campbell was wearing the ankle monitor after being convicted of trying to steal a GPS navigation device. (Denver’s KCNC-TV)
Police trying to locate Rolando Lozano, who they suspected of burglarizing 17 cars in Rosenburg, Texas, appealed for public help by posting his picture on their Facebook page. He responded with a taunt: “catch me if u can muthasuckas.” Tips from the community led them to Lozano within 15 minutes of his post. (The Huffington Post)
Didn’t See It Coming
Claiming to be a psychic, Stephanie Thompson took more than $115,000 from a client, telling her the money was cursed and that she would return it after cleaning it. Instead, Thompson lost the money gambling, police in Boca Raton, Fla., said after arresting her. (Miami’s WPLG-TV)
Increase of trains carrying oil a concern in Montana communities
There has been a dramatic increase in trains carrying oil as oil production in the Bakken formation in North Dakota and Montana has outstripped carrying capacity of pipelines, and smaller communities are concerned about their ability to respond to derailments that end in a fiery disaster like the one that occurred in Canada in July.
Flathead Beacon (AP); Dec. 20
Canadian review panel approves Alberta-B.C. pipeline project
The long-awaited decision of a review panel led by Canada's National Energy Board on Enbridge's proposed $6.5-billion Northern Gateway pipeline gave the project the go-ahead but imposed 209 conditions the company must meet in order for the project to proceed, and British Columbia has imposed five requirements as well, making the future of the pipeline to carry heavy oil from Alberta to B.C.'s West Coast uncertain.
Vancouver Sun; Dec. 20
The recent cold snap has destroyed low temperature records in the West. In parts of Montana it hasn’t been this frigid since the ‘70s, grape growers in California have been anxious about their vines freezing, homeless shelters have been filling up, and in Oregon it's been so cold that even a geothermal bathing pool had to close. That’s right, it was too cold even for hot water.
Perhaps now you’re wondering: Why has it been so darned bone-chilling? The answer to that question has roots in the Arctic, and points to why people in the Lower 48 have a stake in the climate of the Far North.
The West’s recent Arctic stay-cation has come courtesy of the polar jet stream, whose high-altitude winds are responsible for many daily weather conditions. The jet stream often keeps cold air barricaded around Canada and Alaska, but in early December a lobe of the jet stream began dipping south from the Arctic, clearing the way for frigid air to spill into the Western U.S, and pushing warm air into the Arctic. If you imagine the jet stream as a racetrack of wind around the North Pole, lately its had an unusually big, loopy curve that dropped it into the southwest (for a general idea of what it looks like, see the cool NASA animation of the jet stream later in this story).
In contrast, during the winter of 2012, the jet stream didn’t meander as much, keeping cold air penned in up north. That locked Alaskans in an icebox, with temperatures there averaging minus 35 F in late January. (Apparently, the shape of car tires seems to change from round to square — their bottoms flatten out — at minus 45 F.
But now we’ve been freezing our butts off in the Intermountain West (and now the East Coast), and parts of Alaska are seeing record high temperatures. Last Sunday, it was a balmy 39 F on the north coast’s Prudhoe Bay.
This flip-flop isn’t outside the realm of “natural” up-and-down swings in climate. But there’s also a scientific debate under way about how Arctic warming will alter natural climate circulations, and how that could make severe weather in the Lower 48 more likely. “There will be other scientists who will say we can chalk this up to natural climate variability,” says Chuck Greene, a Cornell University earth scientist. Since you can’t link any single weather event, like the current cold snap, to climate change, that’s valid, he says; but “we are stacking the deck in favor of these kinds of conditions.”
That’s because the Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, and it’s hard to imagine all that heat entering the atmosphere won’t affect climate cycles, like the Arctic Oscillation. The Arctic Oscillation describes changes in atmospheric pressure at the North Pole, which shape the jet stream’s path and determine if it's fast and strong, or meandering and slow like a lazy river. When the circulation is strong, polar air stays trapped up north, turning car tires to squares. When it is weak, the jet stream creeps to the South, letting icy air escape into the Lower 48. The same process was behind the 2011-2012 deadly cold snap in Europe.
Trappers group asks for no traps in popular x-country ski area in Montana
The Montana Trappers Association joined with the Como Trails Club to ask trappers avoid the popular cross-country ski area in the Bitterroot National Forest.
Ravalli Republic; Dec. 19
Montana FWP helps free grizzly bear from wolf trap near Dupuyer
A steel leg-hold trap set on a ranch west of Dupuyer to catch a wolf caught a 4-year-old male grizzly bear instead, and the trappers called the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to sedate the bear and free it.
Great Falls Tribune; Dec. 19
The internet blew up this afternoon regarding Sen. Max Baucus’ political future after Politico broke the news of a possible White House nomination for the retiring Democrat as United States ambassador to China.
National media outlets including The Washington Post, Huffington Post and USA Today quickly picked up the story. However, no one has yet gotten confirmation about the potential nomination from the White House, nor has Baucus’ office offered any confirmation of the reports. Baucus spokeswoman Kathy Weber told the Indy that "it's natural that Max would be under consideration given his breadth of experience and depth of knowledge necessary for this important position. Like his mentor, Senator [Mike] Mansfield, Max truly understands the importance of U.S. relationships in Asia." Weber also told Huffington Post today that "Max has given his life to public service and when asked to serve he takes that request very seriously."
Speculation today turned to who Gov. Steve Bullock might appoint to replace Baucus should the nomination be approved before the end of his final term. The prevailing theory among various reports was that the appointment would go to Lt. Gov. John Walsh, who is currently running for Baucus’ vacated seat on the 2014 ballot. Baucus would be vacating the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee in the midst of his efforts to rewrite the tax code.
Many including Politico likened Baucus' potential nomination to the political trajectory of former U.S. Sen. Mike Mansfield, who served nearly 10 years as U.S. ambassador to Japan following his storied decades in Congress.
Grizzly bears are denning up on Montana prairie
For the first time in a century, bear researchers have found that grizzly bears are denning up on the prairie in Montana, a discovery Chris Servheen, who leads the grizzly recovery program for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said is an indication of the recovery of the species in the Northern Continental Divide Ecosystem.
Great Falls Tribune; Dec. 18
Federal board approves BNSF's coal suppression requirement
In July of 2011, Burlington Northern Santa Fe put new rules in place for coal shipments, requiring the coal be loaded in a loaf shape and sprayed with suppressant to keep coal dust from fouling the tracks, and last week the federal Surface Transportation Board approved those rules.
Flathead Beacon (AP); Dec. 18
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): "Life is best organized as a series of daring ventures from a secure base," wrote psychologist John Bowlby. Some of you Aries enjoy the "daring venture" part of that formula, but neglect the "secure base" aspect. That's why your daring ventures may on occasion go awry. If you are that type of Ram, the first half of 2014 will be an excellent time to correct your bad habit. Life will be offering you considerable help and inspiration in building a strong foundation. And if you already appreciate how important it is for your pursuit of excitement to be rooted in well-crafted stability, the coming months will be golden.
On Dec. 7, Russ Talmo, Liz Fairbank, Erik Thompson and another person left a friend’s graduation party at Charlie B’s in downtown Missoula and walked south on Higgins Avenue toward their homes. The group toyed with the idea of grabbing a late-night snack, ultimately deciding against it. None of them could’ve anticipated what happened next.
Fairbank says a man standing next to a parked vehicle muttered something that she didn’t understand. There was no exchange of words and no obvious aggressive posturing before the man attacked, sending Talmo crumbling to the ground.
“He was basically already unconscious (before he hit the ground),” Fairbank says. “It happened all in just a few seconds.”
Fairbank dropped to her knees and asked Talmo to respond. He didn’t. “It was unprovoked,” she says. “(It) seems totally random.”
Erik Thompson says he was about a half-block behind Talmo and Fairbank, and engaged in another conversation when the attack occurred. He agrees that the assault appeared unprovoked. “Things happened way too fast for anything to have been said,” Thompson says.
Thompson and other onlookers tried to stop the assailant, but before they could he hopped into the car and sped off. Witnesses report there was more than one suspect involved in the attack.
As of press time, the Missoula Police Department had released few details about the alleged beating, other than to say that law enforcement responded to the scene. “We did find a male on the sidewalk,” says MPD Sgt. Travis Welsh. “The case is active and ongoing.”
Talmo, meanwhile, was hospitalized following the attack. His mother, Linda Fritz, who last week flew in from her Colorado home to care for her son, says that Talmo’s injuries range from bleeding and swelling on the brain to multiple hairline skull fractures and a fractured orbital socket. Talmo’s eyes were nearly swollen shut. Doctors used staples to close a gash in the back of his head. Talmo also lost a tooth, either as a result of the assailant’s blow, Fritz says, or while landing on the sidewalk.
Josh Quick's "Camp Sleepover" appears every Tuesday online, and can be seen in the Indy's printed pages every Thursday.
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