Notable Montana officials have contracted an ocular disease: They can't see the forest for the trees and stare myopically at promised dollar signs offered by mega-loads traversing our highways, while the real value of Montana's landscape, rivers and economy recedes into a hazy blur.
Montana citizens have requested that the state coordinate with federal entities to complete an extensive review of the mega-load project under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—and with good reason. In July 2009 Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch stated, "We are setting the stage for a high wide corridor through the State of Montana probably to be used for things we haven't even imagined yet."
What are the consequences of a permanent mega-load corridor in Montana? Are there alternatives? Where is the research considering impacts on our safety on narrow roadways in bad weather? On our travel routes? On our property values? On our recreation economy? On our rivers? On our fish and wildlife?
We Montanans don't need outsiders to tell us of the obvious dangers of the mega-load projects, but we can learn from the experience of others.
Other states have not fared well dealing with either big companies or mega-load corridors. In Texas, rural counties struggle to maintain roadways damaged by mega-load vehicles. "We've seen a lot of our roadways have base [problems], edges drop off, rutting, bridge hits, shoulder damage," commented Jodi Hodges, a public information officer in the Texas DOT's Fort Worth district, in a recent article in the Texas Tribune. Texans have learned the hard way that the big companies rarely pay the costs of the road damage they inflict. In one county alone, taxpayers were forced to foot a $23 million dollar bill for road repairs due to damage from similarly sized shipments as the ones proposed for Montana.
Perhaps worst of all, we have been misled about the duration of the projects. There is no question that this will be a permanent corridor. Hardly had we learned about one project, months after Idaho state officials had already given their blessing, than evidence of a continuing series of future projects surfaced. Three proposals are publicly known, and it's likely other plans are in the works. As Lynch commented in July, 2009, "We're not talking about one load, we're talking about an operation for an extended period of time—it's a major impact on the state."
As residents of Bonner Milltown, we're privileged to live at the confluence of two magnificent rivers. We see citizens in the Blackfoot Challenge working to restore the Blackfoot River; we see $6 million spent to clean up PCBs in the mill pond on the Blackfoot; we see $120 million spent to clean the aquifer and restore the confluence of the Clark Fork River in Milltown. Once upon a time, the activities creating the source of this pollution seemed to be a good idea, at least to corporations like Anaconda. If only more care had been taken before the degradation occurred...
Montana has no need to repeat the sadder chapters of its history. It's time to prove we've learned from past mistakes—that we are capable of avoiding disaster by doing things right the first time. In Bonner Milltown we have learned to look beyond the trees to see the forest. We request that our state officials do no less.
Friends of 2 Rivers
In San Francisco, a City Board of Supervisors voted 8–3 to prohibit fast food restaurants from providing toys in "Happy Meals" that contain more than 600 calories. Well, their price is decent and you "rich idiots" don't realize that some families can't afford a $7 hamburger.
When a state allows a group of "health food nuts" to regulate what a person or child can or can't eat, we have allowed communism to take over our brains and our bodies, too. "Happy Meals" may be the only treat some child may get, toy included. They sure as heck aren't going to eat the toy!
Have you ever been poor? I was 14 years old before I even got to taste a restaurant hamburger and fries. It was good! I did not die from it and somehow survived bacon, butter and potatoes for 79 years.
Are they next going to put a government bracelet on every person and child to be sure they don't overeat or watch television over an hour a day? If people carry a few extra pounds, that's their business.
It's legal to smoke "marijuana," but illegal to eat french fries? Wow, whose brain will go first?
It's time we stopped being brainwashed. Stand up for yourself!
In his letter under the heading "Mainstream Misses" (see letters, Oct. 28, 2010), Matt L. O'Connor congratulated the Independent on publishing the 10 biggest stories ignored by the major news outlets. He urged that people should "start looking for alternative sources for news" and asked, "Where else can one turn?" besides the Independent.
Actually, there are numerous publications of the alternative press that cover stories omitted or given short shrift by the mainstream media and expose corruption, fraud, lies, deceit and obfuscation by big business, government, religion, lobbyists, the wealthy and some individuals. A list of several of them appears below. Besides these, a dozen or more environmental organizations publish newsletters and magazines that expose the horrific environmental destruction by greedy corporations and governments.
The Nation, The Progressive, The Progressive Populist, Mother Jones, In These Times, High Country News, Counter-Punch, Hightower Lowdown, Montana Human Rights Network publications, ACLU publications, Planned Parenthood publications and Population Connection's The Reporter.
The addresses of most of these can be gotten off the Internet. Some have websites that provide information beyond that in their print publications.
John M. Crowley
Montana, like nearly every other state in the union, has been through its share of rough economic times in recent years. But Montanans aren't easy to discourage. We have a tradition of pulling ourselves up by the bootstraps when times get tough; we're optimistic about our economic future and, for the most part, we welcome new business in our state.
Unfortunately, outsiders seem not to share our pro-business viewpoints. Recently, external influences are making their presence felt in our state, and are threatening to push needed revenue and investment out of our region. Opposed to commercial, oversized use of our local highways, global environmental groups like the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) have descended upon Montana and Idaho to attempt to halt permitting for the trucking of oversized loads related to energy development—a project that would bring significant tax revenue and economic stimulus to our region.
Montana is heavily vested in agriculture, timber, mining, wind energy and other activities that necessitate the wide loads we so often see on our highways. Many industries require the shipping of large cargoes, and would be required to halt operations or seriously hinder them if they were not allowed to ship.
Despite the regularity of this activity, the proposed loads that may cross our state to reach the oil sands have agreed to take the precaution of traveling at night during low traffic hours, and will pay for police escorts to ensure safety and proper traffic movements.
Because Montana's staple industries rely so heavily on shipping heavy loads, the fuss generated by outsiders over specific loads traveling through our state will threaten much more than that project. If those outside groups can stop these shipments, they will set a precedent that can be used to stop oversized loads for other industries.
What's more, the oversized shipping Kearl project brings an incredible amount of investment for our state, including infrastructure upgrades and road improvements at no cost to taxpayers. Additionally, they will bring new economic activity to the region by hiring construction workers, and providing a boost to local establishments along the route such as restaurants, hotels and community stores. In fact, it's estimated that the project will produce a total of $80 million additional economic activity to the region.
The Montana Department of Transportation must address permitting of wide loads and heavy shipments in an apolitical manner, and must not allow outsiders to politicize this relatively simple process. If a negative precedent is set, any number of industries opposed by outside activists would be threatened. Those who don't agree with the timber, coal or agricultural industries operating in our state could hinder the shipping of goods on our public roads.
Montanans must make their voice heard on this issue, because right now it is being drowned out. In fact, during the open comment period offered on this issue, 97 percent of the comments received in opposition were generated by the NRDC, reportedly as part of a nationwide campaign. We cannot allow our state citizens and economy to be the collateral damage in this battle over the future of America's energy industry.
Our economy is headed in the right direction, and if we have our way it will continue on this positive course. If Montanans aren't heard, and oversized shipping permits become a political minefield that must be navigated by industries throughout the state's economy, though, we're in for trouble.
We must do our part to keep Montana the nation's Last Best Place, and keep our economy's future in our own capable hands.
Barry "Spook" Stang
Executive Vice President
Motor Carriers of Montana
Daniel Geary is my brother. He is not a radical environmentalist nor a belly aching activist nor merely a "lover of trees" (see "One man's stump," Nov. 11, 2010). Daniel is a quiet man who worries about those who have no voice; a man with a strong sense of fair play. The Parks Dept. hacked down 17 trees immediately adjacent to Daniel's home of over 20 years without an effort to let him know. As an amends they planted two or three chokecherry trees. Are the rank-and-file Missoulians aware of the city-wide eradication of the maples? Does the Parks Dept. have a replanting and budget plan available to the public? What is the noxious weed inventory and eradication plan? Does the public notice policy go beyond size 8 type in the classifieds?
Daniel Geary's concerns go way past sitting under a tree. He is addressing the need for good science and openness regarding the fallen trees across Missoula.
Elaine G. Olsen
I want to thank you very much for the article on the lady having difficulty keeping her house (see "Facing foreclosure," Nov. 4, 2010). I thought the article was well written and very informative as to the problems she is facing in obtaining help to retain her house.
Your paper always covers subjects in good detail, as well as making it interesting to read.
The only problem I have is that, as I age, your print is difficult to read, because of its small size. Any chance your articles could be printed in a larger font?
Should Montanans and Idahoans allow multi-billion dollar corporations such as Conoco-Phillips and Exxon to dictate the future of recreational experiences along the public lands of Highway 12’s Wild and Scenic Lochsa River? No! Driving the 207 300-ton loads of tar sands oil equipment to Alberta will only drive natives and tourists alike out of our Lolo and Clearwater national forests. From winter to summer, tar sands equipment could occupy scenic turnouts and impede access to majestic wilderness and campgrounds for recreation, and impede access needed to fight wildfires, and even delay emergency vehicles along beautiful, windy roads like highways 12 and 200.
Will we allow our national forests—where our children learn the thrilling and cherished family traditions of hunting and fishing, and where tourists travel for such world-class recreation—to be held hostage by the world’s wealthiest corporation, Exxon? Absolutely unacceptable.
May the forest be with you always, not the slick rhetoric of big oil. The “Last Best Place” is too good to spoil!
Melissa E. Early
I am deeply honored and humbled by the confidence the people of Montana have shown in me. And I am inspired by the voters’ decision to support an independent, non-partisan judiciary that assures everyone a level playing field.
I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the many dozens of people across the state who gave so generously of their time, their hard-earned dollars and their life energy to help this campaign succeed. And thank you to everyone who voted for me in the election.
I will bring to work the values important to our court system: integrity, fairness, hard work, common sense and an open mind. I will give full attention to every case and fair treatment to every party.
It has been a privilege for me to run for this office, and it will be an honor to serve all Montana as your next Supreme Court Justice.
Until the world manages to change to CO2-free and carbon-neutral sources of energy, we have to use at least a small fraction of our fossil fuels to keep things going in the meantime. For that purpose some of our nation’s most prominent scientists suggest that we use only existing sources of gas and oil during this transition period, for two reasons. One is that these two fuels provide the least CO2 emitted per unit of energy produced. The second advantage (ironically) is that the reserves of these are thought to be limited (if we don’t look too hard for more) as is the total amount of CO2 that can be produced by them. With this approach, the upper level of atmospheric CO2 we will reach could be held to approximately 430 parts per million (ppm), of which then about 80 ppm would then somehow have to be removed, 50 ppm of which could come from improved land use.
So what’s wrong with burning coal instead of gas and oil? One problem associated with coal is the additional chemical pollution and physical disturbance its mining produces. Another is that it produces much more CO2 per energy unit derived than do gas and oil. An even greater problem associated with coal, however, is the fact that there is simply too darn much of it! If the world’s coal continues to be burned along with the readily available gas and oil previously mentioned, then atmospheric CO2 is sure to reach levels well over 500 ppm from which recovery is much more difficult to envision. While there is some possibility of capturing and permanently sequestering the CO2 emitted from coal-fired power plants, both the technical and financial feasibility of that possibility has not yet been demonstrated.
So what’s wrong with using the oil derived from the Alberta tar sands? The answer is lots of things, which make its use even worse than that of coal. Like coal, there is simply too much of it—the total amount of oil in the tar sands is comparable to that in the Middle east. Another is that the methods used for separating the oil from the tar sands produces an enormous amount of surface and water pollution. Another is that to separate the oil from the tar sands, a huge amount of natural gas, about 40 percent of Alberta’s total, is used to heat mixtures of water added to the tar sands. Thus, the production of this form of oil ends up producing far more CO2 than that of normal crude oil. Another is that vast boreal forested regions of Alberta will be destroyed in this process (we’re talking about 20 percent of Alberta, or an area the size of Florida!) which otherwise would be removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Finally and unlike coal, there is no way of capturing and sequestering the CO2 emitted in the processes of extracting, refining, and using the tar sands oil.
While we are at it, we should also consider the options of coal gasification and liquefaction plants that have been considered in Montana and used elsewhere. In terms of their environmental feasibility, they are approximately as bad as the tar sands, primarily because the feedstock used for these, coal, would last for centuries and because this technology offers no potential for the capture and sequestration of associated CO2 emissions.
In summary, there is great risk that the full development of the Alberta tar sands and the existing coal fields of the world, along with use of our existing supplies of gas and oil, would boost the temperature of Earth to levels beyond which our planet might find itself on an uncontrollable path of run-away feedback effects leading to a distinctly less human-friendly state. The contents of the long sentence I just wrote is now well known within the scientific community and is not “rocket science.” Therefore, I would encourage the governor to give greater consideration to these very possible long-term implications of our energy policies when considering what to do with our essentially endless supplies of tar sands and coal.
Emeritus Professor of Chemistry
Montana State University
It is time for the coal bed methane industry to do it right. Montana’s groundwater must be protected. There are close to 1,000 wells in Montana now, and the number will increase. Up to 26,000 coal bed methane wells are projected for Montana. Coal bed methane development began over 10 years ago, and there is room to put some water back. Northern Plains Resource Council feels that the time is right to recharge the aquifers by putting some of the millions of gallons of water brought to the surface back into the depleted wells.
The high sodium water that is dumped into the Tongue River is causing damage to our irrigated fields. By putting the water back to recharge the aquifers, the damage will go away. It is time for legislation that provides an incentive to coal bed methane developers to put the water back. Northern Plains hopes for bipartisan support in the Legislature for aquifer recharge. Groundwater is too important to waste. The coal seam aquifers are a critical source for farmers’ and ranchers’ wells and springs and they must be protected for future generations. Northern Plains urges all of you to support legislation to put the water back where it came from—underground.
Coal Bed Methane Task Force for the Northern Plains Resource Council