As the daughter of an engineer at a coal-fired power plant, I've lived most of my life near coal plants and was glad I could attend a lecture last week by Dr. Alan Lockwood, author of the book The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health.
Like most of us, I'd heard some of the statistics before, though I was especially astounded when Dr. Lockwood stated that approximately one-third of all U.S. citizens live in counties in which the EPA's National Ambient Air Quality Standards are not met. I wonder where Missoula stands? Air quality isn't only local, as Lockwood noted. Pollution from East Asia is windswept to the Pacific Northwest, right back to western Montana.
Burning coal is not only harmful to the environment and exacerbating climate change, it is also extremely harmful to our health. Lockwood cited studies in which coal combustion has been shown to be positively correlated with increased incidences of cardiovascular, cardiopulmonary, lung and kidney diseases. This is quite frightening and reminded me of conversation I recently had with my father. He has had asthma for most of his life, but during a two-week shutdown at his plant, he told me that he didn't need to use his inhaler once and could breathe much easier than usual.
The negative health effects associated with burning coal are enough to bring about a shift in policy, even without bringing the still contentious topic of climate change into the debate. Now is not the time to decrease renewable energy development, which is what happened last week in the Montana Senate with Senate Bill 31 and Senate Bill 45. We desperately need a shift away from our reliance on coal, and I hope that Lockwood's message, with its focus on human health, could help bring us there.
I was upset in reading the letter to the editor concerning House Bill 505 (see "Yes on HB 505" in Letters, March 21). In calling the bill, "the assisted suicide bill," it totally changes the connotation. It is more truly "aid in dying" for those at the end of life, with the "aid" being their trusted physician rather than a government agency! If people want to commit suicide, believe me, they will—either successfully or thwarted. (I've worked as an R.N. in an emergency room for 25 years and "saw plenty.") I've also seen the unnecessary suffering of many terminal patients and feel strongly that aid in dying is a right. Don't let the doctor/patient relationship we have trusted all of our lives be undermined by any government bill. Vote "no" for HB 505!
A March 14 piece regarding Dr. Alan Lockwood's book tour repeats incorrect information Lockwood uses to buttress his claims (see "Black cloud" in Letters). Clearly, a clarification is needed.
First, the research in Europe and Japan linking diabetes to the onset of Alzheimer's disease does not link either condition to coal. Further, Dr. Lockwood completely misstates the findings of a 2009 National Academies Study, which he says estimates "the additional heath care costs because of pollutants from those [coal] plants totaled $62 billion a year." The analysis uses 2005 emissions data to model a range of potential costs: Health care is not one of them. The same study uses these parameters to estimate the costs from cars and trucks to be $56 billion annually.
Coal-based generation as well as cars and trucks have continued to reduce their emissions profile since 2005thereby reducing the calculated potential costs. Neither the NAS study nor Dr. Lockwood evaluate the positive economic or health-based contributions of affordable electricity used to power home heating and air conditioning, water treatment facilities or other benefits of modern society.
Senior Vice President, Communications
National Mining Association
Your wildlife refuge is under attack from a Wyoming developer. A development with 639 residential units and 20 commercial units will be placed within 100 feet of the Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge in Stevensville if the Wyoming developer sways our public servants.
In 2006, this same developer sued our county for taking too much time to consider his proposal to create a “town” the same size as Stevensville in land mass and larger than Corvallis and Victor in inhabitants in the middle of rural Stevensville. He won the lawsuit. We have already paid him once.
Now our public officials are scared. The subdivision is back on the table and a recommendation has already been made by our planning staff to approve this subdivision. We need to tell our public servants not to be bullied into this.
The Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge is a treasure and an extremely important stop-off place for migratory birds in addition to a full-time residence for many species. This development would have a huge effect on them. Imagine the 639-plus new domestic dogs and cats that will love hunting this wildlife on our land. Imagine the light pollution that will prevent nesting, the sewage and lawn chemical runoff that will pollute the surface and ground water, the weeds that will infest the refuge.
Not to mention the affects on taxpayers: We’ll get to buy a new school for the development, pay for more emergency services and increase the size of the highway, to name a few. Not only will the developer take the money and run, we will be left to foot the bill for this, after we have lost the revenue from the users of our currently viable wildlife refuge. This is a serious life changer.
Are you going to allow this? Please write or call your commissioners and planning staff. We elected these people and they need to listen to us. I for one will not accept the excuse that they “can’t do anything about it.” Baloney. Did we elect leaders or wimps?
Please write or call the Ravalli County Planning Department (406-375-6530, firstname.lastname@example.org) and Ravalli County Commissioners (406-375-6500, email@example.com)
Montana is in the midst of an important conversation about coal. Our state holds significant reserves of this fossil fuel, which over the decades has helped boost Montana's economy via mining and exports and to power our nation via the coal-fired plants in Colstrip. There's no question that coal is an important part of Montana's history.
Yet, we've now reached a juncture where we must discuss how coal fits into our future. There's great interest in mining more of this resource in our state and exporting it overseas. Local communities are concerned about the impact of increased rail traffic as a result. There's also significant concern about how burning more Montana coal in China and elsewhere will affect our climate.
As physicians, we share these concerns, but also want to address the more immediate effects that the burning of coal has on public health. These hazards are well-documented, but tend not to get the same amount of attention as coal's impact on the larger environment.
Coal-fired power plants do more than cloud the air; they emit toxic pollution that causes illness and death. Toxins emitted by burning coal worsen asthma, bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, cause heart attacks and strokes, lung and other cancers, and lead to birth defects.
Nationwide, coal-fired plants account for 386,000 tons of dangerous pollutants each year, including acid gases such as hydrogen chloride and hydrogen fluoride, which can burn the eyes, skin and breathing passages, lead, arsenic and other metals that can harm the lungs, kidneys and nervous system, and dioxins, which pose a risk for cancer.
We urge Montanans to learn more about the impacts of coal and their health, in order to insure that the coal's affects on human health are not overshadowed in the current debates over coal and our state's role in burning, mining and exporting it.
An informative resource to learn more about these issues is The Silent Epidemic: Coal and the Hidden Threat to Health by Alan Lockwood, M.D. This book from the MIT Press draws on numerous, peer-reviewed studies to examine every aspect of coal, from its complex medical makeup to the health effects of mining, burning, transporting and disposing of this fuel. These are all central issues to Montana residents.
Dr. Lockwood, an emeritus professor of neurology and nuclear medicine at the State University of New York, will visit several Montana communities this month. We encourage interested citizens to attend his lectures and to further engage in this conversation, which is so important to the future of our state and to the public health of its residents. He will be speaking March 21 at 7 p.m. in room 123 of the Gallagher Business Building at the University of Montana.
Paul Smith, D.O., Missoula
Robert Shepard, M.D., Helena
Robert Merchant, M.D., Billings
Many thanks to Dan Person for an absolutely fabulous article about coal mining and transport (see "Coal train coming," March 7). I live on Orcas Island, with a view of Cherry Point, site of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, and his beautifully written, vivid article provides the clearest description of the issues from pit to port that I've seen in my year of extensive immersion and local activism related to this issue. Please keep up the great writing. Citizens need and have a right to know what's being planned for their communities along the entire route—from pit to port.
Co-founder, Orcas NO COALition
Orcas Island, Wash.
In what should have been a slam-dunk for good public policy and against animal abuse and crime, Republican legislators on the House Agriculture Committee instead voted to enable dog fighting in Montana (see “Fighting dog fighting,” Feb. 14). Dog fighting is a felony in all 50 states, but in only one—Montana—is attending a dogfight legal. Another fine distinction for the Treasure State: we rank dead last in state dog fighting laws.
House Bill 279 was intended to repair that loophole in state statute by making attendance at dog fights a misdemeanor after attempts to make it a felony in 2011 failed.
At the hearing for HB 279, 14 proponents stood to speak. They included a representative of the Sheriffs & Peace Officers Association (it’s a public safety issue, he emphasized), a Yellowstone County prosecutor, animal control officers (including a cruelty investigator), a Montana Veterinary Medical Association representative, and Cadette Girl Scouts from Lone Rock School Troop 3756. “We teach our Scouts to speak out and take action when they see something that needs to be changed,” said their proud leader.
Testimony frequently focused on the criminal elements—drugs, weapons and gambling—that accompany dog fighting. Fight organizers “hide” behind spectators when fights are raided, making prosecutions difficult. “Without spectators,” testified one officer, “there would be no sport.” Spectators bring children along, asserted another.
Although not a single citizen stood to oppose the bill, the committee, in later action on a motion by Rep. Krayton Kerns, R-Laurel, voted 10-7 to table it. All six Democrats were joined by one Republican to oppose tabling.
“This is the first step down a very slippery slope,” Kerns instructed. “If you just try to argue, uh, the grey area of animals used for fighting or animals suffering, uh, let’s say in a rodeo event, uh, we’re there. We’re there. So I think this is a dangerous direction we don’t want to go…” Understand this: Rep. Kerns is willing to accept illegal brutality and death for fighting dogs just to ensure that calves can be snapped by the neck in rodeo roping events. To add insult to injury, Kerns is a veterinarian.
I’d like to send Rep. Kerns and the other nine Republican legislators responsible for suppressing this common sense bill a one-way ticket to the Crime Museum in Washington, D.C., where an exhibit on dog fighting—“The Voiceless Victims”—is on display. I’d like our illustrious state legislators to see the tools of the violent, criminal trade they enabled in Montana—including a “rape stand used to immobilize female dogs for breeding purposes; (and) an electrocution device used to kill dogs who lost a fight or failed to show sufficient aggression ...” I’d like to show them videos of dogs rescued from fighting rings so they can see the suffering. If they don’t care about suffering (and I suspect they don’t), I’d like to ask them how hard they think it is to conduct similar criminal operations in Montana’s vast, rural spaces. Ag committee member Gordon Pierson, D-Deer Lodge, has already seen signs of dog fighting emerging in his area.
Most of all, I want these 10 legislators held fully accountable before the Cadette Scouts from Troop 3756—girls who were horrified to learn about dog fighting and the lack of consequences for spectators in Montana; young women who felt so strongly that they traveled to Helena to advocate for exploited dogs in the halls of their state government. I want to hear these public servants admit why they chose to accommodate felons and abandon heinously abused dogs: to ensure that business-as-usual animal cruelty continues unimpeded in Montana.
We have known Pat in a variety of contexts: one served with Carol Williams in the Legislature, a couple of us have counted Pat (and Carol) as friends for a number of years and one of us worked with Pat at the University of Montana. We know Pat Williams as more than just a University regent.
As a former UM student, faculty member and the parent of three UM graduates, Pat has dedicated his career and adult life to making the University of Montana a better place for students to grow and learn. Pat Williams has spent his entire career working on behalf of education and students, and speaking up for the most vulnerable.
His commitment to the University of Montana is deep, genuine and unwavering. For decades of service to Montana, Pat has always given us straight talk. He speaks up, challenges assumptions and authority and speaks truth, and his values reflect ours. His prodigious storytelling skills are legendary, but they are more than stories; Pat is a Montana historian like few others and he cares deeply about higher education.
He chaired the Committee on Postsecondary Education in the U.S. Congress, served as a trustee or director on numerous national boards and has experience to offer the regents and the university system as they chart a course forward for all of Montana students. Because of all of these things, Pat is imminently qualified to serve on the Montana Board of Regents.
We often feel in Montana like public institutions belong to us, as well we should. The Board of Regents is charged with the governance of the University system, not the marketing of it.
Pat’s quote in The New York Times did not and does not reflect his beliefs about University of Montana athletics. He was asked specifically about a small handful of current and former players charged with crimes ranging from assault to rape to burglary. He was not asked about, nor was he referring to the entire football team or athletic program.
Pat believes our communities become stronger and that we make students safer by talking about and solving problems instead of shying away from them.
Pat believes the University and the athletic department has begun making genuine reforms in addressing problems of criminality among some athletes. He is quoted expressing his support on many occasions. As that difficult process continues it will cause short-term pain and difficulties; but eventually our institution, our players and our students will be the beneficiaries.
We hope that those attempting to block his appointment would direct the same amount of time and passion speaking out in support of a culture of safety on our campus and ending sexual assault. We know that Pat is serious, thoughtful and deliberate about his duty as a Regent. The Montana Legislature should confirm Pat’s appointment to the Board of Regents and allow him to continue serving Montana.
State Sen. Cliff Larsen, Missoula
Former state Rep. Diane Sands, Missoula
Missoula County Commissioner Jean Curtiss
Missoula City Council Member Cynthia Wolken
Former Missoula City Council Member Stacy Rye