Category Archives: Community Organization, Politics and History

Public opposition is going to keep the Keystone XL Pipeline from being built any time soon

If you thought Donald Trump was going to wave a magic wand and get the Keystone XL Pipeline built, you should recognize that there is no magic and the pipeline isn’t going to be constructed any time soon.

TransCanada Corp, the principal builder of Keystone XL, is still not prepared to offer a firm timeline for the completion of the Keystone XL pipeline, its top executive said last week, even though President Trump granted the project a permit. According to TransCanada CEO Ross Girling, the pipeline sits in the company’s “long-term bucket” because of the remaining difficulty in getting it done. One of the key difficulties is the strong opposition of those concerned about the environmental impact of the pipeline.

Public opposition has kept the Keystone XL from being built so far, and it will continue to stand in the way, despite whatever the current administration in Washington wants to do. TransCanada recognizes that it will be take years to clear all the hurdles, and Trump’s order can be reversed by a subsequent US president, so the company is not willing to take unnecessary risk in committing to the pipeline. Continue reading

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New scientific study shows fracking is strongly related to infant mortality

A new scientific study published this week in the Journal of Environmental Protection shows, for the first time, a clear correlation between fracking and the death of newborn infants.

The study showed that infant deaths decreased by 2.4% across the state during the period of the fracking boom from 2007-2010. However, in the 82,558 births in the 10 most-fracked counties, there was a significant increase in mortality (238 vs. 193, a 23.3% increase). These results are statistically significant at a 95% level of confidence.

According to the authors, that means 50 babies died over three years because they happened to be born near a fracked well. Stunning.

What’s more, the greatest increases in death occurred in counties with the highest dependence on private water wells, and in the counties with the greatest number of operator violations of wastewater disposal regulations.

This is a very important study for rural Montanans in areas where fracking is likely. They depend on private wells for precious water, they live in a state that is lax in protecting landowners, and the company most likely to come in and drill is a serial polluter with a track record of violations in the very counties in Pennsylvania that were studied.

To read more, click the link. Continue reading

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24 US Senators are trying to preserve the BLM methane rule. Why isn’t Jon Tester one of them?

Twenty-four Senate Democrats, led by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), have sent a letter to Senate leaders asking them to defend the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Methane and Natural Gas Waste Prevention Rule. Montana Senator Jon Tester … Continue reading

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Environmental implications of a Donald Trump presidency

Regardless of where you stand politically, Donald Trump’s election yesterday was an unexpected shock. There is no way to know all the environmental implications of his election, but we can expect significant deviation from the policies of the last eight years, and a return to the environmentally ruinous policies of the Bush/Cheney era.

This occurs at a time when public understanding and acceptance of the need to combat climate change is growing. We should be moving quickly to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy to reduce carbon emissions; instead it appears we will moving back to the era of “drill baby drill.”

Based on what I have heard and read, here are some of the known positions and statements of Donald Trump on the environment.

Continue reading

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Billings Gazette editorial on fracking chemical disclosure

Last week the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation turned down a request from several conservation organizations and other residents to require increased disclosure of fracking chemicals.

This is typical for the BOGC. Earlier this year they declined to establish minimum setbacks of wellheads from occupied buildings, leaving Montana as one of the few oil and gas producing states with no required buffer zones.

Montana remains one of the most poorly regulated oil and gas producing states, largely because the BOGC is designed to conserve oil and gas interests, not the rights of the state’s residents. The fight to reform the BOGC is central to changing the balance of power in the fight to protect the state’s residents from unsafe drilling in this poorly regulated industry.

Today the Billings Gazette responded to the latest BOGC failure with a scathing editorial.

To read it, click the link. Continue reading

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A win for local activists: Carbon County passes county-wide oil and gas regulations

The Carbon County Commissioners today passed new regulations to protect citizens from the dangers of oil and gas drilling, a significant win for local activists. The Development Regulations update, the first since 1989, follows the County’s adoption of an updated Growth Policy last year.

The regulations mark a rare Montana victory for the tireless activists in Carbon County who have worked on landowner protections for nearly three years since Energy Corporation of America announced plans to “bring a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooth Front.

The constant pressure has paid off, and the Commissioners have relented from their initial opposition to regulation. This is a real win for Carbon County citizens. The new regulations afford genuine protections that are not provided by other Montana laws, and they would not have happened without the dedicated work of these local activists, people like Susann Beug, Deb Muth, Becky Grey and Bonnie Martinell, and Maggie Zaback of Northern Plains.

It is important to recognize that protection against oil and gas drilling is an endless battle, and these rules are a small step in a long fight. But in the meantime, it is important to recognize that local activism bears fruit. It’s not easy, and requires commitment over the long haul. All credit goes to those who worked to make this happen. Local residents should thank them for their work. Continue reading

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Stillwater County Commissioners ignore County residents on issue after issue. This has to change.

The Stillwater County Commissioners appear to be so out of touch with their constituents that they can’t be bothered to respond to residents on issue after issue. Several recent examples show a pattern of inadequate communication as well as failures in planning, budgeting and executing complex projects.

This article looks at an oil and gas district, a County road closed by rockslide, a historic building renovation and a disputed tree cutting process as a pattern of failure to plan, execute, budget and communicate.

It’s time for change, and it’s up to voters to make it happen. The next County Commissioner election is this year, and it is a vacant seat. It’s time for County residents to step up and fill these seats with competent and responsible Commissioners.

Click to read more. Continue reading

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Gianforte plans to put industry in charge of the DEQ

According to an article in the Missoulian, gubernatorial candidate Greg Gianforte was in Great Falls last Thursday, where he told supporters that, as Governor, he will “focus more on customer service than enforcement, in part, by placing ‘someone from industry’ or business at the helm of state agencies such as the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).”

The issue here is an important one. The Montana Constitution guarantees each citizen the right to a “clean and healthful environment”. This is a fundamental right that has existed for over 40 years.

With regard to oil and gas issues, the DEQ stands alone as the state agency charged with protecting that right. According to the DEQ’s web site, the agency’s “ultimate goal is to protect public health and to maintain Montana’s high quality of life for current and future generations.”

Gianforte’s campaign is just getting started, and his position on the DEQ may change. But Montanans should be wary of electing a Governor who is going to undercut citizen rights. And local citizens along the Beartooth Front should increase their urgency in working with county government to create local regulations that build necessary protections at the local level. Continue reading

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Steve Daines joins the carbon reduction bandwagon! Wait a minute…

No sooner did we get the exciting news from Paris about the international climate agreement than my good friend Steve Daines sent me an invitation to attend the third annual Montana Energy Conference in Billings on March 30-31. According to Senator Daines, it’s an opportunity to “continue the discussion on state and national energy opportunities and provide an all-encompassing look at Montana’s energy potential.”

I was really excited to see that our junior Senator has jumped on the bandwagon to transition Montana’s energy portfolio from fossil fuels to clean energy. This kind of leadership is exactly what’s required to help us meet the treaty’s ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions.

I went over to the event web site, where I discovered that the conference will have a “fresh new look and perspective,” and that “energy professionals, policy and decision makers at all levels” will take “an all-encompassing look at Montana’s energy potential.”

This is exactly what we need!

If you’re a regular reader, you know there’s more to this post. Click to read what this conference is really about. Continue reading

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The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation does not protect citizens from the damage done by oil and gas drilling. Here’s what local communities can do about it.

A small item on the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation docket for the organization’s December 9 meeting provides just a hint of major problems with the BOGC.

This state agency does not adequately enforce its existing laws and regulations with regard to oil and gas, and the problem has worsened as the Bakken oil boom has increased demands on the BOGC. If Montana residents want to protect themselves from the damage caused by oil and gas operations, they need to create their own local regulations.

Click to read the damning results of a 2011 Montana Legislature audit of the BOCG, and a report that shows the resources just aren’t there to enforce existing regulations. Continue reading

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