November ballot measures in other states

Yesterday we looked at battle between the oil and gas industry and communities in Colorado. Today we’ll look at fracking-related ballot measures in other states.

Florida
Amendment 9 places two constitutional amendments on the ballot. It would prohibit “drilling, either for exploration or extraction, of oil or gas on all lands beneath state waters,” which would encompass offshore fracking. State-owned waters extend from the mean high water line to the state’s outermost territorial boundaries. For some reason, this is bundled with a second amendment that would ban vaping indoors.

Trump’s EO opens 120 million acres on the Continental Shelf to drilling. Amendment 9 would prohibit drilling in waters off the Florida coast.

Background. In December 2016 President Obama issued a moratorium on all new oil and gas drilling in 120 million acres in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Then, in April 2017, President Trump signed an executive order directing the Department of the Interior to revise the Obama administration’s 2017-2022 leasing plan for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans, which lifted the moratorium. “Renewed offshore energy production will reduce the cost of energy, create countless new jobs, and make America more secure and far more energy independent,” Trump said at the signing ceremony.

In January of this year, Interior Secretary Zinke announced a draft program to make over 90 percent of the total U.S. Outer Continental Shelf acreage available to oil and gas exploration and development. The proposal included 47 potential lease sales, with 12 in the Gulf of Mexico and nine in the Atlantic Ocean. According to Zinke, the plan included the “largest number of lease sales ever proposed.”

Zinke exempted Florida from the draft program to open parts of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean to oil and gas exploration based on Florida Governor Rick Scott’s request, but said that a final decision had not been made and a final proposal would be released this fall.

Amendment 9 would close off the opportunity for future offshore drilling.

California
Measure G in San Luis Obispo County, just north of Santa Barbara, would prohibit “new petroleum extraction, and all well stimulation treatments, including fracking and acid well stimulation, on all lands within the unincorporated area of the county.” This would include not only new extraction, but expansion of current sites.

The activist group Protect San Luis Obispo County collected over 20,000 signatures to put the measure on the ballot.

Not on the ballot
Measures in Michigan and Ohio did not make the ballot.

The Michigan Fracking Ban Initiative would have banned the use of horizontal fracking and prohibited the production, storage, disposal, and processing of fracking waste in the state. Proponents did not reach the required 315,000 signatures to be on the ballot.

In Ohio, the state Supreme Court ruled that a measure meant to ban fracking in Columbus, Ohio was illegal and could not appear on the November ballot. The court reasoned that state law specifically reserves the right to regulate oil and gas activity. The measure would have prohibited drilling within the city.

Update 11/2/2018: A reader in Youngstown, Ohio points out that there is a municipal charter amendment on the ballot in that city. The amendment would recognize community rights to safe drinking water and a healthy environment, and establish a community “bill of rights.” The ordinance would effectively block new drilling for oil and gas.

We’ll report back on what happened after the election.

Posted in Politics and History | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Lessons from other states: Colorado

Sometimes it’s worth checking in on other oil and gas producing states to see what trends may eventually bring political change to Montana. Today we’ll look at Colorado, where conflict over oil and gas development is front and center on the November ballot.

Colorado background
Colorado is a huge oil and gas producing state. It ranks fourth in the US in natural gas production behind Texas, Pennsylvania, and Oklahoma, and  seventh in crude oil production behind Texas, North Dakota, California, Alaska, Oklahoma, and New Mexico. It dwarfs Montana in production. Gas production is 40 times larger than Montana’s, and oil production is five times larger.

Over time, Colorado production has migrated from the sparsely populated Western Slope of Colorado to the rich Wattenberg Gas Field on Colorado’s Front Range, a much more heavily populated area near Denver. As production has moved to densely populated areas, there has been a predictable clash between the oil and gas industry and those concerned about the quality of water, air, and public health.

As this has occurred, Colorado has tried to adopt more balance in regulation than we see in Montana, where regulation heavily favors the oil and gas industry. A couple of examples:

  • Colorado requires a minimum 500 foot setback from occupied buildings, which extends to 1000 feet from high density buildings like schools and hospitals. Montana has no minimum setback rules.
  • Colorado has relatively strict rules requiring oil and gas companies to publicly disclose the chemical composition of fluids used in fracking. Disclosure includes the volume of water used, the chemicals used and their concentrations. Within 60 days of drilling, all chemicals must be posted on the fracfocus.com web site. Montana’s Board of Oil and Gas is currently revising the state’s chemical disclosure rules, but the final rules will be a far cry from Colorado’s in terms of transparency.

Colorado’s more stringent rules have not satisfied the public however. Voters in Wattenberg Field cities Longmont and Fort Collins passed fracking bans several years ago, but the state supreme court ruled these bans unconstitutional.

A large new drilling operation sits near the Denver and Front Range Landfills close to housing subdivisions on June 7, 2017 in Erie. Some neighbors don t
A gas well looms over homes in Erie, Colorado, along the Front Range. A titanic clash between oil and gas interests and local communities is on the November ballot in Colorado. (Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

Two competing ballot initiatives
On November 6, this conflict will reach a head as voters will decide on two opposing oil and gas measures, Proposition 112 and Amendment 74. Both could have major conflicting implications on future oil and gas development in the state.

Proposition 112 would establish a minimum setback of 2,500 feet between wellheads and homes, schools, hospitals, and “vulnerable areas,” such as school playgrounds.

The oil and gas industry has attacked Proposition 112 with the full fury of an industry that claims the measure will cut 80% of the state’s future energy development on nonfederal lands, causing 150,000 job losses statewide, and decreasing tax revenues by $1 billion. These figures need to be taken with a huge grain of salt, because they fail to take into account advanced horizontal drilling technology, which enables drilling from as far away as a mile from a target, and they include workers who would allegedly lose their jobs because of a shortfall in state revenue. Proponents of Proposition 112 believe the measure is necessary to protect the health and safety of residents in the Front Range Area where the population is booming and the industry continues to grow.

To date the industry is outspending advocates of Proposition 112 by 20-1. The industry has contributed $19.4 million; proponents have raised $945,985. This is typical of this kind of ballot initiative, and in many places they have prevailed even when the industry has far outspent advocates. In 2014 in San Benito, California, a fracking ban passed 57%-43% even though the industry outspent local advocates 15-1.

The competing initiative is Amendment 74, which would amend the Colorado Constitution’s to read: “Private property shall not be taken or damaged, or reduced in fair market value by government law or regulation for public or private use, without just compensation.”

The oil and gas industry is attempting to use this language all over the country to thwart  voter-imposed oil and gas regulation. The industry doesn’t try to hide it. Chad Vorthmann, Amendment 74’s sponsor and Vice President of Colorado Farm Bureau, says the measure is about “protecting Colorado’s farmers and ranchers from extremist attempts to enforce random setback requirements for oil and natural gas development . . . and strip away Colorado landowners’ right to use their land the way they wish.”

In practice, what these “takings” initiatives do is invite a flood of lawsuits and bankrupt small municipalities. Because oil and gas rights are private property, local governments will be paralyzed if it passes. If they reject oil and gas developments they could face takings claims from mineral owners. But if the government approves the development, it could be faced with a takings claim from property owners. It would be a full employment act for attorneys.

The worst case scenario for Colorado would be if both initiatives pass. Proposition 112 would invite legal challenges under Amendment 74. Eric Sondermann, and independent political analyst, calls Amendment 74 an “insurance policy” against Proposition 112.

Stay tuned. We’ll let you know what happens.

Posted in Politics and History | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Last chance for your voice to be heard on chemical disclosure; email comments due to Board of Oil and Gas today by 5pm

This is not a time to sit back and let others take action. The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) is about to pass a rule on the advance disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking. This rule trades the rights of landowners for the rights of oil and gas companies. It’s a bad trade, and only your voice can make a difference at this point.

To make a comment, send an email to mtogpub@mt.gov. Reference Hydraulic Fracturing Rulemaking in the subject line. The deadline is 5pm today.

Your comment does not have to be long or elegant. Emphasize that the proposed rule is inadequate because it does not require operators to give landowners 45 days notice, which is required to do baseline testing. You might also say that the cost of baseline testing should be paid by oil and gas operators.

Only a deluge of support for this position will move the board. Please take five minutes to do this today.

Here is background information that will help you.

My original post on this topic
My follow up post
Comments from coalition that sued the BOGC
Billings Gazette: Montana Fracking Fluid Disclosure Rule Draws Critics

Report from last Monday’s hearing
The Board Chair was not present but the rest of the Board was there.  Board member Rob Stutz moderated. In total, fifteen people testified and about thirty people were in the audience.  Most of the commenters supported the position that more notice should be given. Alan Olson, head of the Montana Petroleum Association, predictably said he liked the Board’s current revisions and didn’t think anything else needed to be in the rules. He added that landowners could take operators to Court if they wanted additional information.

This Montana Petroleum’s Association tells you all you need to know.

Please comment today.

Cleaning up an oil spill on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. Without adequate advance notification it is impossible to protect our water. Photo: Associated Press

 

 

Posted in Community Organization | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Ryan Zinke, how do you really feel?

They say that a mistake in politics is when a politician says what he really means. Ryan Zinke was the keynote speaker at an oil and gas industry event in Louisiana this week. There’s no recording of his remarks, but the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association tweeted their version of what he said:

“Our government should work for you, the #oilandgas industry.”

No denial from Zinke, and it’s not hard to imagine that’s the way he feels.

If he was working for us, we’d tell him to stop selling off federal land, and stop leasing BLM minerals in sensitive areas.

Posted in Shared Letters and Posts | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Action reminder: Montana Board of Oil and Gas hearing on Monday, September 17

This is a reminder that the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) will be holding a public hearing on its proposed new rules for fracking chemical disclosure. Quite simply, these proposed rules are not strong enough to adequately protect landowners and it is important for you to lend your voice to make sure landowners’ opinions are clearly heard.

You can make your voice heard in either of two ways:

  • The most effective way is always to be there in person. You can do this by attending the BOGC hearing on September 17 at 2pm at 2535 St. Johns Avenue in Billings. Please come if you can.
  • You can also submit written comments via email through September 24 to mtogpub@mt.gov. Reference Hydraulic Fracturing Rulemaking in the subject line.

To get background read my previous post.

My comments
Here are the comments I submitted today. Feel free to borrow as you see fit:

To the Members of the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation:

Please accept the following comments concerning the Board’s proposed revisions to its hydraulic fracturing rules.

As a surface owner in Stillwater County, these rules do not move the needle for me. Like the previous rules, they continue to trade my right to protect my water, land, and property for the oil and gas industry’s convenience. From a surface owner’s point of view, you may as well have made no changes at all.

The reason I want chemical disclosure prior to fracking is so I can perform baseline testing on my water. Without baseline testing I will have no legal recourse if the water is contaminated during fracking.

The legal standard for baseline testing is exacting. It needs to be done by a professionally qualified third party. It must adhere to standards for container origin, integrity, post-sample sealing, labeling, and any required agitation and refrigeration.

If I don’t know the chemicals to be used in fracking at least 45 days in advance, I can’t get that done, plain and simple. This rule does not provide that advance notice. Because of that, it is of no value to me.

Operators could give 45 days notice if they were required to do so. I understand that they feel it is inconvenient.

You apparently have decided that their convenience is more important than my right to protect my property.

I disagree. You can do better.

David Katz
Nye

The Board of Oil and Gas Conservation not acting. Photo: Casey Page, Billings Gazette

Posted in Fracking Information, Shared Letters and Posts | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Beartooth landowners file motion for summary judgment in zoning lawsuit

Beartooth Front landowners last week filed the critical brief in their lawsuit against the Stillwater County Commissioners. It outlines their argument for why landowners alone, without the approval of minerals owners, should be able to establish a citizen-initiated zoning district. The argument lies at the heart of a central tension in Montana law: the self-determination of landowners to decide what happens on their own property vs. the importance of mineral extraction to the state economy.

Motion for summary judgment
The brief is a request for summary judgment, which asks Judge Jones to rule in favor of the landowners. It is written clearly in language that can be easily understood, and I recommend it to those who want to understand these issues in detail.

If you want to know the details and timeline of the case, I have included links to other posts at the bottom of the page. Here are the basics:

The Beartooth Front Coalition is a group of landowners in southern Stillwater County who are attempting to set up a citizen-initiated zone to regulate future oil and gas activities. Their goal is not to stop drilling, but to make sure it is done in a way that will protect the long-term health of their community. According to Montana law, this requires the signatures of 60% of the real property owners in the proposed zone. The landowners submitted these signatures, the Stillwater County Attorney informed the landowners that they had cleared the hurdle of 60% of the surface real property owners, but then determined, without every notifying the landowners during signature collection, that 60% of the minerals owners were required as well.

The landowners then filed suit to protect their rights.

Sunset on the Stillwater River. The River is the lifeblood of the local community, and landowners seek to preserve its long-term health. Photo by Anne Moses.

If they are successful, the County will be forced to follow the law and hold a hearing on the petition. If the County is successful, the future of citizen-initiated zoning, a basic tenet of Montana law for the last 65 years, will be thrown into chaos.

The landowners’ argument as expressed in the brief is clear and simple:

  • A review of the history of law and zoning in Montana makes it clear that the legislature intended that only surface landowners should participate in land use zoning and not minerals owners.
  • A scheme in which minerals owners are included as potential signatories to a zoning petition is unworkable. This is something the County admits — they have no list of mineral owners with which to validate the petition, and the cost of obtaining such a list would be hundreds of thousands of dollars, an unreasonable hurdle for a group of petitioners.
  • The judge should grant the landowners a writ of mandamus, an order for the County to validate the petition and hold a hearing on the zone as quickly as possible.

Why this is so important
This issue of self-determination dates to the settlement of Montana, and is as old as Stillwater County itself. In fact, Stillwater County has a long tradition of successful efforts of this type, and of effective cooperation between landowners and mineral extraction companies:

  • In 1913, the County was formed when residents of the area voted to form a separate county from parts of Yellowstone, Carbon, and Sweet Grass counties. Before citizen-initiated zoning existed in Montana law, this was a clear statement by local residents that their unique needs required a distinct organizational structure that they controlled.
  • In 1979, when the Stillwater Mine was a joint venture between Chevron and Manville Corporation, local residents formed the first citizen-initiated zone in Stillwater County to make sure that mining was done right, on the community’s terms. The purpose of the zone was almost identical to that of the current proposed zone: “…not to prevent particular activities, but rather to regulate and promote the orderly development of the area. The development of the area shall consider the health, safety, and general welfare of the people of Stillwater County.” It was a good idea then, as it is a good idea now. Read the West Fork Stillwater Planning and Zoning Ordinance.
  • After mining began in 1985, local residents fought hard against the Stillwater Mine to protect the water and local communities directly impacted by mining activities. In 2000, the two sides worked together to negotiate an agreement to extend protections beyond state requirements to protect property, water, and area communities, while allowing platinum and palladium mining to proceed. The contract is legally binding and establishes a process for citizens to regularly meet with company representatives to address and prevent problems related to mining impacts, reclamation, wildlife, and other issues. The Good Neighbor Agreement has protected land with conservation easements, instituted a busing program to vastly reduce traffic on winding valley roads, and provided for independent environmental audits. While relationships have not always been smooth, this agreement is recognized nationally as a model for effective relationships between extraction companies and local communities. Read the Good Neighbor Agreement.

What’s disappointing about all this is that the County is celebrated around the country for our accomplishments, but the current Stillwater County Commissioners have no apparent knowledge of any of this, and are not directly involved in the administration of the Good Neighbor Agreement. They clearly do not understand that self-determination is built into the DNA of the community, and successful partnerships are what we do.

Quite simply, the Commissioners are not doing their jobs. They should be helping their taxpayers, who have decided overwhelmingly to form this zone to protect the long term health of their community. But rather than do their jobs and help us get it done, the Stillwater County Commissioners choose to align themselves with the oil and gas industry. Now it is up to the courts to decide whether they can get away with it.

Next steps
Assuming there are no extensions, the County will have 21 days to respond, and then the landowners will have 14 days to reply. That will put the end of briefings in early October. Our attorney has asked for a hearing on the motion, and we are hopeful that Judge Jones will conduct the hearing and issue a ruling on our motion before the end of the year.

Background information
Beartooth Front Coalition website
Documents relevant to the case
Beartooth Front landownwers present hundreds of signatures to Stillwater County Commissioners to set up oil and gas zoning district (with video)
Do mineral rights have anything to do with citizen initiated zoning in Montana?
Breaking: Beartooth Front landowners file legal action against Stillwater Commissioners
Landowners show up for hearing on Beartooth Front lawsuit
Beartooth Front landowners win first round of lawsuit
Op ed: the Stillwater County Commissioners aren’t doing their jobs

Update, 9/13/2018:
Article in Stillwater County News: Beartooth Front Coalition seeks summary judgment in case against the county, by Mikaela Koski

Posted in Legal | Tagged , , , , | 6 Comments

Action Alert: Your voice needed on new Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation chemical disclosure rule

Action Alert
Your help is needed. The Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) will be holding a public hearing on its proposed new rules for fracking chemical disclosure. Quite simply, these proposed rules are not strong enough to adequately protect landowners and it is important for you to lend your voice to make sure landowners’ voices are clearly heard.

You can make your voice heard in either of two ways:

  • The most effective way is always to be there in person. You can do this by attending the BOGC hearing on September 17 at 2pm at 2535 St. Johns Avenue in Billings. Please come if you can.
  • You can also submit written comments via email through September 24 to mtogpub@mt.gov. Reference Hydraulic Fracturing Rulemaking in the subject line.

Background
In July 2016 a group of landowners, along with two environmental groups,  asked the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation (BOGC) to change their rules to require chemical disclosure to be part of the application process for drilling a well and the information be made public at least 45 days before fracking occurs. The BOGC rejected the petition in September 2016.

The BOGC’s current rules, put in place in 2011, are effectively useless for landowners trying to protect their water. Oil and gas operators do not have to tell the board or public about the specific chemical ingredients it uses for fracking until after operations are complete. This is not enough information to conduct baseline testing, and even after fracking occurs, the rules let oil and gas companies withold any chemical information operators claim to be a “trade secret.”

By contrast, Wyoming operators have to disclose the specific ingredients of their fracking fluids to a state official before they are approved for use.

In January 2017, the coalition of landowners and environmental groups sued the BOGC, claiming these rules violate the rights of Montanans under the state constitution.

Richmond

Seeing the handwriting on the wall, State Senator Tom Richmond introduced SB 299 in the 2017 legislative session, and the suit was put on hold until after the bill was passed. Richmond is the former Administrator of the BOGC who now carries water for the industry in the Legislature. The bill passed.

The bill was a clear ploy to take the issue out of the courts and water down the rules that landowners need to protect themselves. It gave the BOGC cover to develop rules that prevent disclosure that truly protects landowners, and that is what has happened.

As a matter of personal disclosure, I am one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the BOGC.

The proposed rules
The proposed rules are clearly a step forward from the ones that exist today. Specifically:

  • They no longer allow “generic” chemical disclosures. Oil and gas operators must disclose the specific fracturing fluid ingredients for each proposed well, including the individual chemical ingredient names and unique Chemical Abstract Service (CAS) number.
  • Operators are required to request trade secret exemptions from the Board. They must provide a detailed justification for any request to withhold chemical information from the public on the ground that it is a trade secret.

But these rules are simply not enough to protect landowners, excluding several elements the landowner/environmental group coaltion deemed necessary in their lawsuit:

  • A reasonable requirement for landowners to receive fracking chemical information in advance of the fracking activities. In order to utilize fracking chemical information for baseline water testing, landowners must have access to that information at least 45 days before fracking occurs.  However, the revised Rule does not provide a minimum time period for advance disclosure and allows operators of wildcat wells to disclose their fracking chemicals as little as 48 hours before fracking.

Here’s why this is critical: If water is contaminated during the fracking process, landowners must prove that the poisonous chemicals did not exist in the water before fracking took place. This requires pre-testing for the specific chemicals used. If there is no time to pre-test (which requires a certified lab), landowners are out of luck if contamination occurs.

Further, pre-testing is expensive, and the pre-testing of wells should be something operators pay for, not landowners. It is a cost of doing business.

  • The trade secrets loophole should be closed once and for all.  Operators currently withhold as much as 19% of the chemicals used in fracking as trade secrets, and that number is increasing. This is a result of the “Halliburton Loophole” in our friend Dick Cheney’s Energy Act of 2005. Some companies have already committed to disclosing 100% of their fracking chemicals: Baker Hughes, for example, believes “it is possible to disclose 100 percent of the chemical ingredients we use in hydraulic fracturing fluids without compromising our formulations.” The trade loophole unnecessarily disadvantages landowners.
  • Measures are necessary to get chemical information to medical professionals in an emergency. As proposed, the revised Rule still does not direct the Board to provide trade secret chemical information directly to first responders and other medical professionals who need it to take action in an emergency.  Instead, the Board’s proposal requires medical professionals to track down the oil and gas operator to request chemical information in an emergency. This is ridiculous, and jeopardizes lives.

Leaking storage pit near Lindsey, MT

Suggestions for your comments
Let the BOGC know who you are. If you are a landowner, let them know what your concerns are — protecting your water is probably foremost, along with the potential financial loss if contamination occurs. Speaking from your personal concerns is a way to make your voice most powerful. Some points you might touch on:

  • Advance disclosure to allow for water testing in advance of fracking is essential. I suggest you read my post Report from the water testing seminar in Lewistown. It will provide you with a basic understanding of the intricacies of testing, and the risk if it is not done properly. The proposed rules do not provide sufficient advance notice of the chemicals used in fracking to protect you if contamination occurs, and the potential liabilities are great.
  • Further, the BOGC should address the question of who pays for pre-testing of water, which can be very expensive, often over $1000. This should be a cost of doing business for the oil and gas companies. There is a fundamental inequity if landowners are required to pay to protect themselves from contamination from drilling from which they do not profit. There should not be a divide separating those who can pay from those who can’t.
  • The trade secrets provision is inadequate. The standards for declaring a chemical a trade secret are set forward in MCA 82-10-604. Companies have entire legal departments employed to figure out how to meet standards like this, and there is little reason to think the BOGC will be anything more than a rubber stamp for industry requests. The issue here for landowners is simple — is company’s need for trade secret protection greater than my need to know the chemical risks that exist to my water and property?
  • Emergency first responders need to have immediate access to chemical information to saves lives.

Thanks for lending your voice.

Background
What’s wrong with the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation?
Montana coalition sues BOGC over fracking chemical disclosure
“Changed circumstanes”: Montana Board of Oil and Gas reconsiders rulemaking on fracking chemical disclosure
Report from the water testing seminar in Lewistown

Posted in Fracking Information, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Op ed: The Stillwater County Commissioners aren’t doing their jobs

This op ed appeared in the Stillwater County News on August 23, 2018:

The Stillwater County Commissioners have this theory that landowners have few rights when it comes to oil and gas drilling, and they’ve been peddling it all over Montana to see if they can get somebody in an official capacity to agree with them. So far they’ve been unsuccessful.

Last August, after Beartooth Front landowners spent years collecting the signatures of their neighbors to form a citizen-initiated zone, the Commissioners decided that the surface owners needed to get approval of the underlying mineral owners. This was a new theory they thought up after enough signatures had been submitted. Stillwater is the only county in Montana that has ever interpreted the law this way. There are 111 previously-formed zones all over the state that have required the signatures of surface owners only.

So they asked Attorney General Tim Fox to weigh in on their behalf. After sitting on their request for months, Fox declined to issue an opinion. With no validation of their theory, the Commissioners rejected the zone anyway.

When the landowners filed suit to protect their rights, the Commissioners appealed to Judge Blair Jones in District Court to throw the case out. They said that regulation of drilling is reserved only for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas, and the landowners have no right to petition for a zone. Judge Jones would have none of it, and denied the County’s motion.

Unhappy with that outcome, the Commissioners then went to the Board of Oil and Gas at their August meeting in Billings, and asked them to publicly support the Stillwater County theory of the law. The Board refused.

The Stillwater County Commissioners are not doing the job they were elected to do.
(L to R): Dennis Shupak, Maureen Davey, Mark Crago

Let’s go back five years to the day an oil man from West Virginia showed up in Billings and promised to bring “a little bit of the Bakken” to the Beartooth Front. In response, the Stillwater County landowners decided to establish a citizen-initiated zone. Their goal was not to stop oil and gas drilling, but to make sure it was done right so that the land, water, and economy of the Beartooth Front would be preserved.

They approached the County Commissioners and asked for their help in establishing guidelines for the collection of signatures and how to set up the zone in a way that would work for the landowners and for Stillwater County. The Commissioners refused to meet, and to this day have never shown a bit of interest in why the landowners are concerned and what regulations make sense.

It is unclear why the Commissioners are taking this road. They have little public support from inside Stillwater County. At Judge Jones’ hearing on the lawsuit in Columbus, 56 people showed up to support the landowners and nobody was there for the Commissioners.

The Commissioners aren’t doing their jobs. Instead of trying to make new law on behalf of the oil and gas industry, what they should be doing is working with Stillwater landowners to protect the Beartooth Front.

David Katz
Nye

See post in newspaper

Posted in Shared Letters and Posts | Tagged , , , , , | 6 Comments

Beartooth Front landowners win first round of lawsuit

Judge Jones

Judge Blair Jones issued his first ruling today in the lawsuit Beartooth Front Coalition et al. vs. Board of Commissioners, Stillwater County. He ruled in favor of the landowners, denying the County’s motion for a summary judgment in their favor. The Beartooth Front landowners are suing the County because they believe the County unfairly denied their petition to establish a zone that would regulate oil and gas development along the Beartooth Front.

The County had argued that Montana state law preempts the county from regulating oil and gas drilling because that function is reserved by state law for the Montana Board of Oil and Gas Conservation.

The landowners argued that this motion is not “ripe” for consideration because there is no zone or regulations yet, so it is impossible to say whether any regulations are legal. Further, they strongly argued that there are many ways in which local governments are allowed to, and in fact do, regulate oil and gas activity.

Judge Jones considered only the first argument, ruling that this was sufficient to determine that the issue is not ripe for consideration by the court, and dismissed the County’s motion.

Local landowners showed up in force at the hearing in Columbus on July 26.

This is only the first round in what is expected to be a long fight, and much is yet to be determined. Kim Wilson, the landowners’ attorney, has indicated the next step is for the Beartooth Front Coalition to file their own motion for summary judgment, based on their key argument in the case: that the County’s refusal to consider the petition because it included only the signatures of surface real property owners and not minerals owners is not only counter to the County’s own procedures, but contrary to Montana law.

According to Wilson, that motion will be filed later this month.

You can find all public documents related to this case, as well as periodic updates, at the Beartooth Front Coalition website.

Related reading:
Beartooth Front landowners present hundreds of signatures to Stillwater County Commissioners to set up oil and gas zoning district (with video)
Do mineral rights have anything to do with citizen-initiated zoning in Montana?
BREAKING: Beartooth Front landowners file legal action against Stillwater Commissioners
Latest developments in the Beartooth Front Coalition lawsuit against the County
Landowners show up for hearing on Beartooth Front lawsuit

Posted in Legal | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

How the Trump Administration is quietly stripping away environmental protections

While Donald Trump’s tweets make the cable news channels salivate on a daily basis, the outrage provides cover for the real work that the Administration is doing to strip away important environmental protections.

Make no mistake about it — Trump and company have done everything they can to roll back environmental protections that have been established over many decades. This has been done primarily through rulemaking and other administrative procedures, which are generally ignored by cable news but can have a huge impact.

While this excites his base, it is being done over the objections not only of environmentalists, but top energy industry executives, fossil fuel lobbyists, and lawyers. They have actively tried to persuade the Administration not to kill these regulations in a way that will backfire in practice. What they fear is a spate of lawsuits that will create market and regulatory uncertainty, and that is exactly what is happening.

Freezing emissions standards
On Thursday the Administration used the rulemaking tactic to freeze federal fuel efficiency standards developed during the Obama Administration. This will have a substantial impact on slowing adoption of electric cars and reduction of carbon emissions necessary to hold off climate change. It will also hurt workers and consumers. According to the announcement the rules change will cost thousands of auto worker jobs, and hurt consumers, who would pay less in gas costs if the standards were implemented.

Electric car demonstration at Montana State University

The expected rollbacks include:

  • Freezing the minimum standards for fuel efficiency at 35 miles per gallon in 2020 for six years, instead of having them rise to 50 mpg by 2026 under Obama’s plan.
  • Revoking a federal waiver given to California to establish standards that are tougher than federal rules, which a dozen states have also decided to follow. This goes beyond what automakers have requested, but this rollback will keep states from implementing their own rules.

You can be certain that California and environmental groups will file suit to block the rule change.

A long list
This is just the latest step the Administration has taken to roll back standards using administrative procedure, and follows a relentless onslaught of getting rid of environmental protections.

One thing is certain. The Administration is working to strip away responsible regulation in the name of being pro-business. If you are looking for help, look locally. That is the center of action, and the only way to get things done in the current political environment.

Below is a list of other steps the administration has taken over the 18 months since Trump’s inauguration. You’ve probably never heard of most of them, and many will be delayed or killed because of the action of industry and environmental groups. But it is clear that the Administration has no concern for climate change or preparing us for the changed environment of the future.

February 2017
Pruitt. Scott Pruitt is confirmed as EPA Administrator. Pruitt is somebody I started tracking long before he came to Washington. He is a low-level grifter who treated public office like a personal vending machine. His many scandals are covered elsewhere, but he had a negative impact on the EPA that will be felt for years.

Scott Pruitt

The EPA under Pruitt moved to end the Obama administration’s signature environmental policies. Pruitt stalled the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s effort to regulate power-plant emissions; worked to weaken 2022-2025 car fuel economy standardsdelayed the “Waters of the United States” rule for two years; and wanted to downwardly revise the “social cost of carbon,” a crucial statistic when weighing the costs and benefits of fighting climate change.

Pruitt also advocated for the U.S. to leave the Paris climate accords—leaving the U.S. globally isolated on what scientists broadly agree is an environmental crisis.

In a letter recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Associationtwo Harvard University researchers argue that the Trump administration’s environmental policies, as championed by Pruitt, could kill 80,000 people per decade when compared to prior policy.

March 2017
Dismantle Obama climate protections. President Trump signs an executive order that begins to dismantle much of the work on climate change enacted by the Obama administration. The order takes steps to downplay the future costs of carbon emissions, walks back tracking of the federal government’s carbon emissions, rescinds a 2016 moratorium on coal leases on federal lands, and strikes down Obama-era executive orders and memoranda aimed at helping the country prepare for climate change’s worst impacts.

Keystone Pipeline. The State Department grants a permit for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The 1,200-mile pipeline would connect Alberta’s oil sands to refineries in Texas. This hasn’t been built yet, and many activists are committed to preventing it.

May 2017
Advisory Board dismissed. The EPA dismissed several members of their advisory board, an 18-member group that reviews the research of EPA scientists. The group has been controversial in the past because of its divergent opinions on issues related to water contamination by oil drilling. In August the Administration also disbanded a 15-member advisory panel for the National Climate Assessment. In January, nine of the 12 members of the National Park System Advisory Board resigned because of Zinke’s refusal to meet with them. The dismissal of scientific advisors is clearly part of an anti-science agenda.

June 2017
Paris Climate Agreement. President Trump announces that the US is leaving the Paris Climate Agreement. Under the agreement, the US had voluntarily agreed to cut its emissions between 26 and 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025. In abandoning that promise, the US effectively cedes leadership on the issue to other countries, particularly China.

August 2017
Ending flood-risk standard. The President signed an executive order ending federal flood-risk standards that incorporated rising sea levels predicted by climate science. The order claims it improves infrastructure decisions by streamlining the environmental review process, but what it does is remove the requirement that all federally funded projects hold to a Federal Flood Risk Management Standard based on the “best-available, actionable…methods that integrate current and future changes in flooding based on climate science.” With average sea level rising every year, ignoring this data is at best imprudent.

Ends health study. The Administration suspended a study of health risks to residents who live near mountaintop removal coal mine sites. The state of West Virginia had requested the study after researchers at the University of West Virginia found increased risks of birth defects, cancer, and premature death.

EPA enforcement lags. A report by an environmental group states that in its first six months of the Trump Administration, the EPA has filed fewer lawsuits against companies for breaking pollution control laws than the agency had during the opening months of the Clinton, George W. Bush, and Obama administrations.

Reduce sage grouse protections. As part of Administration  efforts to increase oil production on federal lands, Ryan Zinke recommends reprioritizing sage grouse protections, saying, “While the federal government has a responsibility under the Endangered Species Act to responsibly manage wildlife, destroying local communities and levying onerous regulations on the public lands that they rely on is no way to be a good neighbor.” These changes will take years to clear legal hurdles.

October 2017
Clean Power Plan. The Administration ends support for the Clean Power Plan, the centerpiece of the Obama Administration’s efforts to combat climate change. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says in a speech, “The War on Coal is Over.”

Gulf oil leases. The Department of the Interior said on Thursday it would hold a record-sized auction for oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico, in an attempt to spark interest in offshore drilling. The sale would make 78 million acres available for mineral lease. The sale will be held later in mid-August 2018. Similar sales have produced remarkably little interest. Keep in mind that the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf was one of the largest environmental disasters in world history.

December 2017

Ryan Zinke

Zinke declares bird deaths legal. The Department of the Interior decreed that it will no longer consider the accidental killing of birds—from eagles colliding with wind turbines to ducks zapped on power lines—a violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA). This law, passed in the Wilson Administration and now a century old, is one of the oldest and strongest existing environmental protections. The new rules would protect companies like BP, which was responsible for the deaths of 600,000 – 800,000 birds in the Deepwater Horizon spill, and was fined $100 million as a result.

Climate change not a security threat. President Trump announced that the US will no longer regard climate change by name as a national security threat. The Administration’s national security strategy discusses climate change only within the context of energy policy.

Reduction of national monuments. Trump announced that he would reduce the 1.35-million acre Bears Ears National Monument, created by President Barack Obama in late 2016, by 85 percent. The president also said he would cut the 1.88-million acre Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996, nearly in half. A number of suits have been filed to stop the change.

January 2018
Loosened air pollution regulations. In a memo, the EPA dropped “once in, always in” (OIAI), a Clinton-era EPA policy that aimed to lock in reductions of hazardous air pollution from industrial sources. Prior to the change, companies that were required to reduce emissions were required to continue to reduce emissions permanently. Under the new policy, companies that made an initial minimal emissions reduction would then be exempted from the program.

Censorship of web sites. A report reveals that in the first year of the Trump administration, U.S. government websites have been systematically altered to cut mentions of climate change.

February 2018
Cuts to Department of Energy. The Administration budget proposal includes cuts to Department of Energy funding for renewable energy and energy efficiency initiatives  by 72 percent. Congress wasn’t having it. The final budget passed in May set aside increased funds for clean energy programs.

March 2018
FEMA gets rid of “Climate Change.” FEMA strikes the term “climate change” from its strategic plan. This change comes after a year of sharply rising disaster costs due to extreme weather associated with climate change. The plan discusses the fact that future disaster costs are expected to rise, but doesn’t mention a cost.

April 2018
Science “Transparency.” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt proposed a rule that would only allow the agency to consider in its rule making scientific studies for which the underlying data are made available publicly. In a letternearly 1,000 scientists (many of whom used to work at the EPA) asked Pruitt to abandon the proposal, which they said “would greatly weaken EPA’s ability to comprehensively consider the scientific evidence.” Much of the data that would be excluded is based on reviews of personal health information, which is often not publicly available because of privacy laws or practical challenges.

May 2018
Climate Monitoring Program. The Administration cut NASA’s Carbon Monitoring Program,  which funds pilot programs intended to improve the monitoring of global carbon emissions. The program was critical to monitoring the progress of countries in meeting the requirements of the Paris Climate Agreement.

July 2018
Endangered Species. The Administration proposed making key changes to the 1973 Endangered Species Act, that has protected wolves, bald eagles, sage grouse, grizzlies and other species from extinction. This change would allow a discussion of economic impacts in listing a species as endangered or threatened and give regulators more latitude to avoid designating critical habitat for threatened or endangered species.

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