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MT Leg: Ghost of anti-environment, anti-wildlife senator lives

Posted by Matthew Koehler on January 25, 2011

It was once said that bad ideas die with the people who hold them. If only that were true. In viewing the opening of the Montana Legislature, it is apparent that the anti-conservation, anti-environment, anti-public land and anti-wildlife philosophy of Montana’s most notorious politician is vigorously alive in 2011.

By way of refresher, William A. Clark was our U.S. senator from 1901-1907. At the time, it was a position filled through vote of the state Legislature. For Clark it was “… a position he had initially purchased with bundles of crisp $100 bills handed out to legislators in monogrammed envelopes – W.A.C. stamped on the fold, $10,000 per vote.” Clark’s defense at the time was, “I never bought a man who was not for sale.” The prize then, as it is now, was privatization and commercialization of natural resources.

So opens an excellent guest column today from Jim Posewitz. Those not familiar with Posewitz should be sure to check out his impressivebio.

Posewitz grew up in Sheboygan, Wisconsin during the 1940s and 50s, at a time when even common wildlife, such as deer, were literally nowhere to be found across even the rural landscape of forests, fields and farmland, the inevitable results of over-hunting and poor management. I too was born in Sheboygan in the early 70s and was raised in the rural village of Elkhart Lake, about 20 miles outside of Sheboygan. Given the hundreds and hundreds of deer we’d see biking or driving country roads as a teenager, it’s literally hard for me to even comprehend how this landscape could have possibly been devoid of even the most common forms of wildlife.

Posewitz came from an incredibly athletic, I’d even say legendary, Sheboygan family. During the 1930s, John and Joe “Scoop” Posewitz were stars for the Sheboygan Red Wings, a professional basketball team that would go on to become the smallest market team in the NBA, successfully taking on the likes of the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks. Legendary basketball coach Arnold “Red” Auerbach, who’s team went 0-3 at Sheboygan during the NBA’s 1949 inaugural season, looked at Sheboygan, and their fans, with great distain. To this day, when I check the Sheboygan Press sports page, there’s good chance some member of the extended Posewitz family will be highlighted.

OK, enough of my Sheboygan-inspired digression. We’re all lucky, because Posewitz came to Montana in the 1950s on a football scholarship at Montana State in Bozeman. By the early 60’s – following 3 years in the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Division – Posewitz left MSU with a Masters of Science in Fish & Wildlife Management and started what would be a 32 year career with Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks.

Jim’s accomplishments while with FWP are literally too numerous to list (again, check out his bio), but some of the highlights include:

• Fish and Wildlife management plans were developed under Jim’s direction for the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex.

• In the mid and late 1970s efforts were underway to construct two dams on the Kootenai River of northwestern Montana. Under Jim’s leadership, baseline fish and wildlife research helped to seal the fate of both the Kootenai Re-regulating Dam and the Kootenai Falls Dam. Neither were constructed.

• Jim was instrumental in assuring that critical fish and wildlife language was incorporated into the 1980 Montana Strip and Underground Mine Reclamation Act.

• When the Montana Water Use Act of 1973 was passed, it was entirely attributed to Jim Posewitz and his biologists who spent years in the field then weeks in court on the witness stand, adroitly testifying on behalf of fish and wildlife habitat needs. This was the first time that fish and wildlife needs were recognized as legal uses of water.

Posewitz has also founded Orion: The Hunter’s Institute, which provides leadership on ethical and philosophical issues to promote fair chase and responsible hunting. He’s also an excellent writer, who’s book, Beyond Fair Chase, has been printed over 500,000 times and is required reading for many hunter education courses.

The battle between exploitation and conservation has persisted through the century that followed, generally with pseudo-conservatives attacking conservation budgets, vilifying those carrying the conservation message, and purging progressive political thought from their own political ranks.

In conclusion, welcome to the 2011 Montana legislative session and its promise to privatize and commercialize our wildlife; repeal environmental protection; weaken laws passed that protected our air, land and water; and to do what it can to peddle the last ton of Western coal to Asia as the planet chokes.

Thus, it is once again time for the people to express themselves in support of the legacy that delivered this Last Best Place to our custody. There will be a number of conservation nonprofit organizations monitoring the legislative process. They deserve our support and when they call for our help, we all need to respond. It will be up to “we the people” to preserve the legacy passed to us and our time. Posterity will judge us just as we have judged those who preceded us.


Posted in Climate Change, Coal, Energy, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Black Liquor Scorecard: Pulp & Paper Companies Take $6.5 Billion from US Taxpayers in 2009

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 17, 2010

Smurfit-Stone Container Corp took home $654 million from US Taxpayers, while their net income was only $8 million in 2009

Over the past year I’ve written a few articles (here and here) about the US pulp and paper industry figuring out how to use an unintended tax loophole in the 2005 highway bill to basically transfer billions in US taxpayer funds right into their own packets.

Last May, the Washington Post provided extensive coverage of the black liquor boondoggle in an article that opened up with: “The Obama administration wants to stop billions of dollars of tax credits and direct payments to the paper industry under a tax provision originally intended to promote alternative fuels for motor vehicles.” The same article included this statement from a US Treasury Department official, “Right now this does appear to be a transfer from the taxpayers to this industry.”

Talk about a “redistribution of wealth!” Where are the tea-baggers complaining about “socialism” when you need them, eh?

Sadly, for the most part, this multi-billion dollar transfer of taxpayer funds to the pulp and paper industry hasn’t gotten nearly the coverage it deserves by the mainstream press. That in itself is just really strange, especially since the US Government appears to be handing out taxpayer dollars like candy at Halloween and Americans of all political stripes are fed up and rightfully worried about our future.

Perhaps the mainstream newspapers in this country are a little gun shy about giving the pulp and paper industry a black eye.  For example, here in Missoula, Montana the local daily paper – the Missoulian – over the past year has completely failed (unless I missed it somewhere) to let their readers know that the Smurfit-Stone Container Corporation (while in bankruptcy and closing mills in Montana, Michigan and elsewhere) collected over half a billion dollars from US taxpayers in 2009. To make matters more interesting, Smurfit’s net income for 2009 was only $8 million.  Seriously, is this not a “newsworthy” item?

The fine folks at the Dead Tree Edition blog have put together more detailed information about the black liquor tax credit, which includes a detailed scorecard showing which pulp and paper corporations profitted the most on the backs of US taxpayers. That blog post is pasted below or available here. – mk

The $6.5 billion in controversial black-liquor credits earned in 2009 by 21 publicly traded pulp and paper companies was far more than their total profit for the year.

Despite the government’s unintended largesse, the 21 companies had combined net income of about $3 billion, according to an exclusive Dead Tree Edition analysis of documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Without the U.S. government subsidy, only nine of the companies would have been profitable in 2009, In fact, three recipients – Weyerhaeuser, NewPage, and Sappi – together lost $1.1 billion last year despite receiving nearly $800 million from the black-liquor program that expired on Dec. 31. AbitibiBowater, the one recipient that has not reported earnings for the 4th Quarter, almost certainly lost hundreds of millions as well.

At least one-fourth of the country’s capacity to make kraft pulp is in the hands of privately held companies that don’t have to file with the SEC. Assuming they took advantage of the “alternative fuel mixture” program in the same way that their publicly held peers did, the federal government probably shelled out between $8 and $9 billion to pay to do what they would have done anyway – use black liquor, a pulp byproduct, as a fuel source for their pulp operations.

Several of the public companies’ reports state that they expect to receive no subsidies for black liquor this year. And they’re right.

But don’t tell that to Congress or the news media. Obama Joins in on the Black Liquor Two-Step documented how sloppy reporting by leading news organizations had allowed Democratic Congress members to claim they were saving money by excluding black liquor from the new Cellulosic Biofuel Producer Credits (CBPC) — a program that black liquor couldn’t qualify for anyway.

In the 12 days since that was published, the black-liquor silliness in Washington has gotten even worse, with Republicans joining the shell game. Sen. Jim Bunning (R-KY) tried to play taxpayer hero this week by proposing to “pay” for a new jobs program by closing the non-existent CBPC loophole. But Democrats blocked that effort because they have already committed to using the bogus savings for healthcare reform.

Bunning’s effort to exclude black liquor from CBPC “is absolutely meritorious and should be adopted whatever else Congress does,” The Washington Post opined in a fact-challenged editorial. “This particular piece of corporate welfare showers paper companies with about $2.5 billion per year . . . that encourages them to generate power with ‘black liquor,’ an ‘alternative fuel.'” Nope. Not a dime has been paid to pulp and paper companies under CBPC.

Here are the 21 publicly traded companies, listed according to the amount of credits they received. The first number is the amount of black-liquor credits reported, the second is 2009 net income:

International Paper: $2.06 billion in black liquor credits; $2.36 billion net income
Smurfit-Stone Container: $654 million; $8 million
Domtar: $498 million; $310 million
MeadWestvaco: $375 million; $225 million
Weyerhaeuser: $344 million; $ – 545 million
NewPage: $304 million; $ – 308 million
AbitibiBowater: $284 million (estimated); $ – 801 million through 3rd Quarter
Verso Paper: $239 million; $106 million
Temple-Inland: $218 million; $206 million
Boise: $208 million; $154 million
Rayonier: $205 million; $313 million
Kapstone Paper and Packaging: $178 million; $80 million
Packaging Corporation of America: $176 million; $266 million
Clearwater Paper: $171 million; $182 million
Graphic Packaging: $147 million; $56 million
SAPPI: $136 million; $ -251 million
Buckeye Technologies: $130 million; $154 million
P.H. Glatfelter: $108 million; $123 million
Rock-Tenn: $75 million; $279 million
Appleton Papers: $18 million; $25 million
Wausau: $14 million; $21 million

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President Obama sets sustainability goals for federal agencies

Posted by Matthew Koehler on October 7, 2009

From the White House:

WASHINGTON, DC – Demonstrating a commitment to lead by example, President Obama signed an Executive Order today that sets sustainability goals for Federal agencies and focuses on making improvements in their environmental, energy and economic performance. The Executive Order requires Federal agencies to set a 2020 greenhouse gas emissions reduction target within 90 days; increase energy efficiency; reduce fleet petroleum consumption; conserve water; reduce waste; support sustainable communities; and leverage Federal purchasing power to promote environmentally-responsible products and technologies.

“As the largest consumer of energy in the U.S. economy, the Federal government can and should lead by example when it comes to creating innovative ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase energy efficiency, conserve water, reduce waste, and use environmentally-responsible products and technologies,” said President Obama.

The Federal government occupies nearly 500,000 buildings, operates more than 600,000 vehicles, employs more than 1.8 million civilians, and purchases more than $500 billion per year in goods and services.

The Executive Order also requires federal agencies to meet a number of energy, water, and waste reduction targets, including:

  • 30% reduction in vehicle fleet petroleum use by 2020;
  • 26% improvement in water efficiency by 2020;
  • 50% recycling and waste diversion by 2015;
  • 95% of all applicable contracts will meet sustainability requirements;
  • Implementation of the 2030 net-zero-energy building requirement;

Click here to read the entire executive order.

This is a good step in the right direction and, quite frankly, it’s about time. I have a previous post up about something similar, which I called the “sustainability filter.”

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Democracy Now! on the Struggle Against Mountaintop Removal

Posted by Matthew Koehler on April 9, 2009

We’re highlighted mountaintop removal coal mining – one of the greatest environmental and human rights tragedies in America – taking place in the mountains of Appalachia before.  Families and entire communities (some of which were founded before the American Revolution) are being driven off their land by flooding, landslides and blasting from mountaintop removal coal mining operations. I’d encourage anyone who cares about the environment and justice to take action by visiting the links above or one of the fine non-profit organizations in the list to the right that are working tirelessly day and night to end this tragedy.

Never one to shy away from a good fight – especially when the earth or social justice are at stake – my buddy Mike Roselle has put his neck (and entire large frame) on the line to stop the destruction of entire mountain ranges in West Virginia, the most biologically diverse region in the country.  Roselle’s considerable efforts have recently landed him in jail and spurred more death threats than people could imagine, something this co-founder of Earth First!, Rainforest Action Network and The Rukus Society takes in stride.

Yesterday, Amy Goodman interviewed Roselle on her Democracy Now radio/TV show. Please give the excellent interview a listen and get angry and inspired enough to take some steps to ensure justice for the people, mountains and critters of Appalachia.

Posted in Climate Change, Coal, Energy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Montana Gets a Little FLAT

Posted by Matthew Koehler on April 6, 2009

Fresh off the Homegrown Prosperity Renewable Energy Tour, University of Montana graduate student – and all around great guy – Derek Kanwischer has put his considerable skills, creativity and passion for sustainable living to use with his latest project, dubbed the UM FLAT (Forum for Living with Appropriate Technology).

Billed as the “physical home for sustainability at the University of Montana,” the UM FLAT (a retro-fit of an existing home) is an experiential live-in resource for a half-dozen UM students  demonstrating the practicality of sustainable living. Kanwischer’s idea is that by living with and educating others about the social, ethical, and environmental benefits of appropriate technology, the UM FLAT will help to promote a culture of sustainability at the University.

According to Kanwischer, “Development and construction of the FLAT will provide a tremendous opportunity for interested students, faculty, and local businesses to become involved.  The process of planning, construction, and operations for the UM FLAT should be viewed as opportunities to challenge students to develop workable solutions that can be applied to life outside of the classroom.”

Once the renovation of the house is complete, Kanwischer expects the FLAT will provide a wealth of experiential opportunities for everyone involved.

“The rewarding benefits include residential demonstration of sustainable living practices, opportunities for faculty using the UM FLAT as a teaching resource, a student and faculty research forum for projects related to sustainable living, and workshops to involve the expertise and participation of the Missoula community.”

Students wishing to live in the UM FLAT must apply to the University where their applications will be reviewed by the current co-directors and board of the UM FLAT to determine who will make the most dynamic contribution to the mission and objectives of the FLAT.

Phase one of the project includes working with local contractors and student groups to come up with a suitable design for renovating our garage space into a usable demonstration and community space. This spring, the COT Carpentry Program will take the lead on this renovation, adding value to UM properties, and offering opportunities for students to work on and study a green retrofit.

Kanwischer is grateful for the opportunity to work with a small budget provided by the University and he’s relying on the generous contributions of local businesses for discount materials and consulting work.  If you want more information about the UM FLAT, or to donate time, energy or resources, please contact Derek Kanwischer at

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Power to the People: Wired’s 7 Ways to Fix the Grid

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 26, 2009

Filthy coal-fired power plants spew carbon into the air. A mish-mash of 9,200 generators streams vital electrons along 300,000 miles of aging, inefficient transmission lines and one untrimmed tree in the wrong place could plunge a quarter of the country into darkness. This is our electric grid. A whopping 40 percent of all the energy used in the US – be it oil, gas, wind, or solar – is converted into electrons that travel over these wires. Any attempt at energy reform must begin here. But this keystone of our 21st-century economy has yet to advance much beyond its 19th-century roots. Considering how wasteful, unresponsive, and just plain dumb the grid is, it isn’t surprising that outages – which have been increasing steadily over the past quarter century – cost us $150 billion a year. The real shock is that the damn thing works at all.

So opens Brendan I. Koerner’s essay Power to the People in the new April issue of Wired. As someone who doesn’t have a lot of knowledge about our electrical grid, I found Koerner’s essay quite interesting and Wired’s list of 7 ways to fix the grid simple yet promising.

1. Generate Electricity Everywhere
2. Deliver Clean Energy to Distant Cities
3. Store Power in Super Batteries
4. Monitor the Electrons in Real Time
5. Trade Electricity Like Pork Bellies
6. Think Negawatts, Not Megawatts
7. Make Conservation Simple (and Easy)

As Koerner writes, “If we’re serious about remaking our energy infrastructure, we’ll need to encourage these kinds of fixes and replace our current system of misplaced incentives. Right now, that system encourages everyone involved – customers, utilities, and private industry – to neglect the grid. We have to give those stakeholders new reasons to turn on, engage, and transform.”

So do your part as an energy consumer and give the essay and the 7 steps a once-over. Better yet, share this information and these ideas with your elected officials to help bring our energy grid into the modern world.

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