Clean | Green | Sustainable

Archive for the ‘Green jobs’ Category

Hundreds arrested in sustained White House tar sands pipeline protests

Posted by Matthew Koehler on September 1, 2011

David Dougherty with The Real News takes a very good in-depth look at the continuing White House protests and the environmental and social issues surrounding the Alberta Tar Sands and the Keystone XL pipeline. Protesters are demanding that President Obama use his veto power to halt proposed expansion of Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada, through Montana and the Great Plains, and then down to refineries in Texas along the Gulf of Mexico.

Also, I just ran across this new report (download pdf) from Oil Change International called Exporting Energy Security: Keystone XL Exposed.


Posted in Climate Change, Economy, Energy, Green jobs, Obama Administration, Unsustainable | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

NY Times Sings NREPA’s Praises

Posted by Matthew Koehler on July 7, 2009

Efforts to protect remaining roadless wildlands and restore logged over public lands in the northern Rockies got a boost today when the New York Times penned an editorial strongly in favor of the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act.

Posted in Climate Change, Forests, Green jobs, logging, Restoration Economy, Sustainable Solutions, timber industry, Uncategorized, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

Posted in Energy, Green jobs, Sustainable Solutions | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Climate Change, Energy, Green jobs, Obama Administration, Sustainable Solutions | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Time to Use a “Sustainability Filter”

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 17, 2009

Last fall, as the full extent of the global economic crisis was coming into focus, and it was clear that US taxpayers would be asked to foot the bill for various “stimulus” and “bailout” packages, I started talking up the idea of “sustainability filter.”

One thing that got me thinking about the need for a sustainability filter was the multi-billion dollar bailout (er “loan”) that taxpayers were forced to give the Big Three US automakers. I mean, forking over precious taxpayer funds to produce more crappy gas hogs that nobody wants really isn’t a sensible (or sustainable) solution for anyone, except perhaps a few auto and oil executives.

And what about the billions upon billions of taxpayer money we’re spending on “shovel ready” infrastructure projects? Sure some of these projects are decent and forward thinking, but the vast majority of these “shovel ready” projects just place the preverbal band-aide on the head wound, which is our crumbling, inefficient, resource intensive1950s-era infrastructure. At what point do we seriously start investing taxpayer dollars only in the type of sustainable energy, transportation or food infrastructure our country needs for 2050 and beyond?

This is where the sustainability filter comes in. Even if a rather coarse filter was used, just imagine how many billions of public, taxpayer dollars could be diverted from misguided projects and endeavors? Sure if a company wants to continue down the path of over-consumption and dirty energy, I guess it’s their right to explore that dead end. But my point is that as taxpayers we have a right to no longer subsidize their research and development or improve their bottom line at the expense of our future.

Despite what some pundits say, I believe that people are hungry for this type of approach for a better tomorrow. Remember during the presidential debates how some networks had a “live debate meter,” which tracked reactions from a diverse group of undecided voters? Well, far as I could tell, the only time the meter was “off the charts” positive was when the candidates were talking about clean energy and a green economy.

Now, I fully admit that I don’t have this sustainability filter totally fleshed out and I plan on exploring the concept further. So I’m totally open to suggestions, comments and additional information. The past few weeks I’ve been researching the issue and it’s been somewhat surprising how little information is out there about the concept.

Back in the late 90s, many forest activists worked with something called the Green Scissors Campaign on specific efforts to end harmful and wasteful taxpayer subsidies found in the Forest Service’s timber sale and roadbuilding budgets. But as far as I can tell, the Green Scissors Campaign ceased any activity a few years ago. If someone knows different, please let me know.

Let’s also hope that Van Jones, the White House’s new Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, has some real pull with the Obama Administration, as he clearly understands these issues as well as anyone.

Posted in Green jobs, Obama Administration, Sustainable Solutions | Tagged: , , , , | 3 Comments »

Well worth a listen this weekend

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 13, 2009

If you didn’t catch the excellent feature on Gary Delp and his crew at Heritage Timber, LLC do yourself a favor and listen in.

Montana Public Radio’s Edward O’Brien caught up with Heritage Timber as they were deconstructing a timber-framed building at the former Stimson Lumber mill site in Bonner, MT. It’s a great interview featuring a creative Montana company and a hard-working businessman.

Delp’s company, Heritage Timber, LLC has been deconstructing timber-framed buildings and providing reclaimed materials to Montanan’s since 1994. In the process, over 1.85 million board feet of wood, or the yearly output of 3,080 acres of planted pine, has been spared. By providing reclaimed wood, including old-growth timbers, clients are able to save natural resources and energy too.

A few years ago I got some old, reclaimed cedar telephone poles from Gary that I used to frame in a brick patio.  And this past summer we got framing lumber and plywood Gary reclaimed to convert part of our garage into a simple office. Gary’s been a big supporter of protecting public lands and old-growth forests and I would highly recommend Heritage Timber and their products to anyone.

Posted in Forests, Green jobs, Restoration Economy, Sustainable Solutions | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Stimulating Bittersweet Bitterroot Restoration

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 13, 2009

Last week the US Forest Service announced the first batch of projects moving forward courtesy of the $1.15 billion Congress allocated to the agency in the American Recovery and Reinvestment act, more commonly called the Stimulus Bill.  Like other government agencies, the Forest Service was asked to put together a list of “shovel ready” projects, which could be implemented quickly, thereby providing a needed jobs boost in rural communities by knocking out some needed restoration, maintenance and improvement work.

While it’s common in these parts to hear people complain that “the Forest Service can’t do nuttin’ because their hands are tied by the damn environmentalists,” it should be pointed out that this $1.15 billion in “shovel ready” projects funded by the Stimulus Bill will create 25,000 jobs. Oh, you mean the Forest Service had a bunch of important working literally just sitting on the shelves collecting dust, waiting for funding? Yep. So much for that tired, old argument of “analysis paralysis,” eh?

In Montana, one of the first projects to move forward with the stimulus money will be reconstruction and drainage improvements for a road that runs along Rye Creek in the Bitterroot National Forest. Historically, Rye Creek was a stronghold for bull trout (now a threatened species), but decades of heavy roadbuilding and clearcut logging in the Rye Creek watershed have taken their toll on native fish and the entire watershed.

Much of the problem with the Rye Creek Road is that it was built way too close to the actual creek, a common problem found throughout Forest Service lands. You see, when many of these roads were built there was little environmental knowledge or oversight, so the “path of least resistance” seemed to rule the day. Short of removing the road completely (not an option in the Rye Creek case) or rerouting the road (a very expensive option) the best option is to mitigate the amount of sediment bleeding from the road bed into the creek, which in a nutshell is what they intend to do up Rye Creek.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad that this important road and watershed restoration work up Rye Creek will finally take place and I think it’s great that this restoration work will help create a few more jobs in the Bitterroot Valley. However, it’s somewhat of a bittersweet situation. Let me explain why.

The origins of this Rye Creek watershed and road restoration work can be traced to the Bitterroot Burned Area Recovery Plan, which followed the fires of 2000. Originally, the Forest Service pushed forward with a “recovery” plan that was actually one of the largest proposed timber sales in the history of the agency. The plan called for nearly 70 square miles of logging, half of which was to take place in key watersheds for those threatened bull trout and sensitive westslope cutthroat trout. The industrial logging also targeted roadless wildlands and previously unlogged, old-growth forests.

Local conservation organizations took the Forest Service to court and following two days of back and forth negotiations (while literally being locked in the federal courthouse in Missoula with the likes of Mark Rey) a settlement agreement was reached on February 6, 2002. Basically, conservation groups agreed to the settlement because while it allowed the Forest Service to move forward with logging on approximately 14,000 acres, the court-sanctioned settlement also contained the promise of $25 million worth of very important watershed and forest restoration work, including that work up Rye Creek.

At the time, Dale Bosworth, Chief of the Forest Service, told the public, “The most important thing to me is getting on with the restoration work. There’s lots of other work we wanted to do – roads we wanted to obliterate, watershed work, reforestation. The idea of the whole project was fire restoration.”

What transpired was a far different story. You see, the logging component of the Burned Area Recovery project was completed years ago, but the majority of the promised restoration work has either lagged far behind – as in the case with Rye Creek – or may never be completed, despite promises and rhetoric to the contrary. Unfortunately, this is a very common practice. Something we’ve seen happen time and again with the Forest Service’s use of “stewardship contracting.”

What makes the Bitterroot situation all the more frustrating is that back in 2002, when the settlement agreement was signed, the Bitterroot National Forest had in-hand the $25 million to complete all of the promised restoration work. It just wasn’t their priority.

Unfortunately, yet predictably, the Forest Service put all their time and energy into the logging part of the project. During that summer of 2002, when I took a USA Today reporter on a tour of the “recovery” plan his cover story pointed out what we had been warning about all along, “The work in the Bitterroot is also emblematic of the controversy dogging the fire plan. The logging here is 10 miles from the nearest community at risk from wildfire. And the burned trees being salvaged are the largest, most commercially valuable ones, not the smaller ones that would likely ignite most easily in another fire.”

A few weeks later, Forest Service brass in Washington DC, despite being party to the settlement agreement, decided to use the $25 million set aside for the promised Bitterroot restoration work to pay for the costs associated with fighting fires in Oregon, Colorado and Arizona. Conservation groups howled, but not a peep of protest was heard from the logging industry.

For those interested in a more detailed blow-by-blow of how this all went down, we put out press releases on the two year and three year anniversary of the settlement agreement.

Like I said, it’s great that the important restoration work up Rye Creek is moving forward. We’ve supported and fought for this work all along. It’s good for fish, workers and the entire watershed. However, I can’t help but see the irony that it’s taken over 7 years, and the near-complete collapse of the US economy, to finally get this work started. Talk about not taking “the path of least resistance!”

Posted in Forests, Green jobs, Restoration Economy | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

Talking Sustainable Forestry at the Mill

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 12, 2009

Last night I went over to Mark’s mill below the Scott St. Bridge in Missoula to drink some beers and talk sustainable forestry with Mark and another forester named Greg. No, not the type of “sustainable forestry” you hear our favorite logging lobbyist waxing not-so-poetically about during her monthly commentaries; but true, honest to God, ecologically-based, small-scale, locally-produced, locally-consumed Sustainable Forestry.

I’ve known Mark for years and consider him to easily be one of the best woods-workers I’ve ever met. We’ve worked together to successfully improve the Forest Service’s management of our public lands. We’ve worked together to reduce fuels around the homes of elderly and disadvantaged members of the DeBoriga community. And a few years prior to that Mark and I joined forces for an ecologically-based fuel reduction pilot project on the Lolo National Forest near Ovando (which, ironically, a few months later the Forest Service allowed Plum Creek to log right over!).

And when it was time for the wife and I to turn our small attic into a useable space, we turned to Mark for some beautiful blue-stained pine that was logged and milled a few miles from our house. Suffice to say, if every forester in Montana did things Mark’s way (and had his background as a soils scientist) our forests, wildlife and watersheds would be in much better shape.

The other forester, Greg, I’ve just recently met. A few weeks ago, Greg wrote a letter to the editor in the Missoula Indy. It was in response to a column I wrote about wildfires, elk and our successful efforts to save an old-growth forest from misguided “healthy forest” logging.

So, like I normally do, I called Greg up and we got together for some coffee. We’ve been exchanging ideas and info ever since. Greg’s current passion seems to be small-wood utilization and he’s got his eyes on a nifty portable sawmill with a laser guided jig that could turn very small trees (the type removed from legitimate fuel reduction work around homes) into impressive, strong and locally-produced truss logs. What Greg lacks is the $21,000 to purchase the portable sawmill. A modest amount to be certain, but currently out of his reach nonetheless.

Which brings us to another topic we discussed at the mill last night. Looks like the politically-connected big boys in the Montana timber industry will be getting a $10 million loan courtesy of US taxpayers via the stimulus bill. Apparently the loan will be for the big timber mills in the state to cover payroll and buy more logs. Buy more logs? Fact is, lumber demand is at an all time low and the number of US housing starts will fall dramatically again this year and any honest projections for 2010 and 2011 don’t look much better. At what point do we start to look at these facts squarely and make informed public policy?

Truth be told, the Montana timber industry actually requested a minimum taxpayer financed loan of $65 million. Think about it folks, if the Montana timber industry needs, at a minimum, a $65 million loan from taxpayers maybe the industry wasn’t very sustainable to begin with. Or maybe their business plans were flawed. And keep in mind that the Montana timber industry only produces 3% of the softwood lumber produced in the US. Therefore, how many billions of taxpayer dollars would be needed to bail out the entire US timber industry?

As I’ve been saying for quite some time now (cue the broken record) this economic crisis is rooted in over-consumption and over-development. Therefore, more of the same is not an option. We cannot, and should not, return to a situation where all the big timber mills are running full bore producing lumber and paper products that have no demand or, just as bad, go to building more 5000 square foot homes sprawled across the landscape or more throw-away products.

The economic crisis has proven that such a situation was woefully unsustainable. So much so that our entire economy is on the brink of collapse! Haven’t we all heard that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

I predict this $10 million Revolving Loan Fund so the timber mills can cover payroll for a few months and buy more logs (even though there’s no demand for lumber) will have very little impact on anything, other than to just unwisely spend more taxpayer dollars. Too bad we couldn’t use the money to truly develop a more sustainable timber industry. Too bad a guy like Greg with a good idea and a passion for bona-fide Sustainable Forestry couldn’t get $21,000 for his portable sawmill and get a small crew together. I’d rather see 475 outfits like Greg out there than see $10 million dumped into a black hole.

The future must be clean, green and sustainable. There is no other option. The sooner the public and elected officials come to terms with this fact the better off we will all be in the future.

Posted in Forests, Green jobs, Restoration Economy, Sustainable Solutions | Tagged: , , , , | 5 Comments »

Obama’s Pick a Big Boost for Green Jobs

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 11, 2009

Well, let’s start the first post on Clean | Green | Sustainable with some positive news.

Yesterday, the White House Council on Environmental Quality announced that green jobs guru Van Jones will serve as Special Advisor for Green Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation at CEQ.  This is fantastic news and, in my opinion, by far President Obama’s greenest pick! Let’s hope this is the start of a promising trend!

According to the White House’s press release:

“Van Jones has been a strong voice for green jobs and we look forward to having him work with departments and agencies to advance the President’s agenda of creating 21st century jobs that improve energy efficiency and utilize renewable resources.  Jones will also help to shape and advance the Administration’s energy and climate initiatives with a specific interest in improvements and opportunities for vulnerable communities,” said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

I first learned about Van Jones’ work last fall when I saw he was one of the main presenters at the Bioneers Conference.  Jones is the founder of a amazing organization called Green For All,  a national organization dedicated to building an inclusive green economy strong enough to lift people out of poverty.

According to their website, “By advocating for local, state and federal commitment to job creation, job training, and entrepreneurial opportunities in the emerging green economy – especially for people from disadvantaged communities – Green For All fights both poverty and pollution at the same time.”

Talk about the “Win-Win” solution, eh?

Jones is also the author of a 2008 New York Times best-seller titled  The Green Collar Economy: How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems.

You can read Mr. Jones’ take on his new job with the Obama Administration at the Green For All blog.

Congratulations Mr. Jones! Best of luck and here’s to many successes!

Posted in Green jobs, Obama Administration, Sustainable Solutions | Tagged: , , , , | 7 Comments »

Help Protect Wilderness in the Northern Rockies!

Posted by Matthew Koehler on March 11, 2009

Want to do your part to ensure that some of the most remarkable wildlands, forests and watersheds in the country get the Wilderness protection they so clearly deserve?

On February 11, 2009, the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act (NREPA) was introduced into the US Congress.  If passed, NREPA (HR 980) would protect some of America’s most beautiful and ecologically important public lands and water bodies in the northern Rockies while also creating restoration jobs in rural communities and even saving the taxpayers money.

Please take a few moments today to write your congressional representative and ask them to support NREPA!

NREPA at a glance:

• Designates as Wilderness 24 million acres of roadlless wildlands in the Northern Rockies;

• Connects natural, biological corridors, ensuring the continued existence of native plants and animals and mitigating the effects of climate change;

• Restores habitat that has been severely damaged from tens of thousands of logging roads that were built, and creates more than 2,300 restoration jobs in rural communities leading to a more sustainable economic base in the region;

• Keeps water available for ranchers and farmers downstream until it is most needed; and

• Eliminates subsidized development in the designated of 24 million acres of new wilderness areas, saving taxpayers $245 million over a 10-year period.

If you want more information about NREPA, including the full text of the bill and also a link to some really nifty maps broken down by National Forests, click here.

Thank you!

Posted in Forests, Green jobs, Uncategorized, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »