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The True Cost of Oil: Garth Lenz’s Ted Talk

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 21, 2012

What does environmental devastation actually look like? At TEDxVictoria, photographer Garth Lenz shares shocking photos of the Alberta Tar Sands mining project – and the beautiful (and vital) ecosystems under threat.


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How many wolves in Montana will truly be killed?

Posted by Matthew Koehler on January 23, 2012

The following letter, which raises some excellent points, recently appeared in a local Montana paper. I too have wondered how many wolves will actually be killed during these hunting seasons. I know that even ethical hunters will wound, and not find, big game animals, despite the best of intentions. So do we really expect some of these self-proclaimed wolf-haters – many of whom openly brag about breaking wolf hunting laws – to play by the rules? – mk

Who and what is “managing” Montana’s wolves?

Prior to their delisting, Gov. Brian Schweitzer advocated shooting wolves, regardless of federal law. In 2011, the Ravalli County Republican Party publically conducted an “SSS” raffle, advertised as “shhhh, don’t tell anyone, it’s really Shoot, Shovel, and Shut up.” The $1,200 prize included a firearm, shovel and a wolf cookbook. Comments online say, “The best thing would be if every hunter and rancher in Montana could immediately shoot every one of them that wasn’t in a wilderness area or a national park.”

Wolf haters on Facebook recommend “shoot 5, tag 1!” People publically advocate gut shooting and poisoning wolves. The Ravalli County Fish and Wildlife Association has a wolf-killing photo contest to eliminate what is reported to be 15 of the 18 quota remaining up the West Fork. Really, 15 remaining?

Recently, a photo of a magnificent dead wolf slung over a jeep collected the $100 prize.

If Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks reinforces these groups by permitting killing wolves indefinitely up the West Fork until another 15 are reported killed, how many will truly be killed? Per FWP, other wolves will certainly move into an area devoid of wolves.

People don’t talk publically about the FWP scientific findings that wolves aren’t responsible for the elk calf mortalities up the West Fork. No talk of the Montana State University findings that elk were more bothered by human activities, including hunting and residential activities, than by wolves.

Instead, store merchant owners who say they live up the West Fork publically state they have a backhoe so any wolves seen should be shot. If people are publically recommending illegal acts, what’s happening privately? How many wolves have been victims of SSS, trapped, poisoned? Who is minding the store, and can it be managed ethically, responsibly and as the public trust dictates, for all?

Shawn Sperling
Hamilton, Montana

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Reports: Obama to reject Keystone XL Pipeline permit

Posted by Matthew Koehler on January 18, 2012

Multiple media outlets are reporting that, later today, the Obama Administration will formally reject the permit of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar sands oil through Montana and the Great Plains, and then down to refineries in Texas.

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Solar panels belong on rooftops, not on public lands

Posted by Matthew Koehler on December 20, 2011

Learn more and sign the petition today!

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Where do MT politicians stand on Keystone XL Pipeline?

Posted by Matthew Koehler on September 8, 2011

Last week, U.S. Senator Mike Johanns (R-Nebraska) released the following statement in support of Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman’s request to President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to deny the proposed route for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar sands oil through Montana and the Great Plains, and then down to refineries in Texas. (click here for an interactive map of the pipepline.)

“I support Governor Heineman’s request that President Obama and Secretary Clinton deny the current application from TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline along a route crossing Nebraska’s Sand Hills and the center of the Ogallala Aquifer,” said Johanns. “The proposed route is the wrong route. It’s clear to me, after traveling throughout the state, that most Nebraskans agree a better route is needed.

“Amid much discussion about authorities, one thing is irrefutable and that is the State Department’s authority to approve or reject TransCanada’s current permit application. The Governor has now unequivocally stated that the application should be denied; I agree. TransCanada should be forced to select a more appropriate pipeline route.”

Apparently the entire Nebraska congressional delegation has followed suit, opposing the current pipeline route and calling for the US State Department to deny the permit application from TransCanada. That got me thinking, “Where do Montana’s governor and congressional delegation stand on the Keystone XL Pipeline.”

Well, despite a recent Exxon-Mobile pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River, our Democratic Governor Brain Schweitzer has refused to rescind his support for the Keystone XL pipeline.

Montana’s congressional delegation has attempted to be a little more nuanced in their approach, but the bottom line sure seems to be that they support the Keystone XL Pipeline.

For example, in April, Rep Rehberg wrote Secretary of State Clinton and urged her to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline, while he also expressed some concerns with property rights of eastern Montana farmers and ranchers. Then, on August 26, 2011, Representative Denny Rehberg released the following statement, again in support of the Keystone XL Pipeline, while paying some lip-service to those who might be most negatively impacted by the pipeline:

“The Keystone Pipeline project will create real jobs, help bolster economic growth and provide national energy security. It’s unfortunate this pipeline has been delayed, but I’m glad the federal bureaucracy is finally beginning to move. I’m going to hold their feet to the fire and make sure this deadline is met. It’s time to stop delaying economic recovery….In expressing my support for this project, it should be noted that I’ve encouraged TransCanada to work with landowners in a manner that does not impose condemnations of private property. Agriculture will continue to be the backbone of eastern Montana’s economy, and TransCanada must make every effort to respect property rights and ensure that stringent emergency plans are in place should an accident occur.”

To be perfectly honest, it appears as if Senator Baucus and Senator Tester are taking a somewhat similar approach to the Keystone XL Pipeline. Basically they always appear to be supportive of the pipeline, while going on record expressing some concerns about property rights, environmental impact and emergency plans. For example, in this statement from August 2011 Baucus supports the pipeline:

“I’m pleased to see the Keystone project clear this important hurdle because the pipeline will support Montana jobs and help ease our dependence on Middle-East oil. I am currently reviewing the State Department’s Environmental Impact Statement and will continue to keep a close eye on the process to make sure safety and stewardship of our natural resources remain top priorities. The bottom line is we must get serious about an energy policy that puts America in the driver’s seat while bringing much-needed jobs to Montana.”

In fact, last September, Sen Baucus urged “the U.S. Department of State to expedite a permit by TransCanada to create its Keystone XL pipeline.”

Yet, a few months earlier he wrote Ray LaHood, the US Sec of Transportation stating, “I support the Keystone XL Pipeline. However, I am very concerned that the conditions proposed in the special permit application do not take critical steps to protect Montana’s citizens and resources…I urge you to take steps to ensure that the Keystone XL Pipeline take appropriate steps to protect Montanans and our natural resources.”

Seems to me that calling for an “expedited permit” for the Keystone XL pipeline just forty days after being “very concerned” that the permit “does not take critical steps to protect Montana’s citizens and resources” might be considered a perfect example of a politician talking out of both sides of their mouth.

While it appears as if Senator Tester didn’t release a press statement following the August 26, 2011 US State Department approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline permit, he did send this letter on August 17, 2011 to Secretary of State Clinton. In the August letter, Senator Tester mentions that in March 2011 he “expressed my conditional support for the Keystone XL Pipeline” while he also “outlined a number of safety and private property concerns that I believe must be in place before a pipeline is issued a Presidential Permit.”

These safety concerns are relate to: requiring a publicly available Oil Spill Response Plan, incorporating additional requirements from independent pipeline safety organizations, ensuring a consistent thickness and quality of steel for the pipeline, and requesting a schedule of on-the-ground, aerial and in-line inspections. Regarding the property rights of Montana farmers and ranchers who would have their lands impacted, Senator Tester mentions that “landowners should be fairly compensated through an honest and transparent process.”

To be certain, these are all decent concerns for Senator Tester to bring up and he deserves some credit for doing so in a way that appears to go beyond what Schweitzer, Rehberg or Baucus are willing to do.

It looks as if last week the Northern Plains Pipeline Landowners Group (NPPLG), a committee of the Northern Plains Resource Council, and 34 landowners crossed by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline wrote Montana Department of Environmental Quality Director Richard Opper, asking him to accommodate safety requirements sought by Senator Tester for the Keystone XL pipeline. However, it also should be pointed out that Senator Tester ended his August 17, 2011 letter to Sec Clinton with this statement:

“I believe that the Keystone XL pipeline holds substantial potential to promote Montana’s energy economy with the construction of the Marketlink Project, the oil on-ramp in Baker, Montana. This project can be an important part of promoting America’s energy security. However, the pipeline must be constructed and monitored carefully in order to protect all of Montana’s crucial industries, including agriculture, tourism, and the energy industry itself. For these reasons, I urge you to incorporate our best technical requirements so we can confidently secure America’s energy future without jeopardizing our economic or environmental quality.”

Finally, while each member of the Montana congressional delegation has found out a way to essentially support the Keystone XL Pipeline, while also bringing up some concerns, they have also managed to talk about the pipeline with words and phrases such as “jobs,” “secure America’s energy future” or “provide national energy security.” Clearly these types of phrases make for good political rhetoric in 2011; however, is there much truth to the notion that the Keystone XL Pipeline will increase US energy security?

Just last week a new report (download pdf) from Oil Change International called Exporting Energy Security: Keystone XL Exposed was released. Here’s a snip from the intro:

“In pushing for the Obama Administration’s approval of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, the North American oil industry and its political patrons argue that the pipeline is necessary for American energy security and its construction will help wean America of dependence on Mideast oil. But a closer look at the new realities of the global oil market and at the companies who will profit from the pipeline reveals a completely different story: Keystone XL will not lessen U.S. dependence on foreign oil, but rather transport Canadian oil to American refineries for export to overseas markets.”

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Montana’s growing eminent domain debacle

Posted by Matthew Koehler on August 31, 2011

[The following article was written by Paul Edwards, who owns a historic ranch on the Rocky Mountain Front, home of both the MATL transmission line and proposed wind farms. The article originally appeared in the summer 2011 newsletter of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.  Below the article is a link to the site of “Real Montanans for Fair Land Use.” They are currently gathering petitions to repeal HB 198.   –  MK]

“Eminent domain” is the legal tool used by corporations such as utilities, railroads, and energy companies to condemn and purchase private property they claim to need for their transmission lines, pipelines and railroads. The 2011 Montana Legislature, at the urging of Governor Brian Schweitzer, “clarified” the existing eminent domain law (HB 198) to favor energy corporations seeking to build transmission lines to export power out of state. But two seminal questions remain unanswered: Is there really a “need” for these lines on some of Montana’s most pristine landscapes; and are they truly in the public interest?

The issue arose because a Montana district judge denied a Canadian corporation the right to put its “Montana Alberta” transmission line, to export power to Canada, through private land dotted with tipi rings that have remained undisturbed for more than a century. The property is owned by members of the Little Shell tribe with direct blood ties to the Blackfeet who said they didn’t want to stop the line, but did want it moved away from the historic sites.

The new law will now allow the lines to be built wherever the Canadian or any other corporation wants to build them, tipi rings, historic sites, or any other reason notwithstanding. It will likewise allow NorthWestern Energy to proceed with its planned “MISTI” export power line to Idaho and points south that is now being contested in court by several Montana counties and hundreds of concerned citizens.

Those who argue for the law say that without massive transmission capacity to move the power out of state there will be no incentive to build industrial scale wind farms that will, theoretically, discourage new construction of highly-polluting coal-fired power plants.

But although “meeting the demand” has become the mantra in energy circles, there are other alternatives that make much more sense. Efficiency and conservation are vastly cheaper, faster and less costly than building new generation and landscape-defacing transmission towers and lines simply to provide all the electricity that can possibly be consumed. And since Montana already produces twice as much power as its residents consume, there is no market and hence, no need, for the excess energy in state.

Where public interest is concerned, there is no conceivable way to argue that Montanans will publicly benefit from construction of the export power facilities. An endless march of 150-foot (or larger) towers, their drooping wires and the clearcut access routes beneath them detract from, rather than add to, the public interest.

And finally, what guarantee is there that these lines will be used for transmitting wind power as proponents have claimed? Simply put, there are no guarantees. Given Governor Schweitzer’s continuing promotion of coal, combined with his efforts to develop the massive Otter Creek Coal Tracts, it is just as likely that these lines will be transmitting electricity from mine-mouth, coal-fired generation plants as windpower. A high-voltage transmission system is a conduit which is completely indifferent to the source from which its energy load originates.

The sad truth is that none of this scam has anything to do with public benefit in Montana or anywhere else: it’s about turning public resources into private profit. It’s the same as turning Montana into Asia’s coal cellar and siphoning Alberta’s Tar Sands oil into and across our state in Exxon’s controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Eminent domain was intended specifically and solely to be used to promote the public good. Energy corporations have never operated on that basis and never will. It’s too bad Governor Schweitzer and the 2011 Legislature didn’t grasp that basic truth.


Take Action: Repeal Corporate Eminent Domain to Protect Property Rights

During the past year citizens of Montana were left out of the loop on a crucial issue that threatens our basic rights, as well as our state’s heritage and future. Montana legislators, encouraged by gigantic corporate interests, grossly expanded eminent domain authority to allow private foreign and out-of-state corporations to condemn and confiscate private property for their own bottom line. Let us decide. It’s an issue that is too important for the backrooms and boardrooms.

Support IR-125 to give citizens a voice in overturning a bad law and restoring fundamental Montana values.

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Feelin’ fly like a cheesehead?

Posted by Matthew Koehler on February 19, 2011

Wow! Who hasn’t been inspired by the images, words and actions coming out of Wisconsin?  Upwards of 40,000 citizens have taken to the streets of Madison all week and surrounded the state capitol with the type of Progressive energy and passion that Wisconsin is famous for.

Make sure to check out this video montage from the Wisconsin progressive blog Blue Cheddar for an inside view of what’s been transpiring in Madison over the past few days.  Also worth watching is Ed Schultz’s interview with progressive reporter John Nichols. For insight, context and perhaps the best coverage of the protests in Madison, also check out the excellent reporting in the Cap Times, Wisconsin’s very own Progressive newspaper.

As a very proud cheesehead and Wisconsin native, it’s been totally inspiring – and at times very emotional – to see these images, hear the speeches and read Facebook updates from my Wisconsin friends, neighbors and former classmates.

Lucky for those of us in Montana, if you woke up this morning and thought, “Hey, who can teach me how to Bucky?”  Or, if you are saying to yourself, “Man, I’m feelin’ so fly like a cheesehead” there is a local solution!  Come to Helena on Monday, February 21st!

For the Love of Montana Rally
Presidents’ Day, Monday, February 21 North Lawn of the Capitol in Helena

11:00 Welcome, Rally begins
11:30 Music by Greg Keeler, and more
12:15 Speeches
1:00 Fill the Capitol Galleries

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Lumber Demand Drops 55%…So Some Call for More Public Lands Logging?

Posted by Matthew Koehler on October 29, 2009

A few days ago, the Missoulian ran an article titled, “Battered and Boarded: Recession rattles timber industry to its core.”

Here are some quick snips from that article:

“The Western Wood Products Association estimates that 45 percent of all lumber goes to new home construction. But new home starts have been more than halved since reaching a high of more than 2 million in 2005. Since that year, the nation’s demand for lumber has dropped 55 percent, the steepest decline in industry history.”

“National demand for lumber, which pegged 64.3 billion board feet in 2005, is predicted to fall below 30 billion board feet this year, with the amount of lumber used to build new homes dropping from 28 billion board feet to about 5 billion board feet. Making matters worse is the fact that log prices have not fallen at the same rate, meaning mills are paying more for raw materials while selling product for less.”

It’s interesting to note that all the economic reality contained in this article has been systematically ignored by Senator Jon Tester, his staff and those three or four conservation groups who actually support Tester’s Mandated Logging Bill. For more info on Tester’s Logging Bill, check out these links herehere here and here.

Just imagine, after decades and decades of over-consumption and over-development (which have caused a host of environmental and social problems in our country) we’ve come to a point in the public lands forest/wilderness movement where groups such as Montana Wilderness Association, National Wildlife Federation and Montana Trout Unlimited are actually looking to use their political connections to mandate more logging on public lands, despite the steepest decline in demand for lumber in our nation’s history.

With demand for lumber, excess packaging and disposable paper products (thankfully) in such a steep decline (and not expected to rebound anytime soon) wouldn’t sensible conservationists and progressives, if anything, advocate for less public lands logging at this very important point in our nation’s history?

Posted in Forests, logging, timber industry, Uncategorized, Wilderness | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 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 »

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 »