The campaigns for Public Service Commissioner are one of those crucial 2010 election stories I've neglected on LiTW. (And if there are others you feel strongly about, write! a! Diary!) PSC 5 - pitting Ken Toole against Bill Gallagher - and PSC 1 - pitting Travis Kavulla against Don Ryan - are going to nail-biters, and could decide the composition and majority of the Public Service Commission. Here's the Bloomsbury Businessweek on the races:
Republicans are eying a rare chance to take control of the Montana Public Service Commission, the body that regulates utilities, in an election year in which their brand of politics seems to be riding high.
But over the last 30 years, Democrats have been favored by voters in the role of policing the utility businesses. The Republicans last took control of the PSC in 2002, and that was only for a couple of years....
Democrats hold four of the five seats on the commission, with Brad Molnar, of Billings, the sole Republican. The GOP would have to win both races to take control, likely placing Molnar in the role of chairman.
Anyhoo - I want to talk about Ken Toole. You know the guy: fierce consumer advocate, opponent of the disastrous energy deregulation. Exactly the kind of commissioner the state needs, one who looks out after ratepayers first.
Well, his opponent has gone negative in a pretty strong way, using gays as a wedge. From a letter Gallagher sent out:
n 2004 Ken Toole, then Executive Director for the Montana Human Rights Network, joined with other "Pride" organizations and formed a group called Montanans for Families and Fairness to oppose CI-96, the one man + one woman = marriage amendment.
So far no problem. BUT, then the group sent intimidating letters to hundreds of protestant and catholic churches in Montana threatening them with IRS and election problems, and warning the churches not to support of CI-96.
Next, the group sent an infiltrator to the Canyon Ferry Road Baptist Church where, in an evening service, they presented a Montana Family Foundation simulcast event titled "The Battle for Marriage" and made petitions supporting CI-96 available to those attending the event.
The group followed through with their threat and filed a complaint with the Montana Commissioner of Political Practice which began a legal battle that finally ended in 2009, when the US 9th Circuit held that the Church's first amendment rights had indeed been violated and that the charges amounted to "petty bureaucratic harassment."
The result, Montana tax payers paid all the legal expenses, including $225,000 inserted into the 2009 MT Appropriations bill HB-003. That's right! We the taxpayers paid a $225,000 bailout for what Toole's group started!
Where to start? How about with an analysis (pdf) of the 9th Circuit Court decision? Which explains that the Commissioner of Political Practices found validity in the MHRN's complaint, calling the church an "incidental political committee," and the subsequent appeal to the district court was rejected. The Ninth Circuit overturned the decision, criticizing the law, not MHRN, because the church's expenditures were so small, it wasn't worth reporting and cases against small political donors would discourage small donors from participating in the public process. What's not mentioned here is the church's tax-exempt status, which comes at the cost of that church not participating in political activities - which it clearly was in this case, as all parties agree.
Got it? The MHRN was monitoring churches to see if they were hiding behind their tax-exempt status while engaging in political activity around the anti-gay-marriage initiative. And they were.
The next question that should come to you should be, what the h*ll does this have to do with the PSC? The answer, of course, is "nothing."
Which makes sense, given how inexperienced and unsuited Gallagher is for the PSC. That's probably why Gallagher is calling Toole a "career politician," which is another way of saying Toole was once chair of the Senate Energy and Telecommunications committee...that's, well, pretty closely related to the job he's doing now, to say the least. Gallagher's also against "any other irresponsible 'global plan' based on questionable 'science'," and calls Toole a "devoted 'global warming disciple'" and accused him of supporting a "socialist version of the Cap and Trade policy."
[On Oct. 15, "Urserious" responded to a recent posting of mine by including a commentary made on PBS by UM Professor emeritus Tom Powers. In it Powers raises important questions about Max Baucus's loyalties. Powers also questions the assumption that oil and coal jobs are an important part of our state's economy.]
Last week Montana Senator Max Baucus appeared to side with Republicans and a handful of coal-state Democrats in opposition to the US Environmental Protection Agency using the authority that the US Supreme Court has said EPA has to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Baucus was quoted as saying that the regulation of greenhouse gases was too important and complicated to trust to just a federal agency. Instead, that regulation should remain the business of the US Congress where different regional and industrial interests can be balanced. Congress, of course, has not been able to muster the votes to pass any climate protection legislation, and with Republicans expected to be significantly more powerful in Congress after the mid-term elections, there is little chance a greenhouse gas emission control bill will be produced by Congress any time soon. No EPA greenhouse gas regulation may effectively mean no greenhouse gas regulation at all for the indefinite future.
Because Baucus is a member of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works, his apparent opposition to allowing EPA to adopt regulations controlling greenhouse gas emissions was big news in Washington DC. One of the Capitol's influential daily newsletters, Environment and Energy, explained Baucus' waffling on the regulation of greenhouse gases by saying: "Baucus is wary of efforts to limit carbon emissions, as coal mining, coal-fired electricity and oil refineries dominate his state.
It is true that Montana has lots of coal and continues to produce significant amounts of petroleum and natural gas. It is also true that a half-dozen large coal mines are operating in the state, shipping that coal to coal-fired generators across the nation. That coal mining also supports six coal-fired generators here in Montana including Colstrip's four generators. We also have oil refineries in Billings, Great Falls, and Laurel. We have high voltage transmission lines delivering the electricity we generate to the West Coast, a petroleum products pipeline stretching across much of the state connecting some of our refineries with the states to the west and a variety of natural gas pipelines crisscrossing the state. Clearly energy production, transformation, and transmission are a significant part of Montana's economy. But are we "dominated" by these energy industries?
That description, of course, is not just a shorthand way for Washington DC insiders to try to make sense out of why our representatives vote the way they do. It is also a description that increases the political power of those very fossil fuel sectors in Montana, giving them more leverage to either block or change any proposed greenhouse gas regulations or legislation. That, actually, is what Baucus meant by saying that regulation of greenhouse gases should be done in Congress where heavy emitters of greenhouse gases can better get their economic interests taken into account.
For that reason, it is important to investigate the extent to which Montana is actually economically "dependent" on coal mines, coal-fired electric generators, and oil refineries. The answer to that is that we have "little" and "shrinking" economic dependence on those energy industries. The Montana Coal Council tells us that in 2009 about 1,150 people were employed in coal mining in Montana. That sounds like a lot of jobs, but there were about 625,000 jobs in Montana in 2009. The coal mining jobs represented about one out of every 500 jobs, less than two-tenths of one percent of all jobs. In petroleum refining, we have about 1,100 jobs, about the same as in coal mining. If we look at electric generation, the 2002 and 2007 Economic Census indicate that the employment in electric generation was about 450, but about 150 of those jobs were associated with hydroelectric generation, leaving about 300 workers engaged in fossil fuel-based generation. Clearly that is even a smaller sliver of the total Montana economy, one out of every 2,000 jobs. If we add all of the coal mining, coal-fired electric generation, and petroleum refining jobs together, there are about 2,600 jobs associated with these energy sectors. That is, these sectors provide one out of every 250 Montana jobs or about four-tenths of one percent of total jobs.
To call this a "dominant" position in the Montana economy is more than a stretch, it is at the very limits of hyperbole. One can, of course, start using multipliers to inflate this number. But any reasonable multiplier would leave us accounting for less than two percent of the Montana's jobs. It might be better to be worrying more about the other 98 percent of jobs if we are really concerned about the future of the Montana economy.
Just as important, we could ask how many of the new jobs that have been created in Montana over the last 25 years were created in these energy sectors. Over the last quarter century, Montana added almost 220,000 jobs, over a 50 percent increase. During that time, employment in coal mining declined by over 300. Employment in coal-fired generation also appears to have declined as automation reduced the necessary work force. On the other hand, employment at our oil refineries expanded by 200. So overall, these three energy sectors lost a couple of hundred jobs while the over all economy was expanding dramatically. Just in health care, for instance, almost 30,000 new jobs were created, more than doubling that workforce.
It is important that we focus clearly on the economy we actually have and the sources of economic vitality that have actually been supporting the expansion of employment opportunities. Our continued fascination with the view through the economic rear-view mirror leads only to confusion and bad public economic policy that allows a tiny sliver of economic participants to distort public policy to protect their private interests at the expense of the rest of the population and the economy.
Congress is heading back home for the August recess this week. Apparently our Senators need to rest after they failed to take up both a clean energy and climate bill and an oil spill bill.
Legislative inaction must be more tiring than I realized.
Still, I don't view this month as a cooling off period. If anything, it's time to turn up the heat.
Over the next few weeks, Senators will be holding "town hall meetings" in their states. Last year, these meetings came to define the health care debate. This year, they could help us reshape America's energy policy.
If you are like me and you are still stunned that the Senate refused to pass a bill that would have created nearly 2 million new American jobs, put our nation at the forefront of the clean energy market and helped end our addiction to oil, then go to a town hall meeting and tell your lawmakers what you think.
Tell them that it is in America's best interest to embrace clean energy now.
And while you are at it, please tell them to block attempts by some Senators to weaken the Clean Air Act-the 40-year-old law that has saved hundreds of thousands of lives-in an effort to further delay reductions in global warming pollution.
Some naysayers claim that voting on visionary legislation is a risky proposition when we are this close to an election. They are wrong, and history proves it.
As I wrote in a recent blog post, 13 of the most powerful environmental laws were passed during the fall of an election year or in the lame duck sessions following elections.
We can pass comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation this fall, but only if we demand it of our lawmakers.
Use this August to make your voices heard. You can find your Senators' schedules by checking their Senate websites, as well as their candidate websites - Republican or Democratic.
Yesterday, the NRDC Action Fund launched a campaign featuring a powerful new ad by renowned environmental activist and celebrated actor, Edward James Olmos. In the video, which you can view here, Olmos explains what makes people - himself included - "locos" when it comes to U.S. energy and environmental policy. Now, as the Senate moves towards a possible debate on energy and climate legislation, we need to let everyone hear Olmos' message.
Hi, I'm Edward James Olmos. They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I guess that's what makes Americans "locos." We keep yelling "drill baby drill" and expecting things to turn out ok. But the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is nothing new. The oil industry has been poisoning our oceans and wilderness for decades. It's time to regain our sanity. America doesn't want more oil disasters. We need safe, clean and renewable energy now. Think about it.
Sadly, Olmos' definition of "insanity" is exactly what we've been doing for decades in this country -- maintaining policies that keep us "addicted" to fossil fuels instead of moving towards a clean, prosperous, and sustainable economy.
As we all know, dirty, outdated energy sources have caused serious harm to our economy, to our national security, and of course - as the horrible Gulf oil disaster illustrates - to our environment. In 2008 alone, the U.S. spent nearly $400 billion, about half the entire U.S. trade deficit, importing foreign oil. Even worse, much of that $400 billion went to countries (and non-state actors) that don't have our best interests at heart.
As if all that's not bad enough, our addiction to oil and other fossil fuels also has resulted in tremendous environmental devastation, ranging from melting polar ice caps to record heat waves to oil-covered pelicans and dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico.
As Edward James Olmos says, it's enough to drive us all "locos."
Fortunately, there's a better way.
If you believe, as we passionately do, that it's time to kick our addiction to the dirty fuels of the past, then please help us get that message out there. Help us air Edward James Olmos' ad on TV in states with U.S. Senators who we believe can be persuaded to vote for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation. If we can convince our politicians to do their jobs and to pass comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation this year, we will be on a path to a brighter, healthier future.
I got passed a poll today showing that 81% of Montanans support using "some of the money from fees charged to oil and gas companies that
drill offshore [...] to conserve natural areas and clean water, and to ensure access to outdoor recreation."
But since public lands questions fire up so much conversation here, I thought I'd kick it to the crowd -- should we move money from oil and gas fees to the LWCF? Poll below -- and explain why in comments, please.
Critics fumed and local officials were dumbfounded Monday when Gov. Brian Schweitzer affirmed he'll tie the release of frozen state grants to local support for Otter Creek coal tract leases in southeastern Montana....
"I'm here today to say this: I haven't decided which projects and how much to cut," he said. "I can cut up to $2.1 million, (but) I believe our situation has improved a great deal, really because of that $85 million."
Schweitzer told a room of three dozen people that he wanted to see letters of support from community leaders, including the county commission, Missoula Mayor John Engen and state legislators, not only for the Big Flat Road project but for the use of coal money to pay for it.
"The potential revenue from the sale of Otter Creek coal might allow for your project/projects to be funded," Schweitzer said in a letter he signed at the end of his visit. "Please return a letter confirming that you 'support the use of coal money for the completion of your project/projects.'"
Wha--? Surely he's not saying he'll give stimulus funds only to those officials who write letters of support for coal...right?
The Missoulian also posted the actual letter the...er....Good Guv (I may have to find a new nickname) sent out to all and sundry...and it's much worse than the Missoulian made it out to be:
...You may have seen that the state might be getting a bonus payment of over $85 million from leasing Otter Creek coal. It's a good shot in the arm to our general fund balance sheet. While we're not quite fully into economic recovery, still, having these funds makes it appropriate to consider certain projects that have been on hold until our cash flow picture improved.
In order for us to proceed with funding please complete the following and send to my office a letter of support from local leaders and community members for one-time only state funding of your project/projects. The potential revenue from the sale of Otter Creek coal might allow for your project/projects to be funded. Please return a letter confirming that you "support the use of coal money for the completion of your project/projects."
Er...we're talking about grants for federal stimulus funds...right? Am I missing something? Can the...uh...Okay Gov...dangle this money as bait for community acceptance of his quixotic coal policy? Really? Was that money really intended be doled out to political supporters of the...er...Barely Satisfactory Gov...and his less-than-stellar - craven, you might even say - sell-out to coal interests?
What the f*ck?
Of course, I fully expect the letters to come pouring into his office...
The Montana Building Industry Association argued against the changes, saying they would cause more harm than benefit. The group said that most houses, especially more expensive homes, were already built to the higher standards.
It is the buyers and builders of lower-priced homes that will have to make the most changes - causing a price hike for those least able to afford it.
Dustin Stewart, with the building association, said that people who build their own home often like to leave the basement unfinished to make it affordable at first. They will no longer be able to do so.
This is an argument that's heard a lot from builders around the country who are faced with increasingly tight building codes. Basically, builders argue that increased efficiency results in higher home costs, putting houses out of reach for those at the bottom of the economic ladder. Even if these folks rent, the argument goes, building costs will be passed on to renters in the form of higher rents.
First, is it a bad thing that more people will rent? And what's not mentioned is that the consumer saves money on the utilities, which more often than not come straight out of the renters' pocket.
Whatever. The days of enormous subdivisions filled with enormous houses offered up in exchange for the enormous loans rapacious lenders were foisting on consumers are over. It's time for builders to come up with a new business strategy.
It's easy to forget with all the heady talk about alternative energy - solar and wind and geothermal - as a panacea to our fossil fuel dependency, none of it works without increased energy efficiency.
The so-called champion of alternative energy - what he called "clean and green" -- led the charge of the State Land Board in lowering the minimum bid price for the Otter Creek coal from 25 cents to 15 cents a ton.
"The policy deciding whether there will be coal-mining is not set in Helena, it is set in Washington, D.C.," he said shortly before the vote. "If this board votes not to lease coal at any price, there will still be development at Otter Creek."
So, if I understand this correctly: Policies emanating from Washington, DC, are good and must be followed?
Seems like this is the guy who has made a career of running against Washington, DC, often referring to it as a cesspool. After all, he proudly thumbed his nose at the feds over REAL ID and told the US government to shove it up its ass. He didn't like it and wasn't afraid to say so.
Hell. He was all over the national media. He basked for weeks in the glow of the spotlight even though it was a legislative resolution and he had no official role in it whatsoever. The resolution required no action on his part. None. A safe and sanitary act of defiance.
Observers erroneously concluded this bright star from the West was the real hero. Sorry. The hypocrite that he is was just acting. Most of his five years in office have been an act.
"Clean and green"? Foreget it. That was a sideshow and grist for the 2008 election cycle. No, for this guy, some national energy policies must be followed, now matter how ill-advised, no matter how dispicable. With the dirty corporate coal lobbyists leading the way, national energy policy ensures dirty coal is king. They have hundreds of millions to spend to fight any Congressional effort, no matter how lame, to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
And, the "Good Gov," as he is so reverently referred to in the postings on LiTW, did what he said he wouldn't do: Give our resourves away. Where he could have made a difference, he chose to lead by following corporate dogma and money.
Has he ever said he believes that coal contributes to climate change and global warming Don't think so. His escape is 'clean coal technology' and and a boondoggle known as carbon sequestration.
So, tell me, Governor, when an 80-car coal train passes through Helena, how many thousands of tons of carbon dioxide will be prevented because of clean coal technology? Or, sequestered by carbon sequesatration?
Like you, he knows the answer. None.
The Otter Creek episode is a tragedy that will unfold for decades and centuries to come. The December and February votes represent pandering to corporate interests at its very worst.
Off course, the issue was framed as one in support of economic development and job creation for eastern Montana. But, tell me: Is there an example of a coal-producing anywhere on this planet where coal mining produces prosperity in the region where the mining takes place?
Yes, it took two other votes to deliver the coup d grace. One Democrat led two others into the abyss. With a 66 percent approval rating, this guy can do no wrong. Or, so it seemed. Just imagine what would have happened had five Republicans occupied these statewide offices.
Oh, and one last thing: What happens when there are no bids at the 15 cent minimum bid? It is abundantly clear that the coal industry colluded not to bid at 25 cents. Since the December vote, it has had us by the testes.
In unison now, along with the the Schweitzer trio,"We want to show we can be just like Wyoming and give away our resources. Just name your price. We'll approve it. Trust us. If it doesn't all work out, we'll blame it on Washington, DC."
The Helena I-R is running an online poll that asks "Is the cap-and-trade legislation being discussed in Congress the best way to incentivize clean, renewable energy production?" I got sent this link because a friend of mine works for a clean energy group and I assume this individual wanted me to click "Yes" to indicate that Montanans support cap-and-trade.
Here's the thing, though, the fact that "stuffing" of these polls occurs indicates just what a waste of time they are.
Beyond that, I'm left frustrated because even though I do support cap-and-trade, I don't think it is the "best way" to incentivize clean, renewable energy production. That would be a carbon tax. The next best is probably something like cap-and-dividend (although it may be equivalent to cap-and-trade in terms of promoting clean energy).
But American policy debates, thanks in part to news organizations that spend resources running online polls instead of explaining the substance of policy (this is probably a bit of an unfair swipe at the I-R, but I'm feeling mean today), rarely allow us to get into a serious conversation about best policy options because we're too busy debating ridiculous shit like whether global warming is even occurring (science says yes*).
In short: BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
* It says "yes" in science speak, of course, which sounds more like "with a high degree of certainty."
Mike Dennison's got a report on the Montana Republicans' launch of their new legislative campaign. There's not much surprising here; it's the same, stale lines they've been doling out for years: Democrats are for higher taxes, Republicans lower. Democrats want to increase the size of government, Republicans decrease it. Democrats are the party of "environmental obstructionism," Republicans...the corporate whores? Or something.
Of course, the political reality doesn't support these allegations. Under Democratic leadership, the state has done fairly well compared with the rest of the country. The state has run budget surpluses under its Democratic governor and the state has had sound fiscal management. A good response should be to remind folks (especially some of our own) that Democrats and leftys believe, not in bigger government, but better government. That we want to build a party for the people, not the plutocrats.
And, yes, I'm aware that the present state of the Democratic party falls short of those ideals.
And then there was this:
Senate Majority Leader Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, ripped into the Democratic-controlled Land Board, saying it "turned its back on responsible natural resource development" last month by voting to set overly high lease prices for state coal in eastern Montana's Otter Creek Valley.
"We're committed to developing our energy resources and putting Montanans back to work," he said.
Republicans will push against the Land Board, claiming they set the price too high on purpose to prevent the coal from being leased. After all, why not? They have a tendency to treat public land as corporate America's backyard, why not try to pressure the Land Board to essentially give away the state's coal tracts? It's good for teh childs! Well, not so much.
The Republicans are dutifully stepping up to play their part in the Otter Creek Kabuki. Man, don't you just hunger for someone, anyone in politics - Republican or Democrat - and just say this whole deal is bullsh*t, and have done with it?
This Dennison report on the Otter Creek coal tracts likely augurs how political wrangling will shape itself in the coming months and (hopefully) years:
The head of the company that owns more than half the coal in southeastern Montana's Otter Creek Valley said this week that he'll be surprised if anyone bids on state-owned coal there, because the Land Board probably set the minimum price too high.
Chuck Kerr, president of Great Northern Properties in Houston, also told the Gazette State Bureau that the state is asking a lot by requiring potential coal developers to pay an entire "bonus bid" up front.
"I think that's going to be a stretch," he said. "I think 25 cents (per ton) is too high. But we could be surprised."
Get it? Republicans will push against the Land Board, claiming they set the price too high on purpose to prevent the coal from being leased. After all, why not? They have a tendency to treat public land as corporate America's backyard, why not try to pressure the Land Board to essentially give away the state's coal tracts? It's good for teh childs! Well, not so much.
But then that's assuming the fuss and bother over Otter Creek coal isn't just Kabuki theater for the masses. Again, see George Ochenski's short history of the coal tracts: there are probably too many obstacles in the way of coal development in Otter Creek. Here's what he said then:
Unfortunately, it's a fool's game initiated by Republicans but now being perpetuated by Democrats, who hold every seat on the state's Land Board. Ironically, as the nations of the world meet in Copenhagen to wrestle with the disastrous impacts of climate change, Montana's top elected officials continue to greenwash the mining and burning of the most polluting fuel on the planet.
To get back to the physics of politics, it's clearly time for the Democrats on the Land Board to pull the plug on Otter Creek, write off our losses, bring this bad idea to a dead stop, and move on to the change we were promised and so desperately need.
But somehow the coal tracts have come to represent commitment to Montana's rural educational system. If, god forbid, you oppose development in Otter Creek, you hate children in Eastern Montana. It's as simple as that. And as an additional bonus for the Krayton Kernses of the world, by fighting for development in Otter Creek, you can stick it to those know-it-all scientists and their global warming plots to take over the world. You don't even have to develop the coal, all you need to do is make skittish Democrats vote for coal, too, and that's enough.
Personally, I can't see anyone actually digging for coal there anytime soon. George Ochenski explains the history of the Otter Creek tracts and the roadblocks that thus far have prohibited development - a needed, expensive, and unbuilt rail line and the coal's poor quality, to name two - and probably will indefinitely in as the future of coal looks bleak.
That's not to say the vote was disappointing. As Yellowstone Kelly pointed out, most of the votes were politically motivated, not practical. Sadly, they're caught up in the false conservative rhetoric that pits rural school children and blue collar workers against environmentalists; voting "yes" is necessary if you don't like makng good, bold policy suggestions that benefit both. Like advocating for a restoration economy, or spurring a renewable energy industry in the east, or providing state loans for home energy efficiency, the interest of which would go straight to schools...
The state Land Board will vote on Monday, December 22, to approve the Otter Creek coal tracts in southeastern Montana.
The background information, issues and elaborations have been outlined and expounded elsewhere. There is no need now to regurgitate all of it here.
Suffice it to say that the vote on Monday represents a choice about Montana's energy future.
Supporters argue a 'yes' vote is a vote for jobs and economic development in an economically depressed region. This position also references the fact that the revenues from the coal mining go to fund education.
Opponents of a 'yes' vote make the environmental/ stewardship arguments. Opponents supplement their position by referencing the preponderance of scientific data making the connection between coal combustion and elevated carbon and climate change and global warming.
Unfortunately, none of the compelling information affects the vote. It won't be about responsible public policy. It will be about politics, plain and simple.
There's been some noise from the right about "climategate" - apparently some emails were hacked from an English university's climate scientists that showed...well, according to climate change deniers, a world-wide plot to "trick" everybody into believing that the Earth is heating up...but actually were angry emails blasting shoddy science and the periodicals that published it. Righties already convinced of the world-wide climate plot cherry-picked some phrases from the emails, and distorted their meaning to incite like-minded conspiracy theorists.
The sad news in all of this is that there is a real conspiracy surrounding climate science, but it's not scientists and environmentalists working for - what? One-world government? Bison running free on the Northern Plains? (It's never explained, really.) Instead, there's real conspiracy of big industry to muddy the water on science and to sow enough doubt in the minds of Americans and others so that passing real and effective climate change legislation - which would be harmful the profit margins of fossil fuel companies - will be difficult or impossible.
Never mind, you know, the catastrophic effects to our children and grandchildren.
As Jeff Masters points out, the campaign of misinformation is nothing new, but following the well-heeled trail that industry used to thwart or delay legislation on cigarettes, asbestos, and chlorofluorocarbons.
You'll hear claims by some contrarians that the emails discovered invalidate the whole theory of human-caused global warming. Well, all I can say is, consider the source. We can trust the contrarians to say whatever is in the best interests of the fossil fuel industry. What I see when I read the various stolen emails and explanations posted at Realclimate.org is scientists acting as scientists--pursuing the truth. I can see no clear evidence that calls into question the scientific validity of the research done by the scientists victimized by the stolen emails. There is no sign of a conspiracy to alter data to fit a pre-conceived ideological view. Rather, I see dedicated scientists attempting to make the truth known in face of what is probably the world's most pervasive and best-funded disinformation campaign against science in history. Even if every bit of mud slung at these scientists were true, the body of scientific work supporting the theory of human-caused climate change--which spans hundreds of thousands of scientific papers written by tens of thousands of scientists in dozens of different scientific disciplines--is too vast to be budged by the flaws in the works of the three or four scientists being subject to the fiercest attacks.
Ochenski and Peaks, and Valleys both have excellent posts up on the recent "revelation" that the Otter Creek coal tracts are worth $1.4 billion to the state in land-lease revenue, all of which would go to Montana's school system:
A new appraisal of vast state-owned coal reserves in southeastern Montana finds the state would reap $1.4 billion in royalty payments over the next four decades if it leases the property for mining.
Development of the Otter Creek tracts - more than a billion tons of coal co-owned by the state and Great Northern Properties - could open the door to a dramatic expansion of the region's coal industry. It also could facilitate construction of a long-delayed rail line, the Tongue River Railroad.
Ochenski has the history of the coal tracts, and you should read it to see how Montana ended up owning land with the coal. But the important detail is this: the state and Great Northern own "checkerboard" sections of land where the coal is. And it's Great Northern that's pushing development. And the report released on the potential revenue for the state was issued by Northwest Corp, a consultant to the mining and energy industry. That's really all you need to know to figure out that this latest round of news is probably orchestrated propaganda to pressure the state land board to lease the land for coal development.
And, of course, there's the ugly little detail that a rail line will have be put through the Tongue River valley. And Tongue River Valley ranchers don't want a rail line. And the Northern Cheyenne would essentially have to agree to development, too. Both of which means that a lot of political and financial capital will likely have to be spent to get this project going.
PPV opines that development of the Otter Creek tracts will happen, and under Democratic watch:
...It's not about if they get developed, or even where, or how, they get developed, but when. Ideally, these developments occur at a time that's late enough to capitalize on spiking energy prices and peaked demand in the market. One also needs to secure the Montana State Land Board, comprised of the state's top five elected officials who make most of the decisions on these things; the Democrats have done that. They also need a democratic operative running the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, which oversees oil and gas leases on state lands... someone like Director Democrat Mary Sexton... Check.
It's also about squeezing-out potential enviros or certain GOP legislators from gaining major leadership positions in the state legislature that could spearhead legislative efforts to curb or stall this growth... Check.
[Roy Brown (R-Billings) and Michele Reinhart (D-Missoula) nod bitterly in agreement as author types. Squeeze-out indeed.]
The when question also gets to Schweitzer's last term in office at sky-high approval ratings following a major splash performance at the DNC's national convention along with key political insiders being positioned in places like the White House and the U.S. Senate. Messina. Baucus. Tester... Check.
With all the checks lined-up, the political capital from this will be huge. Tapping those reserves at the right time allows Schweitzer, as well as the other Demo Land Board members-A.G. Steve Bullock, O.P.I. head Denise Juneau, Auditor Monica Lindeen, and S.O.S. Linda McCullough-to claim billions supporting public education, landmark energy development, and a vital piece of their political resume.
For Schweitzer, it's the final piece of everything he needs to go national-a shining emblematic example of the kind of domestic energy development national policy-makers and the industrial interests behind them want to see.
We will miss Jag.
I'm not as...optimistic?...as PPV. The Otter Creek tracts seem more politically useful undeveloped. State Democrats can blame "radical" enviros for blocking development, earning their "moderate" and "centrist" reputations, state Republicans can hold the tracts up as evidence that they need to be in office to develop that coal. Meanwhile, the Otter Creek coal is suspended like a pinata stuffed with one-point-four billion dollar bills over the heads of the eager, blindfolded electorate.
Agree to develop the tracts? You've got years of litigation featuring the trampled-on property rights of Montana ranchers to look forward to, as well as a future of diminishing returns on the coal as (hopefully) the nation greens and requires less of the filthy fuel. That ain't sexy. Tho' to be fair to the Good Guv, he'll be long gone when the sh*t hits the fan. Not so the Land Board members, tho...
The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to act for the first time to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that scientists blame for the warming of the planet, according to top Obama administration officials.
The decision, which most likely would play out in stages over a period of months, would have a profound impact on transportation, manufacturing costs and how utilities generate power. It could accelerate the progress of energy and climate change legislation in Congress and form a basis for the United States' negotiating position at United Nations climate talks set for December in Copenhagen.
This element of Obama's impending energy policy hasn't gotten nearly the attention it deserves. If he does it right, it could be the secret weapon that kills new coal plants for good -- with far greater certainty than a middling cap-and-trade program. Obama has always said, to those who were listening closely, that he plans to prevent the construction of a new fleet of dirty coal plants, if not by carbon pricing then by other means. EPA regs are the other means. Beyond that, and perhaps even more importantly, EPA regs could hasten the demise of existing coal plants.
Now. Anybody want to bet Montana's future on coal? Time to start thinking up new strategies for bringing in state revenue for schools, folks.
There are a couple of coal-related stories in the Billings Gazette today.
First off is a reassurance from Australian-American Energy Co that its proposed coal-to-liquids plant on the Crow reservation is still going ahead as planned, despite the economy and recent death of tribal chairman, Carl Venne, "who was instrumental in the original deal."
I won't waste much space in this post on what I think about coal-to-liquid plants. If you want to know, justcheckout the archives. I don't like 'em. They're expensive, they suck up a lot of water, and they're not so good at reducing carbon emissions, even if you can sequester the carbon dioxide.
One question: where are the Aussies going to get $7 billion to produce a few million barrells of diesel?
And then there's the matter of carbon sequestration, which is bandying about in the legislature right now. In short, there appear to be two competing visions of how sequestration should take place in Montana. There's the Democratic proposal (HB 502, sponsored by Mike Phillips), which says the state owns the porous substratum of the earth where the carbon will be stored, and which sets the developers liability for that storage from 50 to 75 years. And there's the Republican proposal -- still in draft mode -- which doesn't define ownership of storage areas and sets developer liability to 10 years.
Legislative Democrats said Tuesday that they're pleased that some of their Republican brethren finally acknowledge that global warming exists and must be addressed.
Ah, yes, that's right! The "official" Montana GOP stance on global warming is that it's not happening. So...why write a bill about carbon sequestration? Of course, many Republicans' stance on global warming is rhetorical convenience for supporting big energy corporations and the resource extraction industry. And there's a new sherriff in town, and we're no doubt going to see some carbon emission regulations come stormin' in. It's not entirely inconsistent for Montana Republicans to draft a carbon sequestration bill that favors industry concerns over the community's welfare.
That is, the Republican sequestration bill smells. Doesn't define who owns the "pores," as the Gazette calls the carbon's future home? That probably means private property, which means no state revenue from the use of public land, but lots of money flowing into certain pockets. It'll probably mean higher prices for energy.
And a 10-year liability for developers on their underground storage of carbon emissions? H*ll, 75-year liability is too short. Remember, the carbon's supposed to stay underground in perpetuity -- or else it won't do any good. (And you wonder why I dislike the idea.) Ten years is nothing, gives developers a free license to do sloppy work, then have the state taxpayers (i.e., you and me) pay for their mistakes.
In short, these two characteristics of the Republcians' bill fits so seamlessly into the old adage, "privatize the profits and socialize the losses," it's almost cliche.
On the heels of the news that the Highwood coal-burning electric plant was being scrapped, came news of yet another Montana-based coal scheme, along comes news that an Australian company wants to build a $375-million coal plant in southeastern Montana that would make "high-efficiency coal and synthetic crude oil." The idea is to produce coal that burns about 10 percent cleaner, etc & co.
While it's technically possible to capture the carbon dioxide emitted by coal-fired plants and sequester the gas underground, the cost and energy involved to do so is "so overwhelming it doesn't end up as being logical," Running said Tuesday. He was in Helena to lecture on the effects of climate change to Montana.
Running also had this to say about the warming deniers:
"I think there are some well-funded professional deniers who are following the tobacco and cancer lobbies' model, in a broad sense," Running said. "They continue to say that in the broad sense, all the data isn't in. But in reality it is in and no climate scientist comes to any different conclusion. The world is warming up."
Which makes the news of Montana Republican whining about the Highwood plant "failure" all the more irritating. I mean...why? There'll still be a plant; only it'll burn natural gas augmented by wind generation. That still means jobs. That still means money coming into the community. And it also means cleaner emissions and less carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. (Though burning any fossil fuel is less than desirable.)
So, money and jobs...less pollution...less CO2...What's the friggin' deal? What's this obsession with coal? It's...weird.