Montana Environmental Information Center

Clean and healthful. It's your right, our mission.

We Know We Are Winning When… the Fossil Fuel Industry Says So

PowerPoint PresentationBy Anne Hedges

Okay, winning might be a stretch – there is no winning with climate change. But the biggest battle-front today involves convincing people, and thereby politicians, that the threat of climate change is real and solutions are necessary and affordable. The clean energy shift will snowball when we can overcome the hurdles thrown up by climate deniers and morally corrupt fossil fuel tycoons (in fact that snowball effect is already happening despite them…but I digress).

So how is industry saying we’re winning? An industry front group conducted a poll that says so. The group, Partnership for a Better Energy Future, is made up of 175 organizations whose names contain words like “coal,” “chamber,” “lignite,” “petroleum,” and “mining.” Shockingly their Montana poll results show Montanans care about climate change.

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All Things Are Connected: Montana’s Terrible Air Quality, Canadian Fires, and Climate Change

By Anne Hedges

Scanned by: Retouched by: DT-MAQC'd by: DT-MALooking out my window I am troubled that Helena’s normally lovely blue skies resemble pea soup and the light filtering through the haze casts an eerie pall. It’s even more troubling that the air in China is even worse. It seems unconscionable that coal companies want to dig up Montana so they can make money selling coal to China where it will be burned, forcing people there to live with choking air quality that is even worse that what we are experiencing in Montana this week. The out-of-sight out-of-mind nature of that proposal is morally indefensible.

Why does Helena’s air resemble China’s on a good day? It might be hard to believe, but over 1,000 miles away, “tornadoes of fire” in Canada’s Northwest Territories are sending up smoke plumes so huge that they are being carried far south to the not-so-big-sky-state.

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Clean Energy Could Create Thousands of Montana Jobs

by Kyla Maki

Bozeman Solar Home by Todd HoitsmaHow many jobs and careers could Montana create if we were to increase renewable energy generation and energy efficiency? – That is the question that a new report by Synapse Energy Economics recently analyzed. MEIC and Sierra Club commissioned Synapse to produce the Montana clean energy jobs report.

The report entitled, Employment Effects of Clean Energy Investments in Montana evaluates job creation potential in energy efficiency, wind energy, rooftop solar, and utility scale solar in Montana over the next 20 years.

Synapse determined the potential for jobs to be created in each of the clean energy sectors. The report considers jobs in both the construction and operation/maintenance (O&M) phases of development (See table 1 below).
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Carbon Pollution Standards: Montana Stands to Benefit

By Derf Johnson

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the carbon pollution standards on Monday, June 2, 2014.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy announced the carbon pollution standards on Monday, June 2, 2014.

Today marks an historic moment for our fight against global warming pollution. The  Clean Air Act has successfully regulated air pollutants such as lead, mercury, and ozone. Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is adding carbon pollution to that list. EPA just released a draft version of the first-ever carbon pollution standards for existing power plants. The rule will reduce carbon pollution by 730 million metric tonnes and will have significant public health benefits, as well as important environmental and economic benefits.

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DEQ Needs a Reminder – Multinational Companies like PPL Can’t be Trusted

By Anne Hedges

I recently dug through old files about the Pegasus Gold fiasco at Zortman/Landusky and WR Grace’s Libby disaster. The purpose was to develop a public education campaign comparing previous environmental disasters in Montana with PPL’s leaking Colstrip coal ash ponds. I didn’t expect such eerie similarities. The quote, “Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it,” had a whole new meaning.
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Who’s Ready to Rally?

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Climate Action Rallies Planned Across the State for April 26

On Saturday, April 26, all across the state, people will come together for the Montanans for Climate Solutions Rallies. From Bigfork to Lame Deer and many points in between, Montanans will raise the issue of climate change and pressure officials and businesses to support proactive and positive solutions to the climate crisis.
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Lots of reasons (and ways!) to celebrate Earth Day 2014

By Sara Marino, MEIC Development Director

MEIC kid

With Earth Day coming up on April 22, it’s a good time to reflect on the air, water, and landscapes that nurture our health and our hearts. I am grateful for the opportunity to watch my son grow and thrive in the outdoors, and enjoy all the activities Montana provides in our own backyard – floating, camping, mountain biking, fishing, skiing, and more. And I am always grateful for the people around our state who share MEIC’s passion for protecting and preserving all that we treasure today and for future generations. Thank you to the thousands of MEIC supporters who make our work possible. We cannot do it without you!
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MEIC needs your help to protect the Smith River

By Steve Gilbert, Former MEIC Board Member

Smith

I have a warm spot in my heart for lots of places in Montana. I’ve worked and played in all 56 counties and have serious emotional ties to some incredible pieces of country. Among my all-time favorites is the Smith River and the enormous and beautiful country it drains.

I guided fly fishers on the Smith for 20 years and have canoed, floated, fished, and hunted it for more than 35. Both of my kids floated it as youngsters and now work on the river with an outfitter. And they would tell you how much they have grown to love it as well.

They are a small part of the very large group of people who love it and depend on its clear, clean water for a significant portion of their livelihoods. The floating season isn’t long on the Smith – say April through October in a very exceptional water year. But during the peak floating months of May, June and July, hundreds of people salt away millions of dollars that can be traced directly to work the Smith provides. It is
the kind of work that minimally affects the resource and could last forever.

I say “could last” because it will do so only as long as its water quality is not compromised by people eager for short-term gain. Well, guess what? Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality has once again thrown caution to the winds and has given another Canadian mining company the green light to “explore” for minerals in the headwaters of Sheep Creek, one of the Smith’s exceptional trout spawning tributaries.

DEQ has a long history of telling us “don’t worry, we’re sure there won’t be impacts that can’t be mitigated, trust us.” Remember Zortman-Landusky, where another Canadian mining company cut and ran? They destroyed thousands of acres in the Little Rockies, poisoned a beautiful prairie stream and left Montanans holding the bag for water treatment in perpetuity? DEQ told us not to worry during that project’s exploration phase too.

The proposed “exploration” tunnel on Sheep Creek will be 18’ by 18’ by one mile long. The rock they will pull out of that shaft is sulfidic. This means that when it is exposed to air and water, sulfuric acid is created. It will drain into the Smith and kill aquatic insects, riparian vegetation and fish. The list of sulfide ore mines in the west that killed streams is as long as this “exploration” shaft.

DEQ is supposed to work for us, not industry. They are legally mandated to help provide us with the clean and healthful environment guaranteed in the Montana
Constitution. They most often do neither and can only be held accountable when you and I raise hell and sue them.

MEIC is doing just that and we need your help. It will be an expensive battle, and I hope you feel like I do about the Smith River. It’s worth whatever we can afford to give it.

Steve Gilbert is a former MEIC board member and a recent recipient of the Len and Sandy Sargent Award, given rarely for work above and beyond the call of duty to MEIC.

What Resources will Meet Montana’s Electricity Needs in the Future?

By Kyla Maki

chart_kyla
Montana’s largest energy utility, NorthWestern Energy (NWE) has filed a plan with the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) that attempts to answer this question.

Every two years, NWE files this Resource Procurement Plan (Plan) that identifies the mix of electric resources that they will build or buy to meet the short term and long term electricity needs. If you live within the limits of a city or town in Montana, you are likely a NorthWestern Energy electric customer. This means that this resource plan affects you and your electric bill. Equally as important, NWE’s plan will affect where your electricity comes from.

Water, Water Everywhere

NorthWestern’s resource plan focuses on the “preferred” resource, or resources that the utility identifies as meeting future electricity needs. In the 2013 Plan, NWE identifies the 11 hydroelectric dams owned by Pennsylvania Power and Light (PPL) as their “preferred” resource. This doesn’t come as a surprise because NorthWestern announced last September that they agreed to purchase the dams from PPL for $900 million.  The total combined capacity of the dams is just over 600 megawatts.
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EPA Agrees to Adopt Coal Ash Regulations by the End of 2014

By Anne Hedges

Tennessee Coal Ash Spill

Tennessee Coal Ash Spill, NRDC Photo

This week brought good news.  After years of negotiation, litigation, promises made, and promises broken, MEIC, a Native American tribe, and public health and environmental organizations signed a legally-binding agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying that EPA must adopt regulations for safe coal ash disposal by the end of 2014.

After the Tennessee coal ash disaster in 2008, Obama promised to adopt the first-ever federal controls for safe disposal of the second largest waste stream in the country. That was welcome news to those living near Colstrip’s contaminated coal ash ponds (a.k.a. 800 acres of leaking coal sludge impoundments). EPA then hired consultants to investigate coal ash impoundments, including those at Colstrip. Those consultants found that Colstrip’s dams posed a very real danger to human health and downstream economic activity, yet neither state nor federal governments had ever inspected the dams. EPA promised to do something about the nation’s dangerous coal waste disposal problems.

In 2010 EPA proposed the first-ever federal rules to regulate this toxic waste stream. People living in the shadow of these impoundments cheered. But then EPA balked. It never finalized either of its proposals.

This settlement brings to a close the nagging question of whether EPA will ever do its job. Now the question is whether EPA will adopt a regulation that actually requires cleanup of these highly contaminated sites, ensures safe storage of waste in the future, and allows effective enforcement by government and citizens when government fails. None of those things seem like too much to demand. But Congress likes to interfere when EPA actually does its job. So while this settlement is a good step, we will have to keep pressure on EPA to actually protect public health and safety.