environment

The Modern West #22: Climate Change In A Fossil-Fuel State

Apr 20, 2017
Ken Koschnitzki

Wyoming’s economy revolves around energy production. But climate change raises questions about what role fossil fuels will play in the state’s future.

CocoaBiscuit via Flickr

Congress canceled a set of coal mining regulations last week, just two months after they’d been passed. President Trump signed the repeal with support from Wyoming Governor Matt Mead.  

The Stream Protection Rule created a buffer zone around waterways and placed stricter requirements on companies to monitor and reclaim mine sites. But Wyoming’s Congressional delegation and Department of Environmental Quality called the decision an overreach that should not apply to the arid conditions of the Western U.S.

Stephanie Joyce

This week Congress unleashed an assault on Obama-era regulations, and Wyoming lawmakers played a big role in the effort and the new effort is angering the environmental community.

 

Ever heard of the Congressional Review Act? Me neither, that is until Wyoming’s senior Senator Mike Enzi gave me a tutorial on it.

“It’s the ability for Congress to pass a claw back on any regulation that’s pass within 45 days after the time that’s it’s published provided there are enough signatures from the House and the Senate.”

Wikimedia Commons

President Elect Donald Trump has reportedly asked Montana U.S. Representative Ryan Zinke to be the nation’s next Interior Secretary. The Interior Secretary is tasked with the conservation and management of federal lands, national parks, and natural resources in the United States.

Zinke was an early supporter of Trump. As a member of congress, he has supported the Land and Water Conservation Fund and keeping public lands under federal control, but is also a proponent of logging and energy development on those lands.

Lingjing Bao

Although there was hope among Wyomingites that Congresswoman Cynthia Lummis would be tapped by President elect Trump for Interior Secretary, it appears that position will go to Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rogers instead.

Supporters of fossil fuels are welcoming President-elect Donald Trump’s pick to head up the Environmental Protection Agency.

Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt has been a vocal critic of the agency he is nominated to lead, and is a strong proponent of fossil fuels, particularly oil and gas.

Pruitt is likely to take aim at many Obama administration regulations, particularly those dealing with climate change, since he rejects the scientific consensus on that issue.

Wyoming Senator John Barrasso will take on a new leadership role in the next Congress, as chair of the Environment and Public Works committee.

The committee has oversight of the Environmental Protection Agency, among other things.

Penny Preston

The Shoshone River east of Cody is choked with mud for miles. Wyoming’s Game and Fish fisheries biologist is investigating for massive fish kills. The sediment release apparently happened when Willwood Irrigation workers flushed water from the Willwood Dam between Cody and Powell.

Willwood Irrigation District Manager Todd Singbeil would not comment Sunday on the mud flow.

State fisheries biologist Jason Burkhardt was not available for an interview either, but did confirm he is investigating the issue.

Melodie Edwards

The Journey In

It’s a hard 23 mile hike into the Wind River Range to one of the state’s largest glaciers. It’s called Dinwoody, and every step is a study in the powerful impact this glacier has had on these mountains in the last 1.5 million years.

Leigh Paterson / Inside Energy

  

Environmentalists, lawmakers, coal miners, and advocates of all types gathered to have their say at a public meeting this week, in Casper, Wyo, hosted by the Department of the Interior (DOI). Like most discussions of the future of coal, the debate was passionate and polarized.

“This is a politically motivated sham, pandering to the political allies of the secretary and the administration,” Richard Reavey, an executive at a coal company called Cloud Peak Energy, said in his public remarks.

Oregon Says No To Coal-Fired Electricity

Mar 4, 2016
David Hanson

Oregon lawmakers have passed a landmark clean-energy bill that lays out a timeline for Oregonians to stop paying for electricity from coal-fired power plants through its two largest utilities, PacifiCorp and Portland General Electric.

With snow in the forecast, you’re probably not thinking much about mosquitoes. But the Laramie City Council is.

Laramie Beekeeper Helen Coates says last July, after the city sprayed organophosphates--a powerful common insecticide-- on the fields surrounding the city, she found hundreds of dead bees outside her hive. She says the chemical may be the cheapest approach, but it’s the worst for the environment.

“If you go spray, for example, a field of blooming yellow clover, you’re going to kill all the pollinators, probably some birds, it’s toxic to fish, etc.”

Photo by Henry Patton, Flickr Creative Commons

If the entire Greenland ice cap were to melt, scientists predict sea levels would rise more than 20 feet. Climate change is speeding up melting of the ice sheet, but it’s not clear by how much. The New York Times recently profiled one of the few research projects taking direct measurements to answer that question. One of the researchers is University of Wyoming graduate student Brandon Overstreet.

Charlie Hamilton James

The National Park Service celebrates its Centennial in 2016. To mark the occasion, National Geographic Magazine is devoting the entire May 2016 issue to the country’s first national park – Yellowstone. Charlie Hamilton James is one of the photographers whose work will be featured in the issue. His niche is aquatic wildlife photography – animals like cutthroat trout, beavers, and otters. James is from the UK and relocated to Jackson for a year to shoot these pictures in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem.

David Quammen

The National Park Service celebrates its Centennial next year. To mark the occasion, National Geographic Magazine is devoting its May 2016 issue solely to the country’s first national park – Yellowstone. And not only is this issue focused on one place – all of the content has been written by just one author – a first for the publication. David Quammen is the writer and journalist who has been tasked with this feat.

 

A federal environmental rule regulating waterways is on hold after a U.S. appeals court issued a nation-wide stay on Friday. 

The controversial Waters Of The United States rule regulates things like streams and wetlands. It was put in place last year to clear up confusion over what is covered under the federal Clean Water Act. But industries like agriculture and energy as well as individual farmers and ranchers argued that the scope of the so-called WOTUS rule made doing business costly and confusing. 

Aaron Schrank/WPR

Thanks to the Pope’s environmental encyclical, some Wyoming Catholics are studying big issues like global climate change for the first time. Laramie’s St. Paul’s Newman Center is hosting a 4-week course this summer to dig in to the document.

Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has designated the Canada lynx as threatened with extinction in the Continental United States. It has also reduced its critical habitat.

The Canada lynx is one of the few native cats in North America. Its habitat is specific to thick boreal forests that accumulate deep snow and are home to the lynx’s favorite food, snowshoe hare. It has enormous paws that it uses to traverse deep snow and elude predators with smaller feet. 

Joe Kiesecker

The Bureau of Land Management is considering protecting some areas in the Red Desert because of their scenic qualities.

The agency’s Sheila Lehman says they’re considering amending the Rawlins Resource Management Plan, to limit development on parcels of land with important wilderness characteristics.

“There’s the potential to maybe be able to preserve it a little bit more, or by mitigating certain things to keep that quality – that wilderness quality,” Lehman said.

Environmental groups are pleased.

Long-awaited money from a settlement on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming is finally on its way.

The federal government is paying the tribes $157 million for underpayment of royalties on oil and gas development and improper management of royalties that were paid. Northern Arapaho spokesman Mark Howell says some people don’t have bank accounts and there were concerns they would not be able to cash their checks.

Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso received pushback from the chief of the U.S. Forest Service on his bill to expand timber harvesting on federal lands. 

Barrasso’s legislation would greatly expand the Forest Service’s timber program throughout western states. The senator says it would create jobs and provide a new funding stream for schools in rural areas. Environmentalists accuse Barrasso of trying to gut environmental laws. At a hearing on the bill Thomas Tidwell, the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, told Barrasso he’s wary of how the bill undoes regulations.  

We start off today’s show with a look at the agency that’s in charge of protecting the environment in Wyoming. Many of our reporting in the past has led us to conversations with angry landowners, and folks who have concerns about industry’s effects on the environment and human health.

The legislature’s Joint Minerals Committee is mostly onboard with a new plan to plug abandoned oil and gas wells in the state. The committee discussed the Governor’s plan at a meeting on Thursday. Senator Chris Rothfuss says while the committee had questions about some of the details, like the cost and timeline, there was a general agreement that the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission should move forward with the plugging.

Legislative Service Office

At today’s energy law conference in Laramie, one Wyoming lawmaker urged the state to be proactive in the discussion about greenhouse gas regulations.

Stephanie Joyce

Converse County is one of six counties in Wyoming with no land use regulations. When a proposal to develop zoning came up a decade ago, it went nowhere. But as development associated with the oil and gas boom in the Niobrara explodes, the county is struggling with questions of how to make sure it happens responsibly. And as Wyoming Public Radio’s Stephanie Joyce reports, some residents are starting to question the costs of not planning.

The Summit on the Snake – an annual conference about use of the Snake River – will take place in Jackson this Saturday. Speakers will discuss the wildlife, history, ecology, and management of the Snake River and there will be a panel regarding the future of river management in Jackson Hole.

Snake River Fund Program Director, Margaret Creel, says the Bureau of Land Management will transfer management duties to Teton County soon, and the county needs to figure out how to manage the resource responsibly. Currently, river use is unregulated. 

An international conference about mining reclamation ended in Laramie today. The American Society of Mining and Reclamation and the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center hosted the event, which featured technical presentations about reclamation issues as well as policy questions and case studies.

UW professor and director of the Wyoming Reclamation and Restoration Center, Pete Stahl, says there were many Australian and Chinese stakeholders in attendance.   

EIA

The Sierra Club and partner organizations filed a lawsuit today against BNSF Railways and several coal producers. The suit claims the companies are violating the federal Clean Water Act when they discharge coal dust along railways from the Powder River Basin without permits to do so.

Pacific Northwest Regional Press Secretary for Sierra Club’ Beyond Coal campaign, Krista Collard, says a letter of intent to file the suit was sent to all parties two months ago, but they did little to limit coal dust pollution.

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