THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
Mining law has barely changed since 1872. Can Congress agree on a fix?
Mining in the U.S. is largely governed by a Gold Rush-era law that hasn’t been significantly changed since Ulysses S. Grant was president; it includes no guidelines on tribal consultation, reclamation, or environmental protection. And it covers more than 90 percent of hardrock mines in the country. Environmental groups say the law makes it too easy for mining companies to pursue projects in places that put people and the environment most at risk.
Northern Nevada lithium mine gets green light
Thacker Pass, which would be the country’s largest lithium mine, is allowed to break ground, a judge ruled this week. The company still must look at whether or not it has valid mining rights for certain portions of the project.
Lithium Americas stock rises after $650 million General Motors investment
Shares of Lithium Americas rose nearly 11% Tuesday after GM said it will invest $650 million in the upstart lithium producer and become its largest shareholder. The investment is one of the biggest steps taken by an automaker to secure supplies of lithium, a vital commodity for the batteries that power electric cars and smartphones.
With Biden aid, Nevada dreams of a 'lithium loop'
On Thursday, the DOE gave a $2 billion loan to Nevada-based Redwood Materials Inc., a company that proposes to recycle throwaway batteries into high-value battery parts on a giant scale. Add to that the $817 million in competitive awards and loans that the Biden administration recently has given to the state’s mines, labs and factories, and it’s clear that this swing-state is becoming central to the future of the United States’ clean energy economy.
Is 'responsible' mining possible?
A conversation with the director of the Initiative for Responsible Mining Assurance.
Amid showdown over Colorado River cuts, a Flaming Gorge fishing guide hopes the 'leftovers' are enough
One of Flaming Gorge’s primary uses is storage for the rest of the Colorado River Basin. The Bureau of Reclamation released an extra 500,000 acre feet of water from the reservoir on the Wyoming-Utah border last year. That’s a lot of water sent downstream – roughly what a million households use per year. Fishing guide Jim Williams is bracing for the reservoir to drop even lower. “If I had a young son right now that was 10 or 12 years old, I don't know that I'd want to get him really hooked on fishing,” he said. “Not just because of the drawdown on this lake, but this water issue we're talking about West-wide.”
The Rockies are having a snowy winter, but not all of that water will make it to the Colorado River
Snow data from the Colorado River Basin Forecast Center shows a strong start for the region's water supplies, but heavy snow may get soaked up by dry soils before it can flow into Lake Powell and Lake Mead.
Climate change and a population boom could dry up the Great Salt Lake in 5 years
Utah leaders are under pressure to end water diversions and enforce tougher restrictions in order save the drying Great Salt Lake. A recent report predicted it will completely dry in five years.
New analysis says Great Salt Lake can be saved, but not without great effort, and expense
A pragmatic analysis by a group of experts dubbed the Great Salt Lake Strike Team says action, however tectonic, is paramount.
Scientists fear a Great Toxic Dustbowl could soon emerge from the Great Salt Lake
Utah's Great Salt Lake is vanishing. As the water disappears, the lakebed is exposed and so is the potential for a health disaster.
Proposed new EPA air quality standards could force Utah to make big changes
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently considering whether it will implement stricter particle pollution standards – which could force Utah officials to make significant changes. The public can comment through March 28.
Research compares breathing Utah air for a day to smoking up to five cigarettes
Utah cities made up seven of the top 10 cities with the worst air quality in the U.S. on Saturday.
Toddlers exposed to prenatal air pollution linked to lower cognition, CU Boulder study finds
New research from the University of Colorado Boulder shows a concerning link between air pollution and brain development.
Utah needs more than blue suits to save its air and water
Water and air issues are bound together, and need swift action, the Editorial Board writes.
Yellowstone National Park program makes largest transfer of bison to tribes
Yellowstone National Park transferred 112 disease-free bison to the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of Fort Peck last month, as part of a program to return the culturally significant animal back to tribes.
As feds eye delisting Yellowstone grizzlies, attention turns to 'anti-carnivore' legislatures
While hunters see the opportunity to hunt bears as a way to manage them and reduce conflict, wildlife advocates worry that handing grizzly bear regulation over to the states could slash grizzly numbers. They’re particularly worried in the wake of legislation targeted at grizzlies, wolves and other predators that’s been moving through state houses in Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.
Colorado avian flu spreads to a black bear and mountain lion, raising fears of broader reach
Colorado’s avian flu outbreak has crossed over into more mammals, including a black bear in Huerfano County and a mountain lion in Gunnison County.
As climate change disrupts ecosystems, a new outbreak of bird flu spreads to mammals
“We don’t want an avian H5N1 being adapted to mammals,” Juergen A. Richt, director of the Center of Excellence for Emerging and Zoonotic Animal Diseases, told Grist. “Obviously, the next level would be humans.”
DWR shuts down antler gathering to protect Utah’s big game
To protect mule deer during harsh winter conditions this year, Utah DWR has banned the gathering of shed antlers until May 1.
Pack of dogs likely killed cattle in northwest Colorado, not wolves, CPW says
The discovery of a pack of nine dogs harassing wildlife in the vicinity of where more than 40 cattle died south of Meeker in October casts further doubt on wolves being involved in the deaths.
The wolf in its own clothing
A new book, “Wolfish,” attempts to shed light on how the species is a stand in for fear.
Montana Legislature weighs bill to exempt some small subdivisions from environmental review
If passed, Senate Bill 240 would allow developments of 14 or fewer lots located 2-plus miles from surface water to skip Montana Environmental Policy Act review. Opponents say it could facilitate development of agricultural land in “pop-up subdivisions.”
Wyoming saw population influx from Colorado during pandemic, data shows
Data from the early pandemic years shows that more people migrated into Wyoming than left the state, and most came to the Equality State from Colorado. An influx of people from the Front Range means potential new businesses and additional workforce, but also puts a strain on the Capital City’s already stretched-thin housing market, experts say.
Where people moved in 2022
Idaho ranks No. 8 in domestic net migration, according to United States Postal Service change-of-address data.
See how many all-cash buyers snagged houses in your neighborhood
“Only the wealthy are essentially buying homes,” said Lawrence Yun, chief economist at National Association of Realtors. “If this trend was to continue, that means something fundamentally is wrong with society.”
U.S., states weigh farmland restrictions after Chinese balloon
Congress and at least 11 state legislatures – including in Montana, Wyoming and Utah – are considering measures to address concerns about foreign land ownership.
What else we’re reading today
Mountain West leads nation in manufacturing construction spending. An economist explains the big implications
New data shows that the Mountain West region led the nation with $26.5 billion in manufacturing construction spending in 2022, up from only $4.2 billion in 2017. It's an indicator of the significant economic changes afoot across the region.
Montana’s Black mayor
Wilmot Collins fled a civil war in Liberia with big ideas about what America can be. But can it ever live up to what he imagined?
States push to enshrine protections for tribal children
Montana is one of a handful U.S. states – along with Wyoming, Utah and North Dakota – considering legislation this year to keep more Native American children from enduring similar experiences by including provisions of the U.S. Indian Child Welfare Act in state law.
Montana lawmakers make another bid for Indigenous People’s Day
Proposed state holiday would take the place of Columbus Day.
Does thinning work for wildfire prevention?
The rundown on what scientists find actually works to protect forests and homes.
New study confirms Marshall Fire contaminated drinking water, but the response prevented a crisis
The disaster adds to a growing body of evidence on the need for better wildfire water safety guidelines.
Teton County shifts approach to tourism
The Jackson Hole community is moving toward educating visitors – rather than only marketing to them.
Colorado’s ski industry is seeing growing interest in uphilling from an unlikely demographic
People dove into uphill skiing at the National Brotherhood of Skiers’ 50th annual summit in Vail, which promotes diversity in winter sports.
Wyoming’s coal mandate hits free-market hurdle
The 2020 measure mandated that utilities looking to close coal-fired power plants first try to retrofit the facilities with carbon capture technology. Black Hills Energy, however, announced last week that it is struggling to find bidders to take on the work at two of its facilities.
Calumet Montana oil refinery in Great Falls to become top U.S. producer of sustainable jet fuel
The Calumet Montana oil refinery in Great Falls has completed the multi-million dollar expansion project it began more than a year ago and is now poised to become the largest producer of sustainable aviation fuel in the United States, if not the world.
Longtime tensions over federal wetlands rule return in U.S. House WOTUS hearing
Supreme Court is expected to rule on case in which Idaho landowners challenged Biden administration’s definition of Waters of the United States.
New accountability podcast focuses on FBI infiltration in Colorado
“Alphabet Boys,” and other news behind the news in Colorado this week.
Edited by Matthew Frank, associate director of regional journalism at the O’Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West at the University of Montana
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