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THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
On critical minerals and other mining nuggets
Rio Tinto invests nearly $1B in Utah copper project
Global mining company Rio Tinto will invest nearly $1 billion to expand its Kennecott copper mining operations and processing in Utah, just as a debate heats up over whether or not the mineral should be considered "critical" by the federal government.
An Idaho cobalt mine stopped production. But now, the military’s interested
The Australian owner of a cobalt mine in Central Idaho plans more extensive study of cobalt at a remote site in the Salmon River Mountains, and the potential for a cobalt refinery, after securing $15 million from the U.S. Department of Defense. The funding agreement does not compel the company to open its mine, though a company official said the funds may make it easier to restart production. After announcing the mine was near completion to fanfare last fall, Jervois abruptly suspended operations in March because the price of cobalt tumbled.
Montana Supreme Court hears arguments in White Sulphur Springs copper mine permit case
Dueling attorneys argued to the Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday about whether a copper mine near White Sulphur Springs should have received a permit.
NASA opposes lithium mining at tabletop flat Nevada desert site used to calibrate satellites
An ancient Nevada lakebed beckons as a vast source of the coveted metal needed to produce cleaner electric energy and fight global warming. But NASA says the same site — flat as a tabletop and undisturbed like none other in the Western Hemisphere — is indispensable for calibrating the razor-sharp measurements of hundreds of satellites orbiting overhead.
Environmental groups sue to block mining projects in the Patagonia Mountains
The U.S. Forest Service approved exploratory drilling at two sites near Patagonia. Environmentalists say the canyons are too sensitive for it. Between the two projects the companies are prospecting for ores including copper, silver, lead and zinc.
Bipartisan lawmakers want potash and phosphate to be 'critical' minerals
Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are pushing to designate potash and phosphate — minerals used widely in fertilizer — as "critical."
In rush for key metals, Canada ushers miners to its fragile north
Canada is offering incentives to mining companies to dig in its northern regions for the critical minerals needed for EVs and solar panels. But based on past abuses, critics fear carbon-rich peatlands will be lost, wild rivers polluted, and enormous cleanup projects left behind.
More on the energy transition
More than a decade in the making, TransWest transmission project breaks ground
The Bureau of Land Management issued the final approval for the project in April, ending a permitting process that begin in 2008 and has spanned the Obama, Trump and Biden administrations. The lengthy approval was due in part to the magnitude of project, which Transwest Express President and CEO Bill Miller described as the first major transmission infrastructure project in decades. “You just don’t see projects of this scope and scale done anywhere,” Miller said in an interview with the Star-Tribune.
Tougher pollution rules could be very costly for Colstrip
Colstrip Power Plant appears to be the only coal-fired generator in the country without the common pollution controls needed to clear tougher Mercury Air Toxics Standards proposed by federal officials.
See the thousands of valuable acres Utah stands to gain through the Bears Ears land exchange
The State Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA, will gain property in 20 different counties with the potential for oil and gas extraction, renewable energy projects, real estate development and landfills. Some also include valuable minerals, like potash, lithium and uranium.
The feds move to speed up development of wind and solar on public land
A rule proposed by the BLM would cut leasing fees for those projects by 80 percent.
California grid plan could offer shorter queues across the Southwest
The strengthening of connections with Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico will enable increased imports from large-scale solar projects under development in those states. Large wind resources planned in Wyoming, New Mexico and Idaho should also “all benefit from the improved transfer capacity and expansion of [connection] points on CAISO’s eastern border," Patrick Ferguson, a renewable energy lawyer at Orrick, told Reuters.
Solar manufacturer announces plans for Brighton location
The Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade announced today that VSK Energy Inc. will expand into Brighton, bringing as many as 900 new jobs to the area.
Agrivoltaics finds new fans in U.S. Senate
Because solar panels provide partial shade and retain more moisture in the soil, they can keep livestock cooler; increase the yields of certain crops, depending on the region, such as lettuce, kale and tomatoes; and cut water usage. These advantages add up to more profit for farmers.
Carbon credit market seizes on a new opportunity: plugging oil and gas wells
A wave of new companies are crafting financial incentives to block emissions from wells that are near the end of their life spans—and orphaned wells with no clear owners. Yet doubts persist about project oversight and the ethos of the market.
Utah leaders start fight against EPA rule limiting pollution drifting to Colorado
Utah has filed a petition to review the Ozone Transfer Rule, an EPA proposal to limit how much Utah's power plants affect Colorado's air.
Wildfire smoke drove Front Range ozone pollution during hazy 2021 summer, study finds
A new study from NOAA scientists finds wildfire smoke was a major contributor to ground-level ozone pollution along the Front Range in the summer of 2021.
Pacific states produce the West's smoke. More fire could help
A study suggests that strategic application of large prescribed burns in the areas most responsible for the West's wildfire smoke could significantly reduce seasonal wildfire smoke in both the Pacific Coast source states and the rest of the West.
It’s summer. But in the Northwest, spring never showed
As spring gets weirder, warmer and less stable, water supplies, ecosystems and agriculture are getting out of whack.
Oregon county sues fossil fuel companies for nearly $52 billion over heat dome
Multnomah County is seeking nearly $52 billion in damages and future costs for climate adaptation in a lawsuit it filed Thursday against more than a dozen fossil fuel companies to hold them accountable for the unprecedented heat dome event in 2021.
Long struggles continue
Supreme Court rules the U.S. is not required to ensure access to water for the Navajo Nation
Does the treaty between the Navajo Nation and the United States obligate the federal government to “assess” the water needs of the Navajo and “make a plan” for securing water to meet those needs? The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the answer is no.
Supreme Court rules against Navajo Nation in Colorado River case
“The status quo is going to continue,” said Heather Tanana, a University of Utah law professor and citizen of the Navajo Nation. “Being disappointed by the federal government is nothing new in Indian Country.”
Clarence Thomas wants to demolish Indian law
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote a solo concurring opinion where he explained that while he agreed with the majority’s reasoning in full, he was writing separately because he thinks that the court should “clarify” some of its most important Indian law and tribal sovereignty rulings—meaning that he thinks they should be overturned.
The Supreme Court upheld the Indian Child Welfare Act. The long struggle to implement the law continues.
A recent ProPublica investigation showed how ICWA was being unevenly applied in some states, breaking up Native American families that should have received additional protections under the law. There’s still room for improvement, advocates say.
Montana tribal leaders: Native Americans must remain vigilant despite ICWA decision
“The federal government and states alike are constantly attacking people’s treaties, our rights to abolishing reservations, and our rights as Native people,” Fort Belknap Chairman Jeffrey Stiffarm said. “They’re gonna continue to attack anything, everything towards tribes.”
A nuclear site is on tribes' ancestral lands. Their voices are being left out on key cleanup talks
Three Native American tribes have devoted decades to returning their ancestral land in Washington to the days before they became the most radioactively contaminated site in the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. But the Yakama Nation, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and Nez Perce Tribe have been left out of negotiations on a major decision affecting the future cleanup of millions of gallons of radioactive waste stored in underground tanks on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
Links from the brink
Preservation or ‘playing god?’
A coalition of conservation groups has likened a native trout restoration project to ‘playing god’ with the fisheries of Glacier National Park, but scientists say it’s one of the last best chances to preserve a species in peril.
A one-of-a-kind tribal agreement will help endangered fish in the Colorado River Basin
The tribal nation’s lease agreement with New Mexico is a first for the state and will help endangered fish in the San Juan River.
Will Yellowstone’s grizzly bears remain forever isolated?
Biologists are optimistic that an itinerant bruin could trek south, bringing diversity to an area long severed from Montana and Canada’s contiguous population of grizzlies.
Biden administration moves to restore endangered species protections dropped by Trump
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said it would reinstate a decades-old regulation that mandates blanket protections for species newly classified as threatened.
Feds trigger lead ammo debate with refuge hunting proposals
While the Fish and Wildlife Service is opening more wildlife refuges to hunting, it won't permit an increase in the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle.
What else we’re reading today
Young plaintiffs' attorney closes Montana climate change trial with call for action
An attorney for 16 young plaintiffs urged a judge Tuesday to strike down as unconstitutional a Montana law that prohibits state agencies from considering the environmental effects when it weighs permits allowing the release of greenhouse gases.
With landmark climate trial over, youth plaintiffs describe it as ‘just the beginning’
Counsel for both sides offered short closing remarks Tuesday on the bench trial’s final day, with the judge’s order expected within weeks.
The Biden administration wants to make conservation equal to ranching and mining in the West. The GOP won’t have it.
The Republican-led House Committee on Natural Resources voted Wednesday to withdraw a BLM rule it links to “Biden’s preservationist agenda.”
Off roading can continue around Glen Canyon after federal judge delayed a decision
Off-roading enthusiasts will continue to have near-total free reign around the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area after a federal judge declined to make a decision Thursday in a case pushing to restrict the activity.
Lawsuit: Frank Church wilderness airstrips fly in face of law
Four groups have jointly sued the U.S. Forest Service over allegations the agency is illegally maintaining and allowing public aviators to use four unofficial landing strips deep within the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness.
A year after Yellowstone floods, fishing guides have to learn 'a whole new river'
A year ago the Yellowstone River had its biggest flood in centuries. What that means for its world famous trout fishery is just now becoming clear.
'My dream burned up:' First-of-its-kind project aims to restore private forest decimated by wildfire
When a wildfire barreled across Don Harland’s Sheep Creek Ranch in the summer of 2021 he saw more than trees and buildings burn. He saw his life’s dream go up in smoke.
Gas stoves in Colorado produce toxic benzene levels worse than secondhand smoke, Stanford study finds
Stoves and ovens in Colorado running on natural gas produce toxic benzene at levels worse than secondhand tobacco smoke and comparable to notorious oil and gas production leaks, according to a new Stanford University study researchers call the first of its kind.
Oilfield wastewater used to grow hemp? New Mexico working toward alternatives to disposal
A hemp field amid the oil derricks and pump jacks near the Eddy-Lea county line could soon be watered using a previously unusable source of water brought to the surface with fossil fuels.
27 years after arrest, Ted Kaczynski still holds Montana’s — and the nation’s —attention
Kaczynski, who terrorized the country with package bombs for 17 years and was arrested near Lincoln in 1996, died at the age of 81 on June 10.
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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