THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
Feds betting billions on 'new' nuclear technologies
While the federal government has put a multibillion-dollar bet on so-called “advanced” and “small-modular” reactors, many of the nation’s leading nuclear experts have expressed doubt about whether this technology can really deliver safe, reliable, cost-effective and environmentally friendly power as well as jobs for workers in time to meet the government’s carbon-elimination goals. And there are signs these naysayers may be right as cost projections increase, operation timelines incur delays, issues with fuel procurement arise and some municipalities back out of agreements to buy power from planned nuclear projects.
New reactors could revive U.S. uranium mining – and concerns about its ‘toxic legacy’
When Peninsula Energy decided to idle its uranium mines in northeastern Wyoming in 2019, the cause was simple, says CEO Wayne Heili: “poor uranium markets.” But in the four short years since the company stopped production, much has changed. With a contract to supply 300,000 pounds of uranium to help fill the new national reserve, a growing understanding from reactor owners that “relying on the Russians for supply is a bad idea” and the expected “advent of small modular reactors in the market,” Heili said Peninsula is preparing to start mining again by the end of March.
Will new reactors ease America’s nuclear waste problem or make it worse?
The troublesome and so far unsolved problem of nuclear waste storage may derail promising new nuclear technologies.
Smaller, safer, cheaper? Modular nuclear plants could reshape coal country
The Biden administration envisions dozens of ‘modular’ nuclear plants sprouting across the country. Why coal communities are so eager to be the staging ground for the risky endeavor.
Groups fighting ‘invasive’ wind farm project near Idaho incarceration camp site
The historic footprint of the Minidoka Relocation Center in southern Idaho, where over 13,000 people of Japanese descent were incarcerated during World War II, is under threat from the proposed 400-turbine Lava Ridge Wind Project. “I think the Lava Ridge project denegrates our whole history here,” says Karen Hirai Olen, who was born to Japanese American parents at Minidoka.
Number of eagles killed by wind farms in Wyoming severely underestimated, biologist says
Mike Lockhart, a wildlife biologist specializing in eagles who worked for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for more than 30 years, says the impacts to eagle populations from Wyoming’s wind farms is being underreported and downplayed.
Public lands in the U.S. have long been disposed to fossil fuel companies. Now, the lands are being offered to solar companies
“One of the most challenging issues that those of us in some form of conservation are facing is that we are finding ourselves often on the opposite side of these battles about (renewable) energy projects,” said David Robinson, the director of conservation advocacy at the Tucson Audubon Society.
Should the sun set on Utah’s solar and wind tax credits?
Comprehensive legislation that would give more scrutiny to Utah’s tax credits brought blowback from a wide range of Utahns who say it will chill progress toward converting to clean energy and building out new industry.
An activist group is spreading misinformation to stop solar projects in rural America
An NPR/Floodlight investigation found that a longtime Republican insider is stoking solar opposition by spreading bad information about health and environmental risks. Her influence is growing.
On the new mining boom
Nevada's vast lithium deposits offer economic opportunity, difficult decisions
The so-called “lithium rush” is on in Nevada, but it could take years to sort through the often conflicting issues.
In push to mine for minerals, clean energy advocates ask what going green really means
“This story is the same everywhere,” said Ian Lange, a professor of economics at the Colorado School of Mines. “If you don’t want to mine for minerals, we’re going to keep drilling for oil and gas.”
Three tribes file new lawsuit challenging Thacker Pass lithium mine
A week after a federal judge closed a lawsuit against federal land managers and a mining developer, three Native American tribes have filed a new lawsuit centered on the largest known source of lithium in the United States.
Teck Resources to spin off steelmaking coal unit to focus on copper
Teck Resources Ltd said on Tuesday it would be spinning off its steelmaking coal unit as the Canadian miner focuses on industrial metals such as copper, which are crucial to the global energy transition.
Ditch cars and reduce mining
Instead of replacing existing cars with EVs, a far more sustainable path would be to build up and prioritize public transit, maximize lithium recycling, and reduce the size of EV batteries, according to a new report from UC Davis’s Climate and Community program.
Over a barrel
As production surges Uinta crude now clogs Indian Canyon
Say what you will about President Joe Biden’s alleged war on fossil fuels, but crude oil production in the Uinta Basin is hitting all-time records and is projected to keep growing for the foreseeable future. And that means heavy tanker traffic through Indian Canyon, where U.S. Highway 191 is in need of major upgrades, lawmakers say.
Routt County seeks to protect its land from oil and gas development
Routt County commissioners are preparing a letter of support for protecting public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management in Routt County to prevent oil and gas leasing and development.
What happens if Suncor’s Colorado refinery closes? Less pollution, loss of jobs and tax revenue – and a big cleanup.
If the plant were to close, the air and water across the Front Range – as well as the people who live here – would benefit. But what would be the price of losing Colorado’s only oil refinery?
Fracking wastewater causes lasting harm to key freshwater species
Exposing animals that play a critical role in freshwater food webs to diluted samples of flowback and produced water from fracked wells causes lasting harm, scientists reported earlier this month in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Science & Technology.
It would take less than 3% of Big Oil's profits to clean up methane emissions
"There is just no excuse" for the rise in methane emissions last year, IEA director says.
Crossing from one parcel of public land to another in Colorado creates a private-property conundrum that’s proven tough to fix
A bill would allow lawful passage between public land parcels bordering private property, settling a decades-old conundrum in the West. But it’s meeting skepticism.
Corner-crossing judge: Agent opinion on ranch value irrelevant
A real estate agent’s opinion that hunters should pay financial damages for passing through the airspace of a ranch doesn’t hold water, a judge stated.
Daines bill aims to boost national park gateway communities
As outdoor recreation and tourism on public land skyrocket, a bipartisan bill in the U.S. Senate aims to increase collaboration between national parks and the communities around them.
Committee takes up cap on campsite reservations to save spots for Montanans
Montana House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee considers bill that would cap reservations at state parks to 80% of capacity.
Watchdogs: Forest Service erred siting radio repeater in Wilderness Study Area
Watchdogs allege the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest failed to conduct adequate analysis and solicit meaningful public comment when it installed a radio repeater in 2020 in the West Pioneer Wilderness Study Area.
How far will you go to reduce your wildfire risk?
A study of homeowners in Deschutes County, Oregon, published this month in the Journal of Environmental Management, found that people with an “egalitarian” outlook – those more likely to express concern about the environment and their communities – tend to take more wildfire preparedness measures than others. “Fatalists” – those who feel risk is unpredictable and resources are limited – take the fewest precautions.
A hiker started a wildfire trying to signal for help. Now he owes the government $300,000.
Philip Powers argued that the wildfire he set in 2018 was necessary to save his life. But a court found that he was so unprepared, he created his own emergency.
The need for seed
Can Colorado’s struggling seedling tree nursery be an answer to forest fires and disease?
Badly in need of new infrastructure and a new business model, the facility has begun its revival with a new mission: to be an “epicenter of reforestation."
Our need for seed fosters an unusual partnership to restore forests
Climate change has foresters rethinking planting strategies as fires make the restoration of seed orchards more urgent.
The recipe for restoring damaged lands is missing one key ingredient: seeds
A new report highlights recovery solutions to fires, droughts and other climate catastrophes.
As the Colorado River shrinks, federal officials consider overhauling Glen Canyon Dam
The desiccation of the Colorado River has left Lake Powell, the country’s second-largest reservoir, at just 23% of capacity, its lowest level since it was filled in the 1960s. With the reservoir now just 32 feet away from “minimum power pool” – the point at which Glen Canyon Dam would no longer generate power for six states – federal officials are studying the possibility of overhauling the dam so that it can continue to generate electricity and release water at critically low levels.
‘Everything should be on the table’: Sen. John Hickenlooper on solving the Colorado River water crisis
From leaving some farmland fallow, to pressuring cities to conserve more water, Colorado Sen. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, says everything should be on the table to use Colorado River water more efficiently and help it sustain life in the southwestern U.S. for years to come.
SLC mayor announced a series of new conservation efforts. Here’s how they could help the Great Salt Lake.
Experts and advocates say the moves represent a step in the right direction for Utah’s capital, but it’s going to take more than one community to save the city’s namesake ecological feature.
Are the feds risking endangered salmon for fries and potato chips?
Tribal nations say the decision to reduce water flow on the Klamath River “has more to do with potatoes than it does fish.”
What else we’re reading today
As ski area celebrates 75 years, Whitefish looks to a changing climate
Scientists warn that Montana’s ski season could be halved by 2050.
Colorado lawmakers eye climate-friendly pension reform
Public employees who contribute to Colorado’s pension system have called on state lawmakers to enact a first-of-its-kind measure that would require the fund to factor the state’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals into its investment decisions.
Grass gets greener: New state program promotes sustainability, saves dollars for cannabis industry
The Cannabis Resource Optimization Program, or CROP, will offer technical assistance to growers who want to better understand their current energy and water use and learn about cost-effective strategies to improve efficiency.
Can crypto mining go green? Critics are skeptical
Some miners are promising more climate-friendly operations, but research shows the industry is a long way from putting that into practice.
New wolf-kill compensation fund advances
Stockgrowers welcome relief for livestock killed by wolves in Wyoming’s unregulated "predator zone" even if compensation isn’t expected.
Opinion: Removing Lower Snake River Dams the only way to save salmon
Gregg Servheen: If Idaho’s wild salmon and steelhead were as abundant as the words and money spent on them, its rivers would be full of these wild fish. In fact, Idaho’s high-quality climate buffering waters are all but empty. More words and funding will not restore these wild fish unless they remove the four Lower Snake River dams.
Montana bill would let cities tax Airbnbs to subsidize long-term rentals
A bill under consideration at the Montana Legislature would give cities, counties and resort districts the option of levying a tax on Airbnb-style, short-term rentals if they use the money to give rebates to landlords who rent to local workers on a long-term basis.
Half of Americans think most national news orgs intend to mislead or misinform the public, new report finds
Nearly three-quarters of Americans think national news orgs can report fairly and accurately, but only 35% of Americans believe they reliably do, a new study has found.
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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