THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
Off the rails
Utah counties to issue $2 billion in bonds to support oil railroad
A group of Utah counties is poised to issue $2 billion in tax-exempt bonds to finance the construction of an 85-mile oil-hauling rail spur out of the Uinta Basin. The project, expected to help triple the basin’s oil production, has already won the approval of the Surface Transportation Board and federal land managers. It would be capable of hauling up to 300,000 barrels a day.
Colorado congressmen cite Ohio train derailment in letter urging Forest Service to delay approval of Uinta Basin Railway
Colorado’s U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Joe Neguse are asking the Forest Service to delay final approval of a plan to route the proposed Uinta Basin Railway through a section of roadless area in the Ashley National Forest in northeastern Utah.
Grand County residents speak out against Uinta Basin Railway
The crude will travel through Gore and Byers canyons, following the Colorado and Fraser Rivers. The trains then pass through Winter Park’s Moffat Tunnel towards Denver, and eventually down to gulf coast refineries. Every town in Grand County would experience this increase in train traffic.
New Utah oil railroad by Colorado River raises health and climate fears
Developers are seeking billions of dollars in tax breaks for a new oil railroad in Utah that will threaten the Colorado River and be a risk to the health and safety of millions of Americans while damaging Joe Biden’s climate credentials, campaigners say.
As production surges Uinta crude now clogs Indian Canyon
Even though a billion-dollar oil-moving rail spur is under development in the basin, lawmakers say $100 million highway investments in Indian and Gate canyons are needed now to accommodate the influx in oil production that shows no sign of abating
Giant 1GW pumped-hydro energy storage project enters final review
One of the biggest planned clean-energy storage projects in the country just got one step closer to becoming reality. Clean-energy developer rPlus Energies filed for final licensing approval with federal regulators for the 1-gigawatt/8-gigawatt-hour White Pine pumped-hydro project in Nevada, the company announced Wednesday. If completed, this project would store enough renewable electricity to meet about one-eighth of Nevada’s peak power demand single-handedly, according to rPlus President Luigi Resta.
Colorado’s largest battery factory is officially set for a Brighton location
Amprius Technologies Inc. has signed a letter of intent for a 775,000-square-foot facility on East Bromley Lane for the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries. It’s one of the first companies to receive grants from the Department of Energy as part of the federal infrastructure law intended to expand domestic manufacturing of batteries for electric vehicles and other uses.
Idaho’s largest energy storage projects under construction; more solar on the way
Utility-scale battery storage and solar facilities are becoming important tools for Idaho Power as the company works to keep energy reliable and affordable while demand for electricity continues to grow rapidly.
Got an old gas guzzler lying around? Colorado might pay you $6K to dump it for an EV
The state of Colorado is planning to launch a vehicle exchange program this summer that would shave thousands of dollars off the price of a new or used electric vehicle — if you’re willing to part with your current car.
Wyoming gives Kemmerer $3 million to help support nuclear plant project
Aging infrastructure is emerging as a key challenge for the Wyoming coal community trying to become a nuclear pioneer.
Nuclear power a possibility for Montana, NorthWestern tells SD regulators
NorthWestern’s Jeff Decker told regulators a 320 megawatt power plant would likely cost between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion. Other say cost is closer to $10 billion.
How Utah mining could help ease China’s grip on critical minerals
A minerals commodities report by the U.S. Geological Survey says the U.S. is more than 50% dependent on foreign imports for 51 important mineral commodities, including 15 in which the country is 100% import reliant.
Company claims U.S.'s richest rare-earth deposit in Bitterroot
A Nevada mining company claims to have discovered the highest-quality deposit of rare-earth elements in the nation at the far south end of the Bitterroot National Forest.
More energy news
Colorado oil and gas companies offer $459 million to guarantee their wells are plugged eventually
Colorado oil and gas companies are proposing to meet new state requirements by putting up $459 million in guarantees that their wells will be plugged at the end of their lives — 60% of the amount regulators targeted. But more than a quarter of the companies filing financial plans, primarily smaller operators with low-producing wells, are offering to cover only 14% of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s $360 million estimate for their plugging and remediation costs.
Opinion: Chronicle of an abandoned oil and gas well — one of millions
These nonproducing oil wells aren’t orphans. They have been abandoned. At great cost to taxpayers.
When it comes to Colorado’s air pollution, why not blame Utah? The EPA does.
Coal-fired power plants and oil and gas drilling in northeastern Utah are responsible for ozone drifting to the east into Colorado’s nine-county nonattainment zone for the pollutant, according to the EPA. The amount of ozone that Utah is pumping toward Colorado violates the federal “good neighbor” rules of the Clean Air Act.
As coal disappears, mining states launch rescue efforts
Indiana, Kentucky and Utah are weighing legislation to make it harder to close coal facilities. Montana lawmakers have tried to penalize utilities that didn’t keep up with maintenance of the state’s largest coal plant. And Wyoming has mandated that power companies supply some of their electricity using coal plants equipped with carbon capture.
San Juan County approves PNM’s demolition plans for coal-fired plant
The San Juan County Commission unanimously approved a plan submitted by the Public Service Company of New Mexico for demolition and remediation of the San Juan Generating Station.
Environmental and faith groups oppose plans to pump more gas through an Inland Northwest pipeline
TC Energy, the Canadian company that also owns the Keystone Pipeline System, has proposed increasing the capacity of its Gas Transmission Northwest pipeline that runs from British Columbia to California, going through North Idaho, Eastern Washington and Oregon on the way.
Wind developers retain right to override Wyoming landowners
State lawmakers — and a landowners' group — wanted to block wind developers from using eminent domain to build infrastructure on private property. Gov. Mark Gordon disagreed.
Lava Ridge resolution advances in Idaho House
"To me it's a bit of a precedent-setter," said the resolution’s sponsor. "Is the BLM going to recognize local concerns or not?"
Western legislatures take on foreign land ownership
Five states across the West — and 24 across the country — have proposed laws that aim to restrict various forms of land, property and natural resource ownership by foreign citizens and companies.
Logging in Jefferson County for fire mitigation stokes anger among residents
What’s upsetting residents in Evergreen, Colo.’s foothills is what Jefferson County calls wildfire mitigation, alongside a larger effort to maintain forest health in a drying climate.
Outdoor recreation trust fund passes Wyoming Legislature
With a new $6 million trust fund designed to award grants to outdoor recreation projects, Wyoming is poised to join the growing list of states that are investing government dollars in the burgeoning industry.
New Wyoming laws regulate nonresidents in the wild
Legislature also put money toward wildlife crossings, pulled back from regulating rivers.
White supremacists take responsibility on social media for carvings on sacred Native site near Billings
The Bureau of Land Management confirms it's investigating the appearance of Nazi and white supremacist symbols that were etched into rocks in the Four Dances area, a place with significant cultural and religious significance for the Crow people.
Federal vote to rename Mount Evans in Colorado delayed
An unnamed tribal government requested a discussion with the Department of the Interior before a board voted on a new name.
Balancing history and the housing crisis
In Spokane, a new historic district under consideration in the Cannon neighborhood raises the question: Can historic preservation and dense living coexist?
Colorado property owners to face astronomical tax increases next year
Colorado homeowners, no longer protected by the Gallagher Amendment, face unprecedented and unsettling increases in their property taxes next year as the run-up in home prices during the pandemic works its way into the state’s tax base.
Wyoming property tax problem gets short- and long-term fixes
Some lawmakers were “disappointed” that the Legislature didn’t do more to address soaring residential property taxes. What they did accomplish is “the first step toward long-term reform,” others said.
Montana’s housing puzzle at the legislative halftime
Lawmakers have advanced several bills aimed at making at least a dent in the challenges facing renters and aspiring homebuyers. Here’s where things stand as of early March.
Idaho legislation stopping HOAs, cities from banning ADUs clears House
A piece of legislation preventing HOAs, cities, and counties from banning accessory dwelling units is headed across the rotunda.]
New study examines the housing experiences of urban Indigenous people
An Indigenous professor is conducting a national study to learn more about the housing experiences of millions of American Indian and Alaska Native people living in urban areas.
Can net-zero homes really be affordable?
A Colorado nonprofit is constructing its second affordable housing complex with an eye toward mass production.
The new West, by the numbers
In Utah, nearly half of respondents have considered moving to a different state because of housing prices, and across the region, the majority say their state is growing too quickly.
Lawsuit seeks relief for Colorado wolves gunned down at Wyoming border
An environmental advocacy group intends to sue unless the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest takes steps to safeguard Colorado wolves that venture across state lines onto federal land in Wyoming. Only twice in recent decades have wolves established packs in Colorado, and on both occasions members were killed across the northern border.
Study links black coat color with disease resistance among wolves
“Snowshoe hares and weasels turn white in the winter, and it’s thought to be a camouflage thing,” said Doug Smith, the former Yellowstone Wolf Project leader and one of the recent study’s co-authors. “Here, it might not have anything to do with camouflage at all. It has to do with disease, and that’s a window into the world, I think.”
Bison carcasses cleaned up outside Yellowstone following heavy winter of hunting
A 14-foot trailer and three dumpsters filled with bison entrails, hides and bones were hauled from the Gardiner Basin to the Gallatin County landfill near Logan last week.
Small, cute and going extinct: Group warns world’s smallest rabbit is in danger
Habitat for the pygmy rabbit, a furry denizen of the West’s sagebrush steppes, is in such rapid decline that the species warrants federal protection under the Endangered Species Act, several environmental groups proposed in a petition filed Monday.
Bird flu found in more mammals in Colorado last month than in all other states combined
Since Feb. 8, avian flu has been confirmed in nine mammals in Colorado, according to the state agriculture department: four mountain lions, two red foxes, two bobcats and a black bear.
Colorado state veterinarian warns of avian flu surge as spring bird migration begins
The length of the outbreak is hitting “unprecedented” levels.
Fish in hot water: Decades of logging tied to warmer temperatures in unprotected salmon-bearing streams
As a cold-blooded species, salmon are at the mercy of the waters they swim in. New research finds logging restrictions along small, unprotected streams could go a long way to keeping water cool and safe for the at-risk fish.
A plan to save native fish species in Priest River meets resistance from Priest Lake homeowners and the state Senate
The Priest Lake Outlet Dam makes the lake great for recreation by allowing only a small amount of warm surface water to flow off the lake and into the river. But that warm water has raised the river's temperature, creating an unsuitable habitat for native species, including native coldwater trout species, such as bull trout and cutthroat trout.
What else we’re reading today
Ex-Navajo President Zah, guided by love for people, dies
Peterson Zah, a monumental Navajo Nation leader who guided the tribe through a politically tumultuous era and worked tirelessly to correct wrongdoings against Native Americans, has died.
Tribal gambling could expand under new federal rules
Proposals from the Bureau of Indian Affairs include easing rules for tribes to acquire additional land and could ensure that tribes can negotiate online-betting deals with states.
How environmental policy proposals are faring at the Montana Legislature’s halfway mark
Lawmakers have been tangling with laws and rules governing wolves, exempt wells, grizzlies, water quality, electric vehicles, conservation easements, coal mining and more.
Youth activists want to see more out of Utah on climate and the Great Salt Lake
About 50 young people gathered for a climate strike at the Utah Capitol on March 3 to voice frustrations with the lack of climate legislation this past session and call for change.
Shift in Utah water law could be ‘game changer’ for the Great Salt Lake
Utah Farm Bureau says new law is a game changer in agricultural water use. It changes how water is saved, and where it ends up, with the Great Salt Lake being among the recipients.
Extra releases from Flaming Gorge suspended
The Bureau of Reclamation agreed to halt the releases at the request of Upper Colorado River Basin states due to above-average precipitation.
Deliverance for downwinders: As the clock winds down on federal compensation, one woman’s mission ramps up
New Mexicans harmed by the world’s first nuclear bomb test will finally win assistance if Tina Cordova has her way.
Opinion: Laramie cold case and the perils of parachute journalism
Rural communities don’t exist to serve the self-actualization of “true crime” journalists.
The scale of local news destruction in Gannett’s markets is astonishing
It might not be as mustache-twirling a villain as Alden Global Capital, but its enormous scale has meant enormous losses for local journalism.
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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