THE BIG STORIES UP AND DOWN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
A curated newsletter from the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
Editor’s note: We’re off next week. Have a safe and happy Fourth! 💥
These stories are from the Colorado Newsline series “Down the line,” which traces the route of the proposed Uinta Basin Railway.
The Valley: In Grand Junction, oil train route would retrace Colorado railroad history
The 88-mile Uinta Basin Railway would connect Utah’s largest oil field to the national rail network, allowing drillers there to dramatically ramp up production and transport up to 300,000 barrels of oil per day to refineries in Texas and Louisiana. Five hundred tankers full of heated waxy crude oil could depart the Uinta Basin daily, and while they could take several possible paths to the Gulf Coast, all eastbound routes run directly through Ruby Canyon, central Colorado and the Denver metro area.
Boomtowns: Once connected by railroads, Colorado River Valley towns now feel threatened by them
Local officials in Western Colorado spar over proposed Uinta Basin oil trains in the heart of Rep. Lauren Boebert's district.
The Canyons: Oil and water could mix in Colorado River country known for its beauty, fragility
Accident risks for proposed oil trains from Utah could be highest in this rugged region of Colorado that has seen numerous derailments.
Headwaters: At the Colorado River's source, oil trains would pose risks to both sides of the Divide
Fears about the consequences of an accident of oil trains from the Uinta Basin Railway in Utah may be highest in Grand County, Colorado.
The City: In Denver, oil trains hit a fork in the road to Colorado's transportation future
The additional traffic from the proposed Uinta Basin Railway, backed by a public-private partnership and granted key approvals by President Joe Biden’s administration, could quadruple the amount of hazardous materials transported by rail through Denver, city officials estimate.
Mining boom dispatches
Western tribes' last-ditch effort to stall a large lithium mine in Nevada
The fate of what would be the largest lithium mine in the U.S. on federal land in Nevada is now in the hands of a federal appeals court. It's the latest development in a more than two year legal battle over a plan by the Canadian firm, Lithium Nevada, to build an open pit mine near Thacker Pass, along a remote stretch of sagebrush-studded land close to the Nevada-Oregon border.
Court asked to vacate Nevada lithium mine approval after precedent-setting case
The future of what may potentially become the largest lithium mine in the United States now rests on whether a law enacted in 1872 was correctly implemented when the mine was approved by federal land managers in 2021.
Arizona's Oak Flat is sacred land to some Native Americans, but it's endangered by a plan for a mine
Oak Flat, a mountainous area east of Phoenix, is an Apache sacred site where Native Americans gather to pray and perform coming-of-age ceremonies and sweat rituals.
Historic Arizona mining town backs copper project on land that Native American groups say is sacred
Residents of a town in central Arizona are engaged in a tug of war with Native American groups over a huge copper mine that's been proposed on national forest land.
Rio Tinto invests nearly $1 billion in Kennecott as EVs fuel demand for copper
Utah’s Kennecott mine on the west side of Salt Lake County is getting a $918 million investment intended to extend the life of the mine as electrification fuels demand for more copper.
Threatened by shortages, electric car makers race for supplies of lithium for batteries
Threatened by possible shortages of lithium for electric car batteries, automakers are racing to lock in supplies of the once-obscure “white gold” in a politically and environmentally fraught competition from China to Nevada to Chile.
Blackfeet bring bison home to Chief Mountain
Tribal members hailed the return of wild free-roaming buffalo to Indigenous land as an expression of sovereignty and the beginning of a cultural and ecological renaissance.
Bison population swells after over century-long absence in Banff National Park
After a 140 year absence, Banff National Park is now home to more than 100 plains bison — a number that could double by 2030.
American bison reintroduced to northern Mexico helping to fight climate change
The largest land mammal in America is rehabilitating a vast grassland in Coahuila, benefiting hundreds of species in a reserve that can theoretically store 6.3 million tons of carbon in its soil.
Opinion: An opportunity to plan a better future for bison
“As Yellowstone sets its eyes on the future, you can bet the state of Montana will try to drag us back into the past. Don’t fall for their misinformation,” writes Scott Christensen, executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
More on fish, wildlife and public lands
Fishing community reeling over Montana’s response to historic trout declines
Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte pointed to angling restrictions considered by FWP as a way to reduce stress experienced by trout. Some stakeholders say that's not enough to fix the declining trout problem.
Standing for flow
The Clark Fork River Coalition worked for a decade to secure instream flow rights in a key tributary to the beleaguered Clark Fork River.
One more cast? Wyoming lawmakers try to land guided fishing regulations
Complaints of overcrowding, out-of-state competition prompt proposals for permitting systems, but institutional misgivings have made netting legislation tricky.
Montana proposes dropping wolf hunt quota significantly
Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks are proposing to reduce the hunting quota for wolves statewide from 450 to 289, according to the department and an interview with a spokesperson.
Migrating antelope could infect Grand Teton bison
Wildlife managers aren’t sure whether pronghorn can carry mycoplasma bovis, the respiratory pathogen thought to have killed 1,000 or so antelope near Pinedale this winter. The question is: Do antelope die when they contract the pneumonia? Or can some live, carry the disease and pass it along to other animals?
Thousands of nesting birds have vanished at Great Salt Lake’s Gunnison Island
Flocks of pelicans and gulls that once darkened the sky have gone missing.
Environmentalists demand ban on ‘cyanide bombs’ on federal land
The M-44 devices are intended to kill predators on federal lands, but have injured unsuspecting hikers and killed endangered animals and pets.
Eshelman appeals corner-crossing loss to 10th Circuit
Elk Mountain Ranch owner challenges a federal judge’s decision that stepping through his airspace without touching private land is not trespassing.
Ranch owner in corner-crossing case sues to unmask critic
Fredric Eshelman, the owner of the ranch in a widely watched corner-crossing trespass case, wants Google to unmask an anonymous critic who said Eshelman “abused police resources” during the Carbon County trespass conflict.
As campers flood forests, officials aim to manage evolving needs
As campers continue to flood into national forests — often towing large trailers, side-by-sides or outdoor gear — districts across Wyoming are taking steps to increase capacity, regulate use, protect resources and generate revenue for upkeep.
Grand Teton 'celebrates' e-bikes as feds reconsider policy
Years after an executive fiat changed Grand Teton National Park policy to allow e-bikes, the park is all for the controversial, zippy rides.
Biden admin considers CO2 storage in national forests
An upcoming proposal from the Forest Service would tweak an existing regulation, opening the door to geologic storage projects on public land.
Rainfall extremes increasingly threaten mountain regions and areas downstream from them
A global increase of extreme precipitation, well outside the range of natural variability, has been well-documented by scientists. It’s one of the hallmarks of human-caused global warming, and new research published this week in Nature shows that high elevation areas, including most of the mountains of Western North America, are particularly vulnerable to deluges that can trigger landslides, floods and severe erosion.
Interview: How access to water affects Indigenous communities in the Colorado River basin
“This is an excellent case study of how tribes have had to give up something to get something, as I've heard it said. On paper, they have senior water rights, but in order to get the wet water, they subordinated those senior paper rights.”
Utah tribe slams Biden admin over Colorado River ruling
In the wake of a Supreme Court ruling against the Navajo Nation over rights to the Colorado River, another prominent Native American tribe is accusing the White House of flouting its vow to improve relationships with tribal governments. Leadership of the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation called the Biden administration “hypocritical and no friend of Indian tribes.”
Months of wet weather erase drought across the Southwest
A snowy winter and rainy spring have provided a major boost to states in the grips of drought and helped ease pressure on water managers in the Colorado River basin.
On the Little Colorado River, a confluence of interests presents constant challenges
The Little Colorado River is home to Indigenous cultures and an endemic fish. A hydropower proposal and climate change threaten it.
Idaho, Texas states ask judge to scrap Biden WOTUS rule
After persuading courts to freeze President Joe Biden’s signature water rule in more than half the country, Republican-led states are attempting to kill the regulation once and for all.
Asphalt from Montana Rail Link derailment reported in Yellowstone River
One of the railcars lodged in the Yellowstone River near Reed Point following a Montana Rail Link derailment appears to have leaked asphalt into the river, according to agency officials responding to a Saturday morning incident that resulted in 10 railcars plummeting into one of the state’s largest rivers.
Parched ponderosas and other bits and pieces
The climate change-exacerbated megadrought/aridification gripping the Southwest is stressing the majestic giants of the Four Corners Country, according to a recent study by University of Arizona researchers.
What else we’re reading today
In a Montana courtroom, debate over whether states can make a difference on climate change, and if they have a responsibility to try
The first youth-led climate lawsuit to go to trial considered if a statute preventing the state’s environmental agency from denying permits for fossil fuel development contradicts its constitution’s guarantee of a “clean and healthful environment.”
Biden administration raises record $105 million in Nevada solar energy auction
The Biden administration said on Wednesday it raised $105 million from solar power developers at a lease auction covering 23,675 acres of Nevada desert this week, making it the highest-yielding federal onshore renewable energy auction to date.
New Mexico regulators fine oil producer $40 million for burning off vast amounts of natural gas
New Mexico oilfield and air quality regulators on Thursday announced unprecedented state fines against a Texas-based oil and natural gas producer on accusations that the company flouted local pollution reporting and control requirements by burning off vast amounts of natural gas in a prolific energy-production zone in the southeast of the state.
Court halts two Montana coal mining laws
A federal judge has blocked two new Montana laws intended to stop public challenges to coal mine permits.
EPA hears human toll of coal ash pollution
The environmental injustice of coal ash was clear at the hearing, as residents testified from Native American communities in New Mexico and Nevada, Latino communities in Midwestern cities, and Black communities in Alabama and Tennessee, among others.
The West’s electric grid is stretched, and extreme events could knock the lights out
Climate change and a lag in replacing coal with reliable renewable energy sources continue to put the West's electrical grid at risk.
Colorado has lofty goals to go all-electric. But does the state have enough electricians?
As incentives kick in, experts fear there aren’t enough electricians in Colorado to help meet the demand for EV chargers and heat pumps.
Report: Federal firefighter pay, benefits lag behind state counterparts
A new report shows that the salaries of federal firefighters are, on average, 32.5% less than that of their state-employed colleagues working equivalent positions.
Xcel Energy — blamed for helping spark the Marshall fire — is surveying 1,300 miles of power lines near Denver for fire risks
A helicopter crew is searching for possible problems with vegetation, inadequate clearance for lines and potentially overloaded poles.
After Yarnell, experts look to Indigenous practices to slow wildfire growth
A growing number of studies by archaeologists and fire historians point to Indigenous peoples' use of fire in clearing brush, enhancing the growth of important plants and keeping wildfires away from communities.
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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