His Lordship

The most important thing I achieved today was catching more fish than the director of FWP, ” said Gov’nur Schweitzer.

Last Friday, he was one of the first legal people to float through the confluence of the Clark Fork and Blackfoot rivers.   That’s right – the river is ready for floating, and by all accounts, the fishing is just dandy!

There’s some nice little fishing holes in here,” noted Joe Maurier, acting director of Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks.

Woohoo! Let’s go!

But, wait.   Don’t launch your boats just yet.  It ain’t legal for you.   YOU are gonna have to wait at least another year.

Unless you’re a friend of his Lordship.   In which case, he’ll grant you a special exemption and you can float on down at your leisure.   There won’t be any yahoos on their inner tubes and there’s won’t be any noisy speed boats heading the opposite direction.   This little stretch of river is only for the rich and powerful!

It was the sort of thing that happened in England all the time – if you wanted to hunt on someone’s land you had to be invited to the annual hunting party, if you wanted to fish a stretch of river you had to be a member of the local club, and if you were caught on someone’s property picking berries or mushrooms you could expect to be shot.   The royal elite controlled the land and the poor had no rights of access.   And you can be sure the lords and ladies didn’t want to share it with you.

Of course, the thing is, over here every man, woman, (and dog?) is treated equal.   We have public lands that are owned by all of us, paid for by all of us, and part of our common heritage and liberty.   We’re proud of our rivers here in Montana and we don’t much like the government telling us where we can and can’t go.  Its part of our freedom to wander at will, chasing those elusive cutthroats and moseying on through the riffles.

So, why the heck did Governor Schweitzer choose July 4th weekend to remind us that all citizens are created equal… but that some are more equal than others?   Because he can.

What’s his game?

Our proud representative for the whole of Montana, Denny Rehberg, recently gave testimony opposing the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act. He is quoted as saying that “more than 96% of us who live in these areas oppose this bill.”

Mr. Rehberg, perhaps, needs to get out a little more. Could he even find a single town, city, or pub in which 96% of people know about NREPA, let alone oppose it?

Instead, the harsh reality is, as outfitter-extraordinaire, Smoke Elser and a broad-ranging group of experts recently noted:

It has been 26 years since Montana has permanently protected a single acre of wild country. Since our last wilderness area was added in 1983, the nation has seen 439 new wilderness Areas created, none of them in Montana.

And, although I don’t know exactly where the figures come from, former state senator Paul Richards recently suggested that “78 percent of all Montanans support full protection for our region’s remaining National Forest roadless wildlands.” (I think he may be counting comments from the more than 1.6 million Americans wrote comments on the federal roadless protection policy, which is a dubious gauge of public sentiment. But, still. We would all agree that Montanans like wilderness.)

Then, in another scoop for NewWest.net, and then two days later in the paper of record, Denny Rehberg suggests that he is not opposed to wilderness just because he is opposed to NREPA. Instead, Rehberg says that,

The worst thing we can do for the public land we all cherish so much is put faceless federal agencies in control of something as important as land management.

Nevermind the hard-working folks in the U.S. Forest Service, all the National Park Service rangers, the proud federal firefighters , or the numerous fish & game agents that work at our National Wildlife Refuges. Denny doesn’t call those federal servants names, but he sure doesn’t seem to trust them, either.

What is the alternative? Turn over the public lands to the state government?

Perhaps, then, he might take a look at the what is going on all around the country. That’s right, state governments are struggling these days.

* In California, Governor Schwarzenegger is proposing to padlock and close nearly 80 percent of California’s state parks.

* Arizona is going to close 8 state parks.

* Out in Washington, a state park representative suggests up to spokesperson for the parks says they could see the closure of as many as 40 state parks.

* And, in Illinois, former Gov. Blagojevich closed 11 state parks and 13 historic sites.

So, let’s put the two together – first, take the public land away from the government of the American people, and second, give them to state agencies who can’t afford to manage them. The result? Further loss of confidence in government and increased calls to privatize the whole shebang. That’s right – why not let KOA, Backcountry Horsemen or even Disney manage our parks and wilderness? Aha, that’s his game.

And, he thinks that’s a workable solution that truly reflects Montana? I’m shocked, just shocked. Just when Montanans need their forests, parks, and wilderness more than ever, Rehberg simply wants to take them away from us!

Just because its cheap, doesn’t make it clean ..

Toxic Coal Ash Spill in Tennessee

That’s the toxic coal ash spill from last month in Tennessee (photo courtesy of The Knoxville News Sentinel). It is a typical hazard of the burning of coal for electricity. All that fly ash has to go somewhere. All around the nation, more than 124 million pounds of toxic heavy metals is typically stored wet in similar empoundments. Those surface empoundments (also known as “wet dumps”) contain heavy metals like arsenic, chromium, lead, nickel, selenium, mercury and thallium. Coal ash has poisoned surface water and groundwater supplies in at least 23 states. Coming soon to a drinking water supply near you?!

Coal-fired power plants produce approximately 129 million tons of waste per year, making the waste from coal combustion the second largest industrial waste source in the US. The EPA has been studying what to do about the storage of coal combustion waste for 28 years. Apparently, it was considered too expensive to regulate as a hazardous waste!

Which suggests to us a bigger question about clean coal. Can we afford it?

This is not a trivial question as we take seriously efforts to reform our energy infrastructure. The cry is for clean, green technologies and even bona-fide climate change experts such as James Hansen suggests that this will have to include nuclear power and coal-fired power plants. But, the technology is expensive and following a long seen pattern of the nuclear industry, the coal industry is looking for a handout. Clean coal is never likely to provide power as cheaply as dirty coal plants.

So, the question has to be if clean coal is the best infrastructure investment that this country could make. Let’s put aside nuclear power for another time, and focus on the other alternatives – wind and solar. Both are well established and well studied technologies. We know the patterns by which the wind and the sun wax and wane, and so we know that we will have to store the power from the windy, sunny times for nighttime and cloudy days. That’s means storage – and that’s where an awful lot of R & D could usefully be put. Let’s figure out affordable solar thermal storage and let’s get to work on adiabatic compressed air storage. The Europeans are on to it. Why aren’t we?

Could it be that the wind and solar power industries don’t have as good a public relations operation as the coal power industry and the nuclear industry does? Maybe, then the recent illustration of the overall expense associated with coal and nuclear, particularly with their disposal of the waste products, will factor into the question of where the infrastructure investments should be made. Just because its clean doesn’t make it cheap.