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Photo courtesy of Rick and Susie Graetz
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
produced daily by Shellie Nelson

Editor's Notes...

West map In the Rockies today, Wyoming's coal industry, another oilpatch worker's death is linked to toxic gases escaping from holding tanks, and a single sockeye salmon has made the 900-mile swim through warm water to reach Idaho's Redfish Lake.

While federal regulations on emissions of coal-fired power plants have largely been blamed for the reduction in demand for Wyoming coal, the Casper Star-Tribune traces decisions made in one Texas city and in Illinois that led to the planned closure of coal-fired power plants that purchased coal from Wyoming mines.

Of course, the dramatic drop in natural gas prices, brought about by shale gas production in the United States, is playing a role as well, but at least one analyst predicts gas prices will rise over the next five years and demand for Powder River Basin coal will again increase.

Peabody Energy, one of the primary coal miners in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, posted a $1-billion second-quarter loss, driven in part by $900 million in write-offs, most of which was due to its Australia metallurgical holdings.

In Colorado, a widow of an oilpatch worker won her lawsuit to get worker's compensation death benefits after her husband's death on the job was linked to toxic gases escaping from holding tanks.

Last year, in a series of articles about worker safety in the energy industry, Mike Soraghan reported for EnergyWire on the deaths of four men who died while checking tank levels in the Bakken oilfields.

And a day after it was reported that hundreds of thousands of salmon had succumbed to warm water on their migration from the Pacific Ocean up the Columbia River, a single salmon has successfully made the 900-mile swim to Redfish Lake in Idaho.

Rockies today

Wyoming coal mines feel impact of local, state decisions on energy
Before the federal government announced new regulations on emissions from coal-fired power plants, San Antonio, Texas closed its city-owned coal-fired plant to transition toward cleaner energy, and three years later, decisions were made to shut down coal-fired plants in Chicago and Centralia to meet with new air-quality standards in Illinois, decisions that hit home in Wyoming, where coal used by those Texas and Illinois plants is mined.
Casper Star-Tribune; July 29

Peabody Energy's stock falls to $1, company seeks reverse dividend
St. Louis-based Peabody Energy, which operates coal mines in Wyoming's Powder River Basin, announced a $1-billion second-quarter loss on Tuesday, as well as a number of steps designed to harbor cash, including a request for a reverse stock split, which will reduce the company's number of shares.
Casper Star-Tribune; July 29

Colorado court links oilpatch worker's death to toxic fumes from tank
The decision of a Colorado court that found that a 59-year-old oilpatch worker who died while testing levels in a holding tank died from inhaling toxic fumes from that tank, and that his wife was entitled to worker's compensation benefits. There have been nine such reported deaths, all of which were originally attributed to underlying health conditions, including in North Dakota, where a court also linked the death to tank fumes.
Denver Post; July 29

First sockeye salmon makes 900-mile swim to Idaho lake
Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists said they're uncertain how many sockeye salmon will complete the 900-mile migration from the Pacific Coast to Redfish Lake near Stanley, as higher water temperatures have already killed thousands of the fish.
Idaho Statesman; July 29

U.S. Senate committee nixes an amendment to Energy Act
Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski made it clear that, as chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and co-author of the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, that she would not allow partisan amendments to clog up passage of the Act, and in the spirit of bipartisanship, Utah Sen. Mike Lee's measure on the Payment in Lieu of Taxes program was withdrawn, while Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso's amendment to give more Land and Water Conservation Fund money to states failed on a 15-7 vote, with Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner voting against the measure.
Durango Herald; July 29

Gold mine operation in NW British Columbia shut down
Environment Canada is investigating a spill at the Banks Island Gold's Yellow Giant mine in northwestern British Columbia, that allowed discharge water from the operations to travel nearly two-thirds of a mile through a creek, several beaver-dam-created wetlands and Banks Lake before entering the ocean at Survey Bay, and some of the investigation will focus on the length of time it took for the province's Mines and Environment agencies to investigate a complaint about the discharge.
Vancouver Sun; July 29

Bridger-Teton NF asks Wyoming city, county to help on dog issue
The number of complaints about dogs running off leash and the mess scofflaw dog owners leave behind are growing in the Bridger-Teton National Forest, and Forest Service officials have asked Teton County and Jackson officials to form an advisory panel to come up with recommendations on how to reduce conflicts in the Wyoming forest between dogs, their owners, other recreationists and wildlife.
Jackson Hole News & Guide; July 29

BLM says plan to keep Idaho's Skinny Dipper Hot Springs open inadequate
The Bureau of Land Management issued a decision to close Skinny Dipper Hot Springs in Idaho due to public health concerns, including litter that included used needles and human waste, and general degradation of the land around the site, but a group of local residents and fans of the hot springs appealed the decision, and formed Growing Change to fight the closure and submitted a plan to the BLM to keep the springs open, but this week, the BLM ruled that the plan lacked sufficient details to keep the springs open. Growing Change members plan to resubmit a more detailed plan.
Idaho Statesman; July 29

Crews have wildfire in Glacier Park in Montana 56 percent contained
A portion of the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park that has been closed since the Reynolds Peak Fire ignited on July 22 reopened this morning, although it remains closed on the east side from beyond St. Mary Campground to Logan Pass.
Flathead Beacon; July 29


Montana Tech student builds unmanned boat to check Berkeley Pit
The acidic waters of the Berkeley Pit in Butte have gone untested since 2012, because the walls surrounding the pit have been sloughing off, creating dangerous conditions on the water, but a Montana Tech student has developed technology that will allow an unmanned boat to be directed around the pit to test waters at various points and to provide close up looks at the walls of the pit.
Montana Standard; July 29

Montana PSC denies requests from Missoula on sale of water utility
On Tuesday, the Montana Public Service Commission voted unanimously to deny Missoula's request that the PSC delay or dismiss the application to sell the Montana city's water utility to Liberty Utilities Co. until Missoula's effort to gain ownership of the utility is resolved, and also denied Missoula's request to bring the Canadian company that owns Liberty Utilities into the proceeding before the PSC.
Missoulian; July 29


Idaho senators must carry wilderness bill to the goal line
Now that U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson's latest version of his legislation to protect the Boulder-White Cloud Mountains in central Idaho has passed the House, Idaho's senators, Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, must do what it takes to get this bill through the Senate and in front of the President. It's far past time that this area be protected.
Idaho Mountain Express (Sun Valley); July 29

Governor Herbert's praise of Utah's Medicaid plan misplaced
As Gov. Gary Herbert took the helm of the National Governors' Association, he sang the praises of state-based solutions and held up Healthy Utah, the state's Medicaid expansion program as an example of such a solution, apparently forgetting the trials and tribulations over the past three years it took to get even the meager plan in place. So, congratulations Gov. Herbert, but find a new program to praise.
Salt Lake Tribune; July 29

Beyond the region

California wildfire jumps fireline, forces evacuations
Although the number of wildfires reported in California this year is up, the numbers of acres burned by those wildfires is lower than in years past. A wildfire east of the Napa Valley jumped a fireline on Tuesday, forcing the evacuation of more than 200 people.; July 29

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West
at The University of Montana.
"I think the reality right now is that the low natural gas prices, state standards in places like Illinois and federal standards are leading owners of coal plants to retire those facilities or repower with natural gas."

Howard Learner, director of the Environmental Law and Policy Center in Chicago, summing up the changes the coal industry is facing.
- Casper Star-Tribune

On The Bookshelf
Barbara Theroux of Fact & Fiction reviews "The Oregon Trail: An American Journey"


Mountain West Perspectives
Montana's two-year colleges revamp education to meet changing workplace demands


A Look Ahead
June 19-Aug.4: National Geographic, University of Montana offer a free, online course for educators on watershed education

Mountain West Voices
Hear weekly stories from the Rocky Mountain West as gathered by Clay Scott

Mountain West News is a program of the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West

at the

The University of Montana