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"Organic mecca" organizes against GMO sugar beets

Marty Durlin | Jul 17, 2009 08:20 AM

The Boulder Daily Camera calls them "organic industry heavyweights." And they're out to make sure Boulder County Commissioners disallow the request of six area farmers to grow Roundup Ready sugar beets on open space land. Not because of the scientific and economic arguments against GMOs -- enumerated later -- but because it may besmirch the name of Boulder.

Steve Demos, who started the organic soy-product company White Wave 30 years ago in Boulder, told the Camera:

"The Boulder community derives billions of dollars in revenues — and I mean that literally — from association with the organic and natural products industry. If the headline when you wake up in the morning says on the national wire that the organic mecca has decided to grow GMO (genetically modified organism) beets on public land, that’s almost as effective in diluting a brand as if Rolls-Royce announced it was making an economy-model engine for airplanes. ... You’re playing with the identity of Boulder, Colorado.”

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Not out of the woods

Arla Shephard | Jul 16, 2009 09:32 AM

History is rife with artists who were underappreciated in their time: Vincent van Gogh, Johann Sebastian Bach, Emily Dickinson, etc.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, whose elaborate outdoor art installations include “The Gates” in Central Park and “The Umbrellas” in California and Japan, are not those kind of artists. While their works are usually met with some kind of opposition, you’d be hard-pressed to say that they’re underappreciated.

In fact, Colorado congressional representatives are already flaunting their support for the artists' latest project, “Over the River,” a plan to suspend 5.9 miles of fabric panels above the Arkansas River along a 40-mile stretch between Salida and Cañon City, Colorado.

Lt. Gov. Barbara O’Brien even wrote an op-ed in The Denver Post calling the project “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” that will leave Colorado with “a creative legacy” to inspire our children.

Haven’t we jumped the gun a bit? Like most of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s works, “Over the River” (which would be removed after two weeks) will take at least two years to construct. But before that, the artists have to wait for the Bureau of Land Management to release an Environmental Impact Statement, which won’t be ready until 2011 at the earliest.

Declaring support for a project with so many unknowns at this point seems a little hasty.

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Numbers for the Birds

Ed Quillen | Jul 16, 2009 08:08 AM

    My experience with bird-watching is generally limited to trying to answer the question of "What did the cat leave in the yard this time?"
    And sometimes I've pulled over to watch eagles eating roadkill. But I do not recall ever driving out of my way to see a pelican or a ptarmigan.
    However, lots of other people feel differently about our feathered friends, according to a report released earlier this week by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
    The report says that about 48 million Americans watch birds, and the state with the highest proportion of birders -- 40 percent -- is Montana.
    The report also provides information about the demographics and spending habits of birders, and it's an addendum to the 2006 (the last year for which economic data were available) National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation.
    I haven't had time to do more than scan these, but past reports have been useful at public hearings. When a developer touts the economic advantages of a new subdivision, it is useful to be able to say something like "But it will displace a herd of 150 mule deer, which bring in XX hunters, who spend an average of $YYY per day ..."
    Many controversies in the rural West end up focusing on economics, and it's helpful to have some dollar numbers on your side.

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Food fight

Ariana Brocious | Jul 16, 2009 04:10 AM

Who knew ordering a steak dinner could be so political?

The American food industry is undergoing some major policy changes, challenging ranchers and farmers across the West. Oregon cattle ranchers are struggling to deal with the recession, increasingly health-conscious consumers, and environmental concerns about land use . Fears over food safety have led to a push toward sanitization of American agriculture, leading to the destruction of ponds and acres of crops in the process. Consumers are losing faith in food manufacturers due to serious contamination outbreaks with spinach, beef and peanut butter, to name a few.

It’s been hard to figure out exactly where the Obama administration stands in all of this, despite a recent press release regarding its commitment to upgrading the U.S. Food Safety System. On Monday the administration announced it would seek to ban the use of many antibiotics in healthy farm animals to increase growth, a practice linked to treatment-immune bacteria in humans—a measure supported by the American Medical Association but not the farm industry. The FDA also recently passed a new public health regulation to improve egg safety and reduce salmonella illnesses.

However, the appointment of Michael Taylor as senior adviser to the FDA commissioner has caused a hullabaloo over the failure to mention Taylor’s ties to agricultural industry giant Monsanto, and what industry-insider status might mean for someone in charge of regulating food safety.

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NW Renewables: Infrastructure needed | Jul 15, 2009 08:40 AM

By Sharon Fisher, NewWest.Net Guest Writer, 7-14-09

The Northwest—Oregon, Washington, Idaho, and Montana—is arguably the riches region of the United States for renewable energy resources such as geothermal, hydro, wind, and solar, said Paul Manson, president of Seabreeze Power Corp., speaking at the Pacific Northwest Economic Region conference today (with a windmill pin on his lapel).

There are currently 3000 megawatts of renewable energy generation in the Northwest, powering 700,000 homes and reducing carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to 950,000 cars, said Suzanne Leta Liou, Senior Policy Advocate for the Renewable Northwest Project, a nonprofit based in Portland, Ore. Most of Montana has excellent wind potential, Leta Liou said, as does the Oregon-Washington border on the eastern side (to which anyone who’s driven through Pendleton could attest).

Solar has its best potential in extreme southwest Idaho and extreme southeast Oregon, while the geothermal potential is high in Idaho, southern Oregon, and some areas of Montana, Leta Liou said.

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Species viability on national forests preserved!

Felice Pace | Jul 15, 2009 09:10 AM

Yet another attempt by the Bush Administration to change federal regulations in order to accelerate logging on the national forests has apparently gone down in flames. On the last day of June a federal judge in Oakland overturned regulations the Bush Administration crafted in order to gut a provision of the National Forest Management Act. That provision requires that the Forest Service protect fish and wildlife on the national forests. The Bush Administration sought to maintain habitat but not to monitor whether that habitat was effectively protecting fish and wildlife.

Regulations implementing the “viability provision” of the 1976 Act have been used by forest activists to stop numerous timber sales and other commercial developments in national forests around the country.  It is unlikely that the Obama Administration will appeal the district court ruling.

The lawsuit was led by Citizens for Better Forestry – a small forest protection organization based in the village of Peanut in Trinity County, California. Co-plaintiffs include the Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Wild West Institute, Gifford Pinchot Task Force, Idaho Sporting Congress, Friends of the Clearwater, Utah Environmental Congress, Cascadia Wildlands Project, Klamath Siskiyou Wildlands Center, Wild South, the Lands Council, Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics, Oregon Wild and WildEarth Guardians. The environmental groups were represented by attorney Pete Frost of the Western Environmental Law Center.

The decision marks the third time a federal court has rejected revisions of the species viability regulations over the past decade. While the Bush Administration gets points for trying hard, the judge admonished government lawyers for repeating the same arguments that were twice rejected previously by the courts. A separate lawsuit by Defenders of Wildlife, Sierra Club, the Wilderness Society, and Vermont Natural Resources Council challenging the same rule was consolidated with the case.

The list of plaintiffs in this case tells a story in itself. All plaintiffs are grassroots forest activist organizations. In the past national and grassroots environmental groups coordinated forest strategy and often collaborated on national-impact lawsuits of this type. But that collaboration waned during the Clinton Administration when most large national environmental groups went along with Clinton Administration rule changes which grassroots forest protection groups believed weakened protection for fish and wildlife on the national forests. These days national and grassroots forest protection organizations rarely collaborate – a development this blogger believes has weakened the public forest protection movement.


Pre-season politics

Cally Carswell | Jul 15, 2009 06:37 AM

"No matter how Diane Denish spins it, isn’t it still the same game?"

That’s the question—posed in a familiar, cynical tone—that kicked-off New Mexico’s election season this week. Unfortunately for New Mexicans who hadn’t quite recovered from last year’s ad wars, the ominous narrators of political advertising are already back to haunt the Land of Enchantment—a whopping 16 months before the 2010 elections.

The ad targeting current Lt. Gov. Diane Denish, a front-runner for the democratic gubernatorial nomination, came from the New Mexico GOP and took aim at what is expected to be the top issue in the campaign to replace scandal plagued Gov. Bill Richardson: ethics.

Also getting an early start in New Mexico is the race between incumbent Democrat Harry Teague and Republican Steve Pearce for the second district U.S. House seat in southern New Mexico. Writing for New West, Heath Haussamen speculates that the campaign "is certain to be one of the most hotly contested and high-profile House races in the nation next year."

Pearce announced his candidacy early last week, and quickly took aim at Teague for his support of the cap-and-trade bill, among other "reckless" policies.

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Still stuck in traffic

Cally Carswell | Jul 13, 2009 04:59 AM

Los Angeles commuters don’t so much drive to work as creep—slowly, very slowly. So slowly, in fact, that each L.A. driver wasted an average 70 hours stuck in traffic in 2007, which was actually a slight improvement over the 72 hours they squandered in 2006, according to a study released last week by the Texas Transportation Institute.

Despite a lot of huffing and puffing by politicians proclaiming their good intentions to fight global warming, their plans to reduce our dependence on cars are coming up short. A handful of recent reports and analyses reveal Western cities are still plagued by congestion and states’ transportation spending plans won’t do much to alleviate it.

The (sort of) good news from the Texas Transportation Institute is that traffic jams eased up ever so slightly on commuters in many of the West’s urban centers, including San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland and Denver, between 2006 and 2007.

But the report’s co-author, David Schrank, warned that these findings aren’t cause for celebration. "No one should expect to be driving the speed limit on their way to work because of this," he told the Portland Oregonian.


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Brewer's budget battle

Ariana Brocious | Jul 10, 2009 11:51 AM

A week into the 2010 fiscal year in Arizona, the state's budget is $2.1 billion in the red, worrying Tucson officials and others about committing money and jobs.  In the past six months since Republican Secretary of State Jan Brewer stepped up to fill former Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano’s post, the state has been embroiled in what the LA Times calls the “nastiest fiscal fight in Arizona history.”

It has been a surprisingly vicious conflict, given that the state legislature is predominately Republican. After years of going head-to-head with Napolitano, lawmakers were anticipating an easier relationship with Brewer, who took over after Napolitano was called to head Obama's Department of Homeland Security. Yet Brewer hasn’t toed the party line —instead, she’s supported tax increases and defended spending on health care and public safety. And she has refused to budge, resulting in months of battling over education allocations, spending cuts to rein in the rampant state deficit and Brewer’s big issue: increasing the state sales tax (to be voted on in a November election) which would raise around $1 billion to offset cuts to social programs.

Recent highlights include Brewer suing the Legislature for allegedly violating the state constitution, Senate President Bob Burns walking out on a meeting and later harshly criticizing the governor, and Brewer vetoing every budget proposal that cut money for state services.

Last Wednesday lawmakers ended the fourth-longest legislative session in modern times by approving a budget in the early hours of the 2010 fiscal year that included $600 million in cuts but not Brewer’s proposed sales-tax hike.

Brewer line-vetoed major parts of the budget, particularly education spending which she viewed as insufficient, and called the legislature back for a special session this week. On Monday state lawmakers finally approved the education funding, restoring $220 million in cuts.

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An old idea reborn

Ed Quillen | Jul 09, 2009 09:23 AM

   Sometimes old ideas become new ideas.
    On July 9, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter announced plans to seek federal funding to study a high-speed rail corridor from Denver south through New Mexico to El Paso, Texas.
    Take out the "high-speed" part of it, and you've got the dream of Gen. William Jackson Palmer in 1870 -- to go south from Denver to the Rio Grande valley (thus the name of his Denver & Rio Grande Railroad) to El Paso, where it would connect with Mexican lines.
    Palmer's railroad (absorbed by the Union Pacific in 1996) did reach the Rio Grande, but never went south of Santa Fe. His preferred route, over Raton Pass, was blocked because the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railroad got there first. And the 1879 silver bonanza of Leadville turned Palmer's attention to a different direction.
    So the line became the Denver & Rio Grande Western, and evolved into an east-west link rather than the original north-south route.
    About 60 years ago, in an introduction to a book called Cities of the West, Carey McWilliams observed that even though the mountain ranges of the West trend north-south, the major transportation corridors oppose this geography by running east-west.
    In the view of McWilliams (who grew up on a ranch near Steamboat Springs, Colo., and went on to edit the Nation magazine after a productive literary career in California), the West's transportation network was aligned to serve national needs, rather than regional needs. The railroads that got the land grants -- that is, the government support of the era -- were east-west lines.
    In the formative years of the American West during and after the Civil War, the national government wanted the West Coast tied to the Midwest. Some north-south corridors that tied Helena to Phoenix might have encouraged a regional economy and identity -- and after four years of bloody civil war, another regional culture may have been the last thing the United States wanted or needed.
    The pattern persists to this day. It's easier to catch a plane from Denver to Philadelphia or Los Angeles than it is to fly to Boise or Helena.
    Or take a look at a modern Amtrak map, which reflects certain contemporary national transportation priorities. It shows four east-west corridors. As for north-south routes, there's one along the West Coast, and another from Minneapolis through Chicago to New Orleans. But there's nothing in between, out where we live.
    So if Colorado Gov. Ritter and his colleagues, Bill Richardson of New Mexico and Rick Perry of Texas, manage to get federal support for a north-south corridor in the West, they'll accomplish something new -- or something as old as Gen. Palmer's plan of 1870.


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