By David Frey, NewWest.net guest blogger, 12-29-09
The last 10 years in the West was a wild roller coaster ride, a decade of explosions and implosions: nine years of mostly up, up, up and one year of solid down.
Here are five top trends that shaped the region in the first decade of a new millennium.
Real estate boom – and bust. At the dawn of the Ohs (or was it the Oh Nos?), real estate was already booming here, but it would soon go off the charts. Minus a post-9/11 sputter, real estate prices soared throughout much of the West as baby boomers and urban refugees sought their own little piece of big sky. The real estate bubble expanding across the country hit a funhouse mirror in the West – bigger, fatter and a little twisted.
Little towns like St. George, Utah saw growth go off the charts. Big cities like Phoenix and Las Vegas metastasized into megalopolises. Resort towns saw their prices hit insane levels ($135 million for Prince Bandar’s Aspen spread, anyone?), and worker bee hamlets followed suit.
Fast forward to 2008. The economy tanked. The real estate market collapsed. The construction industry vaporized. The only things going up were foreclosures and bankruptcies. The Yellowstone Club’s bankruptcy was one of the most vivid examples: a playground for the wealthy, now hard up for cash.
Energy boom – and bust. Booms and busts are par for the course when it comes to the energy industry in the West. The Ohs were no exception. A broad swath of the West, from New Mexico to Montana, saw a boom of oil and gas development, with rigs popping up in backyards where residents never dreamed of seeing them.
It wasn’t just oil and gas. Oil shale and uranium saw renewed interest. Coal was going gangbusters. Solar and wind were getting attention from more than just environmentalists.
The boom brought battles. Residents complained about impacts on their homes and ranches. Environmentalists fought over cherished landscapes. The Valle Vidal. The Roan Plateau. The Wyoming Range. Wells were planned in view of spots like Utah’s Arches National Park.
Part of the rush was pure economics. Soaring fuel prices made drilling in remote Western lands more economical than ever before. Part was pure politics. The Bush administration opened up public lands to drilling and stripped roadless protections that would have kept some lands drill-free.
States scrambled to catch up to the boom. The Obama administration was less industry-friendly. But what really did in the energy industry was falling prices. Rigs are lying down now, just waiting for the prices to rebound.
Purple tide. The West has long been Republican territory, but Democrats made enormous strides here in the Ohs. Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico all found themselves with Democratic governors. Democrats gained ground in Western congressional delegations and statehouses.
Compare that to 2000, when the West had no Democratic governors, three Democratic Senators, just a handful of Democratic congressmen and most state legislatures were in Republican hands.
The party took notice, and in 2008, it gave a nod to the power of the region by holding the Democratic National Convention in Denver. Obama and his supporters made campaign appearances in parts of the West long abandoned by Democrats. Obama carried Colorado, New Mexico, Montana and Nevada.
Time will tell how long the Democrats hold onto these victories, but it seems their win was more than just good luck or dissatisfaction with the GOP. The West’s politics are shifting. The Western Democratic politician doesn’t have to don a cowboy hat and boots to get elected anymore.
Dry spell. Much of the first decade of the century was marked by drought. If global warming projections are right, it looks like much of the rest of the century will be, too.
Devastating wildfires raged across the region. Part of that is thanks to a century of firefighting that left the forests filled with big, old trees ready to burn. Much of it, though, was thanks to year after year of drought. Summers didn’t bring rain. Winters didn’t bring much snow. The forests dried, and fire, a part of life in the West, raged into conflagrations.
What the fires left behind, the beetles took. A scourge of pine beetles raged across the West, leaving in their wake thousands of miles of dead timber from the Canadian border to Mexico.
It used to be environmentalists who threatened to drain Lake Powell in Utah. In the Ohs, Mother Nature did it herself, revealing canyons long hidden by the Glen Canyon Dam. Rivers shrank, often leaving fish to die in waters that were too warm for them.
Western communities worried about dwindling water supplies as reservoirs emptied and snowpacks thinned. Say goodbye to the glaciers of Glacier National Park. Even ski industry executives worried, and responded with a campaign to fight global warming. It wasn’t just a rallying cry of environmentalists, anymore.
Nuevo West. As the West boomed, immigrants came in search of jobs. When resort towns were booming and construction was thriving, there were plenty of jobs to go around. The ranks of construction workers and housekeepers filled with immigrant workers, just as the West’s agricultural industry had relied on them for years. Most were Mexicans, escaping a lack of jobs at home in search of work across the border. Others came from across Latin America and around the world and fueled the New West boom.
These immigrants changed the face of the West. Latino-owned restaurants and businesses thrived. Norteño music pounded from passing pickups and Spanish became a common sound on even small-town Western street corners. A Pew Hispanic Center study found illegal immigrants made up one in 10 workers in Arizona and Nevada, nearly one in 20 workers in Colorado, New Mexico and Utah and over 3 percent of workers in Idaho.
When the economy tumbled, their fortunes did, too. Some headed home. Others held on, hoping, like all Westerners, that the next decade would bring better times.
Terri Hansen, a correspondent for Indian Country Today, attended the Copenhagen climate talks. She followed the story of how of indigenous rights, including those of American Indian tribes, were left out of the COP-15 talks, and filed this report for the HCN Grange blog.
Indigenous peoples face big climate problems but had little say at the Copenhagen climate talks, something that Patricia Cochran, chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council said, "epitomizes climate injustice."
Early on during the conference, Indigenous Peoples' Day on Dec. 12, organized by Tebtebba: Indigenous Peoples' International Centre for Policy Research and Education drew many wearing the colorful costumes of their homeland to the Denmark National Museum in downtown Copenhagen, including Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
The museum highlighted indigenous voices with short films from Life Mosaic Films, REDD: A New Animal in the Forest, and Conversations with the Earth that showed dramatic footage of disruptions to indigenous lands from climate change. The COP15 ‘Indigenous Voices on Climate Change' film festival depicted climate change in communities from Ethiopia to the Arctic.
Tebtebba's Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, an Igorot from the Philippines and chair of the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Issues announced that indigenous peoples had achieved a small victory by getting this reference to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples into page two of the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation draft agreement:
"Respect for the knowledge and rights of indigenous peoples and members of the local communities, noting General Assembly has adopted the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of indigenous peoples and taking into account relevant international obligations, national circumstances and legislation."Read More ...
Joshua Tree National Park's Eagle Mountains conjure up images of remote desert peaks, a boundless blue sky and the namesake bird of prey that soars above pristine canyons. But for many of us, Eagle Mountain brings to mind the ongoing battle over the proposed Eagle Mountain Landfill, to be located on lands belonging to Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc. and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which also happens to be surrounded on three sides by Joshua Tree National Park wilderness.
The dump would be the nation’s largest; bringing in up to 20,000 tons of trash daily, 6 days a week, 16 hours a day for more than a century. Refuse would be shipped from various communities in Southern California via rail and to a lesser extent by trucks. The project has been promoted by Kaiser Eagle Mountain, Inc. and the Los Angeles County Department of Sanitation as a solution for the Los Angeles area's burgeoning trash problem.Read More ...
As the world focuses on the Stockholm Climate Change Conference, how California is addressing climate change is generating conflict. In late November the California Air Resources Board (CARB) issued a draft of what are likely to be the first government regulations in the nation for carbon trading.
Two environmental justice organizations - Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) and California Communities Against Toxics - filed a lawsuit earlier this year to block the cap-and-trade option California's CARB has proposed. The groups alleges that California’s cap and trade plan will allow the most entrenched polluters, including oil refineries, to continue emitting toxic and smog-forming pollutants, which are associated with carbon emissions. Here's a link to how an anti-environmental web-site views that lawsuit.
The environmental community is split over whether or not to support California’s cap and trade climate plan. The Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council support carbon trading which seeks to use market forces to achieve reductions in carbon emissions. Many other environmental organizations think carbon trading lets polluting industries off the hook and instead advocate for a tax on carbon emissions with the proceeds used to develop green energy.
One of the most contentious issues in the California, national and international climate debate is the “off-set" issue.
My mother has a tough decision to make. Her recent city newsletter informed her that the deer must die, and it’s up to her to decide how they croak.
Bountiful, Utah has a mule deer problem—they’ve invaded. When I visited home this summer, I’d probably see at least one deer every week. They’d dart across the road as I drove home at night, snacking on good, god-fearing people’s rose bushes. I even think I saw one on my own back patio, sprawled out on a lounge chair, sipping what appeared to be a daiquiri. Personally, I always appreciate seeing a deer or two—even the ones who kept begging to borrow my blender and my copy of Jimmy Buffett’s Greatest Hits weren't all bad. But not everyone in our small town shares my opinion.
The city of Bountiful recently decided that it’s received too many complaints about mule deer and something must be done. The newsletter states its case:Read More ...
By Courtney Lowery, Newwest.net guest blogger, 12-08-09
The Obama Administration today announced that it will settle in the landmark class-action lawsuit against the Interior Department that alleged gross mismanagement of American Indian trust accounts. In a press conference, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Attorney General Eric Holder said the settlement will mean $1.4 billion will be distributed to plaintiffs.
The government has also agreed to create a $2 billion fund that will offer new trustees (created when land is “fractioned” by being passed down from generation to generation) cash payments for land that has been divided up. That will, as Interior put it, “free up the land for the benefit of tribal communities.” That brings the total settlement up to $3.4 billion.
Cobell v. Salazar was first filed in 1996 on the grounds that the government mismanaged the trust accounts (involving royalties for grazing, oil and gas and timber, among others) of more than 300,000 Indians. Elouise Cobell, a Blackfeet and the lead plaintiff in the suit, told Indian Country Today that she is thankful the suit is finally coming to an end and that Indian Country especially appreciates the Obama Administration moving on the issue. Still, she said the settlement is “significantly less than the full accounting to which the class members are entitled.”
In a release, Salazar called the settlement “historic.”
“This is an historic, positive development for Indian country and a major step on the road to reconciliation following years of acrimonious litigation between trust beneficiaries and the United States,” Salazar said. “...This historic step will allow Interior to move forward and address the educational, law enforcement, and economic development challenges we face in Indian Country.”
Right now, the Interior Department manages 56 million acres of Indian trust land and on that, there are more than 100,000 leases. The agency estimates it manages $3.5 billion in trust funds.
The point of the $2 billion in buy-back money for the new “fractioned” trustees is to, as the agency put it, “By reducing the number of individual trust accounts that the U.S. must maintain, the program will greatly reduce on-going administrative expenses and future accounting-related disputes.”
The agency has promised to put 5 percent of the interests bought through the $2 billion fund into a scholarship fund for Indians.
Also see HCN's prior coverage of the case: Indian Money - Where Is It?, Sometimes you have to fight, Congress and Indians spar over lost money, and Scoundrels and scandals in the Interior Department.
What do we want in a health care system?
It’s a question Dr. Donald Berwick asked an audience of 5,000-plus people at the Institute for Health Care Improvement’s National Forum in Orlando, Fla. on Tuesday.
Such an easy question. I can quickly rattle off answers: I want health care for my family. I want to be able to see a doctor when I’m ill. I want to be made healthy.
Stop. Berwick asks again. What do you really want? I want to be healthy.
This time think about it. Step back. Inhale. Think. Exhale. What do you really, really want?
Berwick explains how hard it is to skate ski and how he only hits perfection a few times out of every hundred kicks. Yet it’s those moments he pursues. That’s what he really, really wants.
How does a cross-country kick fit into the health care reform debate? Berwick almost had surgery to replace his knee – something that would have prevented him from ever cross-country skiing again. But another doctor found an alternative to surgery. Perfect. Berwick wanted bliss, the richness of the human experience. One more moment on a mountain.
That notion is far removed from the politics of health care reform. The debate in Washington is about the role of government or insurance. It’s not about capturing bliss.
“Health care has no intrinsic value at all. None, Health does. Joy does. Peace does,” says Berwick. “The best hospital bed is empty. The best CT scan is the one we don’t need. The best doctor’s visit is the one we don’t need.”
But our current system is not designed to empty hospital beds. Our reward system – dare I say, the very foundation of free enterprise – works best when hospital beds are full, CT scanners are humming and doctor visits are available on demand. That’s even true in government and the Indian Health Service because the appropriations process does not pay for those patients not requiring treatment. Yet that very idea, a paradox, is what could lower health care costs for all.
Berwick said it’s our version of the Tragedy of the Commons. The 1968 article in Science by Garrett Hardin described a pasture open to all that works reasonably well until “a day of reckoning, that is, the day when the long-desired goal of social stability becomes a reality. At this point, the inherent logic of the commons remorselessly generates tragedy.” The commons no longer works because each of us seeks the best deal for them.
“Name any stakeholder – hospital, physician, nurse, insurer, pharmaceutical manufacturer, supplier, even patients’ group – every single one of them says, “Oh, we need change! We need change!” But, when it comes to specifics, every single one of them demands to be kept whole or made better off,” Berwick said. “So everybody draws on the Commons, the herds grow, and the Commons fails. If you don’t increase your herd, you’re a chump. And, who wants to be a chump?”
Let’s make being a chump a good thing. The fact is the spirit of cooperation is already driving down medical costs in places as diverse as Anchorage with the Southcentral Foundation and Alaska Native Medical Center to Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Indeed, the great thing about the Indian Health System is a head start in this regard. There is a long history of consultation – doctors and government officials working together with tribal leaders – for common solutions (and with little money). The Indian Health Service invented a prevention bundle – a series of tests – that look at many aspects of a patient’s life that helps identity and then treat problems ranging from spousal abuse to depression.
“I challenge us to end the Tragedy of the Commons in health care. I challenge us to prove Garrett Hardin wrong,” Berwick said. “It isn’t easy. Positive collective action, even in small communities, and especially in health care, is fragile. It could all just fall apart. But, it can work. I know it can work because, sometimes, some places, it does work.”
Forget health care reform. Let’s shoot for what we really, really want. But if we seek bliss, that means we must get folks working together.
Mark Trahant is a Kaiser Media Fellow examining the Indian Health Service and its relevance to the national health care reform debate. He is a member of Idaho’s Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. www.marktrahant.com
On its surface, Grants doesn’t look like the Gateway to the Nuclear West. Its shuttered buildings, dilapidated store fronts, and overgrown vacant lots are what’s left of the promised prosperity from the last uranium boom. To really understand Grants’ and the region’s past and potential future, you’ve got to go below the surface.
From the 1950’s until the mid-80’s Grants was the epicenter of the uranium mining industry in America. The uranium that was used in the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki came from here. Later, the Grants area also gave us the uranium that ushered in the era of “too cheap to meter” nuclear power. This is a town that was built on the 1950’s utopian dream of a George Jetson-like personal hovercraft powered by atomic reactors and endless nearly-free nuclear generated electricity that would turn the high desert into a Garden of Eden. But when the uranium market tanked in the mid-1980’s the fickle uranium mining companies packed up and left, leaving the local population jobless, broke and sitting on hundreds of piles of radioactive and toxic waste.Uranium mining is rarely talked about in the media, yet it is indispensible to the nuclear fuel chain. Read More ...
A generation ago Indian Country wasn’t included in the conversation about health care reform. When Congress enacted Medicaid and Medicare it pretended that the Indian Health Service didn’t exist. It was as if it had never occurred to the government, that it, too, ran a major health care delivery system.
Say what you like about health care reform, the fact is that Indian Country is included in a big way this time around. If either the House or the Senate bill becomes law, there will be a significant boost in resources for the Indian Health system.
The largest single line item is the reauthorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, included in H.R. 3962, the Affordable Health Care for America Act. The Congressional Budget Office “scores” the cost at $100 million through 2014 and $200 million over a decade. Most of that cost is attributed to the “expansion of payments under Medicare.” This is important because American Indians and Alaskan Natives have the highest percentage of any population over 65 not currently enrolled in Medicare programs.Read More ...
If the American Farm Bureau Federation has its way, the issue of whether herbicide spraying over water requires a Clean Water Act permit will be heard by the Supreme Court. A coalition of agricultural groups led by the Federation has petitioned the nation’s highest court to reverse an appellate court decision which found that such spraying requires an NPDES clean water permit. NPDES permits are required when pollution is delivered to a water body from a point source. What constitutes a point source for Clean Water Act purposes has been a major US legal issue for well over a decade with several previous cases reaching the Supreme Court.
The battle over pesticides and their regulation has been a constant of US environmental politics since Rachel Carson’s landmark Silent Spring was published in 1962. In the West the conflict heated up in the 1970s when a group of women from Alsea, Oregon documented what they believed was an association between spontaneous abortion rates and herbicide spraying in the industrial forests near their homes. Erik Jansson was working on pesticide issues for Friends of the Earth at the time. He publicized the plight of the Alsea women and helped create a national campaign to restrict aerial herbicide spraying.
The warning from Alsea and Friends of the Earth exploded across the West where an army of back-to-the-land hippies had recently arrived in search of a life free from industrial threats. Here in Northwest California health workers at Native American clinics also took note.