Week in review: February 24

The staff of High Country News shares what they’re reading on state land sales, private prisons and CPAC.


With so much news breaking these days, we don’t want readers to miss the stories that shape our Western economies, landscape and lives. So every Friday, we let you know what we’re paying attention to, from around the region and the country: the Western week in review. —Kate Schimel, Deputy Editor-Digital

DAPL camps closed

Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind Dakota Access Pipeline, has finished drilling under Lake Oahe and will begin laying pipe soon. In court documents, they said the pipeline could be operational within two weeks. Meanwhile, North Dakota law enforcement said they would enforce a Feb. 22 evacuation order for the complex of camps protesting the pipeline, citing increased flood risk. Protestors who remained behind were arrested and the camp structures were razed; photos show heavily armed police clearing out the camps and burning remaining structures. Jenni Monet, who was arrested covering the camps last month, was back on the ground with live updates:

For a deep look at the militarized law enforcement at the camps, Contributing Editor Ruxandra Guidi recommends this piece from the Daily Beast: “On the eve of the final evacuation in Standing Rock, Sandy Tolan published this survey of all the militarized violence we’ve witnessed at the site — and how that fits into the history of state violence against a group of people in the U.S.” For a look at the tribal sovereignty issues at stake, revisit “Reckoning at Standing Rock,” Paul Vandevelder’s history of the Sioux’ fight for treaty rights.

Private prisons revival

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has overturned a Department of Justice memo aimed at curtailing the use of private prisons. In his own memo on Thursday, he said the policy “impaired the Bureau’s ability to meet the future needs of the federal correctional system.” An investigation published in the Nation found dangerous conditions in many private prisons, where inmates lacked essential medical care and prison staffs were too small. In the West, private prisons have been an economic engine for many faltering small towns. Thats particularly true for private immigrant detention centers, which the Obama administration also said they would review and potentially curtail; no word yet on what the Trump administration policy on those will be. Read our coverage of private prisons in the West here and here.

Land sales

According to public records acquired by the Wilderness Society and the Idaho Conservation League, Idaho made 300 sales of state land that allegedly violated the state Constitution. Between 1890 and 1988, hundreds of individuals and corporations appear to have violated the 320-acre limit on purchases of “public school landand a 160-acre limit on the states university land.These findings shed new light on the Westwide conversation about how states might manage land if there were a large-scale transfer of federal land to state control. The research suggests states like Idaho might prioritize selling land for development.

The Wilderness Society blog post states that: “A total of 919,914 acres of state land that were managed to benefit public schools and universities have been sold since statehood, and of that acreage 206,240 acres appear to have been sold in violation of the limits imposed by the Idaho Constitution.”

Tom Schultz, director of the Idaho Department of State Lands, has said he will hire an auditor to look into the apparent violations.

Conservative talks

Assistant Editor Paige Blankenbuehler has been following the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, which began in Washington, D.C., this week. On Friday, President Donald Trump addressed the crowd. Typically CPAC is equal parts political rally, conservative boot camp, a recruiting tool and trade show but this year, it’s also an opportunity for the Republican party to wrap their heads around the president’s new type of conservatism. As NPR reports, “there’s an ideological tension between more mainstream conservatives in the GOP and the movement Trump has inspired.” On Friday morning, Trump told the crowd: “We are going to repeal and replace Obamacare,” he promised, despite the fact that Republicans have not yet settled on an alternative plan. Trump also doubled down on his tweet from a week ago calling the media the “enemy of the people.

E&E News reports that climate change deniers also got a strong boost at the conference. The people who portray people like us as selfish, greedy, nature-hating scumbags,”James Delingpole, from the London office of the conservative Breitbart News Network, said. “No, they are the scumbags. We are the good guys. And thank goodness, thanks to Donald Trump, the tide is turning and we’re about to win this battle.

Pot problems

On Thursday, White House spokesman Sean Spicer signaled that the federal government may crack down on recreational pot, which has been legalized in five Western states: California, Nevada, Colorado, Washington and Oregon. In Colorado, where pot was legalized in 2013, the recreational pot industry has been a moneymaker, helping extractive industry-dependent towns weather a coal bust and an oil glut. Weve stopped the hemorrhaging, Jonathan Taylor, Trinidad, Colorados economic development director, told High Country News last November. Cannabis is providing much needed revenue.

Wild weather

Editorial intern Emily Benson is reading this breakdown of the giant storms California has been having, which have led to flood warnings across much of the state, from the Mercury News: “In a typical year, California has between 10 to 15 atmospheric riverstorms the fire hoses that rampage in from Hawaii and account for up to 50 percent of the states annual rainfall and nearly all of its floods. But since the rainy season began on Oct. 1, there already have been 30. And there are two months of winter to go.”

A sad goodbye

Andrew Schneider, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist who first exposed asbestos poisoning in Libby, Montana, leading to a Superfund cleanup, died this week in Salt Lake City, Utah. From the Montana Standard: “His skill at befriending news sources led him to achieve a kind of access to information journalists almost never get today. Staff at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh became so used to seeing him that they gave him a lab coat and a “Dr. Schneider” name tag to wear.”

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