Week in review: March 10

Malheur trials come to a close, new wind record, the battle for Zinke’s seat — what the staff of HCN is reading this week.


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

Updated: Malheur standoff verdict is in

Around lunchtime on Friday, the jury found the final four defendants involved with last year’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff guilty of some of the charges against them and not guilty of others (Read up on the first half of the trial here and explore all our stories on the standoff here).

Here’s the breakdown:

Windy winner

Last weekend, for the first time on record, wind power provided over half the energy for a North American power grid, the Southwest Power Pool (which actually covers the Great Plains). The transmission organization celebrated with a tweet worthy of our Nerds Around the West Hall of Fame:

Want to join the nerdfest? Read up on how the Southwest Power Pool’s model for wholesale markets for power could transform the grid

The race for Zinke’s House seat

From Editorial Intern Rebecca Worby: To replace former Rep. Ryan Zinke, now Interior secretary, Republicans have nominated Greg Gianforte, who lost Montana’s 2016 gubernatorial race to Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. Gianforte founded RightNow Technologies, a firm now under the Oracle umbrella. Gianforte is concerned about federal overreach, says the Billings Gazette, and he believes Montanans need someone in the House who supports Trump’s agenda.

Democratic nominee Rob Quist is comfortable on a stage—and on tour around Montana. The Billings Gazette reports the longtime musician and songwriter is “striking a chord” with Democrats, but an ad by the Congressional Leadership Fund calls him “out of tune with Montana.” A Democrat hasn’t won this House seat in over two decades. “I will challenge Gianforte to pick the instrument of his choice,” Quist told the Billings Gazette, “and we’ll see who’s out of tune.” Bring on the battling music puns, candidates.

Fox talks – and swears

From Associate Editor Maya L. Kapoor: “Reveal’s interview with Presidente Vicente Fox offers a perspective I haven’t heard elsewhere on Trump's border wall plans and rhetoric. Fox took issue with Trump’s racist portrayal of Mexican migrants, blamed U.S. drug users for cross-border drug smuggling, and questioned Trump's understanding of global trade. It’s a lively interview F-bombs abound!” Listen for yourself.

Attacks on science

The federal government’s distrust and dislike of scientific process got real this week. From the New Republic: “When scientists agree that mercury pollution can effect developmental health, then we have to regulate mercury. And when scientists agree that excessive carbon emissions threaten public health and welfare — well, you get the point. An obvious solution, for those seeking to avoid such regulation, would be to prevent that science from seeing the light of day. That’s exactly what Lamar Smith, a Republican congressman from Texas, is trying to do.”

Meanwhile, over at Mother Jones, a look at EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s claims that carbon dioxide is not a major factor in climate change. 

ACA + asbestos

Editorial Fellow Anna V. Smith recommends reading MT Standard’s story about residents in the small town of Libby, Montana, to understand what’s at stake in the Affordable Care Act debate. Lung cancer and other asbestos-related illnesses have plagued the town, because of an old vermiculite mine that’s now a Superfund site. Residents were given special provisions under ACA to help them recover their health - now the GOP is threatening to repeal the act, including those provisions. 

Opioid followup

Assistant Editor Paige Blankenbuehler (who wrote last month’s blockbuster on how opioids overtook the rural community of Craig, Colorado) has been watching how the heroin and opioid epidemic is gripping the region. This week, Alaskan Gov. Bill Walker declared a public health crisis to combat the state’s epidemic. “Rates of heroin and opioid

abuse have dramatically increased in recent years. From 2009 to 2015, the number of heroin-related deaths in the state quadrupled.” The disaster declaration establishes a statewide Overdose Response Program under Alaska’s Chief Medical Officer and enables wide distribution of the life-saving drug, naloxone. Meanwhile, in Colorado prescription opioid deaths dropped 6 percent this year, the lowest level in six years, The Denver Post reports. During the same time frame, though, heroin deaths have risen 23 percent.

(Get more context on the links between opioids and heroin here.)

Hope for Western water?

From Editorial Intern (and water buff) Emily Benson: “The Christian Science Monitor is running a series on how to solve the West’s water problems. The latest installment offers a good primer on water markets — trading, swapping and leasing water rights — and examples of how markets are already working in Colorado, Washington and other Western states. A taste: ‘The idea is to depart from systems of largely fixed water rights for the farms that use 80 percent or more of water in the West. Instead, markets can help water flow to where it’s most valuable and needed – and promote conservation by farmers in the process.’

“Leasing can help junior rights holders get water when they need it during dry years, for example, but careful management is necessary to navigate the balance between keeping water in rural communities and funneling it toward growing cities.”

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