Week in review: March 24

Keystone permit OK’d, Utah solar incentives rollback and white nose in Texas; plus HCN reading recommendations.


Keystone’s alive

TransCanada, the company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, announced Friday morning that the State Department had signed off on a permit for construction. The decision followed a 60-day review, set in motion with one of President Donald Trump’s first executive orders. The same order expedited final approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline, through which oil is expected to flow this week.

Protestors gather in Portland in 2013 in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline.

Utah rolls back solar incentives

This week, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law H.B. 23, which will eliminate the state’s solar income-tax credit after 2021. Currently, Utah residents can claim $2,000 on their state income-tax returns if they install a solar-energy system, but now that credit will be reduced by $400 per year until 2021. But if other Western states are any indication, Utah could face opposition from its electricity customers. That’s what happened in Nevada, when in 2015, the Public Utility Commission of the state set new rates that were so unfavorable to solar customers that they nearly snuffed out the residential solar business in the state. Most recently, Arizona seems to have taken a cue from Nevada’s experience: In early March, Arizona reached a settlement with solar installation companies, homeowner groups and other stakeholders that will, by all accounts, keep the residential solar panel industry in business for years to come, as HCN D.C. Correspondent Elizabeth Shogren reported earlier this month. It may take awhile for backlash to materialize, Shogren says, but Utah, we’re keeping on eye on you.

New Mexico governor threatens shutdown

The New Mexico legislature wrapped up its 2017 session last weekend, having passed a $6.1 billion spending plan and a $350 million tax package. Gov. Susana Martinez, who has to sign off on it, called the legislature’s decisions “irresponsible” and threatened to call a special session to rehash the budget. According to New Mexico in Depth, Martinez told reporters, “Many in the legislature failed to do their job during the session. They took a my way or the highway approach and they actually squandered 60 days...Now we’re staring down the path of a government shutdown.”

Montana ranch’s connection to blood tests

As longtime residents of the rural West can attest, national and even international phenomena often have unexpected links to sparsely inhabited corners of our region. This week, from the Great Falls Tribune, a look inside Quad Five Ranch, north of Ryegate, Montana, which supplies animal blood for diagnostic testing to major medical companies across the globe: “Ever been tested for strep throat or a urinary tract infection? If so, the results of your test almost certainly hinged on the presence of a small quantity of sheep’s blood. Sterile goat serum is an integral component of HIV test kits. Factors of horse blood are frequently used to test for venereal disease, and the blood of cows is a common substitute for human blood — used by medical schools to train a new generation of doctors and researchers dedicated to the treatment of blood-borne illnesses.”

White-nose syndrome spreads

White-nose syndrome, a fungus-caused disease that has killed millions of bats in the United States, has been found in a cave outside of San Antonio, Texas. It signals the deadly disease’s progress across the country; last year, it was found in Washington. Researchers in the West and elsehere are searching for an urgently needed treatment, including bacteria that have anti-fungal properties and chemical cleaners. Read more about their efforts here.

This little brown bat with white-nose syndrome was found in Greeley Mine, Vermont, in March 2009.

A vision of California

If you’re looking for a long story to settle in with, Contributing Editor Ruxandra Guidi recommends “State of Being: Envisioning California” from Boom California: “This is a great long read that captures modern-day California, the westernmost West and Los Angeles, in particular so well.”

Here’s a taste: “They fit easily alongside my pop-culture-influenced impressions of the West: those early twentieth-century slapstick comedies shot on streets dotted with palm and pepper trees; then too, the out-of-the-side-of-the-mouth voice-over assessments of the raw deal and busted dreams Los Angeles was sure to serve you. Add to it the disgruntled Bohemian’s longing — a restlessness for which the West, particularly the rugged Central and Northern Coast, might be the only antidote — all of these scenarios, often told through the prism of a transplant’s vision of the West (boomers and speculators and dreamers), East Coast by way of Europe, Midwest by way of the South — to the edge of the Earth’s last promise.”

Finally, a quick Bundy update:

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