« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

Week in review: May 26

Another Anadarko oil explosion, protestors at FERC and landslides in Big Sur.


Oil tank explodes in Colorado

On Thursday, an oil tank exploded in Weld County, Colorado, killing one person and injuring three more. The incident comes just weeks after a fatal house explosion raised drilling safety concerns in the same county. Both the well associated with the house explosion and the oil tank that ignited on Thursday belonged to Anadarko Petroleum Corporation. The cause of this latest explosion is under investigation.

By the numbers: Bears Ears monument review closes today

Center for Western Priorities
While regulations.gov says there are 90,000 individual comments on Bears Ears National Monument, a survey of by the Center for Western Priorities found more than 685,000 additional public comments. “Combined, support for national monument designations will account for more than 99 percent of all public comments gathered during the 15-day comment window for Bears Ears,” according to the report.

Drama at FERC
On Thursday, the U.S. Senate confirmation hearing for two Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) nominees was disrupted by several protesters who shouted for FERC to be shut down. The FERC is a little-known, but crucial agency tasked with approving (or denying) natural gas pipelines, compressor stations, export terminals and hydropower projects, as well ruling on complex energy rate cases. For example, in 2015, it ruled that a small electric cooperative in Western Colorado could go outside its energy contract and build up renewable energy on its own. The commission has been unable to make decisions since February, when former FERC Chairman Norman Bay, a Democrat, abruptly left the commission, depriving the panel of a quorum.

Law360 reports: “The Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources had just begun hearing the testimony of FERC nominees Neil Chatterjee and Robert Powelson on Tuesday when a series of protesters stood up and started chanting, ‘FERC hurts families!’ and ‘Shut FERC down!’ They were quickly removed from the hearing room by law enforcement.” Senate still needs to confirm Chatterjee and Powelson.

Landslides at Big Sur

Usually one of the biggest tourist attractions in California, the beaches of Big Sur are a bit harder to access than usual after a landslide crossed Highway 1 and went into the Pacific Ocean, cutting off travel to the area. The wet winter has wreaked havoc on the area, with landslides and flooding taking out campgrounds and roads.

Deputy Editor-Digital Kate Schimel recommends this article from the AP, which includes an interesting tidbit on the volatile geology of the area: “This type of thing may become more frequent, but Big Sur has its own unique geology,” said Dan Carl, a district director for the California Coastal Commission whose area includes Big Sur. “A lot of Big Sur is moving; you just don’t see it.”

The mud slide at Mud Creek that closed Highway 1 in Big Sur.

Gallows humor for the EPA

The Trump administration has promised big cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency for months. On Monday, it became clear how big they were planning on under the White House budget wishlist: the EPA’s budget would be slashed by a third, with the money for Superfund cut by a quarter. The budget would also close out the agency’s climate change research:

In response, McSweeney’s, the satirical magazine, put out a special job posting: “Come Work at the EPA as Our Sole Remaining Climate Researcher.” “Take advantage of this rare opportunity to travel to all of our great nation’s 180,000 abandoned weather stations, where you can sit on the roof while holding a thermometer in the air. (Note: Long arms preferred.)”

Buying land to save it

Utah philanthropist Jennifer Speers just bought another chunk of land to protect it from future development. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Speers paid $2.5 million for a 640-acre parcel of state trust land located at the entrance to the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park; the money will go to Utah schools. Many were worried that the choice spot, adjoining the new Bears Ears National Monument, would be snapped up for commercial development; Speers has indicated she’ll put a conservation easement on the land or donate it to The Nature Conservancy.

Since 2002, Speers has bought more than 500 acres of land around Moab to preserve it, including a 115-acre development that included a brand-new $600,000 house with views of the Colorado River. A few months later, she had the house demolished. “(That was) one of the best experiences of my life,” she told High Country News at the time. “I loved every minute of it.” 

When bad weather happens to good elk

Did you get behind on your hcn.org reading this week? Catch up now.

Meet Jane, a climate scientist who fled Trump’s government

Can Wyoming learn from Utah’s public land mistakes?

Police shootings of Native Americans spark a movement

Meet the people in the path of a massive pipeline expansion

Trump wants to cut the EPA’s Superfund by 25 percent

The river-access lawsuit at the center of Montana’s House race

Latest: Settlement resurrects Alaska’s Pebble Mine

Letter from California: How low-wage immigrant workers are reviving unions

Opinion: On climate change: ‘Do something, do anything, just don’t do nothing’

Opinion: Good management starts with science

Opinion: Despite what the Trump administration says, coal is out