Two weeks in the West

  • A drop test for the TRUPACK III nuclear waste shipping container


"You guys caused the problem."

— John Mudre of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, blaming a biologist and the media for drawing too many people to a public hearing in Eureka, Calif., to consider Klamath dam relicensing. Two hundred people packed a hallway after the room reached its capacity of 350. FERC booked the same room — with similar results — in 2004.

Lynx in Colorado will need every one of their nine lives. During early November, two of the threatened cats were shot dead in southwestern Colorado; last fall, two lynx tracking collars that had been cut off were found in the same area. Now, two recent announcements have conservationists convinced that the federal government is ignoring lynx habitat needs. The Fish and Wildlife Service designated 1,841 square miles of critical habitat near the Canadian border, but skipped Colorado since, among other things, its population is not self-sustaining, one of the criteria for habitat designation. Then the Forest Service released draft policies making lynx management more consistent across national forests in Colorado and southern Wyoming. Critics claim the revisions allow overly broad exemptions for thinning projects in lynx habitat. The state’s lynx population, wiped out in 1973, now numbers around 200 after reintroduction efforts begun in 1999.

Rebuke for an oil and gas bounty hunter. One of the West’s fiercest energy-industry watchdogs has been "opportunistic" and "the instrument of his own undoing," according to U.S. District Judge William Downes in Wyoming. The judge aimed his criticism at Jack Grynberg, the CEO of a Denver-based oil company, who’s known for pressing lawsuits that claim oil and gas companies deliberately underpay taxes and royalties. Grynberg bases his cases on the federal False Claims Act, and he has won dozens of them over the years — and garnered millions of dollars for himself under the act’s bounty-hunter terms. But Grynberg’s biggest case — built on allegations that 73 energy companies had underpaid taxes and royalties by some $30 billion — amounted to "rank speculation," Judge Downes ruled on Oct. 27. Downes dismissed the lawsuits, but Grynberg says that he’s got plenty of proof and that he’ll appeal the ruling.

Hot waste, now in the large economy size. The U.S. Department of Energy just finished testing new larger containers for transporting nuclear waste to the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in southern New Mexico. The new containers will save money, says DOE, and also reduce worker exposure to radiation. But anti-nuke activists and the Western Governors’ Association fear the new containers may not be as safe as the old ones. Because the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission changed its requirements last year, the tests did not include the 30-minute, 1,475-degree Fahrenheit burn test used on previous container designs. "I’m glad they’re doing the testing they’re doing — it’s just not all they should be doing," says Don Hancock of the nonprofit Southwest Research and Information Center.

Save money and Idaho’s salmon, at the same time. That’s the rallying cry of "Revenue Stream," a new study by Save Our Wild Salmon and other groups. The Northwest’s federal salmon programs cost at least $780 million per year, the groups say, yet fail to help the fish — only three sockeye returned to spawn in Idaho’s Redfish Lake last summer, for instance. If the main barriers to Idaho salmon — four Lower Snake River dams — were removed, however, the government could compensate farmers and others for losses and still reduce annual outlay by about $165 million. Federal agencies and Idaho’s congressmen respond that "Revenue Stream" doesn’t account for all the benefits from the dams. Meanwhile, fisheries biologist Don Chapman, who’s worked for industry and environmental groups, called on Congress to authorize an independent analysis. Chapman says, dollars aside, "We need to give salmon a bigger break than we’ve been giving them."

The Measure 37 cold war escalates. Oregon’s controversial Measure 37 allows landowners to demand compensation from local governments that pass regulations limiting development. Rather than pay claims, governments typically waive the regulations on a case-by-case basis. Unfortunately for developers, however, Measure 37 waivers can’t be transferred to subsequent buyers. On Nov. 21, Klamath County commissioners creatively bypassed that restriction, when — in response to a Measure 37 claim — they permanently eased zoning on a 36-acre parcel. Klamath County is now considering 13 additional such claims; Oregon’s Department of Land Conservation and Development plans to challenge the decision. —F.J., R.R., L.P, M.J.


Sled Season Data

289: Calories burned by a 185-pound person who snowmobiles for 60 minutes

955: Calories burned by the same person cross- country skiing for 60 minutes

91,670: Number of new snowmobiles sold in the U.S. in 2006

$8,269: Average suggested retail price of a new snowmobile in North America

1.69: Number, in millions, of registered snowmobiles in the United States

37: Percentage drop in worldwide snowmobile sales from 1997 to 2006

39: Number of automobiles it takes to produce as much pollution as one snowmobile on a per-passenger-mile basis

720: Number of snowmobiles currently allowed in Yellowstone per day, a number the park Service has proposed keeping

250: Average number of snowmobiles that the park has received daily in the last two winters

1,400: Number of snowmobiles on peak days in Yellowstone before the Clinton administration’s 2001 ban

SOURCES:, International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

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