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Know the West

Heard around the West


The Montana legislature is determined to take that state's clean water. It passed two bills that allow degradation of Montana's streams and lakes. The bills were pushed by mining, ranching, logging and real estate. Developers succeeded in loosening septic tank standards for new homes.

That could spell death for the purity of Montana's immense Flathead Lake, which has been a magnet for real estate development. The April 13 Billings Gazette urged Gov. Marc Racicot to veto the bills: "Don't let the people down, governor. Keep Montana's waters clean." (P.S.: He let the public down.)

On a brighter note, the Billings Gazette reported that the Department of State Lands killed the proposed Montco coal mine in eastern Montana by refusing to extend the deadline for the company to begin mining coal at the site, east of Birney. The mine was associated with the proposed Tongue Creek Railroad. Members of Native Action and the Northern Cheyenne tribe and the Northern Plains Resource Council were pleased by the action, and praised commissioner Bud Clinch.


The Colorado ski industry has taken a drubbing this year (it was down 7 percent in March), in part because skiers can't get to the slopes due to avalanches, snowy roads and jack-knifed trailer trucks. The situation is partly due to a lack of snowplow operators on Interstate 70 because Colorado can't pay its road crews enough to live in ski country. The ski industry, according to the April 20 Denver Post, is determined to do something about the low pay and lack of housing for plow operators.

Puntos de Vista of Santa Fe, which publishes "as soon as we raise the money for the next issue," reports that the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union is attempting to organize service workers in Santa Fe. The activist newsletter said that 50 hotel managers from Santa Fe and Albuquerque met in December to try to figure out how to counter the organizing.


On the Boise National Forest, the April 5 Idaho Falls Post Register reports, the agency set fire to 1,400 acres of overgrown timber to clear out brush and invading trees choking ponderosa pine forests. They hope to burn 20,000 to 30,000 acres a year for the next two decades to begin to save ponderosa pine forests from brush and subsequent wildfires. The agency was forced to forget about Smokey Bear by a 1992 fire, in which 256,000 acres of brush-infested forest were burned in the Foothills Fire. John McCarthy, conservation director for the Idaho Conservation League, praised the controlled burn policy as "a real positive change."


While the Republican revolution rolls on, opposition is gathering.

In Arizona, state Senate Democrats threatened to filibuster a bill to yank citizens' right to sue to compel the state to enforce clean-air and clean-water laws. After the threat, the Arizona Republic (4/5/95) said Republican leaders found a number of its members also opposed the bill, which has now been amended to remove offending language.


Major environmental groups are spending up to $3 million on ads opposing takings and anti-regulatory bills passed by the House. The efforts focus on the states of 10 swing senators; the theme is that we are heading back to the past, with the ads illustrated with footage showing the Cuyahoga River burning its way through Cleveland and factories belching smoke, according to Seattle's Post-Intelligencer.

Twenty national environmental groups hope to present an Environmental Bill of Rights, with 1 million signatures, to House Speaker Newt Gingrich after July 4.

Gingrich may be wasting his time on takings. He should be repealing the laws of physics. According to AP, insurance companies are worried about tremendous losses they have suffered from major storms since 1987, and fear what future atmospheric unrest will bring. Insurance executives joined environmentalists in Berlin at a global warming conference to push for reductions of greenhouse gases.

Even with Lloyds of London showing a bit of green, counterattacks pall before attacks. The House Budget Committee voted to sink the Land and Water Conservation Fund, used since the 1960s to purchase open space. It had been squeezed down under Clinton to $200 million a year. Now, the Budget Committee wants to do an uncompensated takings on the fund to save $939 million over the next five years. The recommendation for the five-year spending moratorium went to the House Appropriations Committee.

- Ed Marston and staff