Two weeks in the West

  • Utah's Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., left, joined California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in agreeing to limit greenhouse gases as part of the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative

    COURTESY UTAH GOVERNOR'S OFFICE
  • Exxon's 75 story-tall deep drilling and production platform in the Gulf of Mexico

    U.S. COAST GUARD
 

Maybe it’s the weather; drought or abnormally dry weather is afflicting 70 percent of the West. Maybe the creeks gushing with unseasonably early snowmelt inspired lawmakers. Or maybe it’s just that last month marked the end of the legislative season. Whatever the reason, May was a big month for states — from Utah to California — to initiate measures that target greenhouse gas emissions.

On May 21, as his state languished under moderate drought, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., R, signed on to the Western Regional Climate Action Initiative, joining five other states in an effort to establish greenhouse gas emission limits by this fall. A year after that, they hope to implement a market-based carbon-trading system for the region. However, some Utahns worry that the move may up their electric rates, currently only half of what Californians pay.

Utah’s air will also benefit from another law implemented two states away, where extreme drought holds sway. On May 23, the California Energy Commission banned municipal utilities from entering into new contracts to purchase electricity emitting more than 1,100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt hour generated (the commission imposed a similar ban for private utilities this year). That effectively eliminates coal from California’s power portfolio. Currently, about 20 percent of the electricity used in the state comes from coal-burning power plants. But none of those plants is in the Golden State. Rather, they are located in places like Utah, Arizona and New Mexico.

Similar coal bans are included in a bill signed by Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire, D, on May 3. The law, which commits the state to reducing both its release of greenhouse gases and its dependence on fossil fuels, mimics the Global Warming Solutions Act passed in California last year.

Montana, itself a big coal producer, wasn’t so hard on fossil fuels — lawmakers started off their legislative session by shooting down a handful of measures that would have upped environmental standards for the energy industry and limited greenhouse gas emissions. But Gov. Brian Schweitzer, D, signed a “green and clean” energy bill in May granting tax breaks to renewable energy projects, such as solar and wind. It also gives breaks to coal-gasification and coal plants that capture their emissions.

 

Colorado also stood up to the energy industry in May. Drilling rigs are popping up all over the state, and many of them are on so-called split-estate lands, where different parties own the surface and mineral rights. In the past, the mineral owners have had the upper hand, building roads and drill pads and generally running roughshod over property while landowners stood by helplessly. After years of unsuccessful attempts, legislators finally passed a bill that will give landowners a bit more say over how drilling is done on their land, and Gov. Bill Ritter, D, signed it May 29. New Mexico passed a similar bill in March; landowner-rights activists hope the bills will set a national precedent.

Ritter also signed a bill mixing up the membership of the state’s oil and gas regulatory board. In the past, it was dominated by industry reps. Now it will be expanded to include the directors of the state health and natural resources departments, as well as representatives from the environmental and agricultural sectors.

In other Western news:

  • Environmental activists who burned buildings at the Vail ski resort, torched a horse slaughterhouse, knocked down power lines and damaged other property — but didn’t injure anyone — between 1996 and 2001, were sentenced as “terrorists” in U.S. District Court in Eugene, Ore., in May. Judge Ann L. Aiken sentenced three members of “the family” to nine to 13 years in prison; their terms would have been about half that had they not acted against the government.
  • The U.S. Forest Service will spend $1.5 million this year on its “Kids in the Woods” program, aimed at getting children off the couch and into nature. An estimated 23,000 kids will participate in programs in 15 states, mostly in the West.
  • The West is the land of McMansions and mobile homes, says a new survey by the U.S. Census Bureau. Americans in general are opting for bigger houses, but Utah leads the nation in homes with more than four bedrooms. Meanwhile, New Mexico and South Carolina each have more trailers than any other state in the U.S.
High Country News Classifieds
  • FIGHTING FOR WILDLIFE
    Position Type: Community organizer; full-time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT. Compensation: $50,000 Benefits: Medical stipend, vacation time, flexibility. Application Deadline: June 15th. Starting Date: July 1...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL ACTION PLAN COORDINATOR
    The Coeur d'Alene Tribe is hiring an Environmental Programs Manager in the Natural Resources Department. This position manages work in wetlands, brownfields, climate change, energy...
  • PROGRAM DIRECTOR - YELLOWSTONE TO YUKON CONSERVATION INITIATIVE
    About the Organization The Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y) is a joint Canada-U.S. not-for-profit organization with a mission to connect and protect wildlife habitat...
  • COMMUNICATIONS & DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT Compensation: $42,000 - $47,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k, PTO, flexible...
  • PARTNERSHIP & COLLABORATION DIRECTOR
    WEST REGION WILDFIRE COUNCIL- RIDGWAY, CO The partnership & collaboration director will provide leadership and/or assistance with all initiatives that create and enhance connections between...
  • 2 FIELD PROJECT SPECIALISTS (POSITION FORMERLY TITLED TRAIL CREW TECHNICAL ADVISOR)
    Are you passionate about environmental conservation and connecting people to the outdoors? The Pacific Crest Trail Association (PCTA) is looking for someone with outdoor leadership...
  • WATER STEWARD
    The Blackfoot Challenge is seeking a full-time Water Steward to coordinate and deliver a variety of partnerships and projects aimed at conserving and enhancing water...
  • SMALL FARM AT BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA, CALIF.
    Fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm in the mountain town of Mount Shasta. Small home, 2 barns (one with apartment), and more. Famously pure air and water.
  • CUSTOMER SERVICE ASSISTANT - (PART-TIME)
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a part-time Customer Service Assistant, based at...
  • POLICY & PLANNING SPECIALIST
    Position Type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman, MT highly preferred, remote negotiable Compensation: $50,000-54,000 Benefits: Major Medical Insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • CONSERVATION PROGRAM MANAGER
    Illinois Valley SWCD is offering an incredible career opportunity in beautiful SW Oregon. .8+ FTE, plus benefits. Visit our website for full details.
  • DEVELOPMENT MANAGER
    Formed in 1980, Western Colorado Alliance for Community Action brings people together to build grassroots power through community organizing and leadership development. The Alliance works...
  • LITIGATION ASSISTANT, NORTHERN ROCKIES OFFICE - FULL-TIME BOZEMAN | REMOTE OPTION
    Visit our website to apply: earthjustice.org/about/jobs
  • BUFFALO NATIONS GRASSLANDS ALLIANCE SEEKING AN ASSESSMENT CONSULTANT
    ASSESSMENT OF THE SCOPE OF CONSERVATION PLANNING AND ACTIVITIES IN NATIVE NATIONS IN THE NORTHERN GREAT PLAINS Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance Buffalo Nations Grasslands Alliance...
  • CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER
    Rural Community Assistance Corporation seeks experienced CFO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Friends of Arches and Canyonlands Parks, the official philanthropic non-profit partner with the National Park Service Southeast Utah Group, is seeking an Executive Director....
  • GRAND CANYON MANAGER
    Application deadline: May 9, 2022 Anticipated start date: June 15, 2022 About the position Are you passionate about building authentic relationships, supporting tribally led initiatives,...
  • LAND CONSERVATION PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Eastern Sierra Land Trust (ESLT) is seeking a Land Conservation Program Director to join our nationally accredited land trust. This is a full-time position based...
  • OUTREACH AND COMMUNICATIONS COORDINATOR
    Reports to: Communications and Outreach Director Location: Ashton, Idaho (partial remote schedule possible) Status: Full-time, 40 hours per week Timing and Duration: Position open until...
  • CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
    The Western Landowners Alliance (WLA) was founded in 2012 by landowners and managers to increase the wellbeing of working lands in the American West and...