Bankrupt bigly; coal’s demise; shoplifting job applicant

Mishaps and mayhem from around the region.


WYOMING: A classic from the “hayday” of automobiles.
Greg Krush

Sometimes it pays bigly to go bankrupt, especially if you’re the boss. Cloud Peak Energy, the coal behemoth that owns three mines in Montana and Wyoming, declared bankruptcy May 10, but that didn’t stop its board from giving CEO Colin Marshall a “retention bonus” of $1.15 million earlier this year. Other top executives fared well, too, receiving bonuses that, in total, “could exceed $16 million” for the year. This generous payout to the people who helped drive the company off a financial cliff “comes on top of a whopping $78 million that Cloud Peak’s top brass took home between 2010 and 2017,” reports Sightline Institute. Over the years, according to EcoWatch, the giant coal company has also bankrolled a network of groups that deny global climate disruption, including the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Energy Research, which dismisses renewable energy as a waste of resources and stubbornly insists that there’s no scientific consensus about our warming climate. Cloud Peak-funded groups have also aggressively attacked the Sierra Club as “dangerous radicals” while backing organizations that want to deregulate mining and sell off our public lands for energy development. Unfortunately, not everyone associated with the corporation will get rich by its bankruptcy; the many Montana and Wyoming companies that supplied the mines will probably get pennies on the dollar. Other losers include the company’s rank-and-file employees: Last fall, Cloud Peak “terminated its retiree health plan to save some money.”

April was indeed a cruel month for coal: That month, a combination of hydro, wind, solar and geothermal energy generated more electricity than coal-fired power plants. And according to the Energy Information Administration, renewables might continue to trump coal. The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis reported that in 2018, natural gas supplanted coal as the country’s top power provider. Natural gas provided 35% last year while coal’s share dropped to 27%. Maybe the times they are a-changin’ after all. 

Kitsap County Public Works officials warned locals to “hang up” on any calls appearing to be from the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce after a prankster “spoofed” the chamber’s phone number, the Seattle Times reports. Someone claiming to be a public-works employee alarmed residents with oddball warnings, telling people that their street name was changing to “Cannabis Way,” or that a cell tower was going up at the end of their driveway. One robo-message sounded quasi-believable: “We’re going to be digging a 60-foot hole in your yard on Monday. There was money left in a budget and someone needed to learn how to dig a hole.”

After Stephanie Land enrolled in the University of Montana’s Creative Writing Program, she asked director Judy Blunt if a writing career really made sense. Blunt’s blunt advice: Think of writing as “the same as refinishing a floor.” Land appreciated that workmanlike approach. She’d already faced hard times, she said: Being broke, pregnant and without any work except the low-paying jobs that she cobbled together. That experience taught her firsthand about life at the bottom of the economic ladder, a place where many people say they feel invisible. Happily, Land’s memoir about her experience, Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, hit the jackpot, becoming a bestseller. (Read our review.) In an interview with the university’s Montana magazine, Land said many readers have told her that her book made them think, with some adding that it spurred them to tip at hotels or learn “the name of the woman who cleans my office at work.” Land hopes Maid gives people some empathy for the unseen people whose hard work makes the lives of others easier: “Take the time to really look at people,” she suggests. For the author, the book’s success means that these days, she can afford a new vehicle to travel the West “without fearing her car would fall apart.”

Missoula, home of the University of Montana, is going its own way when it comes to shedding fossil fuels. Driven by “moral imperative and public demand,” the Missoula Current reports, the county joined the city in adopting a resolution to achieve 100% renewable electricity by 2030. That makes the county and city the first in the state to buck the Montana Legislature, which is moving in the opposite direction by trying to find a way to prop up coal. They join 110 cities that have also pledged to find green alternatives to fossil fuels. For their part, Montana’s Republican-dominated Legislature and Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock “have done little to address climate change.”

A while back, the Gillette News Record recounted the story of a shoplifter who liked a store, or at least its merchandise, so much that he wanted to work there. On his first trip to the Sportsman’s Warehouse in Gillette, the man allegedly pocketed some ammunition and sunglasses. A few hours later he was back, only this time he “asked to fill out a job application.” Police say he followed that up by snagging two more items without paying for them. A sales job is probably not in his future — unless, of course, companies with the high standards of, say, Cloud Peak Energy are hiring.

Tips and photos of Western oddities are appreciated and often shared in this column. Write [email protected] or tag photos #heardaroundthewest on Instagram.


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