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“Promises of responsible oil sands development ring hollow”

Billion litres of coal-mine muck leaks into Athabasca River

tarsandspondsA BILLION LITERS! That’s like 300 million gallons of “muck” released into the Athabasca River from the Obed Mountain coal mine in Alberta. This is , of course, one of hundreds of tailings ponds used by the giant tar sands mines all through the boreal north. Oil companies have long guaranteed that the ponds are safe and can never fail.

“I haven’t seen this happen. Coal mine incidents and pit leak incidents are really rare,” [a spokesman for the Alberta Energy Regulator] said. “I was surprised this could happen.”

Not true of course, but it sounds good. This is just one more example of the horrible cost of tar sands oil. The tar sands are an environmental nightmare that we will be living with for centuries and the Athabasca River is taking the current brunt of the damage. “A study conducted by University of Alberta biologists and ecologists released Monday concluded that 13 toxic pollutants found in Alberta’s Athabasca River came from the oil sands.”

Last year: “On Monday, the leak from a water pipe at the Suncor oil-sands site saw an estimated 350,000 litres of industrial waste water pour into the Athabasca over a 10-hour period, causing “a short-term, negligible impact on the river,” according to the company.” This followed another huge leak in 2011. You could spend hours on Google reading about the leaky tar sands mining operations. Here are just a few of the facts about tar sands mining.

  • Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year. The water requirements for oil sands projects range from 2.5 to 4.0 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced.
  • Oil sands mining is licensed to use twice the amount of fresh water that the entire city of Calgary uses in a year. The water requirements for oil sands projects range from 2.5 to 4.0 barrels of water for each barrel of oil produced.
  • At least 90% of the fresh water used in the oil sands ends up in tailing lakes so toxic thatpropane cannons and floating scarecrows are used to keep ducks from landing in them.
  • The toxic tailing lakes are considered one of the largest human-made structures in the world. The toxic lakes in Northern Alberta span 50 square kilometers and can be seen from space.
  • A 2003 report concluded that “an accident related to the failure of one of the oil sands tailings ponds could have catastrophic impact in the aquatic ecosystem of the Mackenzie River Basin due to the size of these lakes and their proximity to the Athabasca River.”

The size and scale of these leaking ponds are striking. About a dozen “ponds” rise 300 feet above the ground and cover 80 square miles of boreal forest and wetlands. Until recently, the U.S. Department of the Interior rated Syncrude’s Tailing Dam as the world’s largest dam in terms of volume of construction material (706,320,000 cubic yards). Now China’s Three Gorges Dam holds the title.

Almost all the dikes in the tar sands are leaking, but the Alberta government does not report the volume of seepage. For more than 40 years, Suncor’s Tar Island dike directly spewed or leaked bitumen and chemicals into the Athabasca River.

Environmental Defense recently calculated that one billion gallons of tailings waste now leaches into groundwater or surface water every year. In a recent mining blog, Jack Caldwell, a crusty U.S. geotechnical engineer, didn’t think the U.S. EPA would tolerate such a situation. “But then Canada is a small country of rugged individuals living in a harsh climate.”

The current leak took place, fittingly, on Halloween.

Who’s On First?

Heyyy Abbot!

Heyyy Abbot!

This morning the Republicans are all whining about their big loss. I’m just trying to figure out who the winners are and what exactly the Republican Party has lost. Certainly the country and the economy lost, to the tune of $24 billion due to the government shutdown. Millions of people lost pay and benefits. We lost the use of some of our country’s treasures for more than two weeks. Our country lost stature among many of the world’s top economies and we all appeared to be idiots on the world stage.

Congress has agreed to keep the government open and pay our debts as well as start talking about a budget. In other words, they have agreed to do their jobs for a couple of months before re-embarking on the Crazy Train.

If there are losers, and I certainly agree that most Republicans are losers, there should also be winners, but I just can’t seem discover anyone who benefited from the insanity of the last two weeks. About the only thing that Republicans wanted that they didn’t get was the revocation of the signature achievement of a sitting president through a Democratically-controlled Senate. Dissolution of the Affordable Care Act was never on the table and was never a realistic goal, but the GOP held the entire country for ransom for two weeks just to prove. . .?

Protecting Christianity from Muslim/Hispanic Terror Babies

TpartyYou can’t help but feel just a smidgen of sorrow for the Republican Party as they move in a direction diametrically opposed to the direction of the majority of the country. They see “their country” pulling away from crazy just as conservatives sink ever deeper into madness. Beset by an illegal, black, Muslim, Socialist president who was reelected under their watch and whom they cannot seem to impeach, everywhere they look they see dire threats to their core beliefs.

It’s a tough situation to rectify. A lot of Americans were not ready for a mixed-race president. They weren’t ready for gay marriage. They weren’t ready for the wave of legal and illegal immigration that redefined American demographics over the past two or three decades, bringing in lots of nonwhites. They weren’t ready — who was? — for the brutal effects of globalization on working- and middle-class Americans or the devastating fallout from the financial crisis.

Their representatives didn’t stop Obamacare. And their side didn’t “take back America” in 2012 as Fox News and conservative radio personalities led them to believe they would. They feel the culture is running away from them (and they’re mostly right). They lack the power to control their own government. But they still have just enough to shut it down.

To alleviate their pain, conservatives gather together and elect crazy people to Congress to provide at least a modicum of comic relief to these apocalyptic end times. Their elected idiocracy recieves their marching orders as attempting to destroy government as we know it. If they can’t impeach the current government, they will just shut it down and drive the country into bankruptcy for the good of all. What drives the insane wing of the Republican Party? Here are a few private thoughts about the elected head of our government shared by members of a recent Republican focus group from within their disconnected bubble;

  • “Socialist, income redistribution”
  • “Lack of relationship with the American people.”
  • “Muslim; birth agenda; Fake; not true”
  • “Not a US citizen. Supports Terrorists.”
  • “I don’t believe he’s a Christian. He’s a tyrant.”
  • “He is going to try to turn this into a communist country.”
  • “He supports everything that is against Christianity.”

When their elected muttonheads hear these plaintive moanings, they feel the need to do something. Anything, as long as it will drive the heartrending cries from what little is left of their brains. They try legislative solutions such as denying health care to the poor and aged, or outlawing gay marriage and abortion. When these actions inevitably fail, they move quickly to the microphone. They berate the “government” for shutting down monuments on the Washington mall, forgetting that is was their own incompetence that put up the barricades in the first place. They blame low-level Park Service employees for the government shutdown. They would deny back pay to their own furloughed employees to castigate…? When those actions bear no fruit, they pacify themselves in their “essential” Congressional pool and spa and then complain about the service after they laid off most of the employees.gohmert

Ted Cruz, Steve Daines, Michelle Bachmann, Rand Paul, Steve King? Sure, they are good for a laugh occasionally when they try to explain their mystifying political philosophy, but I have to admit that my favorite Republican humorist is Rep. Louie Gohmert (R) of Texas. Most of the Cuckoo Caucus are capable of generating the occasional snicker, giggle or chuckle, but for outright howling paranoia, it’s hard to beat the illegitimate twin brother of Gomer Pyle. Did I mention… Texas? Shazaam,! What a guy! Louie lives in constant panic of “Terror Babies” rolling out of their cribs to inflict unbelievable devastation to our democracy. Louie sees Muslim radicals such as Senator John McCain shuttling Al Qaeda operatives across the Mexican border into Arizona. We know this because Al Qaeda has camps among the drug cartels south of the border.

“We know al Qaeda has camps over with the drug cartels on the other side of the Mexican border. We know that people are now being trained to come in and act like Hispanic when they’re radical Islamists. We know these things are happening and… it’s just insane not to protect ourselves.”

And, believe me, “insane” is something that Gohmert knows a lot about. Just wanted to express my appreciation to the good voters of Texas for electing folks like Louie who can’t help but keep the tone of our politics light and fun.

We screwed up, please send money

smokeySteve Daines hates the idea of the federal government wasting money on national parks. But, he loves the idea of borrowing money from the states to fund national parks. I thought these guys hated borrowing money? But they are proposing taking a massive, interest-free loan from states to re-open national parks that have been shuttered due to the incompetence of their own Republican Party.

The administration is proposing allowing national parks to be funded by individual states until Congress regains its sanity. Congressman Steve Daines says he will introduce a bill to assure that states will be reimbursed for any money they spend on the parks.

I am introducing legislation to ensure that the federal government reimburses states that choose to exercise this authority.

No mention of how much interest states will be able to charge for providing our state tax money to do what we have already paid Congress to do.  States are losing massive amounts of revenue due to the closure of popular parks and other wild lands. We are turning away more than 750,000 visitors a day from our 401 publicly-owned treasures due to insanity on the part of a few RepubliT Party crackpots in Congress. Glacier National Park alone estimates they are rejecting 20,000 citizens each and every day the shutdown continues. Just who has caused this loss of revenue to the states seems to elude our esteemed congressman;

Needless political gridlock in Washington has unfortunately placed our unmatched wildlife, beauty, and opportunities in our national parks at risk. I strongly believe our parks are a proud mark of our identity in Montana that must be protected,…  Like you, I know neighboring communities rely on Glacier and Yellowstone for their livelihoods and that our state benefits from gateway economic activity tremendously.

Daines “strongly” believes that our parks should be protected and visited, but evidently not strongly enough to get him to do the job we sent him to Washington to do and write a budget. If the Washington gridlock is “needless” then, why for God’s sake does he keep voting to extend the shutdown and prolong the pain to Montana?

Fishing for fines

Locked-out-of-Flat-CreekAnd here, we have an armed U.S. Park Service bull escorting an angler out of the Flat Creek access in Wyoming.  Did I fail to mention that electing idiots to Congress has consequences? I suggest that when planning your next fishing trip, you first make a quick call to your U.S. Congressman to make sure it’s okay. You don’t want to end up serving 2-5 in Leavenworth like this poor sucker for failing to know the difference between a brown trout and a carp.

I might also suggest that, when you call you ask for the special, super-secret GOP Decoder Ring as well if you want to know what the Hell Republicans are talking about. Also, with each purchase, you will receive, free of charge, one handsome, “Get out of Obamacare free” plastic commemorative wallet card.

Oh, and, by the way, the answer is that carp (and Congressmen) have smaller brains than brown trout.

“Hold it! Next man makes a move, the nigger gets it!”



In case you don’t recognize it, that’s a quote from Sheriff Bart in Blazing Saddles (1974) while holding a pistol to his own head.

Here’s one from John Podhoretz, conservative columnist for the New York Post yesterday:

“If ObamaCare had been as unpopular as conservatives believed, their plan for the shutdown — that there would be a public uprising to force Democratic senators in close races in 2014 to defund it — would’ve worked. It didn’t.  Not a single senator budged.

Their tactic failed, and now what they are left with is House Speaker John Boehner basically begging the president of the United States to negotiate with him.”

Science, Politics and Native Trout

Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks
1420 East Sixth AvenuePlease Help
P.O. Box 200701
Helena, MT 59620-0701

Director Jeff Hagener,

Joel Sartore Bull Trout Photo

Joel Sartore Bull Trout Photo

I have to say that I am very disappointed in the current FWP response to the scientifically-based plan to reduce the bloated population of lake trout in Flathead Lake. MFWP worked with the CSKT for many years to establish and execute a management plan for the Flathead Lake and River System. The overall aim of that co-management plan was to reduce the number of predatory lake trout. Since the 2005 mid-term review, it has been evident that the objective has failed. We now have a lake trout population exceeding 1.5 million fish. We have nearly lost Swan Lake to invasion by Flathead Lake trout. 12 of the 17 lakes in Glacier National Park have been invaded by lake trout and the native fish populations in many of those lakes are functionally extinct. The Flathead lake trout population is expanding throughout the system.

Even though one of the objectives of the Flathead Lake and River Fisheries Co-Management plan was to “Provide a recreational fishery based on nonnative and native fish…” within the 10-year period of the plan, it has now been 21 years since we could last legally fish for our native bull trout in the North and Middle Forks, and Main Flathead River. We have willfully removed an important segment of our native fish assemblage and reduced fishing opportunity for all river anglers.

The number one goal of the co-management plan was to “increase and protect native trout populations.” As it became evident that the co-management plan was not meeting its primary objective through the use of recreational fishing alone, FWP encouraged an increase in lake trout harvest. In 2010, FWP Director Joe Maurier wrote; “I am committed to putting a gillnetting pilot program together. I am committed to enhancing bull trout populations in Flathead Lake, as we have in other lakes in other parts of the region. I recognize gill netting as a legitimately identified management application in the joint management plan.” The Tribes took that as encouragement to work on their pilot netting program. Once that program was completed, FWP complained that it was “incomplete in both content and process” and removed their name from the process.

The Tribes have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to rewrite the proposal using the best possible science and a full-blown EIS process. The completed plan received the support of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, The U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, DNRC, The University of Montana and others, as well as various conservation and angler organizations. FWP sits alone in opposition beside a few commercial fishermen who benefit from the status quo.

MFWP continues to cling to mainly political arguments that have been repeatedly rejected by scientific review. In response to the release of the CSKT proposal, FWP released a poorly forged “Q & A” response using outdated and bromidic arguments. The “stable” argument for native fish has been repeatedly repudiated. Even the 2002 report “Native Trout Security Levels for the Flathead System”, cited in the Q & A, clearly states that “Secure levels do not represent target or management goals. The Co-Management Plan is specific in its goal to increase native trout populations… At this time, regardless of what these levels are, managers will try to increase native trout numbers from current levels.” That has never happened and has not been supported by FWP even though they signed the document.

The bycatch argument is likewise pretty much a bogus contention. Of course, bycatch is an issue that will have to be closely monitored, but it has never been a problem in any of the several ongoing lake trout reduction projects. Lake Pend Oreille and Swan Lake publish their bycatch mortality figures and in both cases, there has been no noticeable affect on the non-target native fish populations. In any case, it is the job of USFWS to closely monitor any activity that may affect ESA-listed native fish populations and they can pull the plug or require changes at any time if harm is occurring.

Current harvest by angling alone is about 70,000 lake trout. Even though the co-management plan has run for 23 years, FWP still claims that the current level “may be helping bull trout”, but it’s “too early to tell”.  Even the most aggressive alternative under the CSKT proposal would only slightly more than double current levels of harvest to 143,000 lake trout out of a population of 1.5 million fish. If anything, some of the reviewing fishery scientists think the plan is not aggressive enough.

I have seen no science undertaken by FWP that would refute findings by CSKT. All we hear is that the Tribal plan won’t work, but no realistic alternatives have been presented that have not been tried, and failed, for the last 20 years. It is time for our outstanding Montana fish and wildlife managers to lead and get on board with actual solutions and not spend so much effort on sour grapes.


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