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Wake Up Call

startingthefightIt wasn’t the Russians. It wasn’t racism. It wasn’t Wikileaks, Fox News, Corporate Media or the FBI. We did it to ourselves.

My Dad’s Democratic Party was a party of inclusion. It was the party of steelworkers, farmers, waitresses, cab drivers and carpenters. The Democratic Party of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama is a white collar party of exurban commuters and stock traders. Many of the folks that elected Donald Trump were abandoned by the Democratic Party. Their party abandoned worker’s rights, fair wages, unions, pensions and the social safety net in favor of financial controls, closing tax loopholes and free trade. Not that those things are not important, but if you are living paycheck to paycheck and can’t afford to send your kids to college, the travails of corporate malfeasance are not an overarching priority. Working folks had nowhere to turn except to the planet of empty promises and pie-in-the-sky. It is my ardent wish that Democrats have learned from this experience, but that may well be pie-in-the-sky too. We can’t blame outside forces for Donald Trump. We need to look inward and find where we have failed.

Robert Reich got it right;

Recent economic indicators may be up, but those indicators don’t reflect the insecurity most Americans continue to feel, nor the seeming arbitrariness and unfairness they experience. Nor do the major indicators show the linkages many Americans see between wealth and power, stagnant or declining real wages, soaring CEO pay, and the undermining of democracy by big money.

Glen Greenwald has been following the backlash vote;

For many years, the U.S. — like the U.K. and other Western nations — has embarked on a course that virtually guaranteed a collapse of elite authority and internal implosion. From the invasion of Iraq to the 2008 financial crisis to the all-consuming framework of prisons and endless wars, societal benefits have been directed almost exclusively to the very elite institutions most responsible for failure at the expense of everyone else.

Everyone recognizes the need for change. There are calls for a new party, a new politics, a new coalition. “We need a people’s party — a party capable of organizing and mobilizing Americans in opposition to Donald Trump’s Republican Party, which is about to take over all three branches of the US government. We need a New Democratic Party that will fight against intolerance and widening inequality.” says Reich. We had that party, it used to be the Democratic Party, but we have lost our way.

Here is what we need to understand:  a hell of a lot of people are in pain. Under neoliberal policies of deregulation, privatisation, austerity and corporate trade, their living standards have declined precipitously. They have lost jobs. They have lost pensions. They have lost much of the safety net that used to make these losses less frightening. They see a future for their kids even worse than their precarious present.

Today Bernie Sanders is the most important person in the Democratic Party and even he is not a Democrat. It’s time to focus people. We need to bring back the party we once had, the party that recognizes that we have forgotten the people part of the equation.

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More Coggin Poppycock

Here’s the latest attack ad from the oil and gas industry attacking EPA and the Clean Water Act. The letter was published in The Hill blog yesterday and was, of course, signed by our old friend, and Rick Berman employee, Will Coggin.

Richard “Rick” Berman is a longtime Washington, D.C. public relations specialist whose lobbying and consulting firm, Berman and Company, Inc., advocates for special interests and powerful industries. Berman and Co. wages deceptive campaigns against industry foes including labor unions; public-health advocates; and consumer, safety, animal welfare, and environmental groups.

nyc1Coggin is variously identified as “director of research at the Environmental Policy Alliance“, or “director of research at the Center for Consumer Freedom”, depending on which targets his corporate overlords want attacked this week. Both groups spend their millions attacking environmental groups and consumer advocate groups such as the Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers and Trout Unlimited, the EPA, Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Food & Water Watch, PETA and Mothers Against Drunk Driving and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Center for Science in the Public Interest through an extensive network of tacky websites, billboards, print ads and recently, letters to many local newspapers across the western U.S attacking the EPA and opponents of the transfer of public lands to private control.

“Berman makes his money as a corporate hired gun, setting up front groups to denigrate public interest organizations that threaten his clients’ bottom lines,” Melanie Sloan, executive director for the nonprofit watchdog Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told HuffPost. “I’m not surprised he’s attacking groups and agencies focused on the environment, given the deep pockets of those interested in paying to stop climate change legislation and regulation.”

If the campaign runs true to form, the Hill letter will soon show up in various newspapers across Montana. Their aim is not to elucidate, but to confuse and confound through a blizzard of deception.

“Our offensive strategy is to shoot the messenger,” admits [Rick] Berman. “Given the activists’ plans to alarm beyond all reason, we’ve got to attack their credibility as spokespersons.” The Center has so aggressively defended junk food, a USA Today editorial said it should rename its site called ConsumerFreedom.com to FatforProfit.com

UPDATE 05/19/2015: Reply from TRCP“These attacks are disingenuous and blatantly hypocritical. The folks behind the Environmental Policy Alliance are lobbyists and PR spinmeisters who are paid by industry to roll back conservation, yet they presume to tell Beltway readers who the real sportsmen are and what we should support.”

Access or Profit?

Think the State of Montana is better at managing public lands than the Federal Government? Think again.

The National Wildlife Federation just released a report titled How Could Your Recreational Access Change if Federal Lands were Controlled by the States? The report details differences between state and federal management of public lands.

springprairie2

Spring Prairie then

During the 1890s, Spring Prairie north of Kalispell was a favored stop for wagon and mule trains traveling the Fort Steele Trail. This important trail connected the Mullan Road near Missoula with the Tobacco Plains and the prosperous mining districts in British Columbia. Spring Prairie offered a large spring of clear water as well as plentiful grazing and timber and was an important resting point before the caravans entered the arduous, heavily timbered part of the northward journey.

At least there is plenty of public access

Spring Prairie today: At least there is plenty of public access

By the Enabling Act of 1889, Montana was to be given sections 16 and 36 of every township within it’s borders when it became a state. The lands were to be held in trust by the state for public education. Spring Prairie was part of that bequest. Montana law requires state trust lands to be administrated to “secure the largest measure of legitimate and reasonable advantage to the state.” Today, due to this mandate to maximize revenues from state lands, Spring Prairie is mostly paved over with plans afoot in the near future to fill and pave the spring itself. Phase 4 of the development will put just over $100,000 a year into state coffers.

At statehood, Montana was given 5.9 million acres of school trust land. After selling off around 800,000 acres, today the State Land Board administers about 5.1 million acres. Those lands include 4.7 million acres under 9,000 agreements for crop and range leases throughout the state, 5,301 oil and gas, metalliferous and non-metalliferous mineral, coal, and sand and gravel leases, and 39 coal leases. The state sold 61.4 million board feet of timber from 780,000 acres of state lands in 2014. Since the state owns our riverbeds, Montana also leases 19,000 acres of riverbed and island tracts for oil and gas development. In 2014, Montana sold 4,093 acres of state trust land.

Until 1991, most of the leased lands were accessible only at the whim of the lessor. Today you can buy a State Lands Permit to access most state lands. About 1.3 million acres of Montana’s public lands are “landlocked” that is, they are surrounded by private parcels and not accessible by the public. One example is the section surrounded by Ted Turner’s 22,000-acre Bar None Ranch. Turner Enterprises leases 16,600 acres of public land in Montana. The area is technically open to public access, but the reality is there is no access across the private land unless you pay Mr. Turner’s Montana Hunting Company $14,000 to hunt on the “public” land.

If Montana were to take possession of all the BLM and U.S. Forest Service land in the state, they would gain about 25 million acres on which to maximize profits for the state. In 1999, the Montana State Legislature passed a law exempting many DNRC activities from MEPA compliance for “lease renewals” and certain other activities associated with trust lands management. If these lands were managed like state trust lands, much of your current access would be lost, or restricted. Much of the new land would necessarily have to be sold to the highest bidder to maximize profit for the state. You would have to buy a permit for lands you can now access for free. Some lands you can now access would be leased for commercial activities which would impair public access and impact wildland values. Virtually every decision on management of public lands would be based on what is best for the state revenue stream and not on what is best for the physical streams, forests and recreational values.

Spring Prairie has become an asphalt wasteland under state management to provide a modest boost to state coffers. Little oversight from overworked and understaffed state agencies would result in much the same fate for many currently open public lands in Montana if the current iteration of the Sagebrush Rebellion is allowed to move forward with its profit-fueled ,corporate vision for public lands in our state.

 

Same song, Seventh verse

irrigationline“The bill will ratify a settlement quantifying the water rights of the Tribe and providing for their development in a manner that avoids harm to their neighbors It provides Federal funds necessary for water supply facilities and Tribal economic development, and defines the Federal role in implementing the settlement. This Settlement bill has the full support of the Tribe, the State of Montana, the Administration and the water users who farm and ranch on streams shared with the Reservation. The bill will effectuate a settlement that is a textbook example of how State, Tribal, and Federal governments can work together to resolve differences in a way that meets the concerns of all. It is also a settlement that reflects the effectiveness of Tribal and non-Tribal water users in working together in good will and good faith and with respect for each other’s needs and concerns.”

Sound familiar? This is a quote from The Honorable Rick Hill in the Congressional Record for Feb. 23, 1999 on introduction of the Chippewa Cree Tribe Reserved Water Rights Settlement Act.

Upon introduction of the Rocky Boy Settlement and Compact in the Senate in 1999, Conrad Burns announced the Congressional findings:

By reaching an out of court settlement, the parties will – once this package is implemented – go to the state water court and ask that all pending litigation involving claims by the Tribe, and by the United States on behalf of the Tribe, be dropped. The quantification of the Tribe’s water right will also clearly benefit upstream and downstream users of water in the effected drainage, including the Big Sandy and Beaver Creek as well as the Milk River. These other users will be able to plan for their future because they will know precisely how much water the Chippewa Cree Tribe is entitled to.

Then Governor Marc Racicot praised the Rocky Boy Compact saying:

The settlement of reserved water rights claims within the State of Montana is of utmost importance to the State… The Rocky Boy’s Compact provides for the development of much needed water resources on the Reservation, while at the same time protecting existing water development, adjacent to, and downstream from the Reservation. The federal funding for development will help alleviate some of the very dire needs of Montana citizens who are Tribal members living on the Reservation.

This week in a opinion piece published in several Montana newspapers, former Governor Racicot again reiterated his support for negotiated settlement as the best way to resolve tribal reserved water rights issues including the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact.

As a former governor and attorney general, I know that the process of settling tribal water rights is difficult and challenging. But, I also have no doubt that failing to do so will not only be exponentially more costly for Montana taxpayers and the tribes. It will also continue to be a source of stress and strain to our communities and relationships as well. I strongly and respectfully encourage our legislators to approve the water compact between the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the state of Montana.

The CSKT Compact is the last of seven water rights settlements for Indian tribes in Montana to be negotiated between the Tribes, the State and the Federal Government. All of those agreements provided state and federal funds to improve water delivery infrastructure on the reservations. All of the agreements involved, to some extent, off-reservation and downstream water. Since the CSKT Reservation contains, by far the most water of any Montana reservation the current agreement may be a bit further reaching, but it is also, by far, the best deal for the State of Montana, the Federal Government and for the CSKT. Failure of this final negotiated agreement due to bigotry and fear will certainly be “exponentially more costly for Montana taxpayers and the tribes.”

County Conniving Concerning the CSKT Compact

Irrigation-Canal-Jocko-DistrictSo, let’s talk about the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Water Compact. This session of the Montana Legislature will take up ratification of the Compact. The last session failed to ratify the negotiated settlement and extended the term of the Reserved Water Rights Compact Commission (RWCC) to make a few changes to the agreement.

Montana, the CSKT and the Federal Government have been negotiating this legal settlement for more than 20 years to quantify the CSKT reserved water rights. The Commission successfully negotiated 17 other agreements for federally reserved water rights including six water compacts with Indian tribes within the state. Reserved water rights are legally created with the creation of any federal reserve, such as an Indian reservation, national forest, national wildlife refuge, national monument, etc. There are two ways to quantify these reserved water rights, through costly and time-consuming court actions, or through negotiated agreements between the parties. In 1979, the State of Montana chose to create the RWCC to negotiate for the state all reserved water rights claims. The negotiated agreements settle for all time legitimate and legal water rights claims. All of these claims have been successfully negotiated with little or no opposition.

This is the last chance we have to reach an equitable negotiated agreement. Under state law, if this Compact is not ratified prior to June 30, 2015, the Tribes have no alternative but to attempt to quantify their legal water rights through the court system. This solution will cost water users across Montana millions of dollars defending their legitimate water rights and will take decades to reach a conclusion. The Tribes will likely gain many more, and stricter rights to Montana water through lawsuits, but would prefer the simpler and cheaper negotiated agreement they have spent many years to reach.

There have been many letters in the local press supporting and objecting to the ratification of the CSKT Compact. Most of the objections offer very little, if any, legal challenge to the Compact, but rather offer claims that seem to be based in biased opinion. The Flathead County Commission recently sent a letter to Governor Bullock objecting to the Compact. The letter was mostly written by Commissioner Phil Mitchell with the help of a supposedly anonymous lawyer. The letter was approved and sent by two of the commissioners with no public input. The commission letter makes virtually no sense and offers insubstantial arguments against the agreement. This week, the Governor responded with a memorandum from his legal staff including a point-by-point refutation of the letter from the County Commission. Mitchell, who was the primary architect behind the commission’s letter to the state, told the Beacon that though he hadn’t yet read the governor’s letter, he was going to stand by his opinions about the compact.”

In his response, the Governor told the County Commission that “based on my engagement with this issue over the course of the last two years – that many of your concerns are rooted in significant misunderstandings about the Compact. As the memorandum makes clear, the Compact protects the homes, businesses, and communities of Flathead County.” His reply is a lot more polite than I could have been in response to their delirious comments, but obviously not polite enough to sway crazy people.

In a news story this morning (01/27) on the Governor’s reaction, Mitchell said the HE is drafting another letter and that HE “will reiterate the commissioners continued opposition to the compact as it’s currently written.” This begins to sound more like a personal tiff between Phil Mitchell with his small cadre of crackpot stealth advisors and the Governor, and less and less like legitimate county business. Will this new letter get a public airing and public comment prior to being sent to the Governor’s office? Is Phil Mitchell willing to make changes to his response based on actual facts that have not been many times refuted? Will Mitchell reveal the names of the people who are helping to write his response? Will the county be billed for legal advice silently received by the Commission?

I, for one, personally resent that our elected county officials continue to misrepresent the opinion of the people of Flathead County in order to further their own personal bias. Mitchell is using intentional misinformation and falsehoods to support a position that does not represent the best interests, or opinion of most of the people who pay his salary. And on top of that, his position could cost his constituents a considerable amount in unwarranted legal costs.

 

Water Wacky

verdellState Senator Verdell Jackson (R – HD 5) has never been one to let facts stand in the way of good legislation. A couple of years ago, Verdell said, “he’s spent four years reading about climate change but hasn’t come across “an experiment using the scientific method” that demonstrates that carbon dioxide contributes to it.”

Now, Verdell has bewilderingly taken offense with the Reserved Water Rights Compact between the Salish and Kootenai Tribes and the State of Montana. For a dozen years, the CSKT, the State of Montana and Federal regulators have been working on an agreement to protect the rights of existing water rights holders and address water rights and adjudication on the Flathead Indian Reservation. Since 1996, water rights on the reservation have been tied up due to uncertainties in the existing law. Since that time, there has been no legal way to obtain water rights inside reservation boundaries. Through a series of grueling negotiations over many years, the Compact Commission has worked out a provisional agreement that is fair to all parties. At the last minute, Verdell wants to step in and extend the argument for several more years for no perceptible reason.

In an op-ed in the Kalispell Daily Inter Lake on Jan. 20, Jackson makes several claims that are based entirely on fiction.

To put it simply, this compact will likely make it impossible to obtain any new surface water rights and will restrict wells located close to surface water in Western Montana along with limiting many existing water rights of irrigators. New home sites and large building projects may not get a viable amount of water.

Put simply, this entire claim is bunk. The compact does not affect any water rights claims in Western Montana outside the boundaries of the Flathead Reservation. The Compact does not restrict anybody’s wells or surface water rights off the Reservation. On the Flathead Reservation, the Compact would establish a Water Management Board to administer water rights on the Reservation and end the roadblock for new claims that has existed since 1996. The claim that new building projects may not be able to get a “viable amount of water” is just flat-out wrong. In fact, the Compact provides more local control and avoids costly litigation. The Compact provides for additional water from Hungry Horse Reservoir that would be available to the Tribes to lease for future development both on and off the Reservation.

Jackson also claims that the Compact will “give senior water rights to all of Western Montana’s major lakes and rivers to the tribes.” Again, this is complete and utter hokum invented by the Senator. As part of the agreement, the Tribes get a shared interest in a few in-stream flow water rights in Western Montana that already exist and are currently administered by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The agreement establishes NO new surface water rights either on or off the Reservation.

Senator Jackson either doesn’t understand current law, or is trying to be willfully ignorant. Under current law, established by the Hellgate Treaty of 1855 and upheld by numerous courts, the Tribes hold water rights on nearly every stream in Western Montana. They have rarely exercised these rights because of the litigation it would entail, but the courts have consistently recognized that the rights exist. Under this compact, the Tribes are giving up nearly all of those existing rights off of the Reservation in exchange for a more stable system of water rights both for them and for the residents of Montana both on and off of the Reservation.

I’m not sure what agenda Senator Jackson thinks will be furthered by delaying or corrupting this good agreement. I can only speculate that since Jackson has been tied to ultra-right-wing groups like American Tradition Partnership and the American Legislative Exchange Council and likes to push knee-jerk crackpot bills like allowing legislators to carry guns in the Capitol, there is a game plan here that hasn’t yet come to light. The only constituency for this change this late is the game would be trial lawyers who would greatly profit from the resulting flurry of litigation while water-rights holders and water users in Western Montana would take it in the shorts and Montana taxpayers, once again, pony up to foot the bill for another of Verdell’s cockeyed schemes.

You Decide

The following news/opinion stories all showed up in my RSS reader this morning. Taken together I think they recognize a conundrum being played out in energy-producing states around the country. The first is an opinion piece by a policy analyst for a conservative think tank in Ohio, but similar opinions are showing up in newsprint and electronic media in most western and mid-western states.

Without coal, we lose
“When energy companies doing business in Ohio make profits, nearly everyone wins, and Ohio’s economy grows, which results in job creation and additional tax dollars for all levels of government.”

With Carbon Dioxide Emissions at Record High, Worries on How to Slow Warming
“Emissions continue to grow so rapidly that an international goal of limiting the ultimate warming of the planet to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, established three years ago, is on the verge of becoming unattainable, said researchers affiliated with the Global Carbon Project.”

Long-Term Research Reveals How Climate Change Is Playing out in Real Ecosystems
“Around the world, the effects of global climate change are increasingly evident and difficult to ignore.”

Off The Cliff And Into Deep Water? Cutting Clean Air And Clean Water Programs Could Incur Heavy Costs
“The health cost of power plant pollution is an estimated $100 billion each year, nationwide, when people get sick or die from breathing dirty air. When polluted water makes swimmers sick, the additional public health costs in just two southern California counties has been estimated at $21 to $51 million each year.”

Wyoming – A look into the effects of energy development on fish
“Most anglers are pretty even-keeled and realize the need for alternative energy development. I think most would agree, however, that if that development comes at the cost of our fisheries it’s not worth it. There are ways to mitigate the impact of energy development on our rivers; and studies like Carlin’s are helping to show how best to preserve fisheries while allowing energy development.”

This is but one day in an on-going argument that is playing out across the country. What does this mean for the Treasure State? Yes, Montana will continue to develop our natural resources. Our economy was built on the resource extraction, but we all need to remember that these resources are finite need to be developed for the benefit of all of the people in Montana and all of the people in our country. The need for alternative, less polluting, energy development must be given equal weight alongside the development of existing natural resources. Mining coal, or drilling for natural gas has consequences that can far outweigh their short-term effects on local economies. As we move forward, we need to keep in mind that we have no choice but to wean ourselves from technologies that kill our people and our environment. We will continue to mine our coal resources and remove our oil and gas from the earth for the near future, but as we do that we need to take into account all of the consequences, not just the monetary rewards or the short-term profit motive.