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Archive for November, 2010

You’re going to need to shovel yourselves out by Thursday. Our longtime friend and supporter Peter Grubb of ROW Adventures will be at the Iron Horse at noon to talk about the Highway 12 megaloads controversy.

Peter is one of three courageous plaintiffs in the legal battle to force Idaho Department of Transportation to abide by its own rules and allow public input before permitting “overlegal” truck loads up the Lochsa River corridor.

Imperial Oil SHT Load Module. Seriously. That huge thing goes on a truck. (courtesy fightinggoliath.org)

Four super huge truck loads (“SHT loads” as coined by our friends at Idaho Conservation League) are proposed by ConocoPhillips in order to deliver massive oil equipment from the Port of Lewiston to a refinery in Billings. But this is merely the proverbial camel’s nose under IDT’s tent. Imperial Oil / Exxon Mobil has some 207 SHT loads proposed to take equipment from Lewiston, through Montana, to the massive tar sands oil development in Alberta. There is worry that the scenic Lochsa River byway will turn into a permanent “high and wide” industrial corridor.

Because of the connection to the tar sands project, the Highway 12 issue has international environmental implications. But the problems are acutely local for Peter, who is the owner and operator of the popular Riverdance Lodge along the highway. The slow rolling traffic backups caused by the SHT loads will create a safety hazard and huge inconvenience to Peter’s guests and his business.

Peter, his Lochsa River neighbors, and his Advocates for the West lawyers have been fighting goliath, just to get a fair hearing. They’ve won their legal challenges so far, and they have earned a full-blown evidentiary hearing scheduled late next week in Boise.

Hope you can join us Thursday to learn more.  And to give Peter a well-deserved round of applause.

UPDATE: See followup on the meeting here. With video!

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On Monday, according to Idaho Reporter, Gov. Butch Otter will be in Denver to talk wolves with Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the Governors of Wyoming and Montana. A legal morass and election-year political grandstanding have made a mess of  wolf management in the northern Rockies, and it certainly needs some high-level discussion.

It isn’t clear what Secretary Salazar will be bringing to the table Monday, but the meeting gives Gov. Otter the best opportunity to reverse his pre-election decision to no longer manage wolves in Idaho. Otter’s nonsensical decision, issued in the heat of his re-election campaign, is almost certain to be reversed. But the question is what political cover will Salazar provide to Otter in order to do so sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, the stalemate is probably doing everyone an ecological favor. Without a public hunt this year, the wolf population has an opportunity to create the interconnectedness and genetic diversity to more firmly establish the species’ recovery once and for all. Meanwhile, in the Idaho panhandle at least, the elk hunting is actually improved.  Wolves have evidently driven a healthy elk herd from the upper St. Joe to the closer-in Coeur d’Alene forests, where more hunters are being more successful in hunting more elk.

We’re hoping that some semblance of sanity will reign on Monday.  It is past time to settle the issue. Otherwise, long-running lawsuits, long-shot legislation, and ridiculously overheated rhetoric will continue to be the northern Rockies substitute for reasonable wolf management.

(Also worth reading: George Wuerthner on livestock predation. Can ranchers really expect a predator-free landscape?)

UPDATE 11/29Here is the Spokesman-Review’s AP report on how the meeting went. Nothing resolved, they “discussed a path forward,” but it seems Wyoming may still be a problem.

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Sure. The guy with the neck tattoo knocks on the door to shovel snow when there’s four inches of fluffy powder. But he’s nowhere to be found when there’s nine inches of the wet stuff.  So, while the ibuprofen kicks in, here’s what we’re reading this holiday weekend:

— Frustration with the largely voluntary approach to saving the Chesapeake Bay finally boils over.  Does grassroots power need to be deployed more effectively? Bay Action Plan

— New guidance for “categorical exclusions” from NEPA review. Have we learned important lessons from a certain deep water oil drilling disaster? CPR Blog

— What does climate change look like? Here are the photos: Lost islands in the Chesapeake and dead and dying white pine in Yellowstone.

— Why do we love our communities? Polling shows it isn’t the economy, stupid. NRDC Switchboard. (Also, Legal Planet.)

— John Wesley Powell understood the western water rights battleground and had a solution (and a cool map) in 1890. If only…  AqueousAdvisors.

— Good news and bad news for non-profits like ours. The bad news is that a growing number of Americans don’t give anything at all to charity. The good news is that most Americans still plan to give something this season.

— Finally, totally awesome photos of earth from space!  USGS/EROS

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As you probably know, we’ve been rallying support for water quality monitoring for weeks now.  We have been calling on Gov. Otter to restore funding to the budget to perform one of the basic functions under the Clean Water Act, something the Governor and legislature have declined to fund for the past two years. Of course, this is exactly what you’d expect of your local grassroots conservation organization.

But guess what — we’re not the only ones. Because of the potential impact that another year of non-monitoring  would have on water quality permitting and municipal budgets, a number of Idaho municipalities have joined in the chorus. Boise, Nampa, Hailey, Moscow, Post Falls, Ponderay, and Blaine County are on record as supporting the water quality monitoring line item in the budget.  (And we believe that more municipalities will be weighing in soon.)

Agriculture and industry should consider the impacts as well. A third straight year without water quality monitoring data could force EPA to require Idaho dischargers to meet stricter effluent standards in their permits.  A number of states have cut back on water quality monitoring during the tight budgets during the economic downturn, but Idaho’s elimination of the entire program for two years is unparalleled.

Idaho DEQ has been outspoken in the need for funding this year, and in an AP article over the weekend, Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little signaled that he understands the concern. But still no definitive word from Gov. Otter.  And, of course, any water quality line item would still need approval by the state legislature. So if you haven’t done so already, consider sending your governor and legislators a quick note. All of us in Idaho — individuals, cities and businesses alike — depend on clean water.

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Kootenai Environmental Alliance, along with Idaho Conservation League, Spokane Riverkeeper, Idaho Rivers United and The Lands Council submitted comments today to the EPA on the proposed amendment to the Upper Coeur d’Alene Basin Superfund Record of Decision.

The comments to the controversial EPA cleanup plan focused on several key points: (1) to ensure that the plan is protective of human health and the environment, (2) to ensure the best protection for the investment in remedies already in place, (3) to recommend improvements in community involvement and transparency as the cleanup moves forward, (4) to recommend improvements to the cleanup proposal, and (5) to recommend acceleration of the entire cleanup. The comments were also highly critical of Hecla Mining’s substitute 10-year plan, which would not be sufficient under the law, and would not meet appropriate cleanup and water quality standards.  Read the comments in their entirety here [a pdf document].

The comment period closes on Tuesday, after which, the EPA will review the comments and provide a response.  The response, along with a final decision on the cleanup, is expected in mid-2011.

 

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We’ve heard from a number of friends and members that they are being robocalled from the phony front group “Citizens for a Prosperous Silver Valley” which opposes the proposed cleanup in the Silver Valley.

We wish we could give better advice as to how to shut down the annoying phone calls, but we’re afraid that according to the Supreme Court the free speech rights of mining corporations is protected by the Constitution, and the national “Do Not Call Registry” does not apply to non-commercial calls.

For what it’s worth, the phone calls should end soon. The comment period for the draft EPA cleanup plan for the Silver Valley ends Tuesday. Or you can fight back. You can quickly and easily send comments electronically via the Idaho Conservation League here.

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The November 23 deadline for comments on the proposed EPA cleanup for the upper Coeur d’Alene basin is fast approaching, and we received the following email from EPA regarding how comments are being handled:

Many people are wondering how EPA is handling public comments on the Proposed Cleanup Plan for the Upper Basin, and when they might hear something back.  Here are answers those questions.

The public comment period on EPA’s Proposed Cleanup Plan closes November 23.  EPA has received hundreds of comments.  It will take time for the agency to consider and respond to all of them. EPA takes each comment seriously.   The agency is aware that the cleanup is complex, and is a topic which is deeply important to local citizens.  EPA has received comments both in favor of and against the plan.  EPA will consider changes to the proposed cleanup plan in response to public input.

All comments are being entered into an electronic database.  Comments will be logged individually and in categories.  This process ensures that each comment is accounted for and helps with an orderly, thorough response.  The agency will prepare a document called a “Response to Comments.”  It will include both a response to each comment and a summary response to each issue.

The Response to Comments will be issued to the public at the same time as the ROD (Record of Decision) Amendment, sometime in 2011.  The ROD Amendment is the final decision document.  It will describe the selected cleanup alternative.   The public will be able to request a hard copy of these documents and find them at select local libraries and on EPA’s website.

Website:  http://go.usa.gov/igD

 

We also noted today that Gov. Butch Otter submitted his comments on the plan. Otter, evidently, is supporting a much more limited cleanup, with a defined endpoint, coincidentally similar to Hecla Mining’s proposal.

Like Gov. Otter, we too wish that the work wouldn’t go on forever. But Otter’s solution almost guarantees that it will. Doing it his way — only cleaning up part of the basin and not treating clearly-contaminated water — means that water quality standards will never be met, and the cleanup will go on and on and on. In fact, in his letter, Otter makes an ironic request to EPA to “commit to cash flow and management of the settlement funds” to ensure funds are available “well into the future.”

Also, we think Gov. Otter should be a bit more honest about rhetoric in his letter about how EPA will “wildly spend public resources” and how it doesn’t “live within the people’s means.” This cleanup is funded primarily with trust funds from the polluters that made the mess in the first place, not taxpayers. His grandstanding is not helpful.

There is still time to send your comments. (Idaho Conservation League has made it super-easy to do so from their website.) EPA needs to hear voices calling for a comprehensive, complete, permanent cleanup. Not the incomplete option proposed by the Governor.

 

 

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