Big Sky Connection

Suzanne Potter

June 23, 2016

MISSOULA, Mont. - Renewable energy advocates are praising Gov. Steve Bullock's new energy plan, which lays out a number of strategies to increase Montana's market for solar and wind projects. 

The governor promoted his plan Wednesday at a panel discussion at the University of Montana in Missoula before 130 local leaders, clean energy advocates and students.

Diana Maneta, executive director of the Montana Renewable Energy Association, says the state's wind and solar resources still remain largely untapped but this plan is a big step in the right direction.

"Our wind resource is second best in the nation, but we're only 20th in terms of wind energy development," he points out. "And while Montana's solar market is small today, the cost of solar power has dropped by half in the last five years. So the right policies will help us to seize this enormous clean energy potential."

The governor's plan calls for a doubling of solar power by 2025, and for the creation of a state energy infrastructure authority to facilitate more renewables.

It also directs state agencies to look at putting solar on their own buildings and begin scouting public property suitable for solar arrays.

Bullock also reaffirmed his commitment to defend the Renewable Portfolio Standard, which opponents have targeted in past legislative sessions.

"Hopefully going into this next legislative session folks will consider the renewable-energy portfolio standard and other things as opportunities, not things to roll back," he stated.

The plan also calls for a reduction in energy use by ten percent by 2025 through new energy efficiency measures.

Big Sky Connection

Conservation Groups Slam Decision, Predict Appeal

Suzanne Potter

June 23, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - In a blow to the Obama administration's environmental agenda, a federal judge has struck down the Bureau of Land Management's fracking rules, saying that the president overstepped his authority.

The judge ruled late Tuesday that the agency needs permission from Congress to regulate fracking, and noted that legislators previously denied the Environmental Protection Agency the right to regulate the practice under the Clean Water Act.

Clare Lakewood, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, says that argument doesn't hold up.

"It's an outlier of a decision," she states. "Frankly, there is plenty of authority that BLM has the authority to make rules with regard to fossil fuel extraction on its land, including fracking. And we are confident this will be overturned on appeal."

The rules were already on hold after the same judge issued a preliminary injunction last year.

Several oil and gas producing states, and a Native American tribe, brought the case. They argued that the rules were unnecessary since the states already have the authority to regulate fracking.

Lakewood says the rules would have guaranteed the public more information on the chemicals used, some of which are linked to respiratory disease and cancer.

"It would require disclosure of certain of the chemicals that are used in hydraulic fracturing," she states. "That's really important because we know that a lot of the chemicals are toxic to humans and the environment."

The rules would also require all fracking wastewater be stored in above ground tanks, instead of in containment pits that have the potential to leak and contaminate groundwater.

The Department of the Interior is expected to appeal the ruling.


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June 22, 2016

Groups Hope to Pass 28th Amendment to Constitution

by Suzanne Potter

MISSOULA, Mont. -- Advocates for clean elections are gathering in Missoula Thursday night to strategize on how to get big money out of politics as part of a campaign promoting a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The amendment would declare that corporations are not people and therefore their campaign contributions cannot be considered protected speech. Such an amendment would undo the U.S. Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision.

Jeff Clements, president the group American Promise said that since that decision, more than $30 billion in untraceable funds - so-called "dark money" - has poured into American elections.

"Most of the money comes literally from a few hundred families and the largest corporations," said Clements. "And you know, if we saw that in another country, we'd say, 'It's obvious what it is - it's an oligarchy. It's not democracy.'"

Amending the U.S. Constitution would require that two-thirds of state legislatures pass resolutions supporting the move. The meeting will be held Thursday evening at the University of Montana Law School.

Retired Montana Supreme Court Justice James C. Nelson said that Citizens United has already been used to nullify most of Montana's Corrupt Practices Act which passed in 2012. It made the last race for the Montana Supreme Court the costliest in state history, he said.

"In fact, the 2014 election cycle, it was the most expensive race, period, for any statewide office," said Nelson. "There was about $1.6 million poured into that race."

The coalition advocating for the amendment includes Common Cause, MontPIRG, Move to Amend, the Montana Trial Lawyers Association and Stand With Montanans.

For more information on this meeting, visit

June 22, 2016

As firefighters contained the Wall Fire in southeast Montana, prime fire conditions facilitated the start of more fires in the region. “Resources from multiple agencies responded to the new fires,” a press release from the Montana Department of Natural Resources said.