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New West Daily Roundup for Dec. 23, 2015

Today in New West news: MT Gov. Steve Bullock sanctions bison moving between state and Yellowstone National Park, the marijuana industry’s thirst for (electrical) power, and whether the Utah Legislature is allowed to haveclosed caucuses.”

After decades of hazing bison back into Yellowstone National Park if they attempt to cross over (especially in winter), Governor Steve Bullock announced this week that he is modifying the Interagency Bison Management Plan. According to Yellowstone Insider, bison will be allowed to roam west and north of the Park year-round. The move prompted celebrations from the likes of the National Resources Defense Council (and numerous Park visitors). At the same time, however, Bullock made it clear the bison will not be left to run willy-nilly between state and federal land. From Yellowstone Insider:

“An adaptive approach to bison management means we look at how we are doing things, assess our effectiveness, and adapt accordingly,” said Bullock in a press release. “This decision is a very modest expansion of the conditions under which bison may remain outside of the Park, in response to changing science and changing circumstances on the ground. While at the same time I am confident our livestock industry is protected. Further, I remain committed to continuing to pressure the Park Service to reduce the bison population in the Park, and keep those numbers to manageable levels.”

The crux of this decision is bison will be allowed to roam in “tolerance areas” outside the Park, detailed in an environmental assessment drafted by the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks agency and signed by Bullock. All bison will be allowed in portions of Montana directly west of the Park (Horse Butte, along U.S. Highway 191 up to the Taylor Fork Drainage). Bull bison will be permitted to roam north from the Gardiner Basin to the southern outlet of Yankee Jim Canyon. Outside said tolerance areas, bison will be subject to the older practice of hazing them back. Otherwise, if hazing proves ineffectual, they will be subject to trapping or removal via slaughter or hunting.

Across the United States, marijuana cultivation (whether legalized in-state, grown for medicinal purposes, or grown under the radar of federal law enforcement) is having a (not so) surprising impact on the power grid, according to Bloomburg News. Indeed, marijuana growing is energy intensive, especially when you factor how most of it is handled indoors, as evidenced by shifts in Denver’s commercial real estate market. From Bloomburg News:

The $3.5 billion U.S. cannabis market is emerging as one of the nation’s most power-hungry industries, with the 24-hour demands of thousands of indoor growing sites taxing aging electricity grids and unraveling hard-earned gains in energy conservation.

Without design standards or efficient equipment, the facilities in the 23 states where marijuana is legal are responsible for greenhouse-gas emissions almost equal to those of every car, home and business in New Hampshire. While reams of regulations cover everything from tracking individual plants to package labeling to advertising, they lack requirements to reduce energy waste.

[…]

The corporatization of what was once off-the-grid narco-agriculture is taxing electrical systems even as the nation prepares to comply with the Paris climate accord and the Environmental Protection Agency tries to reduce greenhouse gases from coal-fired power plants, which is considered the single largest domestic source of emissions that create global warming.

“Consumers seeking a green lifestyle are likely unaware that their cannabis use could cancel out their otherwise low-carbon footprint,” Evan Mills, a senior scientist for California’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, wrote in an e-mail.

Indoor growing operations in 2012 racked up at least $6 billion a year in energy costs, compared with $1 billion for pharmaceutical companies, Mills found in a seminal study he did independent of the research institution. Some larger facilities today suck down as much as $1 million in power a month.

There are some possible reversals to this trend. For instance, according to the Durango Herald, several communities are attempting to respond to the industry’s need for power:

Some communities have reacted by taxing growers. Arcata, in Northern California’s pot-rich Humboldt County, enacted an “excessive energy tax” and is taking in $300,000 per year. Voters approved the tax in 2012 after police and fire departments were spending a fifth of their time responding to calls from grow operations.

In Colorado, Boulder County commissioners adopted an energy-usage fee when they found a 5,000-square-foot facility used 29,000 kilowatt-hours in a month. The county’s sustainability officer figured that to be five times what typical commercial use would involve. And it and puts tons of carbon dioxide into the air every month.

Whether moves like those will help cut power use and emissions remains to be seen. As the industry matures it is also possible that better, cleaner methods could be developed.

Finally, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, lawyers from the Utah Media Coalition (full disclosure: the Coalition includes the Tribune, along with other Utahan news outlets) are calling out state Republican lawmakers for their practice of holding “closed caucuses” i.e. meetings over legislation that are not open to the public. From the Tribune:

For at least two decades, Senate Republicans routinely have held closed meetings to discuss legislative proposals and have taken “straw votes” on legislation behind closed doors. House Republicans, in recent years, have generally opened their gatherings to the public, but they have voted to close their meetings to debate and vote on “caucus positions” on some of the most contentious issues.

Both bodies cite an exemption to the Open and Public Meetings Act that permits a “political caucus” to be closed.

That was the case when the House and Senate GOP members met to deliberate on Utah Access Plus, a proposal to expand Medicaid coverage to help provide health insurance to an estimated 125,000 low-income Utahans. The House Republicans voted overwhelmingly to kill the plan; senators from both parties were surveyed by phone and also opposed the measure by a large margin.

Senate Majority Leader Ralph Okerlund, R-Monroe, said an overwhelming majority of Republican senators favor closing their caucuses because it gives them an opportunity to discuss issues informally and frankly “without grandstanding and folks that are playing games.”

“It’s just a chance to be informal, and I think it’s led to good government,” Okerlund said. “Unless there are some really extraordinary circumstances, there’s plenty of opportunity for the public to be involved in the process and see what’s going on.”

In addition, lawmaker contend they hold media briefings after their closed meetings, in the interest of transparency. Other Coalition members say even if the closed meetings are legally permitted, lawmakers have an obligation as public representatives to make the legal process (and by extent, themselves) more visible. There is no word on whether the Coalition intends to sue lawmakers over these meetings.

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