Today in New West news: an update on the Utah lands lawsuit, MSU professor to be honored in Boston next month for renewable energy research, and Montana-based fast-casual Brazilian restaurant eyes Colorado.
Over the past few months, we’ve been following developments in a Utah public lands lawsuit that’s been in the works over the past few years. The gist of the suit: Utah believes it is better equipped to manage federally held lands within the state (which measure approximately 30 million acres), and maintains that a condition of Utah’s statehood rests on the eventual transfer of federal land to state hands. The move has been derided as quixotic at best and fraudulent at worst, as most of the costs would be borne by Utah residents through taxes. Reportedly, even the Legislature’s lawyers say the case has little chance of success.
Predictably, the move has hit a few snags, most notably with the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who was perceived as an ally (or at the very least had jurisprudential sympathy). Before that, two legal scholars with the University of Utah weighed in on the case, saying that even if the state makes a valid case for a federal lands transfer, they may not be able to obtain mineral rights, which would severely undercut the land’s profitability short of putting them on the auction block. Nonetheless, Utah legislators, especially Governor Gary Herbert, are adamant in their purpose. Indeed, earlier this year, Herbert set up a provisional fund for the lawsuit.
However, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, the state says they won’t file the suit until next year:
Attorney General Sean Reyes and a top deputy are offering input on a potential state lawsuit demanding the federal government relinquish ownership of 30 million acres within Utah’s borders, although the state is unlikely to file the suit until next year, according to a lawmaker leading the effort.
Lawmakers want to hold off on the suit, said Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, the chairman of the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands, in order to give U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative — a bill designating land uses on 18 million acres in the state — a chance to pass in Congress and to see who the next president appoints to fill a U.S. Supreme Court vacancy.
“Logically, realistically we’ve got to have nine justices. It’s not going to do any good to have it before the Supreme Court right now because it will be a split decision right now, most likely,” Stratton said.
But that doesn’t mean that a victory by Democrat Hillary Clinton and a liberal Supreme Court nominee would scuttle the suit, Stratton said. And drafting a lawsuit doesn’t mean the state is trying to pick a fight, he said.
“I think that’s like saying you want a war because you have an army or you’re prepared with a defense,” Stratton said. “The reality of a substantial and well-thought-out lawsuit is there. Just like the reality that if one nation can’t agree with another nation they can go to war. But you would hope that reasonable minds would rule the day and we could work through a legislative solution.”
Utahns are split on the issue of whether the state should proceed with the lawsuit, which has an estimated price tag of $14 million, according to a new poll conducted for the Western Values Project, a regional environmental group.
The poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, showed that 48 percent of Utahns oppose the lawsuit while 47 percent support it. When respondents were read statements about the downside of state ownership of the land — including other areas the money could be spent, the cost of managing the lands, and the benefits to corporate interests and their lobbyists — opposition rose to 61 percent.
The poll of 592 Utah voters was conducted this week and had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percent.
Up in Montana, a longtime engineering professor at Montana State University in Bozeman is being honored at an event in Boston for his work in renewable and alternative energy power generation. According to a MSU news release, Hashem Nehrir, a professor in the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department, will receive the Ramakumar Family Renewable Energy Excellence Award from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Power and Energy Society for his work “on designing intelligent systems to manage hybrid, renewable-based energy systems.”
For Nehrir, it’s a humbling (but welcome) honor, since for most of his career he studied traditional electricity generation. Renewable energy came later. From an MSU press release:
“This was not at all my formal academic training,” Nehrir said. “So this is really a great reward for me, because I found the opportunity to work in areas the whole world is interested in.”
Nehrir earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in electrical engineering from Oregon State University in 1969, 1971 and 1978, respectively. He came to MSU in 1987, where he taught courses and did research on traditional electrical power systems.
But in the early 1990s, the opportunity arose to work with the U.S. Department of Energy on hybrid wind-power generation technologies. Nehrir jumped at it.
“Since then, I’ve learned to use my background knowledge and experience to apply to these systems,” he said.
For nearly a decade, from 2001-2010, he continued researching alternative energy sources in the form of fuel cells, modeling them for use in distributed power generation applications — where electricity is generated not at one central location but at many different spots. The models he developed are used around the world, along with the textbook he co-authored on the subject in 2009 with a former graduate student, Caisheng Wang.
Nehrir’s work has also pioneered the notion of using electric hot water heaters to absorb excess wind-generated power in the wind farms in the form of heat. The technology, which has already been prototyped by a major utility, keeps wind farms from having to shut down turbines, hence avoiding the curtailment of this emission-free power, at times when wind-generated power is high and power demand from the grid is low, for example in the middle of night, he said.
“This is important because everybody wants to see more renewable energy used, but our current grid in the U.S. and most of the world isn’t designed to have these intermittent sources like wind and solar,” said Robert Maher, head of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department. “So there’s going to be a need to redesign the whole grid to use these sources, and Professor Nehrir’s research is really at the forefront of how that can be done.”
Finally, down in Colorado, a Montana-based fast-casual restaurant is taking its first steps out of the Treasure State and expanding to two of Colorado’s busiest cities. According to the Daily Camera, in late April, Five on Black (which specializes in Brazilian style food) opened a location at the 29th Street Mall in Boulder and is looking to open a restaurant in Denver by early August, building on both the boom in fast-casual dining and the flagging of industry standbys like Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. From the Camera:
Owner and Founder Tom Snyder launched the first Missoula location in May 2013, two years after his business idea for the restaurant won the Montana-wide John Ruffatto Business Startup Challenge. Snyder said he was a senior in college when he won the competition.
The Boulder restaurant, located at 1805 29th St., is the chain’s fourth location and its first outside Montana.
Snyder chose to expand into Colorado because of the region’s affinity for high-quality fast-food.
“The Denver-Boulder area has really become the testing ground for fast-casual restaurants and has one of the strongest fast casual markets in the U.S.,” Snyder said.
The name Five on Black comes from the menu, which provides five main dish options on top of a base of black beans, said Manager Taylor Graham.
“People love our food because of our fresh ingredients and our variety of options for different diets,” Graham said. All of its offerings are gluten free.
Graham, who’s been with Five on Black since its beginning in 2013, started out as a dishwasher at its original Missoula location.
Indeed, Five on Black may be uniquely positioned to cut into some of Chipotle’s market share, especially since Chipotle customers have reported dissatisfaction with the establishment’s menu, which hasn’t changed much since the company was founded in 1993. At Five on Black, meanwhile, you can reportedly create 70,560 unique dish combinations from their menu, according to the company’s about page.