Today in New West news: Zinke joins U.S. House to vote in favor of easing federal land transfer, Bozeman water group sues Montana DEQ over pollution standards, Wyoming mulls whether to legalize Tesla business model in state, and Colorado cybersecurity firm raises $6M.
According to the Casper Star Tribune, the U.S. House recently voted in favor of making it easier for the federal government to transfer lands to state hands, a move spearheaded by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), who has been a vocal proponent of state land control. Interestingly, as the Tribune notes, U.S. Rep Ryan Zinke (R-MT), who has been tapped as the pick for Interior Secretary in the incoming administration, voted in favor of the measure—despite his previously voiced opposition to transferring federal lands to state hands.
It’s important to note this. During his time in the House, Zinke consistently voted against party line on matters of federal lands, citing his bona fides as a “Teddy Roosevelt” conservationist and sportsman. Indeed, Zinke went so far as to resign from the Republican Party’s platform committee this summer at the Republican National Convention after they announced transferring federal lands would be a platform plank. Zinke’s stance on keeping access to federal lands public made him an endearing Interior pick to some conservation and environmental groups. From the Tribune:
Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift said Wednesday that despite Zinke’s vote, his position on federal land transfers has not changed. She did not respond to follow-up questions seeking clarification on his position.
The rules package passed Tuesday night 233 to 190, mostly along party lines. The House vote triggered quick condemnations from Montana’s senators.
“I continue to strongly oppose the transfer of federal lands to the states while fighting to improve the management of those lands,” Republican Sen. Steve Daines said in a statement.
Sen. Jon Tester called the House vote “an underhanded assault on Montana’s outdoor economy, our hunting heritage, and our way of life.”
“Public lands belong to all Americans and Congress should be safeguarding them, not clearing the way to auction them off to the highest bidder,” the Democratic senator s said. “I ask all those who care about our public lands to join me in demanding more public access, not more attacks on our public lands, from their representatives in the House.”
Montana-based conservation and outdoor business groups condemned the vote.
“This is an absolute affront to Montana’s way of life and to the millions of Americans who hike, hunt, fish, and camp on public lands,” said Brian Sybert, executive director of Montana Wilderness Association. “These lands belong to all Americans. They’re what make America so great. It’s unimaginable that some in Congress would want to simply give these lands away.d
“It’s especially troubling that Rep. Zinke, a self-proclaimed Roosevelt conservationist and possibly our next Interior secretary, voted for this measure, because this is a major attack on Roosevelt’s legacy.”
The House vote threatens outdoor-oriented businesses, said Marne Hayes, executive director of Business for Montana’s Outdoors.
“While Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke voted for the package, we hope that in his new role as Interior secretary, he will stand firm against future threats to Montana jobs and our outdoor way of life,” she said in a statement.
Federal control of lands in the West has been an issue for over a century. Indeed, Bishop bases his belief in state control on a supposed promise made to Utah—when it entered the Union—that it would keep or retain control of all its lands, which Bishop says is in the best interests of the state.
“Best interests” aside, it’s all but certain that no state could afford the burden of managing millions of acres of current federal lands. Further, as we previously reported, it’s possible a federal land transfer wouldn’t include mineral rights—something Utahan Republicans and land commissioners covet and is (reasonably) the only avenue states would have to keep up with land costs, short of selling them to the highest bidder.
This week, we reported that the Wyoming Legislature would vote on a bill to amend the state’s constitution to make it easier for the state to receive federal land holdings—a move widely decried by Wyomingites and members of the government, including Governor Matt Mead, who said the state had no financial or legal means to maintain federal land holdings in the Cowboy State.
Keeping with environmental news, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Bozeman-based Upper Missouri Waterkeeper has filed a lawsuit with the Gallatin County District Court against the Montana Department of Environmental Quality regarding the agency’s storm water pollution standards. In the suit, the group alleges the DEQ erred with regards to how it regulates municipal separate storm water sewer systems—in violation of state water quality standards. The suit also alleges the agency’s permit system gives cities too much regulatory powers. From the Chronicle:
Guy Alsentzer, executive director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, said the legal action is meant to force the state to regulate storm water systems more actively and to open the process to public scrutiny. He also said that the DEQ’s permitting process is too vague.
“Montana cities want to do the right thing here, but in order to do the right thing, what they really need is clarity,” Alsentzer said. “They need specific terms in permits and that is the job legally and practically of the state … and here the state has not done that.”
Kristi Ponozzo, the public policy director for the DEQ, said in an email that the agency’s legal counsel hasn’t reviewed the suit yet and that the department was not able to comment.
Urban storm runoff flows from streets or buildings instead of seeping into the groundwater system. The runoff can pick up pollutants along the way and carry them into waterways that run through cities and towns, often through pipes and culverts.
Over in Wyoming, according to the Wyoming Business Report, businesses like electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors would be allowed to sell directly to state residents—should a bill before the Legislature pass. We previously reported that a similar debate is playing out in neighboring Utah; instead of letting Tesla operate standalone dealerships, however, Utah wants Tesla to sell through third-party dealerships. From the WBR:
Tesla, which manufactures electric vehicles, has a nontraditional business model in which they sell cars directly to customers, bypassing third-party dealerships.
But in many states, including Wyoming, that business model is illegal, and states where Tesla does sell cars have had to change their laws to allow the manufacturer to operate.
The proposed law in Wyoming would formally allow motor vehicle manufacturers to sell vehicles directly to customers within Wyoming, even if the manufacturer does not have a physical presence in the state.
However, the types of vehicles that could be sold that way are limited to “line make(s) that no other new vehicle dealer in the state sells or exchanges.”
Direct sale manufacturers would also need to obtain a state license.
The law would also let direct sale manufacturers open dealerships in Wyoming that the manufacturer wholly owns.
That’s different from traditional dealerships, which are not owned by manufacturers.
“Right now, a manufacturer cannot legally sell cars to Wyoming consumers in Wyoming,” said Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, the lead sponsor of the bill. “I am not sure what Tesla would do with the law, but it seems like a business-friendly thing to do to make it legal for them to sell cars to people in Wyoming.”
Finally, over in Colorado, according to the Denver Business Journal, Louisville-based cybersecurity firm Swimlane has raises $6 million in Series A funding—$3 million last month and $3 million announced today:
“Founded in 2014, Swimlane landed the funding based on the growing need for automation and security orchestration tools for overburdened enterprise IT organizations to quickly react to cyber security threats,” the company said, adding the funding “was led by a private group, including a mix of Colorado-based angel investors and industry experts.”
Company officials said the money “will be used to further accelerate growth through expanded sales and marketing, and additional software development resources to drive innovation.”
“Growing our research and development team will allow us to innovate faster without compromising our commitment to quality for our existing and future customers,” said Cody Cornell, CEO and founder, in a statement.