My nephew learned the pledge of allegiance when he was four. A dutiful aunt, I listened to him recite it and then heard, “one nation, under dog, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” “Can you repeat that please?” I asked. “One nation, under dog, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” I imagined a bronzed dog the size of the Statue of Liberty in the lawn of the U.S. Capitol building. Of course, I told everyone about it, shared a video of him on Facebook and made him recite it every time I saw him. His new take on an old pledge faded from memory as he said other funny things, that is, until the day before New Year’s Eve when a friend from Helena lost his dog in downtown Billings. Read More
Duane Ankney It's nice to see Governor Bullock delegating some big responsibilities. It's an election year, you know. He must be very busy. And, in terms of addressing climate change policy for our state, I couldn't think of a better person to hand that over to than Senator Duane Ankney. Bullock's advisory council line-up is great if the goal is to ensure that the federal government will have to step in to mandate how we will meet our obligations for carbon reduction under the Clean Power Plan. Or maybe he just wants to get a group of people together for pointless meetings since, as far as I can see, very few of the council members have an interest in addressing climate change. Here is my own analysis of the breakdown of the appointees. Out of 27 members, 18 of them are either directly employed by the coal industry or worked in the coal industry at some point, work for a utility with a investment in the Colstrip units, have publicly stated their opposition to the Clean Power Plan or are fossil fuel development consultants. That is two-thirds of the advisory council. Four are women. One is from the renewable energy industry. One is Native American. One is from an agricultural group. One is under the age of 40. Let's start with the age problem. Besides Diego Rivas, who is 34, as far as I can tell, almost all of the other appointees are in their 50s, 60s and 70s. To be completely blunt, this is a generation that will not be around to deal with many of the extreme impacts from climate change. I'm not even sure half them believe climate change is happening. How are they supposed to come up with a plan to address something they don't think is real? I'm not saying that industry, utilities and labor shouldn't be represented on the council. They deserve to be there, they have a right to be there and their input is important. But two-thirds of the council? Seriously? As a woman and someone who knows many qualified and smart Montana women in the energy and climate change field it is shocking to see that we make up a meager 14% of the council with only two who live in Montana. Two of those women are lawyers from utilities in Washington and Oregon that are invested in Colstrip. This from the first state to send a woman to Congress. It's offensive. Two bright spots for me in the list are Rex Rogers, from IBEW in Colstrip, who had a very thoughtful op-ed in the Great Falls Tribune on Monday and Kathy Hadley who has has been at the helm of the National Center for Appropriate Technology for 18 years and is serving as president of the Montana Wildlife Federation. These are people who want to solve problems. I think if the Governor put them in a room they could come up with a great plan for the state of Montana. I'm not exactly sure the political calculus Bullock and his advisors did. Do they want the feds to come in and create Montana's plan so they can act like it is the big bad federal government telling us what to do and hope he doesn't get punished in the voting booth? Possibly. He is going to receive a recommendation from this group, one that will assuredly not meet the EPA standards, and then he will have to accept or reject it. Everyone is impacted by climate change not just the people that work in the fossil fuel industry. Governor Bullock knows what the right thing to do is and instead he is playing a political game. We had a chance to come up with a Montana solution but it looks like politics wins again. In times like these, I remember my favorite quote by the great American philosopher John Dewey,

" There is nothing perplexing or even discouraging in the spectacle of the stupidities and errors of political behavior. The facts which give rise to the spectacle should, however, protect us from the illusion of expecting extraordinary change to follow from a mere change in political agencies and methods. Such a change sometimes occurs, but when it does, it is because social conditions, in generating a new public, have prepared the way for it."

We have work to do folks.
  • Updated Wednesday January 7, 2016:  I previously noted that there was an attorney from Bozeman who seemed to have recently moved there. I have since found out that Britt Ide is a 5th generation Montanan.
The Interim Clean Power Plan Advisory Council members are: Senator Duane Ankney, Colstrip, MT – Senate District 20, member of the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee, Lead Plaintiff on the lawsuit against the power plant for its leaking ash ponds. Carl Borquist, Bozeman, MT – Founder and President, Absaroka Energy, LLC. Renewable energy representative. Hon. Kirk Bushman, Billings, MT – Montana Public Service Commission member representing District 2 Chris Christiaens, Great Falls MT – Legislative and Project Specialist, Montana Farmers Union Gordon Criswell, Hysham, MT – Director, Environmental & Engineering Compliance, Talen Montana (Formerly PPL Montana) Al Ekblad, Great Falls, MT – Executive Secretary of the Montana State AFL-CIO Gary Forrester, Billings, MT – Government Affairs, MDU Resources, Inc. Dave Galt, Helena, MT – private consultant specializing in energy and natural resources issues, immediate past Executive Director of the Montana Petroleum Association Paul Gatzmeier, Billings, MT – a small business owner with extensive natural resource and energy background - Consultant to develop energy Kathy Hadley, Deer Lodge, MT – Executive Director of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and President of the Montana Wildlife Federation Doug Hardy, Great Falls, MT – General Manager of the Central Montana Electric Power Cooperative Britt Ide, Bozeman, MT –  Principal, Ide Law & Strategy, LLC, private practice attorney specializing in energy, consensus-building, and innovation. Senator Jim Keane, Butte, MT – Senate District 38, member of the Environmental Quality Council Lorna Luebbe, Bellevue, WA – Director of Environmental Services/Assistant General Counsel, Puget Sound Energy, Inc. Chuck Magraw, Helena, MT – private practice attorney specializing in energy issues Chairman Darrin Old Coyote, Crow Agency, MT – Chairman, Crow Tribe Jim Orchard, Broomfield, CO – Senior Vice President, Marketing & Government Affairs, Cloud Peak Energy Bill Pascoe, Absarokee, MT – Principal, Pascoe Energy Consulting, representing a broad diversity of clients in energy matters. Senator Mike Phillips, Bozeman, MT – Senate District 31, member of the Environmental Quality Council Sunny Radcliffe, Portland, OR – Director, Governmental Affairs & Environmental Policy, Portland General Electric Diego Rivas, Helena, MT – Senior Policy Associate, Northwest Energy Coalition John Roeber, Butte, MT – Officer President, Montana State Building & Construction Trades Council, and International Brotherhood of Boilermakers Rex Rogers, Colstrip, MT – IBEW Local 1638 Business Manager Tom Schneider, Helena, MT – Private consultant specializing in energy issues, former three-term Montana Public Service Commissioner (2003-2006, 1977-1984) Darrell Soyars, Spokane, WA – Manager of Corporate Environmental Compliance, Avista Corporation Pat Sweeney, Billings, MT – Senior Advisor to the Western Organization of Resource Councils William Thompson, Butte, MT – Senior Technical Advisor/Engineer, NorthWestern Energy
You asked for a 2016 east of Billings calendar and you got it! The calendar is 8.5 x 11 in, full-color with thirteen of my favorite (and hopefully your favorite) photographs of southeast Montana. $15.00/calendar for one and the price drops as you order more + $5.75 shipping. The cover shot is the banner photo above.

Important Information: I will not have the calendars until the week of December 8th (they are being printed right now). The earliest you will get them is sometime during the the week of December 13. I'm doing this all myself so please be patient with me!

There are three ways to order:

1.  Paypal:

If you would like to pay by credit card online please use the drop down menu below to choose the number of calendars you would like to buy, add any additional comments and click on Add to Cart and follow the instructions provided by Paypal.
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Additional comments:

2. If you would like to pay by check:

Please send me an email at with the number of calendars you would like to order. I will email you back an invoice and an address to send the check to. Once I receive the check, I will immediately send you your calendar as soon as I get them.

3.  If you know me personally and we see each other often:

Send me an email and tell me how many you'd like. You can pick them up at the farm or I'll drop them off next time I'm out your way and we can settle up then.    
Today,  Arch Coal submitted a letter to the Surface Transportation Board asking that the agency suspend all work on the Tongue River Railroad permit and environmental impact statement.* Arch Coal and Burlington Northern Santa Fe are blaming the Montana Department of Environmental Quality for being slow in issuing a permit for the proposed Otter Creek mine. I find that claim to be ridiculous considering Arch Coal has consistently left out entire required sections of their permit application and done shoddy work on what they did submit. According to the Associated Press, the company stated that they hoped production at the Otter Creek mine might start by January 2017, but "with mine permitting delays and near-term market weakness, that timeline now appears unachievable." It was always unachievable. BNSF spokesperson Matt Jones told the AP that,
"We have not withdrawn the application," Jones said. "The TRRC has simply submitted a request to suspend the permitting process due largely to the ongoing delays to the mine permitting process."
By ongoing delays I think he means that Arch Coal is on its way to bankruptcy, coal markets are tanking and, oh yeah, there is massive community opposition to the railroad and coal mine. Bye, bye Tongue River Railroad.      

“If there is such a thing as being conditioned by climate and geography, and I think there is, it is the West that has conditioned me. It has the forms and lights and colors that I respond to in nature and in art. If there is a western speech, I speak it; if there is a western character or personality, I am some variant of it; if there is a western culture in the small-c , anthropological sense, I have not escaped it. It has to have shaped me. I may even have contributed to it in minor ways, for culture is a pyramid to which each of us brings a stone." Wallace Stegner, The American West as Living Space

*All photos taken on Rocker 6 Ranch in Rosebud County, Montana the morning of September 26, 2015. Thank you to the McRaes for providing me with opportunity to photograph their amazing place.

“If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arm around the people who go to battle everyday to protect their forests, their mountains and their rivers because they know that the forests, their mountains and their rivers protect them. ” - Arundhati Roy.
On Monday, I sat on the bench just outside the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council chambers. At 12:24 my friend who was in the room walked out and held up his fist; the Northern Cheyenne Tribal Council voted unanimously (9-0) in favor of a resolution introduced by Councilman Conrad Fisher to oppose the Tongue River Railroad. I turned and looked down the hallway to the north to see the totem pole carved by Jewell James of the Lummi Nation for the Northern Cheyenne people arrive in the parking lot. Then, I cried. We have come so far in the almost six years since the Otter Creek coal tracts were leased to Arch Coal in March of 2010. After the Montana State Land Board voted 3-2 to lease the coal, there was a sense of resignation and inevitability; the coal would be mined, the railroad built. Many people felt powerless, not in the general, overwhelming global forces sort of way, but in a very specific way caused directly by that vote.  If you remember, the public, both in southeastern Montana and across the state, was overwhelmingly opposed to the leasing of the Otter Creek tracts. Tens of thousands of comments were submitted against it, there were packed public hearings, rallies, you name it, yet we lost the vote anyway.  Then, on the very same day, the same elected body voted to protect the Flathead River from coal mining. The Flathead River is special and the Tongue River, well, those people should be grateful for the economic development opportunity we’re giving them. This is not a new story east of Billings. It is a story that has been recited to us since the 1970s and it's powerful. It defines how we think about the problems in our communities and also tells us what the solutions are. This story doesn’t like to be challenged.  We hear it loud and clear. The storytellers say our worth is based on what is under our feet: burn it, mine it, sell it. They tell us it is the best we’re gonna do and we should be grateful because they are giving us the opportunity to fight for the scraps from corporations as they dig up the land and ship it overseas. They tell us to take what we can get.    

No more. We are changing the story.

Luckily for the world, there are fighters in southeast Montana keeping billions of tons of coal under the ground because they love that land. The old story is losing its power.  This vote didn’t just arise out of the ether although I’m sure many decision makers were surprised by it, especially those from the Surface Transportation Board and the State of Montana. However, they wouldn’t have been surprised if they had paid attention to what was happening in southeast Montana the last six years.   The vote was, in a sense, the inevitable outcome of thousands of volunteer hours that Northern Cheyennes spent organizing, gathering signatures, cooking for feeds, setting up and taking down events, talking to friends and families, traveling and speaking at public meetings, singing, drumming and praying. This is what community organizing looks like. A lot of people want to know what the vote means. I’m obviously not Northern Cheyenne but I’ve been lucky enough to walk alongside those fighting to protect their homelands. To me, this vote means that community organizing works. It means that when you engage people without fear, with an open heart and without prejudice you not only gain allies, you build community. It means people understand that the land and water are more valuable than anything that can be taken and sold from it. It means the Northern Cheyenne Tribe and its people are keeping billions of tons of coal in the ground and they should be honored for their actions.  The fight is far from over. The proposed Otter Creek mine and Tongue River railroad are not dead yet but we are getting closer. The difficult part in front of us is creating a sustainable economy that works for people in southeast Montana. We know we won’t get much help from the state of Montana as they are still stuck reading the old story.  But, as Naomi Klein said the other day, “difficult is not the same thing as impossible.” This is the last day to submit comments to the Surface Transportation Board regarding the draft EIS for the Tongue River Railroad. You can submit online comments here. Save Otter Creek  
On a recent Sunday at 3:45 a.m. a horrendous smell woke me up. My first thought was the farmer-engineered wiring in the old house started on fire. I tried to go back to sleep hoping I could catch a couple of extra minutes before the house burned down but the smell was so bad I was compelled to get up. I walked through the house, the smell becoming more pungent with each step, until I came upon my dog Ole. I walked up to him, leaned over, and took a big whiff. I almost threw up. Skunk juice was still dripping from his face. You are wondering how this relates to oil pipelines. Well, let me tell you. Last Friday, I attended a U.S. Senate field hearing in Billings, requested by Montana Senator Steve Daines, concerning the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). I know, very thrilling. Little time was spent on the stated purpose of the hearing which was to “to examine how effectively the agency is overseeing and enforcing pipeline rules.” I didn’t learn anything new about the effectiveness of PHMSA and I doubt that Senator Daines did either although he was not shy about using the platform to push for the Keystone XL pipeline. (Daines should note that many of the oil refinery workers in Billings are opposed to the Keystone XL for reasons you can read here.) What I did learn is that Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund and I remember the 2011 Exxon oil spill on the Yellowstone River very differently. It is unclear to me why he was considered an expert witness on the effectiveness of PHMSA since he didn’t mention one pipeline regulation or give an example of anything related to the agency in his testimony. I feel the need to address his testimony on the Exxon oil spill because I am an impacted landowner who doesn’t feel, as he put it, like “we ended up with a finished product we are all proud of.” Read More