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Montana among states that benefit most from outdoor recreation

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Rockies Today

September 20 · Issue #5 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

Outdoor rec accounts for 5.1% of Montana's GDP
Mountain West states stand out in a new Bureau of Economic Analysis report that quantifies outdoor recreation’s contribution to state economies.
Hawaii, Montana, Maine economies rely most on outdoor recreation
Hawaii, Montana and Maine are the three states whose economies depend most on outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, water sports, hunting and skiing.
The outdoor recreational industry accounted for 5.4% of Hawaii’s gross domestic product in 2017, the largest share of all U.S. states. The Aloha State was followed by Montana and Maine, where recreation contributed 5.1% and 4.8% to their states’ economies, respectively. The industry added $427 billion, or 2.2%, to the nation’s GDP, according to a Commerce Department report Friday.
Vermont, Wyoming, Florida and Alaska also showed a higher relative dependence on outdoor recreation, making up more than 4% of their respective state GDP. 
From the Bureau of Economic Analysis report:
BLM staffers rip relocation plans
High Country News obtained audio from a heated meeting.
How BLM employees really feel about moving West How BLM employees really feel about moving West
Throughout the 80-minute session, the details of which were first reported by E&E News, agency staff condemned the move’s impact on their lives and families and, in particular, the lack of transparency surrounding the decision. The Washington BLM staff, who packed the room, questioned the wisdom of the move, as well as its underlying motivation.
Audio of the meeting obtained by High Country News offers an intimate glimpse of the confrontation between BLM leadership and agency staff — highlighting Pendley’s inability to justify the move to the people most affected by it.
“How did we get here?” one man asked. “Was something so terribly broken? — and this is a Marine talking to a Marine.” Here, Pendley interjected with a playful “Semper Fi,” which brought a laugh from the audience.
“Did anybody take the time,” the questioner went on, “to talk to each and every one of these individuals in this room to see how the move would impact them and their family? … Y’all didn’t take anybody in this room into consideration.” He added that he has no plans to move West, questioned whether anyone in leadership had the “moral courage” to stand up to Bernhardt, and called the move a “political thing.”
The room, which had gone serious and silent after the exchange with Pendley, erupted in loud applause.
The mood in the room seemed bewildered and occasionally combative, as the audience delved into the uncomfortable subject of logistics, wondering what, of any, BLM functions might be eliminated and how the employees’ lives would be affected.
“I will say that the morale of the folks I know in this room is as low as I’ve ever seen it,” said one man, who added that he’s seeking a new job.
GAO: Abandoned oil, gas wells could cost taxpayers
Bankruptcies by well operators on public lands could saddle the government with $46 million to $333 million in reclamation liabilities.
Report: Cleanup of abandoned oil, gas wells could cost U.S.
U.S. taxpayers could face potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup costs from abandoned oil and gas wells on public lands, a government watchdog agency said Wednesday.
The Government Accountability Office said in a report that it identified almost 2,300 wells that have not produced oil and gas since 2008 and have not been reclaimed.
The report said bankruptcies by well operators could saddle the government with $46 million to $333 million in reclamation liabilities. The wide range reflects the unknown costs of cleaning up the sites.
To avoid such a scenario, GAO recommended officials adjust the amount of bonds companies must post before drilling to better reflect possible cleanup costs.
Current rules allow companies to post bonds of $150,000 to cover their wells nationwide.
Abandoned wells have been a major issue across much of the West including Wyoming, where companies abandoned almost 6,000 oil and gas wells since 2014 amid low natural gas prices that led to a bust in the coal-bed methane industry.
The state has plugged and abandoned over 2,200 wells at a cost of $5,000-$7,000 per well, according to the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.
As Wyoming Public Media reports, the report has led to legislation:
Federal report highlights reclamation challenges, sparks legislation
The report also prompted bipartisan legislation introduced by Congressman Alan Lowenthal (CA-47) this week. The Bonding Reform and Taxpayer Protection Act of 2019 would update oil and gas bond amounts to reflect both inflation and modern-day costs of reclamation. The bill would also call for a three-year adjustment cycle to reflect inflation.
Lowenthal said he’s raised this issue in the past to Congress, but this time he expects to see more success.
“Now with the GAO report, now with data supporting it, now with a bipartisan bill talking about the rates… I think we’re on the verge of really dealing with protecting America’s public lands and making sure that those that do extract fossil fuels pay their fair share,” he said.
New e-bike rule riles wilderness groups, trailbuilders
Electric-powered bikes are now allowed on BLM and national park trails—and not everyone is happy about it Electric-powered bikes are now allowed on BLM and national park trails—and not everyone is happy about it
Electric bikes, propelled by both pedal and throttle, will be more common on Colorado’s Bureau of Land Management trails after an order issued by Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. The game-changing order issued Aug. 29 gave BLM and National Park Service managers 30 days to craft new trail rules that no longer classify e-bikes as motorized and eliminate rules that ban them from nonmotorized trails. 
“Reducing the physical demand to operate a bicycle has expanded access to recreational opportunities,” Bernhardt wrote, ruling that “e-bikes shall be allowed where other types of bicycles are allowed” on the Interior Department’s BLM and Park Service lands. 
Wilderness groups are worried about the experiential impact from the sudden introduction of motors to the backcountry, and trailbuilders on the Western Slope who have spent decades carving trails for human-powered travel lament the lack of public involvement in the decision.
The order allows e-bike access to trails in Fruita’s North Desert and Kokopelli networks, Phil’s World in Cortez, the Palisade Rim, Grand Junction’s Lunch Loops and hundreds of miles of other Western Slope trails in Eagle, Glenwood Springs, Delta and Montrose.
Bernhardt’s order “will have a huge, huge impact” on the Western Slope, said Scott Winans, president of the five-chapter Colorado Plateau Mountain Bike Trail Association.
“Everything we have been building and advocating for and maintaining since 1989 is nonmotorized,” he said. “This designation alters that at the foundation. This is such a fundamental, foundational change, with no initial public input, that is just astounding to us at COPMOBA. This is such a big wave that just hit the beach and we are just sitting here soaked, trying to understand what happened. There should have been substantial public involvement and outreach before an action like this is taken from the top down.”
More on e-bikes on public lands:
National parks allow e-bikes, face backlash
The great public lands e-bike rush of 2019
Mont. pumped-hydro project a battery on the landscape
Think of the proposed Gordon Butte pumped-hydro project not as a generating plant but as a batterya 400-megawatt battery that would create energy when falling water courses through turbines, and recharges when excess energy pumps that water back to the higher of two reservoirs.
Montana’s energy importers want renewables. Renewables require storage. A pumped hydro project in Meagher County aims to provide it. Montana’s energy importers want renewables. Renewables require storage. A pumped hydro project in Meagher County aims to provide it.
Montana has long been an energy exporter, with Powder River Basin coal and Missouri River hydroelectric dams helping keep the lights on across Washington and Oregon.
But as those states increasingly turn to renewable energy sources, Montana will have to overhaul the way it produces energy if it wants to remain a supplier. 
What’s currently lacking is a way for Montana’s grid to smooth the power-generation peaks and lulls that are part and parcel of wind and solar energy production. Peak demand for energy doesn’t always line up with when the sun shines and the wind blows, so some form of electricity storage is necessary to make renewable energy reliable. 
The Gordon Butte Pumped Hydro Project is designed to provide that storage. The $1 billion facility in rural Meagher County is ready to begin construction in 2020.
The facility will be essentially a mechanical battery that works by purchasing excess electricity when supply exceeds demand — generally when electricity is cheapest — and using that power to pump water into a reservoir to be built on top of Gordon Butte, south of Martinsdale. When demand exceeds supply, the water would be released through turbines into a lower reservoir, generating electricity. The plant is designed to produce 400 MW. 
For comparison, Colstrip Units 1 and 2, which are scheduled to close later this year, have a combined capacity of 614 MW.
Bozeman-based Absaroka Energy originally proposed the project in 2010 and has been aggressively developing it since 2013. The process so far has involved finding a site (the company says it holds an option to purchase), acquiring water rights, navigating the federal permitting process, and securing financing from Denmark’s Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners
Such hurdles make launching a pumped storage project “like finding a spotted, multicolor unicorn,” Absaroka CEO Carl Borgquist said. 
With financing in place and permits in hand, two questions remain: where will the facility get the electricity to operate the facility, and who will buy the energy it produces?
More stories we're reading today
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Coal's decline a sticky problem for Eastern Montana sugar
In a sudden bounty of public land bills, there’s hope one of them will help the Thompson Divide
Bill would kill residential solar, critics say
Are Colorado car buyers ready to drive the electric vehicle revolution?
Idaho just had its most mild wildfire season in years. What caused it?
With an Indigenous perspective, Anchorage seeks to adapt to climate change even if Alaska doesn’t
Protesting climate change, young people take to streets in a global strike
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812