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Rockies Today

October 2 · Issue #10 · View online
The big stories up and down the Rocky Mountains, curated by Mountain West News

B.C. mine pollutants found in fish in Montana, Idaho
As the Flathead Beacon reports, a British Columbia coal company doubles down on its commitment to water quality as its mining pollution, especially selenium, is turning up deeper into the Kootenai River watershed B.C. shares with Montana and Idaho.
The mine next door The mine next door
Upstream, as Franz reports…
Teck Resources Limited operates four steelmaking coalmines in the Elk River Valley, just two and a half hours north of Kalispell. The company annually ships more than 24 million tons of coal from the four mines. Most of it is shipped to Asia and South America to be turned into coke and used to make steel. Canada has one of the largest deposits of metallurgical coal on Earth, and most of it is in the mountains of British Columbia.
But coal is not the only thing Teck is sending out of the Elk River Valley.
In recent years, officials on both sides of the border have raised the alarm about increasing levels of selenium and nitrate in the Elk River and rivers and lakes further downstream, including in Northwest Montana. In 2013, a University of Montana study found that the level of selenium and nitrate in the Elk River was 5,000 times higher than in the Flathead River. That same year, the British Columbia government ordered Teck to come up with a plan to address the issue. But six years later, the issue has yet to be resolved.
On Sept. 23, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that a recent water-quality study found elevated levels of selenium in water and fish in Lake Koocanusa and in the Kootenai River in Montana and Idaho. Government officials and Teck both pin the contamination on decades of mining in southeastern British Columbia, specifically rainwater that washes through piles of discarded rock, a byproduct of coal mining.
Teck plans on building water-treatment plants at all of its mines in the area over the next decade. Company officials said Teck would spend upwards of $900 million (Canadian) on water-treatment efforts in the Elk Valley between now and 2022.
Downstream, as Scott reports…
On Lake Koocanusa, scientists and researchers from a multitude of agencies are in the process of developing a site-specific plan as they continue to monitor the influx of selenium leaching out of upstream Canadian coalmines located on the Elk River, which rushes into the Kootenai — spelled Kootenay in Canada — River and converges in Lake Koocanusa.
But the recent EPA study concluded for the first time that selenium concentrations — in addition to entering Lake Koocanusa, where they have been increasing for decades — is also found at high levels in the Kootenai River downstream from the reservoir.
“A lot of us have long felt that this is a watershed-scale issue from the Elk River to Lake Koocanusa down to the Kooteani River,” said Erin Sexton, a University of Montana researcher who was among the first to uncover evidence of high concentrations of the mining pollutants in fish species, and who has been representing the CSKT in discussions. “This really speaks to the need to have all hands on deck. We need all of our federal agencies engaged across the watershed, all tribes and the states of Idaho and Montana. Because unfortunately this just makes clearer what we already knew was a big problem.”
On the demand for metallurgical coal:
More closures likely at US met coal mines soon, analyst says
Oil money fueling giant Wyoming wind farm
The oil money fueling America’s biggest—and costliest—wind farm The oil money fueling America’s biggest—and costliest—wind farm
Over his 60-year career Phil Anschutz has owned oilfields, railroads, fiber-optic networks, tungsten mines, movie theaters and even a pancake manufacturer. He owns the L.A. Kings NHL team, nearly a third of the NBA’s Lakers, and the Staples Center, where they both play. He runs the Coachella music festival, The O2 arena in London and The Broadmoor, the historic 784-room hotel in Colorado Springs. He bankrolled the Chronicles of Narnia movies and was backing Michael Jackson’s comeback tour when the pop star died. Anschutz doesn’t just love unique businesses—he’s obsessed. “My wife calls it a psychosis,” he says with a laugh.  
Anschutz has a soft spot for oil, as that’s where he got his start, and fossil fuels form the basis of his estimated $11.5 billion fortune, placing him at No. 41 on The Forbes 400. Unwrapping a fresh box of Swisher Sweets cigarillos, he explains the favored attributes of the 500,000 acres his oil company has been exploring in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, where his team has drilled and fracked enough wells to be convinced they are sitting on more than a billion barrels. This could yield a bigger payday than the $2.5 billion he made in 2010 selling other oilfields. The best part, he says, is the way that his acreage “interfingers” with the holdings of bigger oil companies, which might like to buy it. He links his fingers together, half-chewed cigar in hand, to illustrate.
Anschutz, 79, has never been a roughneck. He’s 5 feet 9, slim, well coiffed and sounds like the actor Lorne Greene (more Battlestar Galactica than Bonanza) as he explains that his next—and perhaps last—big investment will not be in oil at all. Instead, fossil-fuel king Phil Anschutz is building America’s biggest wind farm. 
It will cost $5 billion to erect 1,000 turbines at the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre Wind Energy Project on Anschutz’s 320,000-acre Overland Trail Ranch near Rawlins, Wyoming. Plus another $3 billion to construct a 730-mile direct-current transmission line to deliver that power (enough for 1.8 million homes) to the California grid. After Anschutz slogged through a decade of permitting, construction is under way. Workers have built 95 miles of work roads and prepped 115 pad sites for the first phase of turbine installation, which could begin in 2020 and finish in 2025. Anschutz has bankrolled the first $400 million out of his own pocket and is looking for equity partners or to raise debt to finance the rest. Just don’t expect him to give up control. “I want to see it built,” he says.
Is he doing this to greenwash his reputation? “No. We’re doing it to make money.” Though he believes excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere “is a problem,” it’s “not as extreme as some would think.” What’s extreme is California’s new law mandating the transition to 100% renewable energy by 2045. He intends to profit from it.
More energy news:
All systems go for Colorado oil and gas, despite crackdown efforts
Blackjewel to present new sales agreement; county approves tax payment plan
While ‘zombie’ mines idle, cleanup and workers suffer in limbo
Industry, enviros blast EPA coal ash proposal
Rocky Mountain states lag behind in energy efficiency
'Energy war room' to begin work within weeks, Kenney tells business crowd
Trans Mountain objections could delay project timeline
Could squeezing more oil out of the ground help fight climate change?
U.S. boosts caribou protections—after extirpation
And more wildlife news:
U.S. boosts caribou protections a year after relocating the last Lower 48 caribou to Canada U.S. boosts caribou protections a year after relocating the last Lower 48 caribou to Canada
Jackson Hole elk feeding ‘step-down’ plan is finally out
Colorado wildlife officers turn to forensic scientists to identify aggressive animals, poachers
Grizzly tracks confirmed north of Butte
So you've heard period blood attracts bears. Here's where that myth came from
Inslee: 'Lethal' wolf removal in northwest Washington is 'simply unacceptable'
Ruling transforms healthcare rights for trans inmates
Transgender prisoners in the West now have tools for self-advocacy Transgender prisoners in the West now have tools for self-advocacy
In 2017, Adree Edmo, a transgender woman serving a 10-year prison sentence at the all-male Idaho State Correctional Institution, sued the Idaho Department of Correction and the prison’s health care provider, Corizon Inc. They had repeatedly denied her request for gender confirmation surgery, a procedure that would allow Edmo’s physical body to align with her female identity. When asked in court about the conflict between her biological sex and gender identity, Edmo responded, “I feel disgusting, I feel tormented, I feel hopeless.”
Edmo’s attorney argued that in order to stop these feelings and save her life, her client needed the surgery. In December 2018, the Idaho District Court ruled in Edmo’s favor. Then, this August, a three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that decision: Prison authorities “were deliberately indifferent” to Edmo’s medical needs, they wrote, and that constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and is against the law. Edmo is expected to receive the surgery as soon as possible, though Idaho Gov. Brad Little has said he will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court, which could delay the procedure.
In addition to changing Edmo’s life, the ruling will expand access to medical care for prisoners across the West. The 9th Circuit’s acknowledgement of gender confirmation surgery as a medically valid treatment could encourage other prisons within its jurisdiction to offer it. Edmo’s case, lawyers say, could serve as a guide for other trans prisoners, and even advance recognition of transgender rights overall.
Don’t miss the Boise State Public Radio and Mountain West News Bureau’s podcast about Edmo’s case:
LOCKED
More stories we're reading today
Gel could help prevent wildfires in high-risk areas
How wildfires and other climate-related events drive up health care costs
Seed availability hampers forest recovery after wildfires
Greens seek 'no go' pledges to curb new drilling on public lands
The Gallatin Range is ground zero for Americans talking about wilderness
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O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West, University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, 59812