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Monthly Archives: July 2010

This past week containment crews working with BP on the Deepwater Horizon oil explosion were able to cap the runaway leak. For the millions of our fellow citizens that call the Gulf home this is a welcome relief. With time, diligence and advanced technology the effects of the spill will be mitigated.

The effects of the oil spill are far reaching. Oxygen starved oceans, soiled beaches, lost oil and disrupted communities are the obvious negative effects. Yet from every disaster there is potential for a silver lining. The engineers that design offshore drilling rigs will be able to address the weaknesses that caused the blow out. It takes failure to learn about mistakes and how to prevent similar catastrophes. As our need for oil is far too great to forego offshore reserves, oil companies will be able to work safer and with greater awareness for the environment.

A second silver lining can touch the lives of citizens across the nation. Offshore oil reserves belong to the citizens of the United States. Oil companies lease regions with the greatest potential and in turn for this privilege pay a royalty to the federal government. Last year, the federal government collected over $5 billion in off shore leasing revenues. In 1965 Congress passed the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to receive $900 million annually from the Outer Continental Shelf oil and gas leases. The funds from the LWCF have been shared with all 50 states and have connected with American citizens.

The parks, river ways and open space that we enjoy in landlocked Montana are in part funded by the LWCF. Here in southwest Montana, LWCF has protected Yellowstone River headwaters near Cooke City, critical elk passage up the Taylor Fork drainage, a popular climbing area in Bozeman Pass, and Madison Valley fishing access and ranch lands, to name a few. The program has also provided grants to hundreds of state and local parks across Montana including our own Peet’s Hill and the new Rose Park for Frisbee golf enthusiasts.

The challenge is that the full funding for the LWCF has fallen short every year but one since 1965, with most of the $900 million diverted to other purposes. Of the $5 billion in revenue from 2009 only 180 million was set-aside for the LWCF. This is 3% of the total of the total tax revenue from off shore oil and gas leases. To set this in economic context, the profits of BP in the quarter leading up to the Deepwater Horizon disaster were $4.7 billion. In 2008 Exxon Mobil posted record annual profits of $45.22 billion. And these figures are after paying royalties to the federal government of offshore leases. Given the catastrophe in the Gulf, the annual loss of open space to development, the importance of wetlands to water quality and the benefit of recreation to our population it is only fair to ask for full funding of the revenue be set aside for our nation’s natural heritage.

The LWCF is set to expire in 2015, 50 years after it’s signing. As a way to keep this part of our heritage, Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Max Baucus (D-MT) introduced the Land and Water Conservation Authorization and Funding Act, S.2747, on November 6, 2009, and Senator Jon Tester joined to co-sponsor the bill. This legislation is simple and straightforward: it would permanently reauthorize the fund and make $900 million available annually to LWCF as dedicated funding. As the Congress considers ‘oil spill’ legislation in the coming weeks, full funding of LWCF should be a part of the solution.

Americans strongly support this initiative. In a May 2010 national public opinion survey 77 % support funding at the $900 million annual level. The revenue is from the oil we consume (and we all consume oil) and is shared by all. As a way of ensuring the land, water and recreation heritage we depend upon as part of our children’s lives, full funding of the LWCF is the right thing to do.

Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Editorial Submission :: 2 July 2010
© Conrad Anker

“While action is not without cost, the costs of inaction are greater. What is the cost of a trout stream whose waters are too warm to fish?”
U.S. Senator Max Baucus

Senator Baucus framed the importance of climate change in a way that we in Montana can identify with. While we live in the green vale of the Gallatin, we might not think that the climate is changing. May was wet and chilly and local snowpack is still gracing the peaks that define our valley. For Montana this was the fourth coolest on record. Yet on a global scale May 2010 was the warmest since humans began record keeping in 1880. 2009 was the second warmest year for the northern hemisphere and the warmest for the southern hemisphere. The first decade of the 21st century was the warmest on record. The data is gathered from more than a thousand meteorological stations around the world, Antarctic research station measurements, and satellite observations of sea surface temperatures. The net result is that the temperature is rising 0.36 degree Fahrenheit per decade. Overall temperatures have risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the past 100 years, with the majority of the warming occurring in the past three decades.

Climatologists specifically study the weather over a period of time. Weather creates climate and trends over time give provide a clear measure of temperature. 97% of these atmospheric scientists attribute the increased temperatures to human based activity. Our voracious appetite for energy comes at a cost. The emissions that result from their combustion, notably carbon dioxide, are insulating the planet and trapping heat. The resulting conclusion is that climate change is anthropogenic. The fact that we are in a stage of rapid warming is undisputable.
Earth’s climate is always changing. It has changed dramatically over for the past 4.5 billion years. Some attribute the recent warming to natural causes, a normal variation that has no connection to human activity. Paleoclimatology is the study of the climate taken from the entire history of Earth. By using records found in ice sheets, tree rings, corals, sediment and rocks scientists can understand the constantly changing climate on Earth. The consensus from the Geological Society of America is, “The warming of the last century is unusual in both speed and size, and cannot be explained by natural factors, except for the modest solar contribution during the first half of the century.”

The trout streams mentioned by Senator Baucus and the pine beetle infestation that is ravaging our forests are two examples of a warmer regional climate. On a global scale Canada and Russia might benefit from increased crop yields. This would be offset by crop losses at lower latitudes where many plants are at the limit of what they can tolerate. For the 80 % of the world’s population that lives on less than 10 dollars a day the intense storm cycles, rising oceans and decreased crop yields will make their existence even more troublesome.

As a citizen of the United States as ask myself what can we do? Our education system leads the world in innovation. The same determination that landed man on the moon in 1969 needs to be applied to energy sources, energy conservation and human well being. The clean energy economy has potential to employ millions of people and make our planet a better place for future generations. On a personal level we can strive for good energy practices, while understanding that none of us, by our very existence, will achieve perfection. These small steps when pulled together and combined with a comprehensive national energy policy will get us on the track towards being better stewards of our planet.