Protest filed on land use plan

Northern Plains Resource Council and WORC filed a protest June 29 of the Miles City Field Office Resource Management Plan (RMP), a new Bureau of Land Management land use plan to govern management of federal lands, including coal, oil and gas.

Will troubled coal industry shift reclamation costs to taxpayers?

A new report, Undermined Promise II, finds that coal companies have fallen far behind in reclaiming mines, and, with the coal industry on shaky financial ground, the public faces increasing liability for reclamation costs of more than $3 billion and damage to landscapes, wildlife and crucial water supplies.

The American public will be left to deal with the fallout as companies scramble to offset low prices and decreasing demand at home for coal by exporting their product to foreign markets.

The report was produced by WORC, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the National Wildlife Federation.

The report, an executive summary and more information is available here.

WORC statement on WTO decision against country-of-origin labeling

Grass Range, Montana, rancher Gilles Stockton issued the following statement on behalf of the WORC upon the announcement May 18 that the World Trade Organization (WTO) has rejected the U.S. appeal of its earlier ruling that U.S. country-of-origin labels (COOL) discriminate against Canadian and Mexican livestock.

“When a popular, commonsense law like COOL is declared trade illegal by an anonymous tribunal of the World Trade Organization, you have to wonder what U.S. law is next.

“Today’s WTO ruling on country-of-origin labels aims to prevent American consumers from knowing where their meat was born, raised, and processed. This is a sad day for consumer choice and the independent livestock producers of this country. As one neighbor put it: ‘This is fraud, what do those meat packers have to hide?’

“When trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement, commonly referred to as NAFTA, and the WTO undermine U.S. laws like COOL, it becomes very clear how the rights of citizens to govern themselves have been traded away. This WTO ruling shows the degree to which international corporations now control our economy and political process through undemocratic non-transparent trade agreements.

“If Congress ‘fast tracks’ the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal that is currently in negotiation, we will see even more actions by trans-national corporations to use the WTO to overturn democratically enacted laws like COOL.

“However, the process and the fight is not over. There is still time for a solution that gives American consumers the information they demand. We ask that Congress make no changes to COOL and let the full WTO dispute process play out. It’s too soon for Congress to act. Canada’s claim of damages has been shown to be non-existent by honest independent researchers. Congress and the Obama Administration should stand in solidarity with the American people, and independent cattle producers, and not back down.”

WORC supports bill to reform federal coal program

Bob LeResche, Chair of WORC, released the following statement on the introduction of legislation by Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) to reform the federal coal program.

“A series of investigations have revealed that taxpayers are losing millions on the federal coal program. It is long-overdue for a complete overhaul. This bill would address the worst problems of the present program and policies. It would close loopholes, ensure a fair return to taxpayers and increase transparency. Most importantly, it would require the Department of the Interior to create a new coal leasing program for the 21st century that balances demand for coal with impacts on the environment and other resources.

“We greatly appreciate Senator Markey’s decades-long commitment to ensuring the federal coal program receives appropriate oversight and review.”

Go here for more information about the bill.

Big Coal should pay its fair share

The Department of Interior’s (DOI) Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR) has proposed a new rule to close a loophole in the way the DOI assesses royalties on federal coal.

The federal coal leasing program has been plagued by scandal since the 1980s. ONRR’s findings and recommended changes are just the latest indictment of a deeply flawed program that is mismanaging taxpayer-owned resources and costing local, state and federal governments billions of dollars in potential revenue.

“American taxpayers own Federal coal and deserve to receive fair value when it is sold, especially as prices increase with overseas exports of our coal resources,” said Bob LeResche of Clearmont, Wyo., Chair of the Western Organization of Resource Councils, a seven-state network of organizations that has long advocated for reform of the federal coal leasing program to better protect taxpayers. “Royalties are NOT taxes, but part of the sales price of America’s coal to the industry. We support the Department of Interior’s efforts to close loopholes and streamline policies to ensure the public treasury receives a fair return when federal coal is mined and sold.”

New radio special examines coal

WORC’s radio project, High Plains News, just released a new special program, MOVING ON, BUT NO WAY GONE: Coal in America.

In this sound-rich, half-hour special from High Plains News - produced in association with Mountain West Voices, West Virginia Public Radio and Allegheny Front - we look at the present and future of coal in America.

You can listen to the program here.

WORC statement on reform of oil and gas regulations

The Bureau of Land Management announced April 17 that it will seek public comment on potential updates to BLM rules on oil and gas royalty rates, rental payments, lease sale minimum bids, civil penalty caps and financial assurances.

This is an important announcement because the federal royalty rate for onshore oil and gas wells has remained unchanged since the 1920s. In addition, it is also a major moment in the push to increase bonds for federal oil and gas wells, which have been insufficiently bonded for decades.

In response to the BLM’s announcement, WORC Chair Bob LeResche issued the following statement:

“BLM proposes to address several important provisions that are intended to ensure that taxpayers receive a fair return for federal oil and gas leases, and to ensure that federal sites are reclaimed and returned to other uses. These updates are long overdue and we hope BLM moves quickly to put new rules in place.

“The federal onshore oil and gas royalty rate is lower than those of many western states, including Wyoming. There’s no question that an increase is needed to ensure that taxpayers receive a fair return for federally owned oil and gas.

“Wyoming’s Powder River Basin is a great example of why it’s so important for BLM to update its reclamation bonding requirements. The state has thousands of orphaned wells and unreclaimed sites. Companies have literally disappeared, closing up shop in the middle of the night, leaving taxpayers liable for reclamation costs and landowners stuck with dangerous, contaminated industrial sites on their land. BLM’s current bond amounts — just $25,000 for all of a company’s wells in a state or $150,000 for all of its wells nationwide — have not been updated for over 50 years and are far too low.”

Western Native Voice & Idaho Organization of Resource Councils affiliate with WORC

On Dec. 6, the WORC Board of Directors voted unanimously to accept applications for membership by Western Native Voice and the Idaho Organization of Resource Councils.

“We are pleased to welcome these two groups into the WORC,” said Norm Cimon, outgoing Chair of WORC. “The Idaho Organization of Resource Councils hosts an emerging grassroots base in Idaho, while Western Native Voice extends our engagement with Native Americans communities throughout Montana. Both groups strengthen our regional network and our ability to impact local, state, and national policy decisions.”

Voices from the Bakken - Fighting Back

A snapshot of residents defending their water, land, communities, and families from the harmful effects of booming oil drilling in the Bakken region of northwest North Dakota.

Hydraulic Fracturing Photos

John Fenton and his
neigbors deal with the impacts of gas
drilling and hydraulic fracturing daily.
Click on Learn More to
view photographs.
Who's Your Farmer?

Powder River member Audrey Malan gives thanks for local food and local producers in a High Plains News radio commentary.


Member Group News

Referral signatures delivered – Dakota Resource Council and North Dakota Farmers Union submit petition for a referendum to end corporate farming exemptions. (The Bismarck Tribune, June 16, 2015)

Cook: The Buffalo Plan and the threat of climate chaos - Commentary questions sale of 10 billion tons of federal coal in light of President Barack Obama’s order to cut greenhouse gas emissions. (Casper Star-Tribune, June 13, 2015)

Many voice opposition to Tongue River Railroad - People line up to oppose Tongue River Railroad during a “people’s hearing” in Billings. (The Billings Gazette, June 3, 2015)

More Member Group News


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