Showing posts with label Gillette. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gillette. Show all posts

Friday, January 31, 2014

Happy trails, Sue Wallis

This time last year, Rep. Sue Wallis (R-Recluse) was an ally in the cause to promote a domestic partnerships bill in the Wyoming House. I was at home, recovering from a heart attack, and I had plenty of time to listen in on the proceeding of the legislature. I blogged about it, too. Read the post here.

Now it's the last day of January, 2014. It's cold and gray outside. And Sue Wallis is dead, possibly due to a heart attack that killed her at 56 (the Gillette News-Record obit described it as "natural causes"). She was alone in a Gillette hotel room, spending the night in town to attend some legislative committee meetings on Tuesday. Later in the day, she was going to fly out to Elko and the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, an event she helped run back in the 1990s.

That's just one of the scary things about heart attacks. You can be alone and then you can be dead. Or you can be alone and passed out of the floor, gasping for air. You could be calling 911 on your cell phone, if you're able, and then just hope that the EMTs arrive in time.

Wallis was a rancher, cowboy poet and Lynne Cheney supporter. She advocated for humane horse slaughter and food freedom for farmers. She didn't like Barack Obama or the EPA. She stood up for abortion rights and the LGBT community. A real Wyoming mix. The Campbell County Republican Party will try to find a replacement but she can't be replaced.

After I heard the news, I went to her blogs and read some of her poetry. It tells you a lot about her. Go there and see.

And get that heart checked.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Wyoming coal dust a pollutant -- or not? Ask a bride...

On Saturday, I posted about Seattle and the fact that urbanites in that green bastion might have to drink their lattes with a spritz of coal dust if Wyoming and Montana and Peabody Energy get their way and send swarms of coal trains to West Coast ports. Most of the coal will be bound for energy-hungry China.

One reader told me that Powder River Basin coal companies are now spraying the tops of their coal cars with "surfactants" that adhere to the coal and prevent the dust from flying every which way. Burlington Northern Santa Fe officials said that "spraying cuts dust by 85 percent," according to a story in the Portland Oregonian.

I also found out from the same article that coal companies now load coal in a "bread loaf shape that reduces dust." Not sure how that works, but I'm willing to accept the fact that changing the aerodynamics of a train load can have a positive effect.

A war is being waged here between energy-producing red-staters and bluish greenies on the coast. Some of my fellow union members in the Pacific Northwest are in favor of the coal train shipments as it could mean up to 15,000 jobs at the ports and the railyards. Some of my fellow red-state Dems in the northern Rockies are against the coal shipments and the coal burning that will lead to more global warming. The mayor of Missoula, for instance. But you know how Missoula is. 

Yesterday the Army Corps of Engineers announced that it will not do an in-depth study of the possible pollution caused by a flurry of coal shipments to West Coast ports. The coal people saw this as a victory while the anti-coal people did not. As we all know, only part of this struggle is about scientific fact; the rest is about emotion and political clout. Repubs will shout about jobs and the free market. Dems will shout about pollution and global warming. 

But what will the brides be shouting about?

The in-laws, probably, especially the groom's drunken uncle. But they won't be complaining about coal dust ruining their dresses if they're getting married outdoors in Gillette "Coal City" Wyoming.  

I caught a short status update on Facebook today that addressed the issue. It was by Joe Lunne, PIO of the City of Gillette.  I work as a PIO when I'm not blogging, so I know that Joe is just trying to do his job in the face of overwhelming attacks from environmentalists and The Liberal Media Monolith. Coal pays the piper in Gillette and throughout the state. I thought his approach to this issue was touchingly personal, which is really what most political fights come down to. Take a look at the accompanying photo and then read the status update:
"This picture shows a stretch of the walking path around Cam-Plex park. The park is only 75 feet from Highway 14/16 and about 175 feet from the railroad tracks that carry millions of tons of coal out of the Powder River Basin every day. 
"Around a hundred weddings take place in the park each year, and that would not happen if coal were as dirty as its critics say it is. The park is clean...and so are the wedding dresses. The brides wouldn't have it any other way!"
I don't think that Joe will be called to testify at any Congressional hearings. Or any of the hundred brides that get married this year down by the railroad tracks. But who knows? Weirder things have happened. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Rep. Sue Wallis (R-Recluse) explains HB168 cowboy poet style

It was quite educational listening to the debate on HB168 today in the Wyoming House. HB168 is the Domestic Partners Rights and Responsibilities Act. Many of us were surprised when it made it out of committee on a 7-2 vote. That one small victory enable the bill to be aired in public, so both naysayers and supporters could sound off.

Most eloquent of the supporters was Rep. Sue Wallis (R-Recluse). Rep. Wallis is a rancher and cowboy poet, one of the founders of the annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko. One of my favorite Wyoming moments was listening to Sue and her late husband, Rod McQueary, talking turns reciting cowboy poetry at a humanities conference two years ago in Riverton.

Rod passed away in December. Rep. Wallis is still grieving. As she works on behalf of her constituents in the Wyoming House, she is missing the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. This year's event celebrates Italian cowboys and their poetry. Wish I was there to hear that. That's what makes Elko so special. The organizers include something new every year. It might be Basque poets or Native Americans or Mexican gauchos or the horsemen of Mongolia.

Rep. Wallis is cut from the same cloth. She thinks big.

She rose in support of HB168. She also is one of the co-sponsors. She recalled that when Rod died in December, she was accorded all courtesies and privileges that attached to being a survivor heterosexual spouse in Wyoming. She was at Rod's side the entire time and saw his out of this world. All the paperwork came to her, as did all property and possessions. Nobody questioned her choices of burial plans.

"I have numerous friends, colleagues and relatives who are in a relationship with members of the same sex," said Rep. Wallis. "Some of these couples have been together for decades. One couple - two elderly gentlemen -- have been together for 40 years." She paused for emphasis. "They are good and decent in every sense of the word."

But something terrible happens at the end of a relationship. "When one of my elderly friends loses his mate, on top of the heartbreak of losing his mate he will have to go through all sorts of contortions to justify himself."

"This is not just in any way, shape or form."

Rep. Wallis knows her Bible. She sounded astonished at some of the comments of the naysayers, people using The Good Book to justify their hatred and prejudices. She cautioned them not to cherry-pick certain passages that may or may not apply to the present situation.

"You don't get to cherry-pick what you like and then deny someone else the opportunity to love in all of its facets," she said, noting that the main tenet of the New Testament was Jesus's words to "love your neighbor as yourself."

But it was a passage from the Old Testament that got her fired up. She noted that some in the House chambers had quoted a passage that referred to a man lying with another man as "an abomination." She quoted some other "abominations" quoted in the Bible. She asked her rancher colleagues to pay particular attention to Leviticus. It's considered an abomination "to not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip the edges of your beard." She wondered aloud how many of Wyoming's bearded ranchers knew they were committing abominations with their razors.

Leviticus also warns against "sewing your field with mingled seed" and "mixing your herds."

Said Rep. Wallis: "Maybe you didn't know that cross-breeding your herd for hybrid vigor was an abomination to the Lord."

I'm a city boy. I barely know one end of a cow from another. But Rep. Wallis does. She lives on a family ranch in the most remote part of Campbell County. Her family's been on the land for generations.

She summed things up in a straightforward Wyoming way: "This is about simple common human decency and respect for our fellow human beings."

And then she sat down.

Friday, December 07, 2012

King Coal holds a seminar in Gillette

An Overpass Light Brigade protest in Portland, Maine.These LED-light-fueled protests are coming to an overpass or state capitol near you.
King Coal holds a seminar in Gillette on Dec. 13, "Powder River Basin Coal: Domestic Challenges and International Opportunities:"
“Coal is important as an abundant, low-cost energy source for the U.S. economy,” UW School of Energy Resources Director Mark Northam says. “The energy programs at the University of Wyoming are looking at ways that coal can continue to be used in the decades to come, because maintaining a viable coal industry is important to ensuring stable, low-cost, reliable electric power generation.”
Domestic challenges, according to Wyoming, the nation's Republican-controlled energy colony: President Brack Obama
Unstated international opportunities: China
The international challenge whose name we dare not say: Global warming

Friday, April 06, 2012

Gardeners gather in Gillette to rethink the future

Gardening is in again. Rethinking Gardening in the 21st Century is the title for the Gillette Master Gardeners Conference. My fave garden blogger, David Schmetterling of Montana Wildlife Gardener, is Friday's keynote speaker. The conference will bring together authors, Master Gardeners, vendors, horticulture experts, and backyard gardeners to share enthusiasm and knowledge. To view the complete conference agenda, click here.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Survey results show that Wyoming residents support a multitude of gas wells and scenic vistas

Foundation Coal's Eagle Butte Mine in Campbell County
Wyoming Public Radio had a news item this week about the results of a survey of Wyoming residents conducted by Colorado College. Here are the results, in a nutshell:
Most Wyoming voters view the state’s national parks, forests and wildlife areas as an essential part of the economy. That’s according to a bipartisan poll conducted at Colorado College. 
The survey found that Wyomingites support a broad range of environmental protections but also support energy development on public lands. 
Bob Budd with the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust says that’s not a contradiction.“Wyomingites really do believe that we can have it all,” Budd said. “I think our track record is pretty good that way. We’re bullish on development to some degree, and at the same time we’re very protective and bullish on our natural resource heritage.” 
Budd says surveys like this are important in helping policy makers plan for the future. “Wyomingites really do believe we can have it all.”
Beliefs are one thing, reality another. Air pollution in Sublette County, water pollution in Fremont County, fracking disruptions in Goshen and Laramie counties, oil-and-gas drilling on public lands all over the state, uranium and precious metals mining in northeast Wyoming, fights over the viewsheds for transmission lines, coal-fired power plants that are some of the worst polluters in the U.S., battles over locations of wind farms, gobbling up of Campbell County for more open-pit mining, millions of beetle-killed trees due to global warming caused by the burning of Wyoming’s carbon products, and so on.

We Wyomingites may believe that we can have it all. It’s not true.

When you’re an energy colony like Wyoming, there is no escaping the effects of energy extraction. And when you have an economy almost wholly dependent on severance taxes on oil, gas and coal, you can never escape those effects. This is a real quandary when the state’s second-largest economic generator is tourism. In 2010, tourists spent $2.6 billion in Wyoming and the industry generated $108 million in state and local taxes. A good chunk of that money was spent in Jackson and at Yellowstone and Grand Teton national parks, with its 3 million tourists annually. Jackson Hole is relatively free of commercial energy development. But there is a lot more to Wyoming than its very scenic Northwest corner.

But what are we to do with the state's Energy Sacrifice Zones? Those places with lots of coal/gas/oil but without tourist-pleasing scenic vistas? 

Campbell County, for instance.

No mountains in Campbell County. Plenty of buttes, mesas and wide-open spaces. The landscape features huge open-pit coal mines, some of the biggest in the country, and hundreds of coal-bed methane gas wells. The city of Gillette is perched out there in Powder River Country, located at the junction of I-90 and U.S. Hwy. 59. Summer tourists from Chicago and Milwaukee and Minneapolis have just visited the Black Hills and Devils Tower and now are wondering how far it is to the next scenic vista -- the beautiful Bighorn Mountains. That's just about the time they arrive in Gillette. Visually, Gillette offers nothing to write home about. If you were writing home about it on Facebook while holed up in the Holiday Inn Express during a March blizzard, you might say, "Help -- I'm stuck in Siberia." Or "Gillette is butt ugly."
Gillette still life (coal mine in background)
True, Gillette as seen from a Holiday Inn Express window during a March blizzard is a depressing site (been there!). Some ("some" meaning "me") have proposed erecting noise barriers along I-90 so that tourists don't have to actually see the city as they move westward, forever westward, toward Yellowstone. You've seen those barriers in every big city, erected to muffle the eternal racket of the interstate, an effort to spare the delicate hearing of suburbanites. Denver's I-25 noise barriers were made to resemble rock cliffs embedded with fossils of ancient flora and fauna. Very clever.

With Gillette, we're talking more "visual barrier" than noise barrier. I envision a 30-foot-high wall along both sides of I-90, from one end of the county to another. Local artists could limn scenic vistas on the wall. They'd be busy for years, generating millions for the local economy. We could also try to Denver approach and embed Powder River fossils (allosauruses, pterodactyls, state legislators, etc.) in the barriers. The idea is to spare motorists the sights and sounds of 21st century energy development.

Alas, what looks good on paper runs into the realities of real life. Gillette earns millions providing services for tourists. For that, they have to go into town and face the forest of motels and fast-food joints. And Gillette also is one of the most exciting arts towns in the state. It's home to the AVA Center, an old municipal building that's been turned into a place for arts classes and exhibits and gatherings. Its exterior now features a mural by local artist Christopher Amend. Chris is known more for his nudes and surrealist paintings.
Chris Amend's mural at the AVA Center
Gillette has an active public art program, "Avenue of Art," initiated by former Mayor Duane Evenson, who now sits on the Wyoming Arts Council board of directors. On the eastern fringes of town is the CAM-PLEX Center, known more for rodeos and monster truck rallies than art exhibits and concerts -- but it does all that. U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi was on the CAM-PLEX board and now sits on the U.S. Senate arts caucus. He buys books by Wyoming authors and actually reads them. Beneath Sen. Enzi's Gloomy Gus exterior beats the heart of a diehard arts supporter.

Gillette is home to the Powder River Symphony and the Donkey Creek Jazz Festival and a cool library and an active writers' organization and a slew of dedicated art teachers and....

See how complicated this is? An Energy Sacrifice Zone yearns to break free of stereotypes. Its residents don't want to be sacrificed. We want good jobs, many of which are in the energy industry, and we also want pretty mountains and pristine streams. For the most part, those two facets of Wyoming life don't exist in the same place.   

Forget the visual barrier idea. We'll have to figure out other ways to hide our Energy Sacrifice Zones while promoting our scenic vistas. Any ideas?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Some Wyoming Democrats wear the cloak of invisibility

Good story by Kirk Johnson in the April 16 New York Times. Wyoming booms with energy development. State government flush with cash. Republicans rule the roost. Democrats invisible -- and some want to stay that way.

Not me.

Go to

Photo of Gillette mural by Steve Remich

Monday, June 07, 2010

Dem Gov hopeful Pete Gosar participates in Energy Expo Gubernatorial Debate

From a press release:

Democratic Party Gubernatorial candidate Pete Gosar will be in Casper on Tuesday, June 8, 2010, at the Democratic Men’s Meeting. The meeting will take place at the Parkway Plaza at noon.

Pete will also attend the Energy Expo Gubernatorial Debate in Gillette. The debate is being
held at from 4-6 p.m. at the Cam-Plex Multi Event Facility.

Pete will be available at both events to answer questions and discuss issues facing Wyoming.

Contact: Pete Gosar, 307.760-3219,