Montana Editorial Roundup
Billings Gazette, June 12, on Secretary of State Corey Stapleton’s challenge of a Gov. Steve Bullock veto:
In his latest political stunt, Secretary of State Corey Stapleton has attempted to usurp the constitutional authority of both the governor and the Legislature.
The Legislature passed House Bill 132 changing the definition of bison and sent it to Gov. Steve Bullock on April 10. The governor proposed amendments and returned the bill to the Legislature where simple majorities of the House and Senate rejected his proposal and sent HB132 back to him on April 24. Four days later, Bullock vetoed the bill and sent his veto letter to the Legislature, which posted the letter on its website.
When Stapleton received written notice of the HB132 veto, he failed to carry out his constitutional duty to notify lawmakers of their option to reconvene to reconsider the vetoed bill. Instead, Stapleton announced via Twitter on May 29 that Bullock’s veto didn’t count and that he was adding HB132 to the laws of Montana. Stapleton claimed that the bill became law because he hadn’t received written notice of the veto within 10 days.
His claim has no legal basis. Neither the Montana Constitution nor statutes set a 10-day time limit for the governor to deliver a veto notice to the secretary of state.
Bullock sued in state District Court to stop Stapleton from thwarting the Montana Constitution. Judge James Reynolds issued a temporary order restraining Stapleton from putting the vetoed bill into state code and ordered him to notify lawmakers of the veto, as required by the Montana Constitution.
On June 5, Lewis and Clark County District Judge Mike McMahon issued a preliminary injunction against Stapleton, preventing him from putting the vetoed bill into state law. McMahon also continued the order for Stapleton to do his duty to notify lawmakers of the veto, which he had refused to do as of June 5.
McMahon made clear at the 40-minute hearing that Stapleton doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on.
The judge repeatedly asked the secretary of state’s recently hired counsel where in Montana law there is a requirement for the the governor to notify Stapleton of a veto within 10 days. Stapleton’s attorney could not cite such a law because none exists.
We doubt that Stapleton relied on advice from any member of the Montana bar when he, as McMahon said, “usurped the authority of the governor to veto.”
“There is no requirement in the number of days when the governor has to deliver a veto message to the secretary of state. The governor acted consistent with the constitution,” McMahon said, adding later: “It seems to me the only person who didn’t do his job is the secretary of state.”
Stapleton, who was elected secretary of state in 2016, still doesn’t understand his job. He doesn’t have the power to veto legislation or to ignore his constitutional duties as he did in the case of HB132.
Stapleton is running to replace Bullock, who will reach his term limit in December. As a 2020 gubernatorial candidate, Stapleton’s attempt to unilaterally override a veto again demonstrates that he doesn’t know or follow Montana law. His latest gubernatorial campaign started with an emailed announcement that violated Montana law because he used a state employee and state email system to promote his candidacy.
Montanans expect the secretary of state to carefully follow the law. Stapleton still has 18 months left in his term. He should start showing that he will put state law above his personal political aspirations.
Missoulian, June 9, on Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers becoming privatized or shutting down:
The United States is seeing a continued surge in demand for workers, especially skilled labor, as the economy continues to add hundreds of thousands of jobs each month and unemployment rates remain low. The dearth of workers is particularly acute in rural communities.
At the same time, climate change is driving a higher need for workers with training in natural resource management and disaster assistance — everything from hurricanes to wildfires. Montana now experiences both floods and fires on a regular basis.
So it’s puzzling that the Trump administration is cutting one of the few federal programs proven to answer both problems.
The Job Corps is aimed at fostering job skills and work habits among working-age youth who are neither employed nor in school. It recruits economically disadvantaged individuals between the ages of 16 and 24, and sets them up with the educational and vocational experience they need to launch a lifetime of career success.
Over the decades, multiple independent studies have shown that in addition to increased earnings over their lifetimes, Job Corps participants also show reduced criminal activity and reduced reliance on social services. Yet despite receiving consistently high ratings for outcomes, Job Corps have long struggled with management headaches and budget deficits such as those that forced enrollment freezes as recently as 2013. In the most recent budget cycle, the program was appropriated $1.7 billion.
The U.S. Department of Labor counts 125 centers around the country, training some 60,000 youths each year primarily through contracts with private organizations. The Forest Service operates 28 coeducation centers in partnership with the Labor Department, and has sole responsibility for another 25 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers, which are located on national forests in 16 states and have a combined annual capacity of more than 4,000 students.
Last month, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue sent a letter to the Labor Department stating the Forest Service will withdraw from operating its Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers. The Labor Department in turn announced its intention to essentially privatize 16 of these centers and shut down nine others, including the one in Anaconda.
That decision rightly brought swift, strong outcry from the Anaconda community, who succeeded in flagging the attention of Montana’s congressional delegates by noting that the top-ranking location generates an estimated $8 million a year for the local economy while providing high-paying jobs for its 63 staff members, in addition to serving some 170 students, 120 of whom provided 40,000 man-hours of wildfire-fighting in 2017.
Last week, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines announced that he had personally convinced President Trump to save the Anaconda Job Corps training center. As yet, it’s unclear exactly what this means — which agency will assume responsibility for the site and what kind of funding it should expect in the future.
In the meantime, Montana’s only other Job Corps center remains in jeopardy, and has not gotten nearly the same level of attention as the center in Anaconda. The Trapper Creek Job Corps training center in Darby has been repeatedly recognized for excellence and currently employs 57 people providing tuition-free training in welding, carpentry, electrical, forest conservation and other skilled trades. In each of the past two years, its students provided an estimated 100,000 hours in natural resource work.
And now the center is bracing for dramatic cuts. It was one of the 16 Job Corps Civilian Conservation Centers that will be transferred to the Labor Department and privatized.
All three of Montana’s congressional delegates signed a letter sent last week to Perdue and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta urging them to reconsider their decision and to answer a list of questions regarding the consequences of reducing the capacity of the nation’s JCCCs. The letter, signed by nearly 50 members of Congress who have Job Corps centers in their home states, notes that decision to close or alter the 25 centers “is a massive revision of the program undertaken without congressional consultation, notification or approval.”
“Civilian Conservation Centers have a unique mandate within the Job Corps program to help conserve, develop, and manage public natural resources and public recreation areas and respond to natural disasters, including wildfires and hurricanes,” the letter notes. In fact, these centers are unique within the Job Corps program in that they are the only ones that train and direct participate in disaster response.
The letter does not mention Trapper Creek, which was recently named the top CCC fire program of the year after its students provided nearly 61,000 hours of firefighting and support in 12 different states.
But U.S. Sen. Jon Tester proposed a “Job Corps Protection Act” on the Senate floor last week that would halt the transfer of the Forest Service’s CCCs and prevent appropriated funds from being used to close any centers. On Thursday, Tester’s legislation was introduced with support from Daines and seven other senators. The bill seeks to prevent the closure of any centers, and would prohibit any federal agency from changing their operating agreements to prevent privatization as well.
As the next wildfire season approaches, Montanans can be thankful the Anaconda Job Corps center will remain open. But we shouldn’t sit back and consider the disaster completely averted. The state’s only other training center is still at risk, and the entire Civilian Conservation Center program could be privatized without public discussion or input. Let’s thank Montana’s congressional delegates for their efforts thus far, remind them that more is at stake than Anaconda, and urge them to keep up the pressure in Congress.
Montana Standard, June 9, on negotiations for Butte cleanup:
Across the Mining City — in the profoundly polluted alluvium deep beneath the still-not-relocated county shops, in unremediated Uptown Butte homes with lead levels far exceeding standards, along the banks of what ought to be upper Silver Bow Creek and instead remains a filthy and forlorn stretch of abandoned ground in the center of town, in the Council of Commissioners’ chambers and in the federal courthouse a few blocks to the east, in the Butte-Silver Bow County Public Archives’ community meeting room, where so many earnest words about the cleanup have been spoken, along the looming slag-canyon walls and on the tainted grounds of the old Butte Reduction Works, in The Montana Standard’s newsroom on Granite Street where reporters have toiled for many decades to cover mining and smelting, cleanup and cover-up, in KBOW’s Party Line studio and KBMF’s outpost in the Carpenter’s Union Hall, at the breakfast counter at Gamer’s where many plots are hatched and problems solved every morning and at the bar at the M&M where a few more are hatched and solved every evening, in schoolrooms where children sick and healthy, challenged and brilliant, have learned their lessons, in the anxiety-ridden oncology department of St. James Healthcare and in the blessed quietude of Mount Moriah Cemetery — change is on the way.
Twelve years of secret Superfund negotiations are still secret and still going on.
But even as some of the fine points are still being hashed out behind closed doors, a new plan to clean up the Butte Hill exists for the public to see, or at least hear about. The EPA has asked Butte’s citizens what they think of it, and the answers it has received at two public meetings have been resoundingly negative. In contrast, Wednesday night, the Council of Commissioners was overwhelmingly positive. And so a plan that has little popularity among many of the townspeople who are paying attention won a 10-1 endorsement from the commissioners who represent them.
Yes, change is on the way.
The county is continuing to make plans to move its shops to accommodate the Parrot cleanup, even though it has long been evident that there is great institutional reluctance to do so. The cost of that project soared, but was reined in by the state. Only now are we seeing the total price tag of that project, and it is not insignificant. But it needs to be done.
The county also continues to dismiss the concerns of those who want to see a restored upper Silver Bow Creek, falling in line with the latest Atlantic Richfield talking point that the historical development of the city has made restoration of the creek impossible. The EPA itself, at a high level, has been confused by the fact that the county and its citizens seem to be at cross purposes. “Why isn’t the county supporting what people want?” one EPA official asked us privately.
Excellent question — the answer to which seems to lie in the county’s complicated financial relationship with Atlantic Richfield, which had in the past dictated that the county not advocate for the removal of the Parrot tailings. Now that that train has left the station, it seems there’s a fallback position firmly in place involving the creek.
Now suddenly Atlantic Richfield has decided to spend many millions of dollars building a new water treatment plant, to be used to draw down the Berkeley Pit, producing a huge flow of clean, treated water for the next several decades — but of course, we are told, that water can’t be used for a creek, starting at Texas Avenue near the edge of the Pit.
Against the backdrop of that enormous expenditure, it’s even more confounding that the Superfund negotiators can’t seem to find $50,000 to do a creek feasibility study, possibly because that study will codify the fact that a restored creek is indeed feasible. We have recently heard that the optics on that decision are so bad that the negotiators may have relented, and will actually find a few pennies to toss in that direction. Here’s hoping.
Meanwhile, health questions are on the minds of Butte residents. And why shouldn’t they be? Why should this city have a lead action level three times as high as Anaconda’s, and the national standard? And why should we not work as hard to study issues raised by new statistical mortality research as we do to discredit that research?
While we appreciate EPA’s deadline-driven approach to the negotiations, the rapid progress that has been made, and the partial lifting of the gag order, we believe that there’s far too much at stake with all of the above issues to end public comment on this cleanup plan this Tuesday, as is currently proposed.
“We live here too,” members of the county’s Superfund team say, and we recognize and respect that. Everyone wants the best for Butte. We just wish deeper, no-holds-barred dialogue on these issues could happen among all the stakeholders, and soon.
We urge EPA to extend the comment period on this vital set of community issues. We strongly urge commissioners to talk to their constituents before taking any more binding votes on these matters. And we call for further health research and a more open-minded official reexamination of the issues surrounding Silver Bow Creek.
Change is indeed on the way. Let’s make sure we do it right.