Native American health in Montana
Montana is looking for a new Indian Health director whose job it will be to close the gap in life expectancy between Natives and whites in the state.
A study showed that Native men live 19 years less than whites in the state, which is surpassed by a 20-year gap for Native women.
The figures are alarming, and it is up to every Montanan to work on a solution to the problem.
Crow Tribal Health Director Todd Wilson said the problems are many and complicated and, thus, won’t be easy to solve.
But difficulty should not be an excuse for not starting a full-fledged effort to solve the problem right now.
The life expectancy gap is a disgrace to the entire state and must be addressed.
Lifestyle issues are a part of the problem. Drug use is rampant on reservations, though they certainly don’t have a corner on the market. We are so pleased that Rocky Boy’s and Fort Belknap Indian reservations are tackling that problem head on. Reducing the problem on reservations will increase the life expectancy and improve the quality of life for reservation residents.
Like most of us, Natives could improve their diet. They could reduce smoking.
School districts are doing a good job of providing healthier food in the school lunch program, but these choices are important at home, too.
The biggest problem that remains, though, is the quality of health care for Natives.
Indian Health Services is notorious for being unable to provide good care for its clients. The program is underfunded, and local clinics often run out of money before the end of the fiscal year.
It is hard to attract doctors, nurses and other health care professionals to reservations, which are often in rural, remote locations.
Efforts to attract doctors, nurses and other health professionals to the reservations ought to be expanded.
As part of his legacy-building efforts, we hope President Barack Obama launches an all-out effort to cure this intolerable disparity in the life expectancies of Natives.
And we hope the entire health care community in Montana jumps on the bandwagon.
Montana is depriving itself of a lot of talent by letting some of its residents die a way-too-early death.
The state’s untested rape kits
State Attorney General Tim Fox is to be commended for forming a task force to investigate why some 1,400 rape kits in the possession of law enforcement agencies across the state were never submitted to the state crime lab for testing — some dating back more than 20 years.
Fox asked the agencies for an inventory of untested rape kits in response to a national debate over perhaps hundreds of thousands of the kits that have never been tested.
The Montana task force met for the first time last week to investigate why the cases were never prosecuted and to establish guidelines for the handing of future cases. Many of the rape kits may not have been forwarded because alleged victims declined to press charges or because there was a legitimate lack of evidence to justify prosecution.
But it’s also true that some prosecutors are reluctant to prosecute rape cases, which don’t always result in slam-dunk convictions.
Particularly in the cases of acquaintance rape, jurors are often asked to make difficult judgments about whether accusers may have indicated consent to the accused. But that must not deter prosecutors from pursuing cases when they are convinced the accuser is telling the truth.
Nearly half of the rape kits that weren’t sent to the lab were collected within the last five years — within the statute of limitations. It is hoped the task force will expedite its investigation and send strong recommendations for prosecutors to pursue convictions in at least some cases.
Rape is the most underreported of violent crimes. According to some estimates, as few as 5 percent are reported to law enforcement authorities. The backlog of untested rape kits seems to indicate it is also one least prosecuted crimes.
In light of recent controversies at the University of Montana — which prompted a book by best-selling author Jon Krakauer — as well as allegations of rapes at fraternities Montana State University here in Bozeman, a careful reexamination of how these cases are handled statewide is warranted.
And the attorney general’s task for is strongly urged to proceed with its investigation with vigor and speed.
A U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on carbon emission rules
The decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to block the implementation of carbon emission rules by the Environmental Protection Agency is good news for Colstrip and for Montana.
The issue isn’t really about coal, global warming or economic development.
Regardless of the U.S. Supreme Court, coal consumption continues to decrease and the international market for it seems to be cooling. Global warming remains a disturbing, verifiable fact regardless of its source. And, Montana can only be strong when its economy is diversified.
But, Montana cannot be strong when it is held to standards that no other state is. And, Montana cannot be strong as jobs dry up and communities become ghost towns.
That’s why the Supreme Court’s ruling was good news. Montanans keep jobs and tax money from coal. Places like Colstrip continue to survive, even if the future remains in question. That should be welcome news to most in the state.
Montana’s economy will continue to be strong when the economy is diverse, just like our power sources. Coal, in both cases, may be part of that diversity.
Most importantly, the Supreme Court intervention may give Montana the chance to question why the standards set for it were more stringent than for any other state in the Union. Few people argue that clean air isn’t important. And few people would probably argue that cutting carbon emissions is a bad thing. The question is one of degree. How much can we reasonably cut, and why does this particular plan by the EPA seem to punish Montana more than other places?
This case will hopefully examine that.
Meanwhile, more time means a greater chance that technology continues to evolve and match the marketplace. There is hunger and demand for cleaner power sources. Because of that, private industry and science may yet provide better answers to burning coal. By allowing more time, we hopefully allow technology to evolve to meet a better standard. As it stands now, the EPA’s tough regulations create an artificial crisis: It creates a deadline for places like Colstrip, a doomsday clock for that community. That raises a serious question: Should the government be in the business of shutting down an entire industry or town, one which, until recently, has provided much stability for this region’s power grid and its economy.
While we can see the logic in Gov. Steve Bullock’s decision to suspend the work of a committee tasked with meeting the carbon emissions requirement, we also hope the work doesn’t just stop there. We agree: Why waste time on rules and changes that may not happen. However, we hope that a task force or a blue-ribbon committee can continue to push for two other key important items.
First, we hope that a committee of some kind explores new technology and new ways to keep coal-powered electricity generation a reality. Could Montana provide state leadership for making coal and environmental protection not mutually exclusive terms?
Next, we hope the state and leaders look at ways to diversify regional, rural economies. Colstrip, like many areas, needs to follow other examples of towns that are thriving by continuing to diversify. We need coal, like we need so many industries. But, it cannot just be coal — or any one industry — to provide the sole lifeblood for a community. Instead, how can we continue to diversify, strengthen and grow more business in places like Colstrip?
As much as the decision was a good thing for the federal government, it may be an equal wake-up call to state leaders to continue to look at options and economic diversification.
Legislation regarding Colstrip’s coal-fired power plants
People in the Colstrip area, and many Montanans in general, are breathing a sigh of relief after the Washington state Senate this month approved legislation regarding Colstrip’s huge coal-fired power plants.
The Washington Senate declined to require the oldest parts of the Colstrip station, Units 1 and 2, to be shut down during the next few years. Instead, the legislation more generally allows Puget Power and Light to begin setting money aside, in case the two units are shuttered, for decommissioning the plants and cleaning up the site.
Originally, legislation considered by the Washington Legislature would have tried to force the closure of Units 1 and 2 in Montana, a move that in turn might have prompted lawsuits by Montanans seeking to keep the units open.
Instead, Washingtonians took a more moderate approach, with several senators saying they wanted to work with Montanans and who were concerned about the effects on the economy of eastern Montana. We appreciate the wisdom of the Washington legislators and their willingness to be flexible in a matter that is important to many in Big Sky Country.
We also think it was helpful for Montana legislators and officials to let Washington officials know Montana jobs are on the line in this long-running debate, and that the state’s economy needs to be considered.
So a compromise was reached. Northwest utilities can prepare for the future, without a direct effect on Colstrip for now. None of the power from Units 1 and 2 is owned by Montanans; NorthWestern Energy, Montana’s dominant utility, owns 30 percent of Colstrip 4, one of the two new units.
This doesn’t end the controversy over coal-fired power in Montana, but it does give officials on various sides some breathing room.
Speaking of breathing, it’s a fact coal-fired power is one of the dirtiest methods of generating electricity today, especially in generating polluting carbon dioxide gas. Natural-gas fired power plants are cleaner, for example, and wind-generated and solar power are cleaner still.
Montanans should not be placed in the position of battling until the bitter end to keep running Units 1 and 2, which are so old it’s doubtful it would make sense to pour more money into them. Units 1 and 2 originally were expected to last only 30 years when they went online in the mid-1970s.
Missoula economist Thomas Power, in an op-ed published in the Tribune Nov. 27, suggested “the shutdown of the dirtiest and least efficient coal-fired generators in Montana” would create cleaner air and would not devastateMontana’s economy. He said Colstrip Units 1 and 2, as well as the Lewis and Clark generator at Sidney, “are already being considered for retirement for reasons unrelated to the Clean Power Plan.” An Environmental Protection Agency plan to reduce air pollution nationwide recently was put on hold by the federal courts.
The bottom line is Units 1 and 2 are old, and the costs to upgrade their energy efficiency would be substantial.
We think it’s a good idea that Washington and Oregon utilities and legislatures consider Montana’s economy when it comes to the fate of Colstrip 1 and 2, but that’s not the only issue here.
It’s better to have clean air than dirty air. It’s not a good idea to throw good money after bad.
Coal will slowly be left behind as researchers and entrepreneurs come up with better ways to generate power, including ways to store power generated by wind and sun more efficiently, and an efficient, energy-producing nuclear fusion plant remains at least a decade away.
There also is the simple fact that, for new power plants, natural gas pollutes less than coal and it’s dirt-cheap right now. An Associated Press story in today’s print edition of the Tribune says coal in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana may run out in 40 years at current rates of mining, much sooner than anticipated.
All in all, coal-fired power will be used for decades more, and there appears to be little danger that Colstrip Units 3 & 4 will close anytime soon.
However, Montanans within the next decade will need to come to grips with the fact that the smaller Colstrip Units 1 & 2, owned by out-of-state utilities, won’t keep operating forever. Fortunately, the Washington Senate has givenMontana more time to plan its energy future.
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