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High court takes up interstate river battle

The Supreme Court this week wades into a dispute between Montana and Wyoming over water rights to two rivers that flow through both states. Montana claims Wyoming farmers and industries are using too much water in a region where it remains a scarce resource. At issue are the waters of the Powder and Tongue rivers, both tributaries of the Yellowstone River, which run into Montana from Wyoming.

Back on Track: Wyoming coal rebounds amid market, regulatory uncertainty

Wyoming coal producers fared well during a tumultuous year for the industry nationwide, increasing output by an estimated 2.6 percent in 2010. It’s a modest recovery in production, after slipping 7.8 percent in 2009. Wyoming’s year-to-date coal production as of December 25 was 434 million tons, and the industry was on track to finish the year at 442.5 million tons, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data.

BLM's Conservation Experiment

Under the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's mandate to manage for "multiple use and sustained yield," grazing, mining and drilling have historically trumped conservation, while lands with significant scenic, biological or cultural resources were usually relinquished to the National Park Service. Then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt tried to change that in 2000 when he created the National Landscape Conservation System, now totaling 27 million acres of national monuments, wilderness study areas, wild and scenic rivers, and historic trails. It's like a more rugged version of the national parks, complete with scenery, wildlife, and archaeological and cultural sites.

Casper’s Last Neighborhood Grocery Struggles to Survive

Bill and Nancy Wayte own Grant Street Grocery, the last neighborhood grocery store in Casper. In its heyday, Casper had 99 neighborhood grocery stores. The Waytes sell high-quality goods, donate to local nonprofit groups and help distribute locally grown produce. But all their efforts may not be enough to keep the store’s doors open. Small, locally owned stores often have higher inventory and per-customer operating costs, and face intense competitive pressures from billion-dollar corporate chain stores.

‘Cluster Developments’ Slow to Catch on in Bighorn Basin

Six years after developers announced their plan to build a 104-lot gated subdivision on 550 acres between Cody and Yellowstone National Park, the Copperleaf subdivision is now owned by the bank that financed it. Critics of the project have said its homes would be spaced close together on small lots, or clustered, in a way not in keeping with the surrounding rural community. Copperleaf is not the only project in the area to draw fire for being a “cluster development.” But proponents say it is a useful technique to help preserve open space and encourage strong ties between rural neighbors. They see cluster developments as preferable to vast checkerboard subdivisions of small ranchettes, each with their own septic tank, horse pen, workshop and outbuildings.

Whitebark Pine Trees Face Long Odds for Survival

For millennia, whitebark pine trees have held firm to the cold, rocky timberlines of the northern Rockies, Cascades and Sierra Nevada, providing shelter, food and other ecosystem services for mountain wildlife. But before long, the hardy, snow-battered tree whose nutritionally dense seeds are a delicacy for grizzly bears, red squirrels and mountain birds may become functionally extinct. In numerous reaches of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and southern Canada, whitebark pine trees have declined by as much as 90 percent, experts say, and their prospects for recovery seem to be growing dimmer by the year.

Industry, Regulators Square Off Over Fracking Disclosure

A major fight is set to erupt over how much information oil and gas drillers should be required to publicly disclose about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, government and industry lawyers said during a seminar last week. Disagreement over the issue could even interfere with a $1.9 million congressionally mandated U.S. EPA study designed to determine whether the widespread use of the drilling practice is contaminating drinking water supplies, said Avi Garbow, EPA’s deputy general counsel.

Group Says Coal-Bed Methane Plan Threatens Powder River Basin Elk Herd

Environmentalists blasted federal plans for allowing nearly 500 new coal-bed methane wells in northeast Wyoming's Powder River Basin, arguing that the proposal imperils an elk herd and threatens the area's wild character. At issue is a U.S. Bureau of Land Management draft plan for the 100,000-acre Fortification Creek area, which environmentalists call an "oasis" for wildlife within one of the nation's most prolific gas fields. BLM's draft plan would allow "performance-based" development of billions of cubic feet of natural gas as long as elk numbers are maintained along with sufficient "security habitat."

Hauling Gold on the Chief Joe: Montana Officials ‘Take Step Back’ to Review Transport Plan

Montana officials have pledged to “take a step back” and re-evaluate a plan to haul tens of thousands of tons of contaminated mine tailings next summer from Cooke City, Mont., over the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, one of Park County's steepest and most serpentine highways. Wyoming residents have voiced concerns about safety and other issues connected to using the slow-moving, heavily loaded rigs, which measure 97 feet from front to rear axle. Planners say they will work to address local concerns and search for alternative sites where the mine waste may be buried closer to its current location.

Wyoming Pursues Carbon Sequestration Near Rock Springs

Representatives from the University of Wyoming and its industry partners in the Wyoming Carbon Underground Storage Project are studying the viability of injecting billions of tons of carbon dioxide — a potent greenhouse gas — into saline formations deep within the Rock Springs uplift, several miles east of Rock Springs. Ron Surdam, director of the University of Wyoming’s Carbon Management Institute, says the ability to inject large quantities of CO2 underground for permanent storage is key to sustaining the $1.2 billion Wyoming receives in annual revenue from the coal mining industry. The project faces public skepticism, technical challenges and unresolved legal questions about who will take responsibility for leaks, contamination and accidents for the long-term, beyond the actual injection and monitoring period of several decades.