Threats from Congress
The mad rush of the Republican-controlled Congress to roll back protections for public lands has me deeply concerned.
I am a believer in property rights, though my version of them extends beyond my front lawn. My property includes the clean air I breathe, the clean water I drink, and my public lands. If someone poisons my air or water, they are taking away my property without my permission. Similarly, when federal lands are given away to “local control,” realistically that means giving them to corporations to develop, perhaps to despoil (local governments don’t have the finances to manage more open space). That is why I am distressed by many of the policies being pushed by this Republican Congress, and by Congressman Newhouse’s co-sponsorship of House Joint Resolution 46. Why would anyone support unfettered oil and gas extraction, with no provision for mitigation, in our national parks? That proposes taking away my property without recompense.
If national parks have no control over oil and gas drilling on our land, then we will all be walking by lasting scars at every park with any mineral resources in them. We should all oppose House Joint Resolution 46.
Several laws being pushed by the Republican Congress seem to be favoring businesses and agriculture dumping their waste (including nitrates) in our streams and rivers. We wouldn’t want someone else’s garbage on our lawns, why allow businesses to dump their garbage on all of us?
If one wants to see what unfettered capitalism in the absence of environmental regulations looks like, go to China and India, as I recently did. No American would want to live there, as the cities are so polluted you cannot see the length of a city block. Los Angeles used to have a pollution problem almost as bad as China’s cities do now. The Clean Air Act and car fuel economy rules have made that city much more livable. Isn’t that what we call progress? Please ask Congress to show support for clean air and water — sacrificing them for the illusion of jobs is a grave, perhaps irreversible mistake.
Peter Bauer, Winthrop
I would like to point out an inaccuracy that was published Feb. 22, 2017, in Solveig Torvik’s article, titled “Can the Democrats get their act together for 2018?”
In the second-to-the-last paragraph of her article, Ms. Torvik states that “[Newhouse] … defeated his Tea Party opponent by 1.6 percent.” While this is true, it occurred in the 2014 general election. Out of 153,079 votes cast, Newhouse received 77,772 votes, over Didier’s 75,307 votes, for the stated victory margin of 1.6 percent.
However, in the 2016 general election the totals were much different. In the 2016 general election (the most-recent one), 229,919 votes were cast in Congressional District 4. Newhouse received 132,517 votes, to Didier’s 97,402 votes. That is a margin of 15.2 percent.
Now in spite of this 15.2 percent margin of victory, I don’t think Congressman Newhouse should feel secure. Recent constituent gatherings and town hall meetings in District 4 have revealed that most Democrat and Progressive voters, when given the choice of a Tea Party candidate or a more traditional Republican candidate, opt for the latter.
I think that if a candidate that was less-onerous than a Tea Party advocate had been on the ballot, the margin over victory would have been significantly smaller.
Rick Rottman, Winthrop
Support for grizzlies
I’d like to commend Ann McCreary for her accurate and informative article about grizzly bear recovery. In an era of fake news and sensational reporting, it’s refreshing to read an article without bias where the reporter takes the time to interview a credible expert to get accurate facts on the table. This is in stark contrast to the other major newspaper in our county, which creates a narrative of their choosing and only interviews people who support that narrative.
We are truly blessed to live in one of the largest wild areas left in the lower 48 and all the amenities it has to offer — solitude, clean water and a bounty of recreation and fishing and hunting opportunities. That’s why the majority of us choose to live here. But with that choice comes a responsibility to steward the land and all its creatures, including one of its most important inhabitants — the grizzly bear. Grizzly bears have been an important part of the North Cascades Ecosystem for thousands of years. They play a vital role for the health of the environment and other wildlife species, figure prominently in regional Native American and First Nations’ cultures, and contribute to the richness of our natural heritage in the Pacific Northwest.
The North Cascades is great grizzly bear habitat, and sadly, one of the few remaining places left in the United States where they can exist. But despite plenty of food and habitat, only a few are left due to over-trapping and aggressive hunting. Female bears are slow to reproduce and don’t travel far to find new mates — thus we are on the brink of losing our local population altogether.
The science is clear: No action means grizzly bears will go locally extinct in the North Cascades. We cannot let this happen.
We have a moral obligation to correct the wrong that was done to grizzlies decades ago. We don’t get these opportunities very often, so let’s not squander it. Please let the North Cascades National Park that know you support them by submitting an official comment on their website by March 14.
Jasmine Minbashian, Twisp
A risky decision
I have lived in Okanogan County my entire life. Never before have I seen such spending by the Okanogan County PUD. Our money and good-paying jobs are being lost, sent out of county to contractors of every description. We are losing good jobs and replacing them with expensive high-tech software and gadgets.
As cattlemen and ranchers we watch closely what we spend. We have no choice if we want to survive and pass our lands on to the next generation. The Okanogan PUD is borrowing and spending money we do not have and passing the debt onto the ratepayers. Good managers avoid that mistake at all cost.
In 2010, Okanogan PUD issued municipal bonds valued at $32.5 million, raising our total debt to over $40.5 million with annual debt service today at $3.7 million. That money was spent to build the new headquarters, install the “smart meters” we did not need and to pay overpriced law firms to fight against its own ratepayers opposing the Twisp-Pateros Transmission line and the re-electrification of Enloe Dam. Prior to 2001 our PUD was largely debt-free, operating efficiently on the revenue received from utility sales of electricity.
Enloe Dam stands alone as the biggest waste of ratepayer money in the history of the PUD. We have already spent $14 million on the license and we have not completed many major requirements stipulated by FERC. The PUD now plans to borrow $15 million in the next few months and within two years has plans to borrow an additional $45 million for construction of the Enloe powerhouse. If there are large cost overruns on construction of the proposed powerhouse, we could be carrying between $75 million and $100 million in debt. This is a very risky business decision. This is not in the best interest of the people of Okanogan County.
Ed Thiele, Omak
Newhouse is accountable
One could feel sympathy for our congressman. Dan Newhouse ran and was elected as a moderate conservative. However, now he is caught between his politically moderate voters and his party leadership who are swiftly enacting a radical agenda. Normally, Representative Newhouse could expect to vote the party line while continuing to cultivate a moderate image. That is not true now. Moderates want improvement, not wholesale destruction. They are alert to the dangers of the “100-day” agenda. Congressman Newhouse’s activities are being scrutinized as never before, and he will have to explain his decisions.
For example, how is it that he is co-sponsoring HJR-46? This bill rolls back the first updates in 38 years to rules limiting the effects of oil and gas drilling within national parks. He is a self-described conservationist who believes “it is important that we preserve our beautiful national parks?” Activities within our parks include seismic exploration, well drilling and installation of well flow lines and gathering lines. Documented impacts from operations in national parks include spills and leaks causing surface, soil and groundwater contamination, and erosion and sedimentation.
Here are some of the rules he seeks to eliminate:
• Requiring a performance bond equal to the estimated cost of reclamation (reducing costs to American taxpayers if the operator defaults)
• Allowing the National Parks Service to charge a fee based on fair market value for access across federal lands outside the operator’s oil and gas right.
• Allowing rangers to issue tickets for minor violations, rather than suspending an operation for non-compliance.
• Requiring that operators come into compliance with existing operations before processing new applications.
This is just the beginning of the bait-and-switch. Social Security, Medicare, affordable and accessible health insurance, clean air, clean water and many other vital concerns are at risk. Representative Newhouse has ignored all requests for a town hall meeting during Congress’s recess, using the time instead for fundraising. Evidently he has no time for us until May — after the 100-day agenda is a done deal. Please remind Representative Newhouse that he is accountable to us. We will certainly remember.
Gina McCoy, Winthrop
Not so fast on Squaw Creek
I would like to respond to Joanna Bastian’s article of Feb. 22.
I don’t have a problem with her research on the names of the different drainages in the lower Methow. She went to quite a bit of work to get that information and it’s very informative, but I do, however, disagree with her move to get the name of Squaw Creek changed. That is what it has been called as long as I or anyone else in the area can remember. My great-grandfather homesteaded on Squaw Creek in 1894 and that is what it was called then.
Methow started up Squaw Creek in the middle 1890s and it was originally referred to as the “camp up Squaw Creek.” One of my great-uncles was born there and that is what he told me many years ago. I really do think that Joanna should have talked to the people who live on the creek and gotten their opinions. One of these residents is a Native American and I think that she should have been consulted as well as the Native Americans who live 5 or more miles away.
A name change will have an adverse effect on those living on the creek as they will have to go to some expense to have their home and business addresses changed as well as their accounts, drivers licenses, etc. My opinion is that a name change should only take place when the majority of the residents of the drainage are in favor of it.
I don’t think that it’s right for people to move to this valley because they have fallen in love with it and then try to change everything to what they think it should be, particularly without talking to the people who will be directly affected by those changes.
I want to make it clear that I don’t dislike Joanna. I do like her, I just disagree with her. Thanks for the space to state my views.
Bob Tonseth, Methow
Grizzlies worth the risk
Do I support recovery of grizzly bears in the North Cascades? You bet I do! What a privilege — to live near one of the last areas in the lower 48 where there’s enough wild left for grizzly bears. Unfortunately, we killed them off here, so despite plenty of prime bear habitat, none have been sighted in the North Cascades for years.
We have a chance to make some amends for the widespread destruction of non-human animals that our species has inflicted since it came on the scene. We hunted many species of large mammals to extinction, and we relentlessly pollute or usurp the territory of thousands of other species for our own benefit.
Yes, I hike in the backcountry, and no, I wouldn’t appreciate getting mauled or killed by a grizzly bear. But neither would I like to get crushed in a rockslide, or fall and break my leg and die of exposure, yet despite these risks I continue to hike. (Of course, driving to the trailhead is probably my greatest risk.)
I’ve camped many times in grizzly territory in Alaska and Canada. Most of us who do so know the sensible precautions to take. My closest encounter with a grizzly while camping was when a bear came strolling down the beach toward our tent. We yelled and waved our hands, and the bear stopped, stared and sniffed at us, turned, and disappeared into the bush.
We all take risks every day, usually with little thought. Why are grizzly bears so different? We should be taking the standard bear precautions in the North Cascades anyway; there are black bears there now, and they can be dangerous, too. Where do we get the right to keep grizzlies out of their prime habitat just so we can hike into the backcountry without taking responsibility for our own safety?
Melanie Rowland, Twisp
Congressional health care
Congress is currently in the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act, also referred to as the ACA or Obamacare. This seems like a good time to look at the ACA health care benefits that are provided to members of congress and their staff at taxpayer expense, and how they differ from ACA coverage available to the rest of the citizenry.
The exchange from which they may obtain coverage is the District of Columbia’s Small Business Health Options Program, DC SHOP, also known as DC Health Link.
For members of Congress and staff the premiums are the same regardless of age, geographic location or use of tobacco.
They may also obtain coverage for family members, including adopted and foster children.
Taxpayers pay 72-75 percent of the premium for the policy that members and staff obtain from DC SHOP. This percentage is not affected by the federal salary paid to members of Congress or staff. For example, Dan Newhouse’s salary is $174,000 annually and the taxpayers still pay 72-75 percent of his premium. For the rest of us the ACA provides no supplement if one earns 400 percent of the poverty level (around $97,200 in 2016).
If a member of Congress or staff person works for five years or more he or she may continue to receive coverage during retirement through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program (FEHB).
Under the rules of the ACA, simultaneous coverage by Medicare and an exchange policy is not allowed. However, members of Congress and staff are exempt from this rule and may sign up for both.
This information is available in a report published for members and committees of congress on Feb. 13, 2017, by the Congressional Research Service.
William Kilby, Winthrop
As a part-time “valley sustainer” who has supported and listened to KTRT since its inception, I just wanted to thank Don Ashford for the excellent programming and addition of the new bluegrass show on Saturday evenings.
Hopefully this music fills other listeners with as much joy as it does myself and my hope is that some day Winthrop will be the host of a bluegrass festival on the scale of Telluride. Brad Pinkerton would certainly be smiling from above if this were to occur.
Alan Sodell, Bothell/Twin Lakes
Bring back the bears
What a privilege it is to live with my family in a place like the Methow Valley. At our doorstep is a substantial, largely intact wilderness that supports the well being of so many plants and animals, including ourselves. One glaring piece missing from this wilderness is our native grizzly bears, which were mostly wiped out during previous generations.
The National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have released options for restoring a healthy grizzly bear population in our beloved North Cascades. They are collecting comments from the public. You can submit those comments online by linking through www.northcascadesgrizzly.org/comment. I urge you to support “Alternative C,” in which five to seven bears would be released each year over a period of five to 10 years. The goal is to establish a beginning population of 25 bears. This alternative strikes the proper balance to meet grizzly bear recovery and the needs of the people who live here.
Polls have shown overwhelming support for grizzly bear restoration in the North Cascades. It will be a boon to our community in so many ways, including economically. Look at how many people visit Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks just for the opportunity to view this American icon. We live with wilderness here, which includes predators. I think the people of the Methow Valley largely accept this fact and cherish it. Make your comments by March 14.
Kelly Grayum, Twisp