Legislators' vision for Montana

This is it: a depleted mining wasteland:

NASA Berkeley Pit

Berkeley Pit, Butte MT, NASA Earth Observatory

The spearhead is an assault on the MT constitution’s language on the environment,

All persons are born free and have certain inalienable rights. They include the right to a clean, and healthful, and economically productive environment and the rights of pursuing life’s basic necessities, enjoying and defending their lives and liberties, acquiring, possessing and protecting property, and seeking their safety, health and happiness in all lawful ways. In enjoying these rights, all persons recognize corresponding responsibilities.

What does “economically productive” add that wasn’t already covered by “pursuing … acquiring … posessing” anyway? Ironically, this could cut both ways – would it facilitate restrictions on future resource extraction, because depleted mines become economically unproductive?

Other bills attempt to legalize gravel pits in residential areas, sell coal at discount prices, and dismantle or cripple any other environmental protection you could think of.


Section 1.  Public policy concerning global warming. (1) The legislature finds that to ensure economic development in Montana and the appropriate management of Montana’s natural resources it is necessary to adopt a public policy regarding global warming.

At least we’re clear up front that the coal industry is in charge!

(2) The legislature finds:

I’m sure you can guess how many qualified climate scientists are in the Montana legislature.

(a) global warming is beneficial to the welfare and business climate of Montana;

I guess Joe didn’t get the memo, that skiing and fishing could be hard hit. Maybe he thinks crops and trees do just fine with too little water and warmth, or too much.

(b) reasonable amounts of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere have no verifiable impacts on the environment; and

Yeah, and pi is 3.2, just like it was in Indiana in 1897. I guess you could argue about the meaning of “reasonable,” but apparently Joe even rejects chemistry (ocean acidification) and biology (CO2 fertilization) along with atmospheric science.

(c) global warming is a natural occurrence and human activity has not accelerated it.

Ahh, now we’re doing detection & attribution. Legislating the answers to scientific questions is a fool’s errand. How did this text go through peer review?

(3) (a) For the purposes of this section, “global warming” relates to an increase in the average temperature of the earth’s surface.

Well, at least one sentence in this bill makes sense – at least if you assume that “average” is over time as well as space.

(b) It does not include a one-time, catastrophic release of carbon dioxide.

Where did that strawdog come from? Apparently there’s a catastrophic release of CO2 every time Joe Read opens his mouth.

Gallatin County's Zoning Enforcement Trap

I’m playing a big role in a local effort to get the regulations of our zoning district enforced in the case of an egregious violation. Our planning and zoning commission’s habit, and apparent preference in this case, is not to enforce. Instead, it is proposed to enable the violation through a PUD amendment, and issue a trivial fine ($200, or 0.2% of the stated value of the structure).

Unfortunately, this proposal is illegal, because it contradicts existing covenants and a variety of goals and specific provisions of our General Plan and Zoning Regulation. This action might make sense if it were a naked political ploy to undermine the zoning through administrative rather than legislative means, which I hope is not the case. I think it is more likely an effort to “play nice” with violators and to avoid costly enforcement action.

If so, the resulting weak enforcement posture is a short-sighted avoidance of conflict, that encourages far more problems in the long run. As the diagram below illustrates, backing down on the case at hand solves the immediate problem, but has terrible consequences.

Enforcement Dynamics

  • The precedent for non-enforcement and amendments to legalize violations erodes the legal basis for future enforcement actions.
  • Accommodation creates an expectation of forgiveness, encouraging owners and builders to violate in the future.
  • Exceptions created to accommodate violations make planning documents and title histories more complex, creating more opportunities for errors.

These side effects of lax enforcement accumulate. As violations mount, time that could be spent on productive activity (ensuring a thorough permitting process, or revising zoning regulations to clarify standards and streamline processes) gets squeezed out by time wasted on enforcement.

These reinforcing feedbacks create a deadly trap, into which the unsuspecting can easily step. Once triggered, the vicious cycle creates more pressure to relax enforcement standards, capturing the county in an undesirable equilibrium with many violations and no meaningful enforcement. Ultimately, the citizens (who initiated the zoning district) suffer from the side effects of density granted to violators, that is unavailable to those who comply with the law.

Fortunately, with a little fortitude, the process can be reversed. A single forceful enforcement action has a salutary effect on expectations, stemming the tide of violations and freeing up time for the improvement of regulations. There’s still the hangover of side effects of past accommodation to contend with, but surely the withdrawal is better than the addiction to accommodation.

Hatchetations, interrupted

The temperance movement may have won the prohibition war (temporarily), but a minor battle was lost just down the road from here, in Butte.

Despite the reformers’ best efforts, Butte’s demimonde was larger and seedier than ever by 1910. That year the federal census recorded Butte’s highly transient population at more than 39,000 and enumerated more than 250 prostitutes.  In 1910 when temperance crusader Carrie Nation came to Butte, “booze joints” in nearby Anaconda sported signs that read: “All Nations Are Welcome Except Carrie.” Butte’s morally upright citizens, who had invited Nation, welcomed her with open arms, yet her performance failed to match their expectations.  With a flourish and a crowd in tow, the stout sixty-three-year-old Nation charged down the length of Pleasant Alley. Once back on Mercury Street, she stormed into the Irish World, where she met her match in madam May Maloy. The two women joined in a scuffle, and Nation emerged the obvious loser. It was a moment savored by May’s patrons and celebrated with drinks all around. – Ellen Baumler, Montana Historical Society

Nation died 6 months later.

The Law of Attraction

No, not that silly one.

Controlling Growth by Controlling Attractiveness

In Woodstock, Vermont, everyone’s mad about a highway. In other places the issue is a sewer system or a school. The real issue, of course, is growth. According to Jay Forrester’s Attractiveness Principle (Forrester is a professor of systems analysis at MIT) there’s only one way to control growth — control attractiveness.

In a free society if any place is unusually attractive, folks will — no surprise — be attracted there. The most mobile people (the young, the rich, the educated) will get there first. The place will grow until its attractiveness has been reduced by crowded highways, or unemployment, or scarce housing, or pollution, or just plain visual blight. (The most mobile people have moved on by then). When the place is no more attractive than anywhere else, then and only then will it stop growing. What else can stop it?

The attractiveness of a place is a complex combination of climate, economy, amenities, scenery. No one can define attractiveness exactly, but people make up their minds about it every day by deciding to move from Hartford or Boston or Westchester County to Vermont (that’s the direction they’re moving at the moment). Millions of human judgements weigh Vermont’s clean air against Boston’s job market and Manhattan’s cost of living. The very different mixes of attractiveness and unattractiveness in those places may seem incommensurable, but people make their comparisons, and eventually attractiveness evens out everywhere.

The normal instinct of public officials, including those of Woodstock, is to fix problems and make their community perfect. The more perfect they make it, the more new people show up. What Woodstock needs to do, Forrester would say, is decide what kinds of imperfection it’s willing to live with.

A crowded, unsafe highway? If that’s unacceptable, then choose something else. Super-restrictive zoning, perhaps, or an absolute limit on new curb cuts, or higher property taxes (I know, they’re already too high, but not high enough to stop people from moving in). Bad schools. Bad air. No jobs. Developments so ugly you might as well live in New Jersey. Some sort of whopping surcharge on those developers. Either Woodstock chooses its form of unattractiveness, or the growth process itself chooses.

It takes awhile to absorb the implications of the Attractiveness Principle, because it turns conventional thinking upside down (Forrester is good at doing that). Its implications are not good news for the sort of people who live in Woodstock. The Principle says you can’t live in a privileged bubble of attractiveness, unless you are perpetually young, rich, educated, and on the move at the head of the attractiveness wave. It says that growth is your problem wherever it occurs. It says the only way to be sure of living in an attractive place is to be committed to the attractiveness of every place.

From the Donella Meadows Archive

Climate Science, Climate Policy and Montana

Last night I gave a climate talk at the Museum of the Rockies here in Bozeman, organized by Cherilyn DeVries and sponsored by United Methodist. It was a lot of fun – we had a terrific discussion at the end, and the museum’s monster projector was addictive for running C-LEARN live. Thanks to everyone who helped to make it happen. My next challenge is to do this for young kids.

MT Climate Schematic

My slides are here as a PowerPoint show: Climate Science, Climate Policy & Montana (better because it includes some animated builds) or PDF: Climate Science, Climate Policy & Montana (PDF)

Some related resources:

Climate Interactive & the online C-LEARN model

Montana Climate Change Advisory Committee

Montana Climate Office

Montana emissions inventory & forecast visualization (click through the graphic):

Cb009aee-64f1-11df-8f87-000255111976 Blog_this_caption
Related posts:

Flying South

Montana’s Climate Future

Montana's climate future

A selection of data and projections on past and future climate in Montana:

Temperature Trends Western MT

Pederson et al. (2010) A century of climate and ecosystem change in Western Montana: what do temperature trends portend? Climatic Change 98:133-154. It’s hard to read precisely off the graph, but there have been significant increases in maximum and minimum temperatures, with the greatest increases in the minimums and in winter – exactly what you’d expect from a change in radiative properties. As a result the daily temperature range has shrunk slightly and there are fewer below freezing and below zero days. That last metric is critical, because it’s the severe cold that controls many forest pests. There’s much more on this in a poster.

Model Futures

Not every station shows a trend – the figure above contrasts Bozeman (purple, strong trend) with West Yellowstone (orange, flat). The Bozeman trend is probably not an urban heat island effect – surfacestations.org thinks it’s a good site, and White Sulphur (a nice sleepy town up the road a piece) is about the same. The red line is an ensemble of  simulations (GISS, CCSM & ECHAM5) from climexp.knmi.nl, projected into the future with A1B forcings (i.e., a fairly high emissions trajectory). I interpolated the data to latitude 47.6, longitude -110.9 (roughly my house, near Bozeman). Simulated temperature rises about 4C, while precipitation (green) is almost unmoved. If that came true, Montana’s future climate might be a lot like current central Utah.


The figure above – from John W. Williams, Stephen T. Jackson, and John E. Kutzbach. Projected distributions of novel and disappearing climates by 2100 AD. PNAS, vol. 104 no. 14 – shows global grid points that have no neighbors within 500km that now have a climate like what the future might bring. In panel C (disappearing climates with the high emissions A2 scenario), there’s a hotspot right over Montana. Presumably that’s loss of today’s high altitude ecosystems. As it warms up, climate zones move uphill, but at the top of mountains there’s nowhere to go. That’s why pikas may be in trouble.


MT Field Guide

The Rygg study, pining for the fjords

The DEQ dead parrot skit continues in the Revised Evans EA, which borrows boilerplate from the Morgan EA I reported on yesterday. It once again cites the spurious Rygg study, overgeneralizes its findings, and repeats the unsubstantiated Fairbanks claims. At least in the Morgan EA, DEQ reviewed some alternative evidence cited by Orville Bach, indicating that gravel pit effects on property values are nonzero. In the Evans EA, DEQ omits any review of evidence contradicting Rygg; evidently DEQ’s institutional memory lasts less than 3 months.

Even the review in the Morgan EA was less than coherent. After discussing Rygg, they summarize Bach’s findings and two key articles:

He includes a figure from one of the citations showing the impact on residential property values based on distance of the property from the gravel mine – the closer the property, the greater the impact. Based on this figure, properties less than a quarter mile from the mine experienced up to a 32% decline in value. The impact on property value declined with increased distance from the gravel mine. Properties three miles away (the farthest distance in the analysis) experienced a 5% decline. …

Researchers have used the hedonic estimation method to evaluate impacts to housing prices from environmental “disamenities” (factors considered undesirable). Using this multivariate statistical approach, many characteristics of a purchased good (house) are regressed on the observed price, and thus, one can extract the relative contribution of the environmental variables to the price of the house (Boyle and Kiel 2001). Research has been conducted in many locations in the country, and on many types of disamenities (landfills, power plants, substations, hazardous waste sites, gravel mines, etc.). The study cited by Mr. Bach (Erickcek 2006) uses techniques and data developed by Dr. Hite to evaluate potential effects on property values of a proposed gravel mine in Richland Township, Michigan. Dr. Hite’s study evaluated effects of a gravel mine in Ohio. Both the Erickcek and Hite studies showed decreases in property values resulting from proximity of the property to the mine (Erickcek 2006).

DEQ latches onto one footnote in Erickcek,

However, Erickcek states in footnote 6, ‘Only those owning property at the time of the establishment of the gravel mine would experience a loss in equity. Those purchasing property near an established mine would not experience an equity loss because any negative effects from the mine’s operation would have been incorporated into the purchase price.’

Note that this is a statement about property rights and the distribution of harm. It doesn’t in anyway diminish the existence of harm to someone in society. Evidently DEQ doesn’t understand this distinction, or thinks that Rygg trumps Hite/Erickcek, because it concludes:

Irreversible and Irretrievable Commitments of Resources: The Proposed Action would not result in any irreversible or irretrievable commitments of resources related to the area’s social and economic circumstances.

Could Rygg trump Hite? Let’s consider the score:

Attribute Rygg Hite
sampling ad hoc census
sample size 6+25 2812
selection bias severe minimal
control for home attributes ad hoc 4 attributes
control for distance no yes
control for sale date no yes
statistical methods none proper
pit sites 1 multiple
reported diagnostics no yes
Montana? yes no

That’s Hite 9, Rygg 1. Rygg’s point is scored on location, which goes to applicability of the results to Montana. This is a hollow victory, because Rygg himself acknowledges in his report that his results are not generalizable, because they rely on the unique circumstances of the single small pit under study (particularly its expected temporary operation). DEQ fails to note this in the Evans and Morgan EAs. It’s hard to judge generalizability of the Hite study, because I don’t know anything about local conditions in Ohio. However, it is corroborated by a Rivers Unlimeted hedonic estimate with a different sample.

A simple combination of Rygg and Hite measurements would weight the two (inversely) by their respective variances. A linear regression of the attributes in Rygg indicates that gravel pits contribute positively to value (ha ha) but with a mean effect of $9,000 +/- $16,000. That, and the fact that the comparable properties have much lower variance than subject properties adjacent to the pit should put up red flags immediately, but we’ll go with it. There’s no way to relate Rygg’s result to distance from the pit, because it’s not coded in the data, but let’s assume half a mile. In that case, the roughly comparable effect in Hite is about -$74,000 +/- $11,000. Since the near-pit price means are similar in Hite and Rygg, and the Rygg variance is more than twice as large, we could combine these to yield a meta measurement of about 2/3 Hite + 1/3 Rygg, for a loss of $46,000 per property within half a mile of a pit (more than 30% of value). That would be more than fair to Rygg, because we haven’t accounted for the overwhelming probability of systematic error due to selection bias, and we’re ignoring all the other literature on valuation of similar nuisances. This is all a bit notional, but makes it clear that it’s an awfully long way from any sensible assessment of Rygg vs. Hite to DEQ’s finding of “no effect.”