The Billings Outpost

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Avoid Otter Creek coal

I am writing in response to the increasing interest in mining Otter Creek coal. It is my opinion that this development will be not only harmful to the immediate community surrounding Otter Creek, but also to the state of Montana as a whole. 

Decline in the demand for coal has been fueled recently by a rise in alternate sources, such as cheaper natural gas. The environmental impacts on air quality due to emissions are causing coal power plants to be shut down; this coupled with a decline in plant production makes coal a questionable investment. The Otter Creek coal is even less desirable due to high sodium content. This means coal from Otter Creek will be destined for Asian markets.

Knowing that we will be destroying our own state to ship a product to Asia to be burned and release pollutants into the air is a disturbing thought. As Montanans we should be focused on an effort to minimize our impact on the environment, and to become leaders in setting an example for moving towards America’s energy independence.

It is hard to put a monetary value to the land destroyed to access the coal, the air and water polluted to ship it overseas, and the cultural impacts of such an operation on the communities it touches. In the end it seems clear to me that the products and profits from such a venture will go to Asia, coal companies and railroads; and the bill will come to Montana.

Chris Blackwell



Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 10:57

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Avoid federal cutbacks

Bless the dedicated federal employees who work for a cause greater than themselves. Our president and Congress have frozen their salaries for two years for a savings of $103 billion.

Yes, one hundred and three billion dollars. This is to the disparagement of federal services. We are the Giant Piggy Bank!

The House passed H.R. 273, which will extend the pay freeze through 2013.  On top of the pay freeze, sequestration became a reality. Federal agencies are putting their employees on furlough for as many as 22 days this year, which equals a 20 percent pay cut.

Montana will feel the pain. There are more than 12,500 federal employees in the state. There are more than 12,500 federal retirees. We are not takers, we are contributors. We didn’t cause this financial mess, but we are paying for it.

People’s livelihoods are at stake. There are proposals to cut retirement benefits. Fundamental services are already suffering. Eighty-five percent of federal employees are outside the beltway.

Local TV stations have shown the national park cutbacks. Airport lines are slower going through security. Lines are longer going into some federal buildings to get through security with the number of entrances cut back. 

Our senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, know about federal employees and their importance to the Montana economy. A note to remind them would not hurt. Our freshman Congressman Steve Daines needs to hear from those of you who are affected by the pay freeze and sequestration.  He supported H.R. 273. Don’t stand by and watch Congress weaken our federal workforce and the vital services it provides us all.

Janice Erfle

National Active and Retired Federal Employees



Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 10:57

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A convenient distraction

Gun control ads are hitting Montana’s air waves and Vice President Biden is lobbying around the country for gun control. As a U.S. Senate candidate, I feel compelled to respond.

The Second Amendment is not about hunting, period. I believe most Montanans realize that more restrictions on our right to bear arms will do nothing to stop the lawless from obtaining or using guns. I believe Montanans also know that guns are the only possession that when used by someone to commit a heinous crime, a law-abiding owner of that same possession is attacked with a threat on their rights.

As the president, vice president and Senate Democrats continue to push more bad ideology and attempt to keep it at the forefront of their idea of good governing, we need to recognize the gun control issue for what it truly is: a distraction. While gun control dominates federal legislation and mainstream media’s reporting, the real issues fall by the wayside. Those issues are uncontrolled spending, unsustainable debt and jobs for hard working Americans.

The budget proposed by Senate Democrats is all about spending, taxing, minimal cuts, and no balanced budget in sight. The budget introduced by the president is as bad: increased spending, increased taxes, more debt, no balanced budget. Fully 85 percent of Americans support a balanced budget as being common sense and morally correct. Liberals in control continue to ignore and subvert the will of the people on these issues and many more.

Obamacare, or a “train wreck” as its author Sen. Baucus calls it, will deal a crushing financial blow to seniors and millennial voters. Proposed immigration legislation threatens Social Security solvency and our senior citizens who rely on it. Millennial voters are experiencing unemployment rates as high as 16.2 percent and a student loan debt average of $26,600. Women in business are having difficulties accessing start-up monies and low-interest loans. Veterans are not receiving timely treatment for service-connected conditions and are waiting up to 18 months for decisions on their disability claims.

Yet, gun control marches on. Distraction.

Let’s not allow ourselves to get sidetracked. Using some lingo from my military days, we can about-face this great country. A balanced budget, not spending more than we take in, and a government that is smaller and leaner, but not meaner, will do more for our economy than any ‘stimulus’ program ever will.

I believe we can do this. BELIEVE with me. Believe that we can restore the American dream.

Champ Edmunds



Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 10:56

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Transparency on fracking

After reading the recent Billings Gazette article titled “Former EPA expert: States can control fracking rules,” I felt compelled to write in and clear the record. 

In 2011, the Legislature considered a bill requiring chemical disclosure of hazardous fracking fluids, landowner notification of the fracking procedure, and disclosure of chemicals in a medical emergency.  After assurances from the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation that they would develop rules on the issue, the bill was killed.

The BOGC did undertake rule-making on this issue but they didn’t listen to the public on what rules should be in place. Out of the 220 public comments that were received, 200 of them were in favor of disclosing chemicals that the industry wants to keep as “trade secrets.” 

Unfortunately, the BOGC ignored the public. Montana’s new rules publicly disclose only a handful of chemicals. The vast majority – many of them very toxic – remain cloaked in secrecy. This secrecy has been a huge problem for landowners in other states whose water wells suddenly became dangerously toxic after fracking operations move in nearby. Proving the cause is nearly impossible when the chemicals are kept secret – with the government’s blessing.

In the end, the states do have the power to create fracking rules, but whether the state will listen to the people and require complete transparency is another question. So far, we are not faring well in Montana.

Cindy Webber

Big Timber


Last Updated on Thursday, 04 July 2013 10:55

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Chained CPI: Ugly consequences

One of the most serious threats facing Montana’s seniors and veterans is an acronym you’ve probably heard recently: chained CPI. It’s a policy you’re going to be hearing a lot more of as the budget debate continues to heat up in Washington.

In his most recent budget, President Obama proposed changing the formula used for determining annual cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) that seniors, veterans and those with disabilities receive in benefits, including Social Security, federal and military retirement, disabled veterans’ benefits and disability insurance benefits. The change is to a formula called the chained CPI (consumer price index) and it’s gaining steam.

Supporters of the chained CPI claim it is a “painless” fix that would add $230 billion to the U.S. budget over the next decade. Of course, there is no painless way to save $230 billion. But it is unacceptable that the president and some in Congress suggest burdening some of the most vulnerable Americans with a $230 billion price tag under the guise of what they refer to as a “modest change.” It is a “modest change” (read “reduction”) in benefits only with regard to the short term; the long-term reduction would be substantial.  After 30 years of a compounded chained CPI formula, individual benefits would be 9.4 percent lower than under the current inflation formula, the CPI-W.

Proponents of the chained CPI often minimize the reductions in benefits by saying the chained CPI is a “more accurate measure of inflation” or just a “technical adjustment.” But both the current formula used to calculate COLAs (CPI-W) and the chained CPI fail to accurately reflect the principal costs most seniors face: health care. Americans age 65 and older spend roughly 13 percent of their income on health care (younger Americans spend about 5 percent). If there’s going to be any change to the formula, it should follow the commonsense approach of the CPI-E formula, which accounts for seniors’ healthcare costs and more accurately predicts needed cost-of-living adjustments.

The chained CPI will, over time,  make the poor poorer. Those who retire at a younger age (the military), those who receive disability benefits and those who live the longest will be hit the hardest.

What does that mean for those of us here in Montana? Instead of having a population of seniors who have the income to meet most or many of their needs, the chained CPI will, over time, create a population which will require ever more public assistance, both federal and state, to meet basic needs. This seems to cancel out the touted “savings” the chained CPI is supposed to create.

Getting our fiscal house in order is important. But attempting to use the elderly, veterans and disabled to balance the budget is not the way we should go. We must take the time to understand the impact of this damaging proposal and voice our opposition to our elected officials before it’s too late .

Mary L. Williams



Last Updated on Thursday, 06 June 2013 19:48

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Babies aren’t trash

“The most precious gift of God is a child.” So said Mother Teresa.

I remember a picture of her holding a tiny baby who was recovered from a trash bin in Calcutta, India. This wrinkled and saintly nun, face beaming, held aloft that child as though he were the infant Christ Himself. And to her, he was.

That babe in the trash bin sums up much of what has gone wrong with our world. Children are discarded like so much garbage not only in Calcutta, but also in the cities of America.

Countless unborn babies are killed in their mothers’ womb through abortion. The old and disabled are “put down” like cats and dogs that have outlived their usefulness.

If only we could take the words of Mother Teresa to heart. A child is precious. He is of infinite value even before he is born. Human life is sacred. Even the old and feeble are made in the image of the living God.

How dare we treat them as disposable trash?

Mike Kecskes Sr.



Last Updated on Thursday, 06 June 2013 19:47

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