As the coal industry faces one setback after another, MontanaPBS News & Public Affairs Producer Beth Saboe looks at how the conflict over coal is playing out in the small town of Colstrip.
The program includes several interview segments with Mark Haggerty of Headwaters Economics. Mark discusses his recent report, Planning for Montana’s Energy Transition, which discusses how while Montana is likely to experience relatively small impacts, coal-dependent communities in Eastern Montana are likely to feel the acute effects of job losses and declining tax revenue in the coming decades.
Small, vulnerable counties will suffer the most from a plan to get rid of one type of federal support for counties that have national wildlife refuges. Instead of abolishing these payments, Congress can hold the line on spending by re-targeting funds to the counties that need them most.
“…Instead of simply cutting the revenue-sharing program, Headwaters Economics has proposed reforms that would reallocate the same appropriation among counties, shifting payments from relatively urban and wealthy counties to relatively isolated rural counties.
Retirees and urbanites seeking more pastoral settings are pushing farther into places that firefighters must now protect. And these modern-day settlers have been supported by municipalities looking to expand their tax bases, and by technology that lets people live and work anywhere they can get an Internet connection, said Ray Rasker, executive director of Headwaters Economics, a research organization that provides consulting services to communities and governments on fire prevention.
“…It adds up to more people dying, more houses burning, and agencies devoting more than half of their fire budget to defending homes,” he said.
Economist Ray Rasker says the total value of nature-related commerce across the entire Greater Yellowstone area may be two or three times greater than that generated in the parks alone.
…Tourism dollars represent a mighty engine for the regional economy, Rasker says, but so does people’s desire to play, work, and live close to protected public lands. One study found that for every 100,000 acres of protected public land in Greater Yellowstone and other nonmajor metro areas in the West, there has been a corresponding rise of $4,360 in per capita income.
There is a new analysis by some deep thinkers here in the West — Montana, to be exact — that suggests that there might be a factor that helps to slow the depopulation of what the demographers call “nonmetro” counties. And that factor is … more federal land.
Not more than there is now. But more than other places.
The new study from Headwaters Economics, a policy shop in Bozeman, finds that rural communities with lots of federal land nearby have grown much more, in terms of population, economic activity and total and per capita income, than have similar counties with little or no federal land.
…It’s easy to conclude that federally managed lands impede economic growth.
But a new study by Montana nonprofit Headwaters Economics shows that’s not necessarily the case. Overall, rural Western counties with more federal land performed noticeably better by four key economic indicators than counties with less public land. Not only that, but counties with land protected as national parks, wilderness, national conservation areas, national monuments or national wildlife refuges — land with little or no extractive resource production — fared best of all for personal and per-capita income growth.
“We’re data-driven, and our reflex to hearing (recent anti-public lands) rhetoric is to look at the data,” says Megan Lawson, the study’s author. “There are certainly rural places that are struggling, but that’s not the primary story we’re seeing across the West.”
Areas that were once economically important languish as jobs are clustered in urban centers, creating a feeling of powerlessness as their populations grow older, poorer and less educated…
These days, cities like Portland, Salt Lake City and Boise, Idaho, are gobbling up more of the jobs than ever, especially the good ones. Half the jobs in Oregon, for example, are now clustered in just three counties in and around Portland, according to a study by Headwaters Economics, a nonprofit research group in Bozeman, Mont. Almost two-thirds of Utah’s jobs are along the Wasatch Front, which runs from Salt Lake City to Provo.
A new study claims that raising royalty rates across the board for fossil fuels may benefit coal when compared to other feedstocks where higher royalties would represent a larger portion of total costs.
“We find costs for natural gas would actually rise by a larger amount,” said study author Mark Haggerty, a researcher for Bozeman, Montana-based Headwaters Economics. “It’s proportionately more expensive to deliver natural gas to market when compared to coal [under increased federal royalties].”
Haggerty said a lot of changes in the energy sector have been hitting coal harder, hitting Wyoming governments and coal-dependent communities hard. The stiff headwinds for the coal industry, where some of the largest players are toppling like giant industrial dominoes, made Haggerty ask if larger royalties being proposed now by the Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management would make things even worse for the coal industry.
Today, Malheur Cunty has a rare opportunity: the ability to continue its agricultural tradition while capitalizing on its abundant federal land by protecting a portion of it as a National Monument or Recreation Area.
To understand what impact this could have on the region, Headwaters Economics recently studied the relationship between Western rural counties and federal protected lands, and compared Malheur County to similar counties with large protected areas.
The best way to protect a community from wildfire is to build it smartly, said Ray Rasker, an economist and executive director of Headwaters Economics.
“Planning doesn’t mean not building. It doesn’t mean telling people what not to do,” he said. “Planning means using a creative mix of both incentives and regulations to make sure that future development is safe. And that’s different from telling people not to build.”
The report, released by Bozeman-based research group Headwaters Economics, studied the number of single-family homes in the state from 1970 to 2013 using data from the Department of Revenue. In that span, the number of homes went from around 150,000 to 327,000. On the whole, the period from 2003 to 2013 saw more home construction than any other decade in Montana’s history, with more than 44,000 homes built.
However, the study found that some parts of the state are constructing more than others. Many western counties have seen a large proportion of their houses go up in the last 10 years. More than 27 percent of Broadwater County’s homes were built between 2003 and 2013. For Gallatin County, that number was around 23 percent, with 6,000 of the county’s more than 26,000 single-family homes constructed in the same 10-year span.
But while FireWise may help homes survive a wildfire, economist Ray Rasker says it’ll take a lot more than that to keep the cost of fighting fires from continuing to spiral upwards.
“The effective strategy is to really think about where we’re going to build the next homes and under what conditions we’re going to build those homes. Because the agencies are getting to the point where they can no longer afford to defend all of it.”
Colorado, Wyoming and Montana all connote images of rural splendor punctuated by the occasional community. What most people don’t appreciate is how urbanized those and other Western states actually are, according to an analysis from Headwaters Economics.
The effective royalty rate on coal — measured against market prices — is 4.9 percent, well short of statutory rates (12.5 percent and 8 percent on surface and underground coal), and lower than the effective rate on natural gas (9.7 percent), according to our research at Headwaters Economics…
In addition, the BLM should create a natural resources trust fund for the benefit of communities near public lands. We estimate BLM could build up a fund of more than $8 billion over 20 years that can fund infrastructure, schools, and economic development activities in communities exposed to the boom and bust dynamics of fossil fuel extraction.
This Monday the White House will hold its Conference on Aging. While much of the gathering concentrates on the importance of healthcare and retirement security, older Americans also are having a significant economic impact on communities across the U.S. West…
…Research by Headwaters Economics conducted last year on migration not surprisingly found that retirement destinations are characterized by large and growing older populations, but also are seeing growth across all age groups. In fact, all of the top retirement destinations in the West are experiencing high net in-migration across all ages.
…But for some reason the center here is holding. Sandpoint, 400 miles from Boise, and 70 miles from Canada, is bucking a major demographic trend: In an era when many rural places are bleeding out, this one is holding its own. In the all-important sweepstakes of the West — where are people going, and staying — Bonner County, population 41,000, beat out Denver, Seattle, Silicon Valley and other booming urban hot spots, according to census figures…
…“There is a fair amount of economic research that says all you need is one person who is willing to dig in and fight to stay in a place, and that resonates,” said Megan Lawson, an economist at Headwaters Economics, a Montana research group that recently completed an economic analysis of Sandpoint. For many, she added: “It becomes a self-perpetuating process.”
A recently released report by Headwaters Economics investigates the reasons why Bonner County’s economy is strong and resilient despite its distance from major population centers and economic hubs….
Trails don’t talk, but they do tell tales.
And the common theme is economic prosperity, according to participants at last week’s South West Crown Regional Trail Conference in Seeley Lake….
Justifying such projects could become easier, thanks to a new Trail Benefits Library of research on trails developed last winter. Megan Lawson of Headwaters Economics demonstrated how the collection of more than 100 studies can answer questions raised by grant applications, government agencies or donors about a trail’s need…
It’s hard to imagine Bozeman without its trail network, the city’s miles of paths well-loved by crowds of walkers, bikers and runners.
And there’s plenty of data to back up the conventional wisdom that the trail systems provide value to Bozeman and other communities, according to research by locally based Headwaters Economics.
It used to be, said Headwaters economist Megan Lawson, that trail systems were viewed as a luxury. Increasingly though, they’re seen as a necessity for “high amenity” communities like Bozeman, where the quality of life represents a major draw, akin to good schools, well-kept streets and low crime rates, she said….
Congress long ago established a basic principle governing the extraction of coal from public lands by private companies: American taxpayers should be paid fair value for it. They own the coal, after all….
In 2013, approximately 40 percent of all domestic coal came from federal lands. A recent study by the independent nonprofit research group Headwaters Economics estimates that various reforms to the royalty valuation system would have generated $900 million to $5.6 billion more overall between 2008 and 2012…./blockquote>