- Associated Press - Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Aug. 1, on identifying chemicals used in fracking:

A petition filed recently with the state Board of Oil and Gas Conservation draws attention to a serious anomaly in our environmental regulations. The petition - filed by a coalition of landowners, environmentalists and public health workers - seeks to force oil producers to reveal the full list of chemicals they are using to “frack” oil and gas from deep in the ground.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, is a process by which fluids are forced into the ground to release oil and gas in shale and other geologic formation. Because of a bizarre mix of state and federal regulations, the companies don’t have to reveal the chemicals they are pumping into the ground. This is because, the oil companies argue, they are trade secrets, and if they are revealed, the company could lose its competitive edge. This despite the fact that many of the chemicals they use are hazardous to the environment and human health.

Think about this: Would we even allow natural resource extraction companies to dump hazardous chemicals into our lakes or rivers? Or would we allow them to spew toxic pollution into the air without any restrictions.

And yet somehow it’s just fine to allow them to pump these pollutants deep into the earth and we’re not even allowed to know what they are. It’s a testament to the lobbyists for the oil and gas companies that they were able to persuade state and federal legislators to enact laws that protect the firms from revealing these chemicals.

And making the situation worse is the fact that Montana law long ago separated surface rights and mineral rights in land ownership, and landowners often do not own the oil and gas under their land. So the oil and gas firms can legally come on to someone’s land and pump millions of gallons of fracking chemicals into the ground and the landowner doesn’t even have the right to know what those chemicals are.

On its face, this is absurd.

Members of the Oil and Gas Conservation Board should certainly grant this petition to the full extent they are authorized. And where they are not authorized, the Montana Legislature and Congress need to step in to amend the laws so that these chemicals must be fully revealed to landowners and the public.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2aOwtbh

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The Billings Gazette, July 28, on mental health care advocacy in Montana:

Just a few months after Bill Kennedy became chairman of the board, the South Central Montana Mental Health Center confronted its biggest challenge ever. The state had contracted all its mental health care to a private, out-of-state managed care company. Montana’s government-funded care system for low-income, mentally ill children and adults was upended, payments to mental health centers were changed, reduced and delayed. Clients were unable to navigate the new program, which at one point stopped filling prescriptions. The regional mental health center headquartered in Helena closed.

Kennedy led the Billings-based center through tough times that drained reserves within six months, forced staff layoffs and cut client services. The Mental Health Center survived and two decades later still serves residents of 11 counties.

With his retirement from the Yellowstone County Commission on Aug. 1, Kennedy will step down as the county’s representative and Mental Health Center board chairman.

Kennedy has championed community mental health care for 24 years. He was on the board when the HUB drop-in center for homeless and seriously mentally ill adults was created on North 27th Street. He helped promote creation of the Community Crisis Center. Recognizing the need for ongoing local funding for the HUB and Crisis Center, Kennedy spearheaded the campaign for the county public safety levy that provides substantial annual support for those two programs.

Kennedy sees crucial connections between community mental health care and Montana State University Billings, where he will become president of the fundraising foundation. The university educates nurses, counselors, rehabilitation specialists and other health care professionals that are in high demand and short supply in the community and the region.

Kennedy has been a biennial fixture in the state Capitol, telling lawmakers what Yellowstone County and its neighbors needed for community mental health care.

Kennedy’s message has been consistent: “Fund community services and you can cut down on institutional care.” As a county commissioner, he’s been a leader in the Montana Association of Counties and National Association of Counties health policy committees.

Known for being ubiquitous at community events, Kennedy has made speeches to praise suicide prevention walks and read proclamations for Homeless Persons’ Remembrance Day. He’s a frequent visitor at the HUB, a regular at Rainbow House Christmas parties and recently hosted a benefit art show for that Mental Health Center day treatment program.

Kennedy’s tireless advocacy has helped Yellowstone County and Montana sustain desperately needed community mental health service. His 24-year tenure as commissioner spans the continuing struggles of Montanans with mental illnesses, their families and dedicated health care providers.

There are still challenges. The Mental Health Center ran a $500,000 operating loss last year and is struggling to cope with changes this year in state and federal programs and its continued losses on Medicaid rates for psychiatrists.

Fortunately for our community, Kennedy expects to continue mental health advocacy after he retires from the county commission. The Mental Health Center Board will vote at its August meeting on adding another at-large seat. Kennedy has been asked to take that seat.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2b1ncZI

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Great Falls Tribune, Aug. 2, on the Montana State Fair:

As the saying goes, “I love a parade.” The same applies to county and state fairs, where people gather to have a good time. What’s not to love?

Small county fairs have charm, as far-flung neighbors gather in the county seat to chat, talk agriculture, enjoy exhibits and games and stomp feet to good music.

Regional fairs tend to be a bit more souped up, with carnivals and additional vendors and entertainment, in addition to traditional fair offerings.

It’s all good fun wherever the fair takes place. This week, Great Falls area residents are continuing to enjoy the Montana State Fair, formerly the North Montana Fair, which provides a wide variety of entertainment. The weather so far has been fine, if a bit hot, and State Fair’s attendance Sunday, when the country group Alabama played to a packed house in the Four Seasons Arena, was the highest on a Sunday in the last three years - 9,693 people paid to get in the gate, up from 6,885 on Sunday last year, and 7,511 on Sunday in 2014.

Attendance numbers were up again Monday - 4,839 paid attendance, compared to 3,044 in 2015, and 3,740 in 2014 - so improved gate admissions may be a trend.

That’s heartening to see attendance on the first days of the fair, Friday through Sunday, up about 4,600 people from last year’s fair, although attendance often bobs up and down based upon popularity of the night show acts. Rodeo takes over evenings at the fair at midweek.

Concessions at horse racing and the fair’s daily concessions were up through Sunday; food-vendor sales were similar to last year’s performance. Carnival sales were similar to last year’s figures on Friday and Saturday, but were up nearly $8,000 Sunday, with carnival receipts at $72,844. Saturday was the big carnival day as receipts were just $1,500 shy of reaching the $100,000 mark.

Montana State Fair 2016 appears busy, which is a good thing for a fair to be.

“People seem to be awfully upbeat over here,” said Cascade County Commissioner Joe Briggs Tuesday. “People are having a good time. Carnival is doing well, horse racing’s done well.” Briggs credited good weather and a somewhat improved Great Falls economy, with additional steel jobs helping boost the area.

Officials note attendance could get a jolt with bad weather, but the forecast looks dry and warm for the most part through Saturday.

State Fair 2016 appears once again to be a going concern, and we hope folks are having an enjoyable time at Montana ExpoPark. Cascade County has a wonderful fairgrounds, ably maintained and run by county staff, and it’s great to see ExpoPark being used for what it was built for. Thanks to all those folks who are getting in on the fun in Great Falls this week.

Summertime is a fabulous time of year. Why not enjoy it with lemonade, fair food, a carnival ride and the rodeo? And don’t forget to stop by the Great Falls Tribune booth in the Trades and Industry Building and have your photo taken for a chance to win $250 in prizes.

Editorial: http://gftrib.com/2agNF8A

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