The Department of the Interior announced a grant of $71 million to help Tribal communities electrify their homes with clean energy sources. This is the second round of funding from the Office of Indian Affairs’ Tribal Electrification Program, part of an overall $150 million grant from the Inflation Reduction Act. Secretary Haaland announced $72 million in awards from the first round of funding earlier this year.

“As the Interior Department implements this new program, we will continue to support Tribes as they work to develop their electricity infrastructure and help meet our shared clean energy goals,” said Secretary Haaland. “Through President Biden’s Investing in America agenda, we’re providing reliable, resilient energy that Tribes can rely on, and advancing our work to tackle the climate crisis and build a clean energy future.”

A key pillar of Bidenomics, the President’s Investing in America agenda is deploying record investments to provide affordable high-speed internet, safer roads and bridges, modern wastewater and sanitations systems, clean drinking water, reliable and affordable electricity, and good paying jobs in every Tribal community.

A press release claims that the tax funded effort is to bring electricity to homes in Tribal communities that have never had electricity. Assistant Secretary for Indian Affairs Bryan Newland reports that Tribal Nations have their own unique energy and electrification-related needs and implementation capacity.

In 2000, the Energy Information Administration reported estimated that 14 percent of households on Native American reservations had no access to electricity, which was 10 times higher than the national average. In 2022, the Department of Energy Office of Indian Energy reported that 16,805 Tribal homes were unelectrified, with most being in the Southwest region and Alaska.

Through this funding, the program will provide financial and technical assistance to Tribes to connect homes to transmission and distribution that is powered by clean energy; provide electricity to unelectrified Tribal homes through zero-emissions energy systems; transition electrified Tribal homes to zero-emissions energy systems; and support associated home repairs and retrofitting necessary to install the zero-emissions energy systems. The program is also intended to support clean energy workforce development opportunities in Indian Country.

The Tribal Electrification Program also advances the Biden-Harris administration’s Justice40 Initiative, which was established by President Biden as part of his January 2021 Executive Order 14008, Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. The goal recognizes the importance of electricity to sustaining a higher standard of living and in curbing pollution. It set a goal that 40 percent of the overall benefits of certain federal investments flow to disadvantaged communities that have been marginalized by “underinvestment.”

Yellowstone County Commissioners are split on a proposed change in the regulations regarding the formation of subdivisions.

At issue are private roads in some subdivisions for which property owners believe the County should maintain their roads, having not realized the roads were private and therefore the responsibility of homeowners, or perhaps being members of a non-functioning home owners association (HOA) which fails to maintain roads.

Two of the commissioners, John Ostlund and Mark Morse, want to require that future subdivision developers in the county, wanting to provide private roads must have gated communities, so that it is clear to everyone that the roads are private and not public. Developers are often eager to make roads private because it lowers costs, even though initially the roads are required to be built to county standards.

Commissioner Don Jones said this is just “big government getting in the way.” Some HOA’s do work, said Jones, adding that in the market place it’s the buyer’s responsibility to know what they are purchasing. “Buyer beware,” he said. The means are available for homeowners to take care of roads themselves, including an increasing number of companies that are available to contract with HOAs to provide regular maintenance. “You are just putting on more regulations,” said Jones.

The commissioners pondered the issue at a discussion last Thursday afternoon, with Tim Miller who heads the Public Works Department and with Woody Woods who heads the county planning board. Both Miller and Woods agreed that HOA’s seldom work.

Ostlund said that as the homes are sold and resold information about the roads being private is not passed along to new buyers and they are later surprised and resistant to having to be responsible for maintaining them. Ostlund noted that gated communities do provide a measure of security.

County officials are proposing to change county subdivision regulations to require that every subdivision create a Rural Special Improvement District (RSID) and make roads public, unless the developer designs it to be a gated community, which makes it obvious that the roads are private. An RSID is a formal means of assessing and collecting the cost of road maintenance (and perhaps other maintenance needs) as a part of taxes, payment for which is treated just like payment of taxes.

Miller said that often nothing is done to keep the roads in good condition until they become so bad that it is very costly to bring them back to standards.

The county plays a role in not only establishing the RSID and collecting the revenues, but every year the Public Works Department analyzes the subdivision’s needs and arranges, usually through third party contracts, to do the work, which the county oversees, explained Miller. Property owners in the RSID can choose to adjust the revenue paid into their RSID or to extend collections to cover other needs, such as lighting etc.

The county can also assist subdivisions without RSIDs in creating one. It requires 60 percent approval of property owners in the subdivision.

The county commissioners have put forth a resolution which is currently before the county planning board to change the subdivision regulations. Miller said that the process will involve holding three public hearings in the community to explain the proposal to citizens.

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

A coalition of Republican attorneys general has launched an investigation into MSCI, a New York-based investment company managing roughly more than $5 billion in assets, after allegations surfaced of its boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) policies against Israel.

The coalition, led by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody, gave MSCI chairman and CEO Henry Fernandez until April 18 to respond.

They contacted Fernandez after the Jewish News Syndicate reported that MSCI’s ESG policies appear to downgrade dozens of companies “that it said committed ‘human rights violations’ simply for conducting business in Judea and Samaria and eastern Jerusalem.”

JNS reported that it found “that MSCI has tagged nine companies that generated ESG controversy ratings at Morningstar for doing business in Judea and Samaria with its own such ratings” and contacted Florida officials.

In a letter to Fernandez, the AGs express “great concern” over the report saying, “the states we represent unequivocally support Israel’s right to exist and oppose the BDS movement.”

The coalition represents the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.

“While the BDS movement ‘markets itself as a nonviolent movement’ designed to pressure Israel to ‘withdraw to its pre-1967 borders,’ its leadership in reality ‘seeks nothing less than the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state,’” they said. “According to a cofounder of the BDS movement, it is ‘but the first stage on the road to fulfilling the vision of the dismantling of Israel.’ The movement often focuses on pressuring large investment portfolios – such as those run by municipality or university – to divest from companies that ‘aid Israel’s occupation.’”

They also said the BDS movement has two goals: “to economically cripple Israel and create a false narrative of Israel’s occupation and colonization.”

Several local businesses are requesting tax abatements from Yellowstone County on their investment in new equipment. The abatements are for qualifying Class 8 Property – primarily manufacturing concerns that generate economic growth. A recent change in state law (SB 530) requires that county commissioners grant the abatement requests, with the only options available to them being whether to apply the abatement at the 80 percent, 90 percent or 100 percent.  The abatement is phased out over the next five years at which time the company pays the full property tax.

The County Commissioners approved a supplemental application for a tax abatement request from CHS. In January, the County Commissioners approved, at 80 percent, an initial property tax abatement request from CHS for manufacturing equipment totaling in value $38,872,419.88.

They have also approved, at 80 percent, an abatement request of Class 8 property from Phillips 66 on the investment of $7,459,311 of equipment.

The Commissioners also approved a tax abatement for Signal Peak Energy and Coca Cola are requesting abatements on new investments in their businesses.

Signal Peak Mine will receive a 80% abatement n $36,841,583 of manufacturing equipment located in Yellowstone County.

Coca Cola received an 80% tax abatement on $47,150,873 involving the construction of their new manufacturing plant.

By Kevin Bessler, The Center Square

Saying it’s too much, too soon, numerous groups are denouncing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s recently announced emission standards, with the Illinois Corn Growers Association being one of them.

On March 20, 2024, EPA announced a final rule, Multi-Pollutant Emissions Standards for Model Years 2027 and Later Light-Duty and Medium-Duty Vehicles, that sets new, more protective standards to further reduce harmful air pollutant emissions from light-duty and medium-duty vehicles starting with model year 2027.  

The EPA said the new rules, which are less strict than what the agency proposed last year, will avert 7 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The standards announced today are a step forward for cleaner air and lower costs for drivers,” said Peter Huether, senior research associate with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. “They will lead to the cleanest vehicles to date and help us meet the president’s climate pledges.” 

As EVs sit on car dealer lots, some companies are scaling back their electric offerings, including Ford and GM.

A new poll by The Center Square Voters’ Voice shows that nearly two-thirds of voters say the government is pushing EVs too hard because there is insufficient demand. 

Garrett Hawkins, vice president of the Illinois Corn Growers Association, said the rush by the government to convert to battery EVs would be devastating for the Illinois farming community.

“With this policy, we could have a 50% decrease in the price of corn, and with that you would have rural America and farmers not doing as well,” said Hawkins. “It’s going to be a direct hit to the Midwest.”.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said his goal is to have 1 million EVs on Illinois roadways by the year 2030. State officials said there will need to be around 36,000 charging ports to support that number. 

Critics also point to the high cost of electric vehicles. The Rivian R1T EV pickup truck, manufactured in Normal, starts at $73,000.

“It is disappointing that the Biden Administration continues to be actively working against its stated goal of ‘equipping the American middle class to succeed,’” said David Holt, president of Consumer Energy Alliance. “While electric vehicles clearly have a role in our vehicle mix, the middle class cannot succeed with the EPA forcing an unworkable, expensive EV quota on working class families.” 

NFIB (National Federation of Independent Businesses) filed an amicus brief in the case State of Texas v. President Joseph R. Biden at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. This case questions whether the President and Department of Labor (DOL) have authority to increase the minimum wage for federal contractors. NFIB’s brief argues that the lower court correctly decided that the DOL rule, Increasing the Minimum Wage for Federal Contractors, exceeded the statutory authority delegated by Congress.

“At a time when small businesses are battling historic inflation and labor shortages, this decision will have economic consequences for many small business contractors,” said Beth Milito, Executive Director of NFIB’s Small Business Legal Center. “Small business owners already strive to provide their employees with the highest wages and benefits they can afford. Mandating further increases to their operating costs will only make it harder for them to do so.”

NFIB’s brief argues two main points: 1) the Procurement Act is a limited Congressional delegation of legislative authority, and 2) the court must subject the rule to meaningful judicial review. NFIB filed the amicus brief with the Pacific Legal Foundation.

The NFIB Small Business Legal Center protects the rights of small business owners in the nation’s courts. NFIB is currently active in more than 40 cases in federal and state courts across the country and in the U.S. Supreme Court.

By Casey Harper, The Center Square

Americans do not trust several major U.S. institutions, particularly the national news media.

The Center Square Voters’ Voice poll found that 43% of Americans say the media is trustworthy, compared with 54% who said it is not trustworthy.

Younger people were more likely to trust the media, with 47% of those ages 18-34 saying they trust it and 46% saying the opposite.

The numbers steadily worsen as likely voters get older, with 41% of likely voters 65-years-old and older saying they trust the media, compared to 57% who do not.

With the presidential election coming in November, the poll also asked voters how confident they feel about the following statement: “The media will report on the issues that matter most to you.” Only 42% said they were confident that was the case, while 54% said they were not confident.

When asked whether the “media will cover all candidates fairly,” only 31% were confident the media would do so while 65% were not confident.

Only 36% of likely voters were confident the “media will provide enough context for voters to understand their choices” while 60% were not.

Democrats were far more likely to trust the national news media, 63%-33%. Only 24% of Republicans said they trust the media while 73% do not. Independents agreed, 35%-59%, on the same question.

Republicans have been more skeptical of the media for years, but former President Donald Trump famously called the media “the enemy of the people” and “fake news,” making the relationship between Republicans and the media far more adversarial.

The mainstream media has taken fire for their coverage of Trump, for dismissing the Hunter Biden laptop story as Russian interference when time has proven the story as mostly true, and pushing the now largely debunked Trump-Russian collusion narrative, and more.

As for other U.S. institutions, notably, the poll found that Democratic voters do not trust the U.S. Supreme Court whereas Republicans do, and Independents are split. Overall, 56% of likely voters trust the court, while 40% do not.

The U.S. presidency saw a similar rating, but Congress fared much worse. The survey found that only 41% of likely voters trust the U.S. House of Representatives, compared to 54% who do not.

The U.S. Senate fared a bit better with 46% trusting and 50% not trusting.

American likely voters trust their state legislatures 59%-36%, according to the poll.

President Joe Biden’s new EV mandates will likely prove to be a sizable wealth transfer from rural red regions of America to urban blue sections, and to wealthy Democrats who reside in them, according to reports.

The Biden administration has imposed the “strictest” rules in history for the auto industry staring in 2027. On March 20, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized its tailpipe emissions rules for the auto industry, which will effectively force carmakers to have one-third of new car sales be plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) by 2027 and more than two-thirds by 2032.

The rule will likely prove to be “a sizable wealth transfer from rural red regions of America to urban blue sections, and to wealthy Democrats who reside in them,” according to reports.

News reports say that the new regulation represents a dramatic increase from current EV sales, which were about 8 percent of the new car market in 2023.

While environmentalists cheer, critics say that the measures will be particularly punitive for huge segments of the U.S. population who don’t want, can’t use, or can’t afford EVs. If carmakers go with the rules, the cost of remaining gas-fired cars and trucks will likely escalate as demand dwarfs supply.

Energy analyst, Robert Bryce, said, “In reality it’s a type of class warfare that will prevent low- and middle-income consumers from being able to afford new cars.”

As many traditional car buyers struggle, the federal subsidies and incentives continue to flow, to the benefit of EV buyers.

According to an October 2023 report by the Texas Public Policy Foundation, as much as $48,000 of the cost of the average EV sold in the United States is paid, not by the owner, but in the form of “socialized costs” that are spread out among taxpayers and electricity consumers over a 10-year period.

These socialized costs come in the form of taxes, government subsidies, fuel economy credits paid by gas carmakers to EV manufacturers, and higher electricity bills as consumers absorb the capital costs required to expand the power grid and install new charging stations.

The report states that “the average model year 2021 EV would cost $48,698 more to own over a 10-year period without $22 billion in government favors given to EV manufacturers and owners.”

These dollars, which do not take into account the additional dollars that gas-car owners will likely pay for their vehicles as manufacturers are forced to make fewer of them, amount to a government-mandated wealth transfer to affluent EV owners, paid by those who often cannot afford to buy EVs.

The new EPA mandate is “aimed at accommodating a very narrow segment of the auto-buying public: wealthy, white Democrats who live in a handful of liberal communities,” Mr. Bryce said. “EV ownership is largely defined by class, ideology, and geogaphy.”

Bryce reported in Epoch Times that 57 percent of EV owners earn more than $100,000 annually, 75 percent are male, and 87 percent are white. In addition, EV buyers are overwhelmingly Democrats, with 71 percent of Republicans stating in a Gallup poll that they would not consider owning an electric vehicle.

 Data from the Department of Energy supports this view. As of year-end 2022, California had 903,600 registered EVs in the state, or 37 percent of all EVs owned nationwide.

The next largest number of EV owners were in Florida, Texas, and Washington state, with 168,000, 149,000, and 104,100 EVs respectively, followed by New Jersey, New York, Georgia, Colorado, Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania.

According to a report by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity, “if you count all the EVs in North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, Mississippi, West Virginia, Alabama, Montana, and Idaho, they account for less than one percent of the total U.S. sales.”

In attempting to force Americans to switch to electric cars, a number of blue states including California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Vermont, Washington are on track to ban the sale of new gas-powered cars and trucks by 2035, according to non profit group Coltura, which advocates for the switch from gasoline to electric cars.

There are practical reasons why people are unwilling to spend thousands of dollars more on electric cars. According to a November 2023 AAA survey, the primary reasons for people not to buy electric cars are a lack of charging stations, limited range, and time to charge the battery.

A recent Rasmussen poll found that 65 percent of Americans surveyed don’t think they’re likely to make an EV their next automobile purchase.

Another poll of voters found that only 14 percent were strongly in favor of regulations to phase out gas-powered cars and trucks, while nearly 60 percent were against. Opinions split along party lines, with 53 of Democrats in favor of the EPA regulations and 76 percent of Republicans against, with 59 percent of independents also opposing.

The strongest support for EV mandates came from people earning more than $150,000 a year.

The Clean Freight Coalition, a trucking trade group that supports a transition away from fossil fuels, said that the timeline set by the new EPA rules was impossible to meet given current technology and infrastructure, and that the Biden administration’s EV plan would bring significant harm to commercial vehicle operators, the businesses they serve, and consumers.

Jim Mullen, Clean Freight Coalition executive director, told the Washington Examiner, “Today, these vehicles fail to meet the operational demands of many motor carrier operations, reduce the payload of trucks, and thereby require more trucks to haul the same amount of freight, and lack sufficient charging and alternative fueling infrastructure to support adoption.”

The reliably pro-Democrat United Auto Workers Union (UAW) initially opposed the EPA mandate, fearing lost jobs due to the fact that EVs require fewer American workers to assemble components that often originate in China and that many of the new EV assembly plants being built by carmakers are in non-union states like Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama.

The UAW came around to supporting the EV plan, however, after the EPA adjusted its regulations to slow the pace of the transition.

The Biden administration’s barrage of climate-related energy and automotive mandates, critics say, fall into a category of what a recent report by the Cato Institute calls “policy beyond capability.”

Yellowstone County Commissioners have sent Senator Jon Tester a letter asking him to support a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) urging them not to implement a request from California to require zero-emissions from railroad locomotives.

The letter states that the waiver being requested by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) is unaffordable by many railroad companies and it would force more freight traffic onto roads. And, further, the technology that would be necessary to meet the mandate does not exist.

 The waiver being requested would allow California and any other states to require zero-emission railroad locomotives by 2030. “The CARB regulation would limit the useful life of over 25,000 locomotives by barring those 23 years and older from operating in California. This policy ignores the operational reality that locomotives are long-term and capital –intensive investments that travel not just in one state but across the 140,000 –mile North American rail network. Small railroads cannot simply replace these locomotives and may face bankruptcy if the rule is approved. In addition, CARB would require railroads to deposit as much as $800 million per year per railroad into “spending accounts” that could only be used to purchase zero –emission equipment.”

The commissioners point out that those same passenger and freight railroads serve Montana and connect farmers and miners to west coast customers and they would be forced to comply with the same  mandate to serve those customers.

“One of the main economic responsibilities of the federal government is to facilitate interstate commerce and economic cooperation. It is for this very reason that interstate commerce laws preempt state laws. Please support and join the Manchin/Ricketts letter in the Senate that requests the EPA reject the CARB waiver.”

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

In fiscal 2022, 70 percent of the largest cities in the U.S. did not have enough money to pay their bills.

In the latest comprehensive analysis of the fiscal health of the 75 most populous cities in the U.S., 53 did not have enough money to pay all of their bills, according to a Truth in Accounting analysis of the latest annual comprehensive financial reports from 2022.

In its eighth annual Financial State of the Cities report, TIA found that the 75 largest cities in the U.S. had $307.4 billion worth of assets available to pay bills but their debt, including unfunded retirement benefit promises, totaled $595.3 billion.

Pension and healthcare debt accounted for the majority of debt owed, according to the analysis. Pension debt totaled $175.9 billion; other post-employment benefits (OPEB), mainly retiree health care, totaled $135.2 billion.

All 75 cities are required by law to have balanced budgets. For those with debt, in order to claim their budgets were balanced, TIA argues elected officials didn’t include all government costs in budget calculations, thereby pushing costs onto future taxpayers. Instead, they used “accounting tricks,” including “inflating revenue assumptions, counting borrowed money as income, understating the true costs of government, and delaying the payment of current bills until the start of the next fiscal year so they aren’t included in the budget calculations.”

“The most common accounting trick” used to understate costs is excluding “true compensation costs” of employee benefits like health care, life insurance, and pensions, the report explains.

“While pension and other post-employment costs, such as health care, will not be paid until the employees retire, they still represent current compensation costs earned and incurred throughout their tenure.” Cities should include these contributions in their budgets, TIA says.

TIA also found that some elected officials “have used portions of the money owed to pension and OPEB funds to keep taxes low and pay for politically popular programs. Instead of funding promised benefits now, politicians have charged them to future taxpayers” to appear to have a balanced budget while city debt increases, TIA said.

Some of the financial woes can be attributed to the market value of pensions, the report explains.

“In 2022, the cities continued to receive and spend federal COVID-19 relief funds, and as the U.S. economy reopened, they took in additional tax revenue. Such economic gains were offset by increases in their pension liabilities, which were caused in large part due to decreases in the market value of pension investments,” the report states. “Over the past few years, investment market values have swung dramatically. In 2022, this volatility negatively impacted most cities’ pension investments and their financial condition, which demonstrates the risk to taxpayers when cities offer defined pension benefits to their employees.”

To show how taxpayers are impacted by cities not having enough money to pay their bills, TIA divides the amount of revenue needed to cover unpaid costs by the estimated number of taxpayers. This calculates “a taxpayer burden.” When cities have funds left over after paying their bills, TIA divides the amount by the estimated number of taxpayers to calculate “a taxpayer surplus.”

Cities are also graded according to their fiscal health, taxpayer burden or surplus, balanced budget requirements, and other factors.

Of the 75 cities evaluated, only 1% received an A grade for fiscal health. The majority received D grades, followed by C and B grades, according to the analysis.

The five cities with the greatest surpluses were Washington, D.C. ($10,700), Irvine, California ($6,100), Plano, Texas ($5,100), Lincoln, Nebraska ($4,100), and Oklahoma City ($2,900). Rounding out the top ten with greatest surpluses were Aurora, Colorado; Fresno, California; Raleigh, North Carolina; Virginia Beach and Corpus Christi, Texas.

Of 22 cities reporting surpluses, the majority, six, were in California.

Of the 10 cities with the greatest taxpayer burden, nine are run by Democrats. New York City has the greatest taxpayer burden (-$61,800), followed by Chicago (-$42,900), Honolulu (-$24,200), Philadelphia (-$20,400), Portland (-$20,100), New Orleans (-$18,200), Miami (-$15,500), Milwaukee (-$15,300), Baltimore (-$14,100), and Pittsburgh (-$13,000).

New York City, which has historically ranked as the worst for fiscal health, attributed much of its financial woes to “COVID-19,” mentioning it 38 times in its financial report, according to the analysis. “Despite receiving $6.5 billion in COVID relief grants and a $1.3 billion increase in tax revenues,” TIA points out that New York City still needed $6.1 billion to pay its bills.

TIA notes that cities not properly funding pension and retiree health care promises “burdens future taxpayers and puts retirees at risk of not receiving promised benefits.”