Kelly McCandless who has been with the Billings Chamber of Commerce for 13 years, has accepted the position of Executive Director of the Education Foundation for Billings Public Schools. McCandless also worked with Visit Billings and Visit Southeast Montana, has been groundbreaking and inspiring. She was instrumental in the Chamber’s communications, marketing, branding, workforce development, early childhood development, and the NextGEN program.

The Center Square

The majority of all U.S. counties have been designated as Second Amendment sanctuaries, according to an analysis by
As of June 20, there are 1,930 counties “protected by Second Amendment Sanctuary legislation at either the state or county level,” representing 61% of 3,141 counties and county equivalents in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
Texas was the 21st state to pass a constitutional carry bill, which Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law, and becomes effective Sept. 1. And while some state legislatures are not taking the same action, county officials have chosen to enact their own legislation. Roughly 1,137 counties “have taken it upon themselves to pass Second Amendment Sanctuary legislation and likely hundreds of cities, townships, boroughs, etc. have done so at their level as well,” the site states.
The Second Amendment sanctuary movement was born out of a grassroots effort, brought on by county or municipal leaders who vowed to not enforce any gun laws imposed by state or federal bodies they deemed were unconstitutional.
Sheriffs have also made pledges to uphold the Second Amendment, most recently every sheriff in Utah.
“Importantly, the Second Amendment of our divinely inspired Constitution clearly states … ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed,’” a letter signed by all 29 Utah sheriffs states. “We hereby recognize a significant principle underlying the Second Amendment: the right to keep and bear arms is indispensable to the existence of a free people.”
Upon signing the new Texas law, Abbott said Texas was a Second Amendment Sanctuary state. Months earlier, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts signed a proclamation giving Nebraska the same sanctuary designation. And Missouri Gov. Mike Parson signed a bill that nullifies federal gun laws in the Show Me state.
The movement is growing in light of statements made by President Joe Biden that the federal government will target firearms dealers in an attempt to link the increasing number of homicides occurring in major cities to a lack of gun law enforcement.
“We’ll find you and we will seek your license to sell guns,” Biden said last week.
Attorney General Merrick Garland also recently argued that while the majority of licensed firearms dealers sell to individuals who passed their FBI background check, that the same dealers “willfully violate the law increase the risk that guns will fall into the wrong hands.” He said the administration’s plan was part of a “concerted effort to crack down on gun traffickers.”
One such attempt is the ATF’s proposed new rule to regulate and tax a firearm brace widely used by veterans. The move has been criticized by members of Congress and by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who argues it’s unconstitutional.

From Center Square

Thanks to fracking in the Marcellus shale, Pennsylvania has led a U.S. natural gas revolution since 2007. The state’s production has exploded almost 40-fold, to over 7,300 billion cubic feet, or 20% of the national total. Pennsylvania now ranks second only to Texas on this measure and yields more gas than any other country, except Russia and Iran.
The rise of shale has been critical because natural gas is easily America’s main source of electricity, at 40% of all generation. The International Energy Agency credits the use of cleaner gas – and its displacement of much higher-emission coal – for America’s achievement in cutting CO2 emissions the most “in the history of energy.”
Pennsylvania’s shale production has helped families economically and given businesses a competitive advantage. With Pittsburgh long eager to replace its fleeing steel industry, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, a Democrat and strong Joe Biden supporter, says that “fracking really saved us.” The University of Pennsylvania’s Kleinman Center for Energy Policy reports on the economic benefits from shale development: it has led to a decline in the state’s gas and electricity prices of 40% and 80%, respectively, over the first decade alone, saving families thousands of dollars a year.
Current numbers tell the story: compared to over $10.00 per MMBtu in Asia, gas prices at Marcellus’s Dominion hub in mid-June were below $2.10.
And there is much more to look forward to. The Marcellus is the largest producing field in the world, appraised at hundreds of trillions of cubic feet of supply. Ongoing coal retirements and the closing of Three Mile Island nuclear plant should extend gas’s current 50–55% share of Pennsylvania’s power generation. Data from the Department of Energy indicate that this shift from coal to gas has cut the state’s CO2 emission rate for electricity a staggering 75%, to 720 pounds per megawatt hour.
Not particularly sunny or windy, Pennsylvania currently has 23,200 megawatts (MW) of gas capacity versus just 1,500 MW for wind and 90 MW for solar. And with the state’s paltry 30 MW of battery-storage capacity, it’s clear that gas will remain essential to compensate for the inherent intermittency of renewables and ensure grid reliability. Indeed, it’s telling that the most green-leaning states, such as California, New York, and Massachusetts, are all gas-dominant.
In tandem with Shell’s coming ethane-cracker plant in Beaver County, a huge but low-cost shale resource gives Pennsylvania a chance to rival the Gulf Coast as a manufacturing hub.
All this explains why Governor Tom Wolf’s plan to push Pennsylvania into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) is so disconcerting. The cap-and-trade scheme has snared New York and the New England states, which now have the highest electricity prices in the country, a key reason why Chief Executive magazine regularly ranks them among “the worst states for business.” Pennsylvania would be the only major energy producer in the RGGI, with the irony being that the others are highly dependent on the Keystone State’s shale supply.
Finally, it often goes unmentioned that the U.S. natural gas industry continues to get cleaner and more efficient, across the entire value chain. Data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency show that from 1990 to 2019, annual greenhouse gas emissions from gas distributors plunged about 70%, even as utilities added more than 788,000 miles of pipeline to serve 21 million more customers.

Economists across the country are sounding increasingly alarmed about what they see as the possibility of a prolonged period of inflation in the U.S. The concern comes as consumer prices rose by the most in 13 years in June.
According to the Labor Department, the consumer price index increased 0.9 percent last month, the largest gain since June 2008, after advancing 0.6 percent in May.
In the 12 months through June, the CPI jumped 5.4 percent, the largest gain since August 2008. That increase followed a 5.0 percent increase in the 12 months through May. Excluding the volatile food and energy components, the CPI accelerated 0.9 percent after increasing 0.7 percent in May.
The so-called core CPI surged 4.5 percent on a year-on-year basis, the largest increase since November 1991, after rising 3.8 percent in May.
Spurring the inflationary trend is the nearly $6 trillion in the federal governments expenditures as well as low interest rates. Economists are saying that these things, along with the year-long COVID-19 disruptions are “fueling demand, straining the supply chain, and raising prices across the economy.”
Some forecasters are expecting inflation to remain elevated through part of 2022, while others are saying it will last “years.”

By Harold Hamm, Continental Resources, From the Montana Petroleum Association

America reached energy independence in 2019 and, more recently, achieved another milestone that Harold Hamm says will better align where the U.S. oil and gas industry is headed in the future.
 There is an old saying that goes, “The difficult is done at once, the impossible takes a little longer.”
 I’ve often looked to that saying throughout my career. In fact, at Continental we have adopted a culture of “the possible.” Pioneering horizontal drilling in the late 70s and 80s was the necessary ingredient which created the American Energy Renaissance, which led to the need to lift the archaic ban on energy exports. In 2015 we did that. I am used to taking on the daunting tasks that adversaries, and oftentimes, even friends would call impossible.
Today the industry has accomplished another one of those milestone moments with the creation of a new futures contract for the physical delivery of crude oil in the U.S. Gulf Coast. You may recall just over a year ago, April 20th to be exact, the WTI contract based out of Cushing, Oklahoma traded down to negative $37.63. It was a wake-up call to the oil industry that the storage constraints and landlocked location of the Cushing contract could no longer be ignored or tolerated.
 I realized in that moment we had reached an inflection point. The benchmark on which we had relied on for decades was no longer reflective of the migration of U.S. crude oil production to the global market. I knew we needed to shift toward a benchmark that could more accurately and reliably price crude oil in America. The Gulf is the energy hub of America today. Its rapidly growing infrastructure and a naturally occurring migration of resources supports not just the U.S., but the entire world.
American Gulf Coast Select Best Practices Task Force was initiated to develop best practices specifications for a new U.S. light, sweet crude oil price benchmark in the American Gulf Coast. It was also important to advocate for its implementation and adoption as a competitive pricing point for U.S. oil markets. We think a futures contract in the most interconnected market center in the country, with a widely accepted quality spec, which settles with guaranteed delivery of crude oil is an important new alternative for the industry. The task force has worked tirelessly to create a marker with transparency and liquidity that is waterborne for this modern era.
The Midland WTI American Gulf Coast futures contract established by the alliance between ICE, Magellan and Enterprise is a huge step forward for the industry and goes a long way to accomplishing the mission on which the task force has been working. I greatly appreciate the tireless efforts of the task force. This also would not have been possible without the dedicated members of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance. Despite the unprecedented challenges we faced as an industry over the past year, we got the job done. As a result, our industry, our country and the world are better off for it.
 This is a great day for American energy. It’s a historic day for American energy. The Gulf Coast offers near limitless storage options and represents both the domestic and international markets. Water access is imperative to making a viable market.
 This new benchmark will better align where our industry is headed in the future. America reached energy independence in 2019—another one of those milestones many said would never happen—as we became a net exporter of oil and petroleum products. Our role today as an energy exporter has grown exponentially and has potential to continue to grow for the next several years. This pricing mechanism will allow us to serve the American market, exporting to global markets the highly sought-after light, sweet crude that is changing our world for the better.
 Some people stop at impossible. I’m not in that camp. I know anything is possible—it may just take a little longer.
Harold Hamm is chairman of Continental Resources and founding member of the American Gulf Coast Select Best Practices Task Force Association. He also serves as chairman of the Domestic Energy Producers Alliance and co-chairman for the Council for a Secure America.

An organization called Parents Together Action is calling on Montanans to advocate to expand the Child Tax Credit into a permanent benefit. The group claims to have 2.5 million members nationwide.
A marketing agency recently released information saying that many parents are still unaware of the federal program that gives parents $300 per child every month. Those who have already received payments say that it is very beneficial in being able to make ends meet.
They cite two examples of families being assisted:
Shari Daniels (Wolf Point, MT) is a single parent to one son and a teacher. Teachers don’t get paid until labor day, aside from a $300 stipend that is deducted from their first paycheck back, so these monthly payments would alleviate the stress of parenting with no summer pay.
Brad Wheeler (Stevensville, MT) is a parent to a 14 year old. While he didn’t lose his job in construction during Covid, his hours did get cut drastically, and the family income went to a quarter of what it was before the pandemic. The monthly checks would, along with help towards rent and utilities, be used for his son’s baseball travelling team which costs a lot of money per month. These payments would ensure that his son could keep playing baseball. 

The Center Square

The number of students attending public schools during the 2020-2021 academic year fell by roughly 3% compared with the previous year.
The data comes from the National Center for Education Statistics, a federal agency that analyzes education figures.
The 3% drop represents some 1.5 million students according to the preliminary report. A final report will not be available until next spring, according to the NCES. Figures come from reports generated by state departments of education.
There were 51.1 million students enrolled in conventional and public charter schools during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Even more stark is the drop in enrollment among younger students. Preschool enrollment fell by 22%, and preschool and kindergarten enrollment combined dropped 13%.
By contrast, high school enrollment fell by 0.4%.
Ross Santy, associate commissioner for the NCES, noted how rare it is for public schools to lose students.
“K-12 enrollment in our nation’s public schools has been increasing almost every year since the start of this century,” Santy said in a statement. “Before this year, in the few recent years where we have seen enrollment decreases, they have been small changes representing less than 1 percent of total enrollment.”
Some 29 states experienced enrollment declines of between 1% and 3%. Washington, D.C., Utah, South Dakota, the U.S. Virgin Islands and American Samoa saw decreases of less than 1%.
Vermont, Mississippi and Puerto Rico all saw enrollment fall by more than 5%, while Washington, New Mexico, Michigan, Kentucky and Maine lost between 4% and 5% of enrollment.
The coronavirus pandemic and government-imposed restrictions that closed schools has been the main driver behind the drop in the number of public school students.
The large drop in enrollment among younger students confirms earlier speculation that families chose to keep those students out of school rather than attempt virtual learning.
Home-schooling, meanwhile, more than doubled between the end of the 2019-2020 school year and the start of 2020-2021.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 5.4% of American households said they were home-schooling their children in the spring of 2020. By October of 2020, that figure reached 11.1%.
“It’s clear that in an unprecedented environment, families are seeking solutions that will reliably meet their health and safety needs, their childcare needs and the learning and socio-emotional needs of their children,” the Census Bureau said in a recent report.

Community Leadership & Development, Inc. (CLDI) plans to build 26 new apartments on the South Side of Billing to improve the opportunities for affordable housing Called Tapestry Apartments the project has advanced due to contributions from the Gianforte Family Foundation, which is purchasing the Galles Filter & Exhaust building at 2920 1st Ave. South. The project, known as Tapestry Apartments, is a quality, affordable housing initiative that will add 26 new apartments on the South Side of Billings.
The lot behind Galles is slated as the site for Tapestry and design plans are in progress. Galles Filter & Exhaust will continue to remain open at its current location until a new location is secured.
CLDI is partnering with the Mountain Plains Equity Group in application to the Montana Board of Housing (MBOH) for federal low-income housing tax credits to help finance and build the Tapestry project. This tax credit application is due in August, and the MBOH will announce tax-credit recipients in October.  If successful in receiving an award, CLDI plans to start construction of Tapestry in the spring of 2022.
Eric Basye, Executive Director for CLDI, said, “More than ever, there is an increasing need to provide quality housing opportunities for low-income individuals and families. For 40+ years, CLDI has invested holistically in the South Side of Billings. We believe that housing is essential for the well-being of every person. With the completion of Tapestry, CLDI will expand our ability to provide excellent housing to nearly 100 individuals and families on the South Side. We are thankful for the support of the community, allowing us the opportunity to serve, befriend, and re-neighbor the South Side community.” 
Purchase of Galles is part of a multi-year effort to transform the 29th block on the South Side. The Galles building is located next door to Rail//Line Coffee, a community coffee shop owned and operated by CLDI. CLDI also owns the lot directly behind Rail//Line and is scheduled to break ground on a senior living complex this August.

U-Haul announced that Crown Logistics signed on as a U-Haul neighborhood dealer to serve Billings.
Crown Logistics at 5229 King Ave. W., Unit C1 will offer essential services like U-Haul trucks, trailers, towing equipment, moving supplies and in-store pickup for boxes.
U-Haul has teamed with independent dealers to offer moving equipment since 1945. With the COVID-19 outbreak creating challenging times for small businesses, more than 20,000 dealers across the U.S. and Canada are creating supplemental income through their U-Haul partnership. When a customer rents from a U-Haul dealer, they are directly supporting an independent small business in their community.

Mountain States Legal Foundation General Counsel William E. Trachman  cheered a federal judge’s order halting the Department of Agriculture from proceeding with a post-pandemic farm loan relief program that expressly excludes white farmers and ranchers. MSLF and the Southeastern Legal Foundation challenged the constitutionality of race-based loan relief on equal protection grounds, on behalf of Tennessee farmer Rob Holman and Wyoming rancher Leisl Carpenter. One of those suits, Holman v. Vilsack, bore fruit today when U.S. District Judge S. Thomas Anderson, of the Western District of Tennessee, granted our request for a nationwide halt to the program pending further judicial review.
Trachman issued the following statement in response to the win:  
“What’s it going to take for the Biden-Harris Administration to comply with the Constitution. Now that their discriminatory farming and ranch debt relief has been enjoined by another court as a violation of the equal protection clause, the writing is on the wall. It’s time to treat all of us like Americans, regardless of our skin color.The pandemic didn’t discriminate when it hurt farmers and ranchers last year, and the government shouldn’t discriminate now. Racial segregation was wrong before, it’s wrong now, and will be wrong forever.”