Advocates of geothermal, a renewable, carbon-free technology that can produce reliable, nonintermittent power using Earth’s heat to generate energy, say the underground energy source has the potential to supply more than 60 gigawatts of firm, flexible power by 2050—a more than 15-fold jump from the 3.7 GW of capacity it now has in the United States.”

The potential is capturing the attention of many energy producers, according to the National Association of Manufacturers:

* Baker Hughes, one of the largest drilling companies in the world, is expanding its geothermal business and has formed a partnership with Continental Resources and Chesapeake Energy … to test whether they can profitably turn spent natural gas wells into geothermal facilities.”

* Last month, Chevron Corporation partnered with the Swedish company Baseload Capital to build the next generation of geothermal development technologies.

Financial backing: The funds are in place to support geothermal technologies, too.

* “The bipartisan infrastructure law authorized $84 million for four enhanced geothermal systems demonstration projects—applications for which are expected to open early next year.”

* “The Energy Department has also set a target to cut the cost of enhanced geothermal systems—which could enhance existing reservoirs or create new ones—by 90 percent by 2035. And it’s examining the geothermal energy and heat production potential from abandoned oil and gas wells.”

A caveat: Lengthy permitting processes could stymie geothermal’s potential, the Energy Department’s Geothermal Technologies Office Acting Director Lauren Boyd told “Politico”.

A bipartisan win: Expanding geothermal energy is in the interest of both Republicans and Democrats, and administrations from both parties have increased funding for it.

The NAM says: “Geothermal energy technologies are another tool in the belt of the ‘all-of-the-above’ energy-economy approach the NAM has long advocated,” said NAM Director of Energy and Resources Policy Chris Morris.

“But manufacturers continue to face permitting, licensing and siting challenges that cause delays in deploying cutting-edge, clean technologies and projects.”

Casey McGowan recently joined Stockman Insurance as Sales Coordinator. His responsibilities include collaborating with sales and services teams in creating and fostering a customer focused, solution driven, value-added sales culture in all 14 Stockman Insurance locations.  

McGowan brings 25 years of insurance experience to the position, which includes management, marketing and business development. His background in sales will be an asset for Stockman Insurance.

“Casey’s product knowledge and leadership skills, along with his strong Montana roots, make him the perfect choice to lead our sales team. We are very excited to have Casey join Stockman,” comments KC Keith, Stockman Insurance Vice President and General Manager.

McGowan earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture from Montana State University Bozeman in 1998. He obtained the coveted Commercial Insurance Counselor designation in 2006. He was a past board member of the Billings Chamber of Commerce and will continue to be active in the community participating in Stockman related events.

 Stockman Insurance, an affiliate of Stockman Bank of Montana, is a full-service insurance agency offering most lines of insurance. McGowan is located at the Stockman Insurance office at 1405 Grand Avenue. Stockman Insurance, headquartered Miles City, has other offices located in Belgrade, Big Sky, Conrad, Glendive, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, Missoula, Richey, Stanford and Worden.

By Cameron Arcand, The Center Square

The United States Customs and Border Protection is asking Americans to stop trying to smuggle in raw eggs from Mexico. 

As avian flu is causing the price of eggs and poultry to rise, along with the current inflation rate, people are purchasing the products in Mexico instead of shelling out the extra cash at the grocery store.

“There has been a large increase in the volume of prohibited food items, such as raw eggs and raw poultry meat, brought by travelers from Mexico. We would like to remind the traveling public that federal agricultural regulations remain in effect,” Jennifer De La O, CBP Director of Field Operations in San Diego, said in a news release on Jan 20. 

In a separate tweet, De La O said that people could face up to a $10,000 fine if they take a crack at illegally smuggling the items. 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that over 57 million birds have died from the illness, according to the news release. 

As of December, egg prices have increased 60% in the U.S. compared to December 2021, the Consumer Price Index determined. 

Confiscations have reportedly increased by 300% since last month, according to KENS 5. 

Billings Industrial Revitalization District Hires a new Director

The Billings Industrial Revitalization District (“BIRD”) has announced that Michelle Harkins, formerly the finance director at the Billings Community Foundation, has taken over the role of director of the BIRD. 

The BIRD Board selected Harkins based on her background and enthusiasm to help the Billings community. Harkins brings a background in corporate accounting, procurement, and inventory management, and has spent the last several years in Billings’ nonprofit community.  Harkins earned a master’s degree in accounting from the University of Montana.

She and her husband, Justin, have five-year-old twins and have called Billings home since 2013.

Harkins accepted the position with the BIRD in November 2022 and began working in her current role on January 3, 2023.

“Michelle’s experience in corporate finance, non-profit organizations, and her passion for Billings set her apart from others,” said Sam Westerman, the BIRD Board President.

Former director was Zach Terakedis, who now works with the city through the Tax Increment Financing process.

By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square

Twenty-five attorneys general and several other plaintiffs have sued the Biden administration asking the court to halt a federal ESG policy that could negatively impact the retirement savings of 152 million Americans. Montana is one of those states.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court Northern District Amarillo Division naming Secretary of Labor Martin Walsh and the U.S. Department of Labor as defendants.

It alleges the U.S. Department of Labor created a rule prioritizing “woke” Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) investing that jeopardizes the retirement savings of 152 million workers, or two-thirds of the U.S. population.

Last November, the Department of Labor finalized a rule allowing companies to prioritize ESG policies when choosing retirement plans. It was the last phase of a nearly two-year effort to reverse a Trump-era rule banning the practice.

The department said it was implementing the rule to “remove barriers to plan fiduciaries’ ability to consider climate change and other environmental, social and governance factors when they select investments and exercise shareholder rights.”

In response, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said President Joe Biden was “using unelected bureaucrats … to push his radical ESG agenda, undermine the Texas economy and jeopardize our national security and energy independence.

“Even as free market forces begin to erode the ESG fairy tale and expose the intellectual dishonesty and utter lack of transparency in this investment scam, President Biden is using the DOL rulemaking process to double down on policies that put his social agenda above the retirement needs of hard-working Americans.”

Less than two months later, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sued, along with 24 other attorneys general.

“Beyond being detrimental to the retirement accounts of hardworking Americans, the rule is fundamentally unlawful, as well as arbitrary and capricious,”  Paxton said, noting that it violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), created to protect retirement assets, and the Administrative Procedure Act.

“This rule is an affront to every American concerned about their retirement account,” Paxton said. “The fact that the Biden Administration is now opting to risk the financial security of working-class Americans to advance a woke political agenda is insulting and illegal. For generations, federal law has required that fiduciaries place their clients’ financial interests at the forefront, and I intend to fight the Biden Administration in court to ensure that they cannot put hard-working Americans’ retirement savings at risk.”

The rule, “Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights,” follows an executive order Biden issued last May. His order directed the federal government to implement policies “to help safeguard the financial security of America’s families, businesses and workers from climate-related financial risk that may threaten the life savings and pensions of U.S. workers and families.”

The rule change “will bolster the resilience of workers’ retirement savings and pensions by removing the artificial impediments – and chilling effect on environmental, social and governance investments – caused by the prior administration’s rules,” Acting Assistant Secretary for the Employee Benefits Security Administration Ali Khawar said in a statement last fall. “A principal idea underlying the proposal is that climate change and other ESG factors can be financially material and when they are, considering them will inevitably lead to better long-term risk-adjusted returns, protecting the retirement savings of America’s workers.”

November’s notice followed a March 2021 and October 2021 announcement and included comments received from the public.

Last August, Hegar directed state agencies to divest from 350 individual investment funds and 10 financial companies that were prioritizing ESG, and particularly boycotting oil and natural gas companies, as part of their portfolio. Not long after, Gov. Greg Abbott told The Center Square that the directive was working. He said some of the companies on Texas’ list were making an effort to get off of it.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has also taken action, including prohibiting the state’s retirement fund from investing in funds that prioritize ESG.

It’s true. Many Montanans do not fully realize the extent to which, as citizens, they have a right to access public documents and attend public meetings. Montana citizens have “a right to know” almost everything state and local governmental entities do and to have full access to public documents.

A webinar forum is being presented on Thursday, February 9, 6:30 pm, focused on Montana’s “Freedom of the Press and the Public’s Right to Know under the Montana Constitution.” Register for the webinar presentation at https:// lclibrary. event/10190724.

The program will be moderated by retired Montana Supreme Court Justice Jim Nelson, and features panelists, Darrell Ehrlick, editor-in-chief of the Daily Montanan, and Billings constitutional trial lawyer Martha Sheehy.

“There is a symbiotic relationship between freedom of the press and the public’s right to know,” says Nelson. “The press is being frustrated in its constitutional right to know and is being forced to file lawsuits both to ensure that public meetings are open to the public and receive proper public notice and that public documents are available to the public. “The press is subsidizing the public’s right to know.”

“The right to know guarantees that citizens have access to all governmental decision-making,” Sheehy adds. “People need to know how to exercise that right.”

“Because we stand in the public’s shoes,” says Ehrlick, who has been a party in a number of these lawsuits, ”our fight is your fight. You should know what the press is doing on your behalf because these are your public officials.”

Ehrlick is the former editor of The Billings Gazette, which took Montana’s top newspaper award six times in seven years during his tenure.

During her 35- year career, Sheehy has represented media interests and private citizens in enforcing Montana’s constitutional right to know in dozens of cases. Her uncle was a delegate to the 1972 Constitutional Convention.

Nelson, served on the Montana Supreme Court from 1993 to 2013 and is a former Glacier County Attorney and prosecutor.

The event is co-sponsored by the Montana League of Women Voters of the Helena Area and Lewis & Clark Library.