Wind turbines and a growing population are posing new issues of concern regarding Montana’s underground nuclear missile silos. As a consequence the Air Force is asking Congress for help, especially because of “towering wind turbines, which are growing in number and size and are edging closer to the sites each year,” reports the Associated Press (AP).

The Air Force wants Congress to pass legislation to create a 2-nautical-mile buffer zone around each site. Underground silos are located in Nebraska, Colorado, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming.

“…underground nuclear missile silos are rarely disturbed by more than the occasional wandering cow or floating spy balloon,” notes the AP.

In general the silos are “almost undetectable” located on private farmland, appearing as a small rectangular plot marked only by an antennae, chain-link fence and a flat 110,000 ton concrete silo blast door.

Increasingly, sometimes, stretching for miles, wind turbines tower in proximity, hundreds of feet high, with long, sweeping blades with “parts so large and long they dwarf the 18-wheeler flatbed trucks that transport them to new sites.” They pose a danger for military helicopter crews. “When an alarm triggers at a site, the UH-1 Huey crews fly in low and fast, often with security teams on board.” The turbines not only pose physical obstacles but create turbulence.

Some of the modern turbines have towers as tall as 650 feet, or nearly 200 meters, , “which is twice the height of the Statue of Liberty.” Of the 450 sites, 46 are “severely” encroached upon, which the Air Force defines as having more than half of the routes to the launch site closed due to obstructions

Wind energy advocates are supportive of the restriction, according to AP.

Language to create a setback was included in the Senate version of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, but would need to be negotiated into the House version of the bill.

But the service acknowledges the difficult position it is in. The farmers who have allowed it to use their lands for decades benefit from the income from the turbine leases, and the service does not want to appear to push back on environmental energy alternatives, they are nevertheless concerned about the safety for helicopter and nuclear security operations.”

The Center Square

Getting married – or divorced – was a more common reason for moving in 2022 than the year before while looking for better housing became less common, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau on why people move.

The Current Population Survey Annual Social and Economic Supplement asks respondents who lived in a different place the year before their primary reason for moving. The 20 specific reasons fall into four general categories: housing-related, family-related, employment-related, and other. 

The most often-cited general category for moving in 2022 was housing-related reasons, which accounted for 41.6% of movers, according to the survey. That’s similar to other recent years. 

A newer, larger or better place to live was the most common specific reason cited for moves in 2022 and in 2021. That was followed by establishing one’s own household. Even so, the percentage of movers reporting upgrades declined.

“This decline suggests reversal of a boom in housing demand that happened in 2020, early in the COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the report. 

The share of movers seeking better housing increased from 14.6% in 2020 to 17.2% in 2021. It fell back to 14.4% in 2022, about the same as the 2020 pre-pandemic baseline. The share of movers who reported wanting a better neighborhood or less crime had a similar decline after a jump early in the pandemic, according to the report. 

Some 26.5% of movers reported family-related reasons, the second most often-cited general reason for moving in 2022 and in recent years. 

Family-related reasons include a change in marital status and establishing one’s own household, according to the report.

“An increase in the share of people who moved due to a change in marital status between 2021 and 2022 may be the result of people resuming plans they had put on pause during the height of the pandemic,” according to the report. “Many couples decided to postpone wedding ceremonies and large gatherings during COVID-19: an estimated 12% fewer marriages and divorces took place in 2020 than researchers expected.”

Employment-related reasons were reported 16.1% of the time, the first time since at least 2017 that moving for employment was not cited more often, according to the report. 

By Brett Rowland, The Center Square

The U.S. population is projected to reach a high of nearly 370 million in 2080 before falling back to 366 million in 2100, according to the latest projections from the U.S. Census Bureau. 

By 2100, the total U.S. resident population is projected to increase 9.7% from 2022. The Census Bureau projections provide possible scenarios of population change for the nation through the end of the century.

“In an ever-changing world, understanding population dynamics is crucial for shaping policies and planning resources,” said Sandra Johnson, a demographer at the Census Bureau.

The projections show slower growth than was previously expected.

“The U.S. has experienced notable shifts in the components of population change over the last five years,” she said. “Some of these, like the increases in mortality caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, are expected to be short-term while others, including the declines in fertility that have persisted for decades, are likely to continue into the future. Incorporating additional years of data on births, deaths and international migration into our projections process resulted in a slower pace of population growth through 2060 than was previously projected.”

The Census Bureau projections show possible paths of population change based on assumptions about births, deaths and migration.

The 2023 projections include a main series (also known as the middle series) considered the most likely outcome of four assumptions, and three alternative immigration scenarios that show how the population might change under high, low and zero immigration assumptions.

* By 2100, the total population in the middle series is projected to reach 366 million compared to the projection for the high-immigration scenario, which puts the population at 435 million. The population for the middle series increases to a peak at 370 million in 2080 and then begins to decline, dropping to 366 million in 2100. The high-immigration scenario increases every year and is projected to reach 435 million by 2100.

* The low-immigration scenario is projected to peak at around 346 million in 2043 and decline thereafter, dropping to 319 million in 2100.

* Though largely illustrative, the zero-immigration scenario projects that population declines would start in 2024 in the complete absence of foreign-born immigration. The population in this scenario is projected to be 226 million in 2100, roughly 107 million lower than the 2022 estimate.

Immigration is projected to be the main driver of population growth under three of the four scenarios. The zero-immigration scenario is the exception. The projections show reduced fertility and an aging population result in natural decrease – more deaths than births – in all scenarios. This happens in 2038 in the main series, 2033 in the zero-immigration scenario, 2036 in the low-immigration scenario and in 2042 in the high-immigration scenario.

The group that is seeking funding to advance a plan to build a passenger rail service through southern Montana, The Big Sky Passenger Rail Authority (BSPRA), has been awarded a $150,000 grant to explore the feasibility of the project. The grant was awarded by  the Pacific Northwest Economic Region’s Regional Infrastructure Accelerator (PNWER) , a federal agency whose goal is to further high-performance rail across the region. This constitutes the largest planning grant received by BSPRA to-date.

U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau awarded the Pacific NorthWest Economic Region (PNWER) a grant to continue advancing infrastructure development through the five-state Regional Infrastructure Accelerator for which it has oversight of Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

The public funds will finance the development of a feasibility and economic study. It will look for opportunities to “bundle” track improvement that could benefit passenger and freight rail service, and for possible development of transit near rail stations. 

It would analyze track from Sandpoint, ID, to Glendive, MT, along proposed Amtrak North Coast Hiawatha route to identify small to medium track improvement projects for enhanced freight and passenger rail service for rural communities and tribal nations.

The Center Square

Voters have their eyes on their bottom line ahead of the 2024 election. The Center Square Voters’ Voice Poll, conducted in conjunction with Noble Predictive Insights, found that 48% of registered voters picked inflation as the top issue from a list of 18. That was followed by illegal immigration (33%), crime/violence (28%) and economy/jobs (24%).

The highest-earning foreign-born workers made at least $376,320 in 2019, compared with $279,079 for U.S.-born workers in the same percentile, according to recent research. Foreign-born workers account for nearly one-in-five of the top 1% wage earners in the U.S., new research shows. nt for nearly one-in-five of the top 1% wage earners in the U.S. Overseas-born workers declined slightly as a share of the U.S. workforce between 2005 and 2019. Still, their presence in the top 1% of wage-earners climbed to 19.7% from 13.4%, according to research recently published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

 By Marilyn Bartlett and Christin Deacon

 Employer health plan costs continue to spiral out of control, threatening profitability, competitiveness, and employee wages. The Kaiser Family Foundation recently announced the average annual employer-sponsored family health plan premium reached $24,000. This cost, generally split between employer and employee, has increased by 50% over the last decade. 

 Employers need not passively accept these health plan cost overruns. They can draw on three pillars of federal healthcare price transparency policy to reverse these runaway costs and protect their employees and bottom lines. 

The first two pillars – the Hospital Price Transparency rule that took effect in January 2021 and the Transparency in Coverage rule that took effect in July 2022 — require hospitals, group health plans, and health insurers to publish their actual prices, including all their negotiated rates with insurance carriers. The third pillar is the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which requires third-party administrators, insurers, and provider networks to share claims information with employer and union group health plans.

 This information can empower employers, who provide health coverage for nearly 160 million Americans, to choose affordable healthcare and benefit from competition. Armed with actual prices, employers can compare their health claims with hospital and health insurance prices to ensure they get the best pricing and care for their employees, and they can ensure they get what they are paying for.

For example, they can identify well-documented wide price variations for the same treatments and choose the best value. A forthcoming report by draws on employers’ claims data that reveal the price of a CT scan of the abdomen or pelvis ranges from $215 to $10,000, the price of a colonoscopy varies from $1,000 to $31,000, and the price of a vaginal delivery fluctuates from $1,800 to $24,000, depending on the employer and treatment location. By comparing their claims against actual posted prices, employers can avoid egregious billing, spread pricing, and other payment schemes responsible for runaway costs. 

 We’ve seen how access to all health plan prices and claims data is needed to dramatically reduce healthcare costs. In 2014, Marilyn was hired to direct Montana’s insolvent State Health Plan, which covers approximately 30,000 state employees, retirees, and their families. An analysis of the plan’s medical claims data revealed Montana hospitals were charging up to six times the Medicare rate for services, with significant price variation between providers. 

To overcome this egregious and highly variable hospital pricing, the plan contracted with hospitals in the state to pay rates slightly more than twice Medicare rates. This move increased plan reserves from a projected deficit of $9 million to a surplus of $112 million in three years, saving $121 million without cost-shifting or decreasing benefit levels.

 Chris ran New Jersey’s 800,000 life public sector health plan and likewise identified wide price variation and discrepancies in the state’s claims data which has led to ongoing investigations into the practices of some of the state’s largest vendors. The state launched a payment integrity program in 2020 that provided enhanced oversight of hospital billing and carrier payment practices to safeguard the plan and protect taxpayer dollars, saving more than $150 million in its first 20 months. 

 Unfortunately, these transformative pillars haven’t become a reality for American healthcare consumers. A recent report finds that only 36% of American hospitals are fully complying with the price transparency rule, including posting all negotiated rates by health plan. A new JAMA study concludes even posted hospital prices are usually very different than the prices hospitals offer over the phone. 

A recent Health Affairs paper reveals most employer health claims don’t match the prices in the insurance price disclosure files. This inaccuracy in pricing data makes it impossible to reconcile claims, identify overbilling, or shop for higher-value care. The study’s authors note, “the intent of the regulations that govern the body of price transparency policies cannot be accomplished with the current level of inaccuracies in the files.” 

 In addition, major employers and unions nationwide, including  Kraft Heinz, Owens & Minor Inc., and Bricklayers and Sheet Metal Workers unions, have recently been forced to sue their own health insurance companies to access claims data for their own health plan. They’ve paid billions to their carriers over the years and have alleged substantial overpayments and spread pricing facilitated by the opaque status quo. 

Even though these three pillars need reinforcement, employers can still follow our lead and others like us who have stood firm on them to reduce health plan costs. They can draw on their claims data, actual prices from hospitals, and the prices negotiated by carriers on employers’ behalf to make smart purchasing decisions and demand accountability. For now, they need to fight for this information. But the more employers who do so, the stronger the three pillars will become and the easier it will be to finally reduce outrageous health plan costs. 

Marilyn Bartlett, CPA, CMA, CFM, CGMA, is the former administrator of the State of Montana Employee Health Plan. Christin Deacon is the former Director of Health Benefits Operations and Policy and Planning for New Jersey.

Dr. Susan Gilbertz has been appointed the new MSU-B College of Business Interim Dean, with the retirement of Ed Garding, who retired as Interim Dean for the College of Business in June 30. He was former First Interstate Bank President.

A search for a new College of Business Dean was announced in October.

Gilbertz grew up on a ranch south of Gillette, Wyoming and attended small rural schools. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Wyoming in Communication and Conflict Management. Later, from Texas A&M University, she earned the PhD in Geography.

Gilbertz served at Texas A&M University for 18 years as: instructor of communication, coordinator of advising for a department, international studies faculty exchange instructor (Italy, France, Indonesia, China, Germany, Oman), and co-investigator on nearly $1,000,000 of research grants involving environmental conflicts.

In 2003, she took the position of Director of Environmental Studies at Montana State University Billings. In her twenty years with MSUB she managed the EVST program, taught a variety of courses. Before taking the Associate Dean position with the COB, she served in faculty leadership roles.

Gilbertz’s primary research interests have focused on the sustainability of the communities of the Yellowstone, the Clark’s Fork, Madison, the Ruby, the Milk and the St. Mary’s Rivers of Montana. She has overseen over $500,000 in research projects for MSUB, and has nearly 50 publications.

Gilbertz was recently enlisted by the USGS to serve as the co-chair/US representative to the St. Mary’s/Milk River Socioeconomic Technical Working Group of the Joint International Commission that oversees water sharing between Canada and the US.

Gilbertz remains involved in the management of three ranching business entities in Wyoming and is the sole proprietor of a small social entrepreneurship enterprise in Billings. 

The search for a new College of Business Dean was announced earlier in October and a full position description may be found at

By Kim Jarrett, The Center Square

A proposed long-term care staffing rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would not improve care but would force nursing homes to close, 14 Republican governors said in a letter to CMS.

The rule changes would require long-term care facilities to conduct a facility assessment that includes a staffing plan within 60 days of the rule’s implementation. The second phase of the rule mandates a registered nurse must be onsite 24 hours a day.

The final element of the rule would require a registered nurse on site for 0.55 hours per resident day and nurses aides onsite for 2.45 hours per resident. It would be implemented three years after the final rule is published.

The governors, including Gov. Greg Gianforte, said the rule would lead to a crisis in the long-term care industry.

“America’s long-term care industry is facing a full-fledged workforce crisis, hitting lows not seen since 1994,” the governors said in the letter. “Between February 2020 and December 2022, facilities lost more than 200,000 workers, and industry observers view long-term care as among the hardest hit sectors in healthcare that has still not recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. Such challenges are especially acute in rural areas. Despite this, the CMS requirements would force over 80% of facilities nationwide to hire more staff at a time when workers, particularly RNs, have never been scarcer.”

The requirements could force nursing homes to close, they said.

The Iowa Health Care Association agrees. Twenty-seven nursing homes have closed in Iowa since 2022, according to the association, which represents 318 nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across the state.

“The CMS rule issued today to enforce the Administration’s proposed mandate will needlessly exacerbate the extraordinary health care workforce crisis, tear at the fabric of our rural communities, and threaten access to long-term care services for Iowans who depend on those services to meet their most basic human needs,” said IHCA president and CEO Brent Willett the day the rule was released. “Today’s rule, if allowed to stand, will result in further closures, introducing needless trauma into the lives of residents and preventing access to care for rural Iowans who deserve it.”

The letter is signed by the governors of Iowa, Nebraska, Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Wyoming.

By Evelyn Pyburn

A contingent of state legislators, Billings and other state leaders, in various capacities, will be making a trip to Rapid City, South Dakota to tour their detention facility, the Pennington County Jail, to find out how they operate and possibly learn new ideas about how to deal with some aspects of Yellowstone County’s crime issues.

The trip will serve a two-fold purpose, according to City Councilwoman Jennifer Owen.  Some of those going on the trip are members of the sub-committee appointed by the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) to explore all aspects of the county’s justice system, including the possible expansion of the jail, and others will be focused on how they deal with their pre-arraignment process and diversion program.

Owen is part of the CJCC subcommittee, as is County Commissioner Mark Morse and state legislator, Barry Usher, who will also be going on the tour. There will be others going on the trip from city and county leadership, as well as a number of state legislators.

 About the subcommittee, Owen explained, “We are looking at every possible thing we can do to make it [the justice system] work better.”  A separate “overarching” project is to build a temporary holding facility. With that in mind, there will be some investigation by the tour group into a pre-arraignment facility.

The City is pushing for the temporary holding facility, hoping to get a contract with Yellowstone County to operate it, and that it will be operational in a matter of months – at least by the end of 2024. The City has included a half million dollars in its budget to pursue the project, and anticipate that there may be a need to appropriate more funds. By law, only the County can operate a jail or prison, which is why the City will negotiate a two or three year contract with the County to operate a facility to hold misdemeanor cases immediately after being arrested for up to 72 hours as they wait to see a judge.

In having to deal with an over-crowded jail, a scenario that currently occurs regularly, is that a law officer will charge someone who, for example, is drunk and disorderly, only to have to leave them “on the streets,” since they don’t have a place to hold them. Invariably they will encounter that same person again later in the same night perpetrating another crime. “They can end up having multiple outstanding warrants and multiple crimes in one evening,” said Owen. It is instances such as this that a temporary holding facility is expected to curb.

The idea is to fund short- term, temporary structures that are flexible, which will allow officials to evaluate, over a two or three year period, the holding facility’s impact on crime and whether the facility impacts the jail – the Yellowstone County Detention Facility — population. The data collected will be beneficial in knowing what is needed in expanding the jail. According to Owen there are a number of vendors that offer a variety of units that can be rented.

County Commissioner Morse commented that where the information they gather will lead is uncertain. It will help in determining whether a temporary holding facility is possible and how it might fit in with other strategies, as well as helping to clarify uncertainties about adding onto the jail.  No matter what they do, a temporary holding facility would have to be located in proximity to the jail in order to access support services such as medical care, kitchen, laundry, administration, etc.

Among other options that the subcommittee is looking at is information brought by Justice of the Peace David Carter regarding a management program that will unify the courts and improve the ability of the courts to get data out of the system, which means, for example, a judge will know if a defendant before him has other outstanding warrants, etc.

County Attorney Scott Twito, who heads the CJCC, is also overseeing the sub-committee, which is meeting on a weekly basis, and is comprised of city and county officials, law enforcement, judges, and a legislator.