Now that China's decided to build one coal-fired power plant every week, corporations like Goldman Sachs have become highly interested in helping the country find black rocks to burn. The Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana produces what seems an inexhaustible amount, but there's a hitch (isn't there always?): The coal would have to travel hundreds of miles on trains more than 100-railcars long across wide-open Western landscapes and through congested towns. A handful of towns on the Pacific Coast are being considered for the construction of a new port, and that's created another hitch: If prime candidate Bellingham, Wash., north of Seattle, is chosen, Seattle will be very unhappy. The coal trains would almost certainly lumber through the city before going up the coast, creating additional traffic jams for commuters. A headline from The Stranger sums it up: "Coal trains could delay downtown, SoDo traffic by one to three hours daily." At a press conference, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn said the coal trains would "create a wall along our waterfront" leading to "more frustration, more bikers, drivers and pedestrians 'shooting the gap' to get across, which means the potential for more accidents." The consulting firm Parametrix predicted that 10-18 coal trains each day would move through Seattle, with each train delaying traffic by roughly five minutes, and delays occurring at unpredictable times 24 hours a day. Seattle City Councilmember Mike O'Brien summed up the impacts of a major new port and increased rail traffic as "all negative" for the city. "If a project like this goes forward," he added, "our progress (to become carbon neutral by 2050) goes down the drain." Port developers have said that the project's impacts, including coal dust pollution and derailments, will be fully reviewed in order to meet high environmental standards, reports Businessweek.
There's a "quiet crisis" in Colorado, and it's all the fault of people driving energy-efficient cars, reports the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel. "We are at a pretty dramatic tipping point," said Randy Harrison of MOVE Colorado, a group seeking solutions to the problem of underfunded road construction and maintenance. Harrison told a Club 20 meeting of western Colorado counties that electric-car drivers - who don't have to pay a gas tax - still need to do their fair share, and he suggested putting transponders on those vehicles so their mileage could be checked and bills automatically sent. "A shipment of all-electric Nissan Leaf vehicles is expected soon in the Republic of Boulder," he warned, and "the rest of us who still drive our Ford 350s" shouldn't have to carry them, the slackers.
Coyotes roam freely throughout New Mexico, but finding a family of five hanging out in an Albuquerque churchyard surprised Ruth Wilson, who lives across the street and enjoys watching them. The church is in a busy part of town and so whenever police or ambulance sirens sound off - which they do several times a week - the coyotes howl along, much to the delight of Wilson's two young children. The coyotes seem quite at home near the church, and some Sundays they even harmonize with the choir. "They sing together, play together, and - in their own way - pray together."
Do chickens need chandeliers and a library? Neiman Marcus thinks so, or maybe the store just wanted to bulk up its Versailles-inspired Beau Coop Heritage Hen Mini Farm - a bargain for up to 10 birds at $100,000.
A "mean, grumpy, upset, excited" bull that didn't want to be put on the auction block escaped from a livestock sale in Worland, Wyo. Unfortunately, its race to freedom ended after a two-mile run, when the bull walked through the open door of a home and downstairs into the basement, reports The Associated Press. "Police and auction workers were on his tail but couldn't get him out," adds the Northern Wyoming Daily News. It took a tranquilizer dart to calm the 1,400-pound animal, which "left behind quite a bit of damage," meaning it probably wasn't the only "mean, grumpy, upset, excited" mammal on the premises.
The moral of this story is: Don't take a nap in a cornfield. A man did so recently in Billings, Mont., and got run over by a combine, which "sucked him into the cutter," reports the Billings Gazette. Amazingly, the 57-year-old, who was just passing through town, survived after the farmer disconnected the auger and manually turned the blades away from the man, who suffered deep lacerations. "For this situation, the man is incredibly lucky to be alive," said Yellowstone County Sheriff Lt. Kent O'Donnell. "And that's about all you can say about that."
Betsy Marston is the editor of Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (hcn.org). Tips and photos of Western oddities are always appreciated at email@example.com.