missoulian.com Tue. Mar. 8, 2011
That thing in the picture above is a piece of oil refinery machinery. It's one of two mega-loads that made their slow and sorry way over the continental Divide on a two-lane road this winter. That is, when they weren't stuck on one pullout or another waiting for the weather to clear.
Those loads were headed for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings, Montana, but Exxon Mobile is eager to follow their lead—part of the way. It plans to haul 207 such loads along scenic two-lane roads through Idaho and Montana on their way north to the oil sands atrocity—er, operations— in Alberta.
(See map at right–from a NYTimes article by Tom Zeller Jr., "Oil Sands Effort Turns on a Fight Over a Road," from Oct. 21, 2010.)
I really was planning to write about gardening today (this being a gardening blog and all). But during the local news section of this morning's NPR broadcast, I heard that several groups have sued to stop the mega loads. So once again I'm celebrating the little guys who won't let the big guys roll right over them. (One of the sites devoted to the cause is called “The Rural People of Route 12 Fighting Goliath.”) The post about carrots will just have to wait.
These groups are suing the state Department of Transportation, which approved the loads without requiring a full environmental impact statement (EIS). They're led by the Missoula County Commission, which voted unanimously to file the suit, in which it's joined by the National Wildlife Federation, the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club.
The megaload wagon wasn't one I jumped on immediately, though I wasn't excited about being a conduit for anything that would help the oil sands project, which looks like this:
But after hearing Rick Bass speak last Sunday, and after browsing through the book (The Heart of the Monster) he and David James Duncan wrote about the Alberta Oil Sands, I have decided that this is a serious assault on the land.
Today's is at least the second lawsuit the transportation of these behemoths has generated.
Early in March an environmental group called Idaho Rivers United filed suit against the U.S. Forest Service because the Service did not stop the state from allowing the loads to move along federally protected river corridors.
I have driven Route 12 from Lewiston, Idaho to Missoula, Montana. For several hours the road parallels the Lochsa and Clearwater rivers, running at most a quarter mile from the tumbling water, and often much closer. Both are designated Wild and Scenic Rivers, and in fact were amongst the first so designated when Congress approved the Act in 1968. It's almost impossible to imagine something as big as these loads on that road, and terrible to contemplate what it would mean if there were an accident.
This is going to be a good one to watch.