China, US seek ‘clean coal’ agreement as industry struggles
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — U.S. and Chinese officials are working on an agreement to advance “clean coal” technologies that purport to reduce the fuel’s contribution to climate change — and offer a potential lifeline for an industry that’s seen its fortunes fade.
U.S. Department of Energy Assistant Secretary Christopher Smith said Tuesday the agreement emphasizes collaboration on technologies to capture greenhouse gases produced from burning coal.
Smith and other Obama administration officials met with representatives of China’s National Energy Administration at an industry forum in Billings. China leads the world in coal consumption.
The discussions took place near one of the largest coal reserves in the world — the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.
Clean-coal technologies are expensive, and efforts to develop them for commercial use have struggled to gain traction in the U.S.
Inversion holds smoke over wildfires, slows activity
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — An inversion holding heavy smoke over western Montana is robbing wildfires of oxygen and preventing the sun from heating up ground fuels, helping firefighters make progress on fire lines.
Fire information officer Bob MacGregor says the days of lesser activity also get them closer to anticipated fire season-ending weather.
Residents near Essex remain under an evacuation advisory as a fire that has burned nearly 1 square mile remains about a mile away from the town on the southern edge of Glacier National Park.
Crews planned to do burnout work Tuesday on fires in northwestern Montana and northern Idaho. MacGregor says firefighters won’t have to worry as much about the fires taking off because of the smoke.
However, the smoke has led to very unhealthy air quality in St. Mary and the Flathead Valley along with Frenchtown, Missoula and Hamilton. The air quality in Libby is hazardous.
Montana refuses to pay until testing company returns results
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana is withholding payments from a company that botched three states’ student assessments until overdue results are released.
Office of Public Instruction spokeswoman Emilie Ritter Saunders said Tuesday that state education officials expect Measured Progress to provide students’ test results in the next two weeks.
Saunders says the office will catch up on at least $118,000 in payments once it receives preliminary data.
Measured Progress missed a July 15 deadline in part because additional programming is required to move the data.
The company is being held responsible by Montana, Nevada and North Dakota for widespread technical glitches during testing this spring.
Nevada recently reached a $1.2 million settlement with the company after that state claimed Measured Progress was in breach of contract.
Montana officials have not taken any legal action.
Prosecutors may seek death penalty in roadside shooting
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Federal prosecutors may seek the death penalty for an 18-year-old man charged in the deaths of a husband and wife who authorities say stopped to offer him help on the side of the road on Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation.
A new grand jury indictment filed Friday includes death as a possible punishment if Jesus Deniz Mendoza of Worland, Wyoming, is convicted of two counts of first-degree murder and carjacking that resulted in death.
The original indictment filed Aug. 6 sought life in prison for the shooting deaths of 51-year-old Jason Shane 47-year-old Tana Shane in the town of Pryor. Their daughter, Jorah Shane, was wounded in the July 26 shooting.
Investigators say the family stopped to help a man who claimed to be having car trouble. They say Deniz demanded money and opened fire after they said they had none.
Former tribal lending executives charged with embezzlement
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Two former executives of a Chippewa Cree Tribe online lending company have been charged with embezzlement and conspiracy.
Neal Rosette and Billi Anne Morsette pleaded not guilty Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Great Falls.
Rosette and Morsette were executives for First American Capital Resources, the tribe’s first attempt at providing short-term loans at high interest rates. The tribe later started another company called Plain Green that had financial and technical backing from the Texas-based Think Finance Inc., and First American faded away.
Federal prosecutors accuse Rosette and Morsette of withdrawing money from a tribal account by writing checks to the First American bank account. They then wrote checks from the First American account to themselves and to an account controlled by a former tribal councilman.
Prosecutors say they embezzled more than $55,000.
Body of missing man found in Gallatin County
BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Gallatin County authorities have found the body of a 51-year-old Australian man who had been reported missing.
County officials said in a statement that Jordi Duffy’s body was found Tuesday morning near a roadway in Hyalite Canyon south of Bozeman.
The statement says Duffy appears to have died of natural causes but the sheriff’s office, coroner’s office and Bozeman police are still investigating. An autopsy will be performed at the Montana State Crime Lab in Missoula.
Sheriff Brian Gootkin tells KWYB-TV a helicopter spotted the body.
Duffy is from Parap, Australia. The sheriff’s office says he was last seen on Thursday.
Fairview man charged in death of missing Kalispell woman
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — An eastern Montana man is charged with killing his girlfriend in February 2013 and hiding her body.
KCFW-TV first reported that Cody Johnston of Fairview was charged Tuesday with deliberate homicide and tampering with evidence in the suspected death of 31-year-old Nicole Waller of Kalispell.
Charging documents say investigators learned Johnston and Waller had argued, he lied about his whereabouts on the morning Waller went missing, that an acquaintance helped him move her vehicle to Poplar and that he asked several people to put a post on her Facebook page indicating she was fine, but was not coming home.
Waller’s body has not been found.
The attorney general’s office says Johnston was arrested Monday in Sidney on a warrant setting his bail at $250,000. Justice of the Peace Greg Mohr set Johnson’s District Court arraignment for Sept. 9.
Montana settles with CenturyLink on maintenance, broadband
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Montana has reached a settlement with CenturyLink requiring the telecommunications company to improve maintenance response times and accept a federal grant to expand broadband in the state.
The Public Service Commission voted 4-0 Tuesday to approve the agreement. It includes a plan for reforming some maintenance practices and demands CenturyLink take the six-year, $90 million grant from the Connect America Fund.
The grant comes with tight deadlines and strict geographic requirements for making phone and Internet services more accessible to rural Montanans.
The utilities regulator threatened to sue CenturyLink last month for failing to promptly restore out-of-service landlines.
A group of residential customers argued that long periods without service undermined public safety by cutting off contact with emergency responders.
Commission spokesman Eric Sell says CenturyLink and the residents have also signed on to the agreement.
Missoula windstorm generates 16,000 cubic yards of debris
(Information in the following story is from: Missoulian, http://www.missoulian.com)
MISSOULA, Mont. (AP) — Missoula officials are disposing of 16,000 cubic yards of mostly tree limbs that were felled by a wind storm.
The Missoulian reports hurricane-force winds peaked at 74 miles per hour during the Aug. 10 storm, prompting the city set up three debris collection sites for residents.
The sites are now closed and the city was left with enough storm-related waste to fill five Olympic-sized swimming pools.
City urban forester Chris Boza says crews starting chipping through the debris Monday. He said the cost of the disposal will likely be determined this week.
1 dies in collision between motorcycle, truck in west Helena
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana Highway Patrol is investigating a fiery collision between a motorcycle and pickup truck that killed the driver of the motorcycle.
Sgt. Jay Nelson says the pickup had stopped at a red light on the western edge of Helena at about 8:30 p.m. Monday and was signaling a left turn. When the light turned green, the pickup made the turn and the motorcycle ran into the passenger side of the pickup. Both vehicles caught fire.
The 16-year-old boy driving the truck declined medical attention.
Lewis and Clark County Coroner Mickey Nelson on Tuesday identified the victim as 32-year-old Jesse Lane Rider of Helena.
A highway patrol trooper had been preparing to pull over the pickup truck for a minor traffic violation when the crash occurred.