Mountain Town News: Carbon taxes fuel debate over gas prices

Allen Best
Mountain Town News

How Jackson Hole and a town in Mexico are tied at the hip

JACKSON, Wyo.– Jackson has at least a couple of formal sister cities, one in Austria and the other in China. It also has an informal sister city in Mexico, a place called San Simeon.

Many of the housekeepers and others in Jackson Hole come from this small town of about 3,000 people located east of Mexico City. At one time the road between Mexico City and Veracruz ran through the town. Now, the highway bypasses it, and most storefronts sit vacant.

Residents can stay in their small state of Tlaxcala and work long hours, move to Mexico City and make a bit more, or immigrate to the United States and make enough to live a more financially stable life with the possibility of returning home one day, reports Brennan Hussey in the Jackson Hole News&Guide. She visited San Simeon last fall while on a vacation to Mexico City.

“The connection between Jackson and San Simeon is so tight that residents in the Mexican community affectionately call Jackson ‘Jack-Simeon,’” she says.

Teton County immigration attorney Elisabeth Trefonas said 9 times out of 10, when a Spanish-speaking client walks into her office, it’s somebody from Tlaxcala.

“There’s a rough estimate that about 30 percent of our community is Spanish-speaking,” she said. She guesses 75 or 80 percent, maybe more, come from Tlaxcala.

This wave of immigration to Jackson began in the mid-1990s, a little later than Aspen and Vail, but has slowed since 2007, as worker visits have been harder to come by. Then, she said, Jackson started to rely more heavily on students from Eastern Europe with worker visas.

The residents of San Simeon have changed Jackson, but Jackson has also changed Sam Simeon. There’s a Teton Tavern in the Mexican town, for example. At least one of the houses in San Simeon also has granite countertops.

That house belongs to German Marquina Sanchez. In Jackson Hole, he had first worked at the Dairy Queen, then a motel, then the very-upscale Four Seasons hotel before forming his own cleaning business. He met his wife, who was also from the same Mexican state, in Wyoming. Their two daughters attended public schools in Jackson.

But he chose to return to Mexico. He was working all the time, spending little time with his family. “I don’t want to be a rich person,” he said. “I just want to have enough for whatever I need.”

How Working Joes get the lesser deal in immigration

CRESTED BUTTE, Colo. – Recently the editor of the Crested Butte News walked around several construction sites at the invitation of a local contractor. Mark Reaman, the editor, said they talked about building contractors who hired immigrants who are in the United States without legal documentation.

“I couldn’t tell who was ‘legal’ and who wasn’t, if anyone was, at the places I visited,” Reaman wrote. “None of the guys I talked to said there was a tidal wave of undocumented workers in the valley. But all said the influx of such workers was a factor and becoming more of an issue as the construction boom continued.”

The demand for labor is such in Crested Butte that some people commute from the San Luis Valley, two hours distant. The wage differential between the two places, one of Colorado’s wealthiest and one of the state’s poorest, is $25/hour vs. $12/hour.

“My ‘host’ said everyone in the local trades knew who in the valley used undocumented workers and who didn’t. Those who did could undercut legit bids and pocket more profit at the expense of employees.”

The undocumented workers from Mexico work for lesser wages and live in cramped quarters, sending their money home.

The bottom line: use of undocumented labor undercuts those who are operating legally and also reduces the income and quality of life of those playing by the rules.

“I appreciate the idea of these guys reminding us all that if we have compassion for those fleeing a horrible life and trying to tap into what to them is a great pay, we should have compassion for the average blue-collar Working Joe trying to make it on the up-and-up in a valley where it is expensive to have a house and family,” Reaman wrote.

“Why should the rich people building a second home save money while the working stiffs pay the price of that savings through a lower paycheck? I understood that as I listened last week.”

Crusaders logo questioned at high school near Banff

CANMORE, Alberta – The principal of Canmore Collegiate High School has started a community conversation about whether to change the school logo, a shield such as used by the crusaders in the Middle Ages. Teams from the school are known as the Crusaders.

Chris Rogers, the principal, told the Rocky Mountain Outlook, that he was provoked most strongly to begin the conversation by the apologies to the indigenous peoples, who in Canada are called First Nations. Many were forced to attend schools designed to cut them off from their languages, traditions, and culture.

The first apology was made in 2008 by Stephen Harper, then the prime minister. In 2017, Prime Minister Justine Trudeau issued another apology, this time to those in Newfoundland and Labrador who were forced to attend the so-called “residential” schools as recently as 1980. He called it a “shameful part of Canada’s history, a legacy of colonialism.”

“It was wrongly believed indigenous languages, spiritual beliefs and ways of life were inferior and irrelevant,” he said.

Carole Picard, a trustee of the school board, told the Outlook that she understood the link that bothered the school principal. Crusaders of the Middle Ages were known primarily as military expeditions sponsored by the Catholic Church in an attempt to retake lands in the Middle East then controlled by Muslims. The Catholic Church was also the primary operator of Canadian residentials schools. “So offense could be taken,” she said.

Carbon taxes on stage as prices at gas pumps rise

WHISTLER, B.C. – Gasoline prices have been rising in recent months across most of North America, including for those driving from Vancouver to Whistler, a trip of about two hours.

In Vancouver, fuel prices have gone up 12 cents per litre. That’s equivalent to 33 cents a gallon in the United States. AAA reports U.S. gas prices in the last month have gone up 28 cents.

There’s no single reason, but in British Columbia the carbon tax is part of the discussion. The province implemented North America’s first broad-based carbon tax, $10 a ton of emissions. The tax was elevated to $30 (Cdn) in 2012.

This month it was elevated again, to $40 (about $30 US), adding 1.1 cents per litre to the price. Altogether, it’s about 7.78 cents, or a nickel in U.S. money.

Perhaps mindful of the yellow-shirt protests in France this winter, British Columbia Premier John Horgan has been talking about reducing the taxes.

But the carbon tax has been in the news for other reasons. On April 1, the Canadian government instituted a lesser carbon tax in the four of the 10 provinces that had not adopted such a tax. The New York Times last week described Canada as having one of the most ambitious carbon-pricing programs in the world. The emissions covered by the tax range from 47 percent to 90 percent, depending upon the province.

What difference does a carbon tax make in reducing atmospheric pollution? British Columbia may offer the best laboratory results. Nic Rivers, Canada Research Chair in Climate and Energy Policy at the University of Ottawa, tells the Canadian Press that the tax reduced emissions by between 5 and 15 percent when the price hit $30 a ton.

Similar to the proposal promoted by a group called Citizens Climate Lobby, the revenues are returned to taxpayers. The intent is not to fatten the government treasuries. Rather, it’s a way to steer choices to ways that don’t pollute the atmosphere.

Rivers told the Canadian Press that one study found that people in the province were buying more fuel- efficient cars because of the tax. But at what price point the tax becomes persuasive in causing people to take buses or ride bikes instead of driving cars varies from individual to individual.

Testimony on behalf of BC’s carbon tax also was found in the Toronto Globe & Mail, where Jill Tipping and Maximilian Kniewasser pointed to BC’s robust economy during the decade it has had a carb tax.

“Of course, we can’t confuse correlation and causation,” they added. “But B.C.’s recent history and forecast of strong economic performance suggests that pricing pollution is more likely to help, not hinder, growth – especially as the world increasingly transitions to a cleaner economy.”

In the United States, California most famously has cracked the whip on carbon. It has a cap-and-trade system. But the New York Times says most of California’s emissions cuts to date are a result not of carbon pricing but rather mandates, including efficiency standards for buildings and aggressive renewable power targets.

California’s cap-and-trade program has had ramifications outside its own borders, though. In Colorado, methane from an abandoned coal mine is captured and burned to produce electricity, that electricity helping power the ski lifts at Aspen and Snowmass. Part of what financed the project was California cap-and-trade money. However, California now wants to more tightly restrict beneficiary projects to those within its own borders.

Real estate sales moving handily at Base Village

SNOWMASS VILLAGE, Colo. – It took an awfully long time, decades in fact, but new real estate in the Base Village project at Snowmass Village has been selling well.

The Aspen Daily News reports that 63 of the 65 residences produced in the partnership of the East West Partners, KSL Capital, and the Aspen Skiing Co. have been sold. “All residences, except for the penthouse and a residence that is used as an office, are either sold or under contract,” John Calhoun, director of sale and marketing for East West, said.

The units are part of the Base Village that Aspen Skiing Co., then working with Intrawest, pushed ahead after getting approval from town voters in 2004. Then, in 2009, construction came to a halt, the development company that had purchased their rights eventually going bankruptcy. It took years to pick up the pieces, this time with the new development partnership. The essential components of Base Village were finally completed in 2018.

The Daily News reports that the development partners are mulling whether it’s time for the second phase of the Viceroy. The hotel debuted in 2009 as part of the original Base Village project. Another 49 units can be built. Also possible: 10 single-family homes ranging in size between 2,900 and 3,600 square feet.

As deep snows melt, will they fill the reservoirs of the West?

GUNNISON, Colo. – It’s been a splendid year for snowfall from Colorado to California. Now it’s time for the reservoirs to fill.

At Blue Mesa Reservoir, Colorado’s largest reservoir, the shoreline in January reached its lowest level since 1977, a remarkable drought year. This year, with the snowpack at 150 percent of the 30-year average for early April, Blue Mesa is expected to fill.

In the Tahoe area, a snow survey site called Phillips Station was barren four years ago amid California’s horrendous drought. On the same date this year, the field had enough snow that, had it melted instantaneously, there would have been 51 inches of water.

“With full reservoirs and a dense snowpack, this year is practically a California water supply dream,” said Karla Nemeth, director of the California Division of Water Resources, in a press release.

In Colorado, if current trends continue, 2019 will be only the fifth year since 2000 that the state’s water-storage has been at or above average.

“It is hard to tell if we are out of the long-term drought or still in the new normal,” said Jim Pokrandt, community affairs director for the Colorado River Water Conservation District, which looks after water matters for much of Colorado’s Western Slope.

Along the Elk River near Steamboat Springs, the evidence suggests a new normal. There, John Fetcher began tracking when the snow had left the hay meadows of his ranch in 1949, later co-founding the Steamboat ski area. He died in 2009, but the task of the daily log has been carried on by his son, Jay Fetcher.

What the weather logs suggest now is a future of increased variation as compared to those of the 20th century. It used to be that grass wasn’t available from Nov. 20 to May 20. That seems to be shifting.

Howling wolves and cats prowling in the alley, too

JASPER, Alberta – From Vail to Jasper, cougar sightings have been common this winter along the crest of the Rocky Mountains.

In Jasper, Steve Young, spokesman for Parks Canada, told the Jasper Fitzhugh that the town lies within a travel corridor for the animals, so sightings are not at all unusual.

Same goes for Banff and wolves. There, a resident was awakened recently in the dark of night by a pack of wolves howling in the alley behind his home. This a half-block off the town’s main thoroughfare.

The word from Parks Canada in Banff was don’t let the wolves get used to human food. If so, they’ll stick around, to no good results. In 2016, two female wolves were killed after hanging around and making people uncomfortable as they bicycled, walked dogs, and so forth.


Heber City Council clashes with mayor

Speaking with The Park Record, several council members expressed a desire for better lines of communication with the mayor’s office. The mayor provided a statement saying she believes councilor Rachel Kahler wants to control her office.

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