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Welcome to Western Wire’s year-end roundup of 2017’s top stories as chosen by our readers and our editors.

First, a thank you to all our readers this year for your likes/shares/retweets that sent our stories far and wide on social media to the halls of Congress, state legislatures, state and federal agencies, and most importantly, to the residents of the states in the West we cover on a day-to-day basis. Feedback from constituents, from key stakeholders, from tipsters has all helped to make Western Wire the new go-to source for breaking and investigative news, analysis, and commentary that broke the online news mold and changed the way regional, policy-oriented coverage could be delivered.

Our Readers’ Choice ranked list of top stories from 2017 comprises six diverse stories covering a wide range of topics that Western Wire’s readers pushed into the “viral” category, sharing content across the country. The top six stories offer a glimpse of the type of narrative-shifting, behind-the-curtains coverage that has become a Western Wire staple in its first year. Questions other media outlets didn’t ask, but should have: What was left behind by the #NoDAPL protesters in North Dakota? How did the Utahns who lived by the Bears Ears Monument really feel about the rollback? What is California billionaire Tom Steyer up to in the West?

After that, we follow up with our Editors’ Picks for 2017. While some of these stories fall into the in-case-you-missed-it category, your editors saw these story standouts as examples of the extensive range of coverage that included in-depth investigative work or provided greater context for stories covered elsewhere. It also showcases Western Wire exclusives that drove earned media and exposed politicians with ethical concerns and demonstrated the extreme nature of many anti-fossil fuel activists.

Thank you again for sticking with us in 2017—next year is already shaping up to be chock-full with storylines affecting the West, so stay tuned!

Readers’ Choice Top 5 + Bonus!

Bureau of Indian Affairs

  1. Abandoned Vehicles Pose New Pollution Threat At DAPL Protest Site

“Officials in North Dakota are racing against time to move hundreds of cars and trucks from the site of an anti-pipeline protest before seasonal flooding sweeps the vehicles into the Missouri River.”

  1. Utahns, Tribal Members, Western Leaders Applaud Bears Ears Monument Rollback

“Local voices and tribal members were effusive in their praise for twin proclamations from President Donald Trump ordering the reduction of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments on Monday. They described the announcement as a locals-driven decision-making process that culminated in the monument revisions.”

  1. California Billionaire Tom Steyer Makes Another Big Move In The West, This Time In New Mexico

“California billionaire and environmental activist Tom Steyer made a serious move into New Mexico politics last year. Using the same tactics he developed for Nevada, Steyer helped Democrats win control of the state legislature. And just like Nevada, his spending and its impact on state politics have gone mostly unnoticed so far.”

  1. Polis Backs Oil And Gas In Surprise Comments At Industry Lunch

“A longtime critic of the oil and gas industry had some surprising comments for Colorado’s business community at a luncheon last week.

Colorado is “in a great place as a state” when it comes to the energy sector, according to Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), who offered his outlook on the state’s energy market and competitiveness at a recent event sponsored by the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (CACI).”

  1. Colorado Newspaper Publishes Letter Calling For Activists To ‘Blow Up’ Oil & Gas Wells And ‘Eliminate’ Workers

“A newspaper in Boulder, Colo. published a letter to the editor this week calling for violent attacks on oil and natural gas workers and facilities. But instead of retracting the letter and issuing an apology, as other publications have done in similar cases, the newspaper let it stand with some minor edits.”

BONUS: New Comments Raise Questions Over Lachelt’s Dual Role

“La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt continues to draw fresh ethics concerns around her efforts to lobby against changing the Bureau of Land Management’s methane rule in May.”


Editors’ Picks


Top Colorado Democrats Welcome Proposal To Move BLM Headquarters West

Western Wire’s extensive coverage of a possible relocation of Bureau of Land Management headquarters to the West began in January, but was kicked up a notch when top Democrats in the state signed on to what eventually became a pair of bills introduced in May. Since then, Western Wire has led statewide and regional coverage, culminating in a pair of house editorials from The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel and The Denver Post, both possible locations for the proposed BLM offices.

Western Leaders Join House Letter To Justice Department On Activist Threats To Pipeline Infrastructure

Western Wire was first to report (see #5 in our Readers’ Choice) on the story, which was subsequently covered extensively and resulting local and national earned media. The story captured the attention of more than 80 U.S. House lawmakers who recently asked U.S. Attorney Jeff Sessions and the Department of Justice about protests and prosecutorial action, including attacks on the country’s pipeline infrastructure.

NOAA’s Climate.Gov Says Natural Wetlands, Tropical Agriculture Responsible For Methane Increases, Not Oil And Gas

Covering the BLM venting and flaring rule has been a Western Wire staple since it began. From examining the movement to repeal the Obama-era venting and flaring rule in Congress, the efforts by the rule’s proponents to keep the regulation in place, to industry court cases and the Trump Administration’s effort to re-write the rule, a significant question remained. It turns out methane from oil and gas operations is minuscule compared to natural sources—a far cry from what anti-fossil fuel activists claimed.

‘100% Renewable’ Researcher Lawyers Up In ‘Unprecedented’ Move

With campaigns for governor and other statewide offices like attorney general ramping up heading into 2018, more attention will be paid to campaign promises from candidates pushing for 100 percent renewables by 2040 or 2050. The research underpinning those “roadmaps,” exposed in this post, is leaving other scientists scratching their heads—and their critique of Stanford University professor Mark Jacobson’s work has led him to “lawyer up.”

AG Hector Balderas’ Ties To ‘Green 20’ Raises Concerns In New Mexico

One of the attorney generals garnering attention in 2018 is New Mexico’s Hector Balderas, whose eagerness to join the “Green 20” attorneys general in repeatedly filing lawsuits to halt administrative reviews and reforms often leaves him as the only AG from a Western state arguing for more regulation.

Ethics Questions Continue To Swirl Around La Plata County Commissioner

La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt’s decision to don a variety of hats—local elected official one moment, paid environmental activist the next—drew considerable attention this year as a result of Western Wire’s in-depth investigative work. Our Readers’ Choice Bonus story featured a follow up to this original piece, as local residents became more aware of the eyebrow-raising ethics of their county commissioner. Ultimately, this coverage led to a house editorial by The Durango Herald in November in Lachelt’s back yard, calling for her to focus on her responsibilities as an elected official, and put off her role as Executive Director of the Western Leaders Network until her term ends.

Have a safe and Happy New Year!

–Your Western Wire Editors