Politics and agriculture reporter Tom Lutey presents his five most memorable stories of 2019.

These are five articles, which I wrote in 2019:

• Brad Johnson, Republican chairman of the Montana Public Service Commission, loaned the credibility of his position to a letter secretly penned by coal lobbyists who were trying to influence federal energy policy.

The language appeared to originate from the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a coal lobbying group whose 31 members stand to benefit from federal support of uneconomical coal-fired power plants. One ACCCE member, BNSF, has a strong Montana presence.

• Montana health officials in October documented the state’s first death from vaping — a teenager — and earlier reported at least two cases of severe lung illness related to vaping. The state then imposed a ban on flavored vaping products.

It seemed like a good time to review how much money the vaping industry spent lobbying Montana lawmakers. Vaping money spent on lobbying Montana lawmakers and donating to campaigns from 2016 to 2019 amounted to as much as $554,131, government records show. And, lax enforcement of the state reporting rules for lobbyists means the amount could be off by as much as $50,000.

• When I interviewed Tiny Rondeau, she was about to become a mother to her fifth child. Her own mother had been missing for decades, one of many missing and murdered indigenous women in Montana. 

• In June, Puget Sound Energy and Talen Energy announced they would close Colstrip Power Plant Units 1 and 2 at the end of 2019. Many people had assumed the units would burn until the end of 2022, which was a no-later-than date owners of Colstrip Power Plant agreed to in 2016 to settle an air pollution lawsuit. The units will close early next month.

• To hear Elyssa Leininger tell it, by the time anyone realized her prized quarter horse, “Whistling Missile,” had been stolen, the animal’s moonlight trip to the Vegas Motel was already lighting up Facebook.

It was Sunday morning, and Leininger’s father, Dean, had gone outside to check on the animals and discovered his daughter’s horse missing. There was one set of boot tracks leading from King Avenue East into the family’s snow-covered South Billings pasture, and one set of horse tracks alongside the boots in a trail leading back to the street.

Locations