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A new analysis of train safety and recent accidents involving spilled crude oil has caught the attention of many Montanans, especially as more trains carrying oil are moving through the state.

That’s because a lot crude moves on our rail lines.

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At least one environmental organization is calling for an immediate moratorium on crude oil shipments by rail.

That's following a recent analysis that says oil trains could potentially crash almost once a month nationwide.

MTPR's Edward O'Brien reports the group believes the risk to both human life and the environment is too great.

Montana's U.S. senators are getting behind a new bill they say will help Montana's most rural counties round-out their budgets.

Mineral County Commissioner Duane Simons says communities like his are reeling after Congress failed to renew the Secure Rural Schools Act last fall.

Democratic Senator Jon Tester has signed-on to a new bill that he says would bring badly-needed financial security to Montana's most rural and timber-dependent counties.

Senator Tester says the "Secure Rural Schools and Payment in Lieu of Taxes Repair Act" would annually reauthorize Montana's SRS payments for three years at $23 million, the level provided in 2011.

Ronan businessman Robert Bell is proud of his compost. Bell says he can now offer his customers an even better product, thanks to a state grant program to assist Native American entrepreneurs.

The state commerce department has awarded nine Native American small business owners a total of $84,000.

Bell, a Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribal member, will use his $14,000 cut to buy a dirt screener.

ACLU

A new report says too many of Montana's county jails are unsafe for inmates.

The president of the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association says it makes some valid points and adds there’s a reason for those conditions.

Chris Hoffman is also sheriff of Ravalli County and says operating jails isn’t easy.

"It is difficult work. Our mandate is to keep those facilities clean and safe for both the inmates and detention officers. It's a challenge every day."

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The acting director of veterans health care in Montana is on the defensive after Senator Jon Tester said the VA health center in Helena is temporarily closing its inpatient mental health unit.

In a letter to VA Secretary Robert McDonald in Washington, Tester said, “staffing levels at the VA in Montana are at the point where it can no longer safely staff the eight bed acute inpatient section of the mental health facility at Ft. Harrison” in Helena.

Johnny Ginnity, acting director at Ft. Harrison says, that doesn’t mean the mental health ward is being closed.

Relatively mild winter weather is bringing out the bears in Yellowstone National Park.

Park spokesman Al Nash says the first report of grizzly bear activity was confirmed late Monday afternoon.

The bears usually emerge from hibernation in early March.

They're hungry when leaving their dens and looking for an easy meal; namely, the carcasses of winter-killed animals.

ACLU

The American Civil Liberties Union of Montana says the state's county jail system is unsafe and badly in need of reform.

The organization issued a report today detailing an overview of what it says are the poor conditions of Montana's local jails.

ACLU Executive Director, Scott Crichton, says too many of Montana's detention centers are old and physically deteriorating.

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Montana's timber counties recently lost lots of federal revenue. Local officials say public services are going to suffer as a result.

"It's very scary. We're pretty bare bones out here the way it is," said Mineral County Commissioner Duane Simons.

"What do we do? We've got a four-man road crew. Do you lay four guys off? Do you lay three guys off? We've got some real difficult choices ahead of us here."

He's talking about the loss of federal "Secure Rural Schools" funds. The program expired this fall and wasn't reauthorized by Congress.

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