Making Billings Better From the Ground Up | By Kris Glenn

Billings Gazette File Photo – Downtown Billings in November 1984

Billings Gazette File Photo – Downtown Billings in November 1984

Nobody signs up voluntarily to go to more meetings, right? Except that’s exactly what I did.

In January of 2018, I joined the Northern Plains Resource Council. I’d never heard of them, but wanted to attend a Public Speaking Workshop they were holding. The class was cheaper if I was a member and they seemed like a reasonable group, so I joined up. Good to save a buck, right?

Soon afterwards, I got an invitation to meet one of their staff for coffee and suddenly found myself as a member of the Community Food Campaign. I’m big on local food and they talked about food…they were working to create a food hub for Yellowstone County. I loved that. But I didn’t know much about anything else.

I’m big on environmental sustainability as well, so I also signed myself up for their ‘Better Billings Sustainability Committee.’  I only made it to one of those committee meetings. They were deep in the bowels of convincing Billings City Council to recreate an Energy and Conservation Commission. I had no idea what that meant and no real input, so mostly watched from the sidelines. (They got it done, BTW.)

Fast forward to April of 2019. Kari Boiter from the Yellowstone Valley Citizen’s Council (YVCC) asked me to join a new group called the Member Engagement Team. Only 15% of YVCC’s members were actively participating in the council’s work, so they were putting together a team to focus specifically on member engagement.

This was intriguing to me. I’ve always been very interested in finding ways to connect people with the things they are passionate about. I had no real idea what YVCC was and no idea what they did, but I was interested in the engagement challenge.  I said yes. I’m so glad I did.

YVCC is an incredible organization made up of ordinary citizens that have done amazing things for our town. It was started in 1979 by Billings residents, Eileen Morris and Nettie Lees.  As an Avon lady, Nettie noticed how many kids were home with respiratory problems at the same time she and Eileen were having asthma problems. They started asking questions and discovered Billings had a real problem with air pollution. Sulphur dioxide (SO2) in particular was a problem, with inversions trapping the invisible, odorless gas in the valley. SO2 causes respiratory problems and aggravates asthma.

They helped create the Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council to lobby for air quality monitoring and enforceable air quality standards. It was a long battle. Yellowstone County wasn’t declared compliant with EPA’s air quality standards until 2016. And Nettie wasn’t there to see it. She died at age 53 from an asthma attack. She and Eileen were on their way home from a YVCC meeting in 1985 when they drove through ground-level pollution in 1985. It triggered an asthma attack and Nettie died 24 hours later. But YVCC kept up the fight – and no doubt intensified it.

YVCC continues to work hard to make Billings a ‘healthy, inviting and sustainable community.’  They created the brand new Yellowstone Valley Food Hub and are launching a new ‘Harvest of the Month’ initiative for Billings elementary schools. They’re working to reduce the amount of arsenic that the Laurel refinery is discharging into the Yellowstone at levels eight times higher than what’s considered safe by EPA. (I didn’t know that – did you?)  They’re also working with Billings Public Works to find the safest way to clean up the coal ash ponds from the shuttered Corette Plant coal, without sticking our community with the bill.  

These are just a few of the activities YVCC is involved in. But the most important part to me is that YVCC is made up of ordinary people just like you and me who decided they wanted to make a difference in their community. I love that and I’m all in.

If you want to learn more about YVCC and how you can be involved, check out the YVCC Summer Celebration potluck on July 21st. It’s at Montana Audubon from 4-6 pm.  Or just ask me. You can reach me at