Environmental Politics, Think
Environews: February 2013
DEQ reports on Utah environment; Protesters decry dirty energy, dirty air; Colorado River vs. climate change; Lawsuit challenges bad BLM plans; Mayor Becker calls for Wasatch protection; Another reason to walk in the woods.
by Amy Brunvand
DEQ Reports on Utah environment
The Utah Division of Environmental Quality has released its annual report. Among interesting items:
• Utah urban areas are still unable to meet federal air quality standards;
• The Deseret Chemical Depot in Tooele County finished its mission to destroy 42% of the nation’s chemical weapons stockpile and is expected to close by 2015;
• A low-level radioactive waste facility has opened in Texas which may take some of the pressure off of Utah to accept “hotter” waste;
• Mercury contamination in Utah fish is still a big problem.
Protesters decry dirty energy, dirty air
At the 2013 Governor’s Energy Development Summit, Representatives Rob Bishop and Chris Stewart and Senator Mike Lee slammed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), essentially because it stops energy developers from being able to do whatever they like on public lands (never mind environmental or public health consequences).
Without those pesky regulations, Bishop said, Utah could be just like North Dakota (though I wonder how many Utahns are pining to live in North Dakota?). Meanwhile, about 200 protesters gathered outside the Salt Palace in bitter cold and smog to hear speakers describe a sustainable energy future. The protesters waved signs demanding accountability for the side effects of fossil fuels.
Inside the conference, activists from Utah Tar Sands Resistance tried to make their point by passing out bottled water relabeled to indicate contamination by chemical solvents used in tar sands mining. They briefly siezed the mic to give Utah Governor Gary Herbert a “Polluter of the Year” award (which he did not accept).
The poisonous air along the urban Wasatch Front is so bad that on January 23, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment held a press conference at the Utah State Capitol declaring chronic winter air pollution a public health emergency. Simply breathing outside is like smoking a pack of cigarettes. (See more on how to mitigate some of the effects of air pollution in this issue of CATALYST).
Despite the dirty air, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining has approved a groundwater discharge permit for a 213-acre strip mine at PR Springs on school trust land property (thus avoiding those pesky federal environmental regulations). A report from Western Resource Advocates (WRA) titled “Fossil Foolishness” notes that the mining process will contaminate water and air, waste water from the already overallocated Colorado River basin, exacerbate climate change, and divert attention from opportunities to develop new, renewable energy sources. WRA is planning to challenge the decision in court, and citizen groups like Utah Tar Sands Resistance continue to hope it is still possible to stop tar sands mining before it starts.
Colorado River vs. climate change
Everyone knows that there is not enough water in the Colorado River basins to supply all the water rights granted by the 1922 Colorado River Compact, but nobody knows quite what to do about it. In December 2012, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released a landmark study that considers the effects of climate change on water in the West (there is going to be less of it) and evaluates over 150 proposals to cope with the projected supply/demand imbalance. American Rivers calls the study “a critical step toward bringing water management into the 21st century.” There is some danger that politicians will try to meet the challenges with expensive, environmentally harmful proposals for new dams, diversions and reservoirs, but the report also points the way to conservation and efficiency strategies that would be more cost effective and less damaging.
Lawsuit challenges bad BLM plans
Five years later environmentalists are still working to undo the damage from radically pro-development BLM Resource Management Plans that were forced through during the Bush administration. In December a coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging the Richfield RMP on the grounds that it violates federal regulations by giving priority to off-road vehicle recreation and energy development at the expense of wildlife, wilderness and cultural resources. The RMP guides management decisions in places such as the Henry Mountains, Dirty Devil River, Robbers Roost, Factory Butte and Muddy Creek in the San Rafael Swell. Conservation groups supporting the lawsuit are Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Rocky Mountain Wild.
Mayor Becker, man of the Wasatch
In his State of the City speech Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker spoke about the need to sustain clean air, our watershed and the character of our spectacular, natural setting. “It is time to comprehensively address the Wasatch Canyons. Public and private partners must all come together and reason to protect our watershed, establish mountain transportation systems and wilderness areas, and balance uses while protecting natural resources,” Becker said. “Our mountains, the lifeblood of our Valley, face unprecedented demands. Our residents, businesses and governmental entities should forge a consensus that guides us for the next generation.”