Environews, Regulars and Shorts


By Amy Brunvand

Environmental news from around the state and the West.
by Amy Brunvand

Water audit reveals big problems

The Utah Rivers Council has been telling us for years that the Utah Division of Water Resources is inflating projections for future water needs in order push for unnecessary spending on massive, environmentally damaging water projects such as the Lake Powell Pipeline and Bear River Project. It turns out that they were absolutely right.

A legislative audit released in May found that the Division is not using reliable data and that they have avoided conservation and policy choices that would be effective to reduce Utah’s water demand. Right now, Utah water rates are heavily tax-subsidized; residents pay some of the lowest water prices in the nation (and as a consequence Utah’s per capita water use is 248 gallons per person per day, compared to the nation’s average of 155).

The audit was conducted after a coalition of citizen groups called for more water accountability: Utah Rivers Council, Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, Citizens for Dixie’s Future, Glen Canyon Institute, Taxpayer Association of Kane County, Living Rivers-Colorado Riverkeeper, HEAL Utah and Utah Environmental Congress.

Performance Audit of Projections of Utah Water Needs: www.le.utah.gov/audit/15_01rpt.pdf

Utah Rivers Council: www.utahrivers.org

Rain barrel distribution

In May, a project to distribute rain barrels in Salt Lake County and Murray City sold out of over 1,000 discounted barrels within the first 14 hours.

Zach Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, says that installing a 50-gallon rain barrel can save 10,000 gallons per household over the course of a year. Rain barrels also help improve water quality by controlling runoff.

Rainwater harvesting: http://bit.ly/1F4voiY

Electric lawnmower discount & exchange

In a similar gesture, the State Depart­ment of Environmental Quality distributed 389 Kobalt 40-volt 20-in. cordless electric push lawnmowers with mulching capability last month (retail value: $400). The discounted price was $175, or $100 if a gas-powered lawn mower was traded in.

DEQ encourages homeowners and businesses to switch to electric lawn mowers. Gas-powered mowers are a significant source of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that contribute to the formation of summer ozone. Emissions from one four-stoke gas lawn mower operating for one hour are equivalent to those of an average vehicle traveling 500 miles.


Utah Republicans trying to steal our land

In April, Reps. Chris Stewart (R-UT-2) and Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) launched the Federal Land Action Group, a congressional team that will “develop a legislative framework for transferring public lands to local ownership and control.” The congressional group exists to promote the land-privatization agenda of the Ameri­can Lands Council, an organization run by Ken Ivory (R-UT, District 47).

High Country News followed the money and found that ALC is largely funded by taxpayer money (generally handed over by county governments without any kind of voter approval) and right wing think-tanks financed by the zillionaire Koch Brothers.

Public polling has found that the more citizens learn about transfer of public lands, the more they oppose the idea.

Carbon County wants to export coal

There is so much wrong with this picture it’s hard to know where to start: Carbon County has approval to spend $53 million on building a shipping port in Oakland, California in order to export Utah coal to Asia where environmental regulations are lax compared to the US. Ironically, this money comes from a fund that’s supposed to compensate communities for negative impacts of mineral extraction.

Rocky Mountain Power just closed the Carbon Power Plant on US Highway 6 near Helper in order to avoid upgrading mercury pollution controls to meet new federal standards. In the past, Utah has been able to sell coal-produced electricity to California, but the whole State of California is trying to clean up its carbon footprint and is gradually eliminating coal-fired power from its portfolio.

Meanwhile in Oakland protestors in hazmat suits dumped coal in front of the office of the port developer Phil Tagami to protest Utah’s coal export plan, which they say would pollute neighborhoods with coal dust and undo Oakland’s greenhouse gas reduction plan. An online petition asking Oakland mayor Libby Schaaf to oppose Utah’s dirty coal states, “California is a coal-free state for good reason, and shouldn’t be enabling other countries with less stringent environmental protections to burn it.”

Western towns want Big Coal to pay

Propping up Utah’s coal industry might undermine Utah’s ski industry. The Mountain Pact, a group that includes Park City, Utah, says that Western mountain communities are facing economic and environmental damages from climate-related wildfire, floods and reduced snowpack. Meanwhile the federal government is handing out big subsidies to the coal industry. If coal companies had to pay royalties on the true market price of coal, they say, these funds could be used to help mitigate the negative impacts of coal-burning on other communities.

Mountain Pact: www.themountainpact.org

This article was originally published on May 30, 2015.