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Environmental Politics, Think

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I want you to act as if the house is on fire, because it is. – Greta Thunberg

 

Don’t Bomb the Bighorns

Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (UT-1) may not be running for reelection, but he’s not through causing public lands mischief.

In July, Bishop added a surprise amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act in order to transfer 850,000 acres from the Desert National Wildlife Refuge to become part of the Nevada Test and Training Range (NTTR) where the U.S. Air Force practices bombing.

Astonishingly, Bishop’s amendment was approved by the Democrat-majority House Armed Services Committee.

The Air Force has been trying to seize the wildlife refuge since at least 2017, claiming that it needs a safety buffer in order to test more powerful weapons on the existing range and doesn’t intend to drop bombs on wildlife (though there would be nothing to stop them).

The military land-grab would block access to areas that are currently open to the public. Members of Nevada’s congressional delegation say that they were never notified of Bishop’s amendment and complain that the Air Force has failed to engage with affected stakeholders.

In 2019, the Nevada Legislature passed a resolution opposing expansion of the military into the Wildlife Refuge, which was created in 1936 to provide habitat for bighorn sheep.

The NTTR, near Las Vegas, Nevada, is on ancestral lands of Western Shoshone, Southern Paiute, Owens Valley Paiute/Shoshone and Mojave tribes. A 2017 Draft Environmental Impact Statement on NTTS Land Withdrawal contains a Native American perspective on the cultural value of the threatened landscape, including a list of 364 Native American traditional-use plants and 170 traditional-use animals that live in the refuge.

“The bighorn sheep are sacred to the Moapa people,” according to a resolution against military takeover issued by the tribal government of the Moapa Band of Paiutes. “Creation stories say that the Paiute people enter the mountains and left as sheep. In essence the sheep are people. It is our duty to protect the mountain sheep for if they all die, then we die too.”

Friends of Nevada Wilderness  are protesting Bishop’s amendment with the hashtag #DontBombTheBighorns.

 

Public comments sought on Jordan River Trail

A Blueprint Jordan River plan, published in 2008, described a compelling Big Idea of “a 50-mile, unobstructed blue-green trail from Utah Lake to the Great Salt Lake for boaters, cyclists, pedestrians and wildlife enthusiasts.” Since then most gaps in the Jordan River trail have been connected and river restoration projects have made the neglected river noticeably nicer.

The Jordan River is still a work in progress. The Jordan River Commission and Envision Utah are seeking public input to determine community priorities and update the blueprint. Do you value cleaner water? Wildlife habitat? Trash clean-up? Trail connections? River trail improvements? Speak up now! The online survey is open through August 24.

 

Toxic algae found in Virgin River

A toxic algal bloom was discovered in the North Fork of the Virgin River which runs through Zion National Park after a pet dog died from playing in the water.

Toxic algae (aka cyanobacteria) contain a potent neurotoxin that can cause nausea, liver damage tingling, numbness and seizures. The algae occur naturally, but usually in concentrations too small to be dangerous. Hot temperatures and inputs of nutrients, such as from sewage or agricultural runoff, can cause the algae to increase to dangerous levels.

The Virgin River supplies drinking water for the Washington County Water Conservancy District. In Northern Utah, toxic algal blooms have become a perennial problem in Utah Lake. The Utah Division of Water Quality website has photos to help the public recognize toxic algae and a hotline to report a toxic algal bloom. DWQ advises, “When in doubt, stay out.”

 

HEAL Utah responds to Inland Port

HEAL Utah has issued a scathing response to a business plan which was issued by the Utah Inland Port Authority in June.

The Port Authority claims the plan addresses community concerns about pollution and environmental impact. However, HEAL Utah says it uses vague sustainability language to define goals and lacks specific environmental performance or accountability measures:  “The plan should be specific about what [the Utah Inland Port Authority’s] role is in achieving these goals, and where the primary responsibility and public accountability will lie.”

A big problem is that there is no baseline data for the undeveloped site. Before any further development takes place, it is essential to measure existing air quality, energy use, CO2 emissions, waste management, habitat impacts, water quality, light and noise pollution and traffic.

“If the port is to truly benefit the people of Utah, there must be a recognition in state policy that requiring developers to meet the highest environmental standards is in our long-term economic interest,” according to the statement.

 

No more Downwinders!

Congressman Ben McAdams (D-UT-4) succeeded in adding language to the annual Energy and Water Appropriations Bill to prohibit spending on explosive nuclear testing.

Generations of Utah downwinders got cancer because of exposure to radioactive fallout from hundreds of nuclear explosions at the Nevada Test Site that took place from 1951 to 1992.

Other bills before Congress seek a general prohibition on allocations for nuclear testing, expansion of downwinder compensation from 22 to 45 years and to make uranium mine workers eligible for compensation.

The Trump Administration is trying to re-start the uranium mining industry in the Western United States and proposes resumed nuclear testing at the re-named “Nevada National Security Site.”

 

Public comments due for two Southwest Utah projects

Conserve Southwest Utah (CSU) says that the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Northern Corridor Highway through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve are two of the most environmental damaging projects to threaten Southwest Utah in many years. Public comment periods are open on both projects though early September. CSU has prepared helpful guides for public comments:

Lake Powell Pipeline

The Lake Powell Pipeline is a multi-billion-dollar water boondoggle for infrastructure to suck Colorado River water to Washington County. CSU says that the Bureau of Reclamation Draft Environmental Impact Statement did not evaluate reasonable alternatives or address public concerns. Critical information was misinterpreted. The 1922 Colorado River Compact has already allocated 100% of water rights, so under drought conditions, LPP would probably not even carry any water.

Northern Corridor Highway

The Northern Corridor Highway punches through the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve which is set aside as habitat for Mojave Desert tortoises, listed as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act. The reserve was formed due to an agreement that allows “take” elsewhere in Washington County, so the highway proposal is an effort by Washington County to renege on the original deal.

 

Envision Utah quality growth strategy, 20 years later

In the 20 years from 1999 to 2019, the population of Utah has grown by nearly a million people. But unlike many states, Utah had a plan to cope, thanks to Envision Utah, a nonprofit that brings business, government and community leaders together to consider Utah’s future.

In 1997, group began hosting public meetings in order to develop a quality growth strategy for 10 counties along the Wasatch Front where most of Utah’s population lives. The Envision Utah Quality Growth Strategy and Technical Review, published in 2000, made predictions, but then also offered alternatives.

With a do-nothing approach, the report predicted, “dramatic increases in population and land consumption will have profound impacts on the quality of life and costs of living in the area,” specifying air quality, water sources, crowding and congestion, housing costs, crime, business and personal costs as areas of concern and that “government spending on infrastructure will force some difficult decisions about state and local spending priorities.”

The strategy offered six goals: to improve air quality, expand transit and bikeways, preserve open space, conserve water, diversify housing and invest in public infrastructure. Looking back at “business as usual” growth predictions, it’s clear that the congested Wasatch Front could have become much, much worse.

Compared to 2000 projections, people along the Wasatch Front are using less water per capita, driving fewer miles and emitting less air pollution, mainly due to cleaner automobile technology. Investment in Salt Lake City has kept the urban core alive. The development of TRAX light rail and Frontrunner trains persuaded commuters to get out of their cars. A shift in growth patterns (all those new apartment buildings) has kept sprawl development from an estimated 140 square miles of open space.

On the other side, wages have failed to keep up with housing costs, creating a low-income housing crisis. Traffic is worse, air quality is still poor and recreational trails are overrun.

In the next 30 years, Utah’s population is projected to add 2.5 million more people. Fortunately, Envision Utah has a plan called Your Utah, Your Future to help address additional growing pains.

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