Environmental news from around the state and the West.
—by Amy Brunvand
Utah land grab deadline approaches
The Transfer of Public Lands Act (TPLA) signed into law by Utah Governor Gary Herbert in 2012 demands that the United States must transfer ownership of 30 million acres of federal lands in Utah by a deadline of December 31, 2014.
That’s not going to happen, of course. Lawyers at the University of Utah Wallace Stegner Center for Land, Resources and the Environment tell why not in a White Paper that explains, “Statutes authorizing Western states to join the Union required those same states to disclaim the right to additional lands.”
Nonetheless, Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes thinks Utah has a shot at succeeding which means a lot of squandered taxpayer dollars and empty rhetoric. As the White Paper says, “This may be the larger lesson – that the Transfer Movement does more harm than good to the federal-state relationship needed for effective public land management.”
A Legal Analysis of the Transfer of Public Lands Movement: content.lib.utah.edu:81/cdm4/item_viewer.php?CISOROOT=/utlawrev&CISOPTR=9160
Expand Utah state parks?
In the spirit of federal land grabbing, Utah is proposing to expand Goblin Valley State Park by gaining state control over adjacent BLM lands that include Wilderness Study Areas in Behind the Reef, Little Wild Horse Canyon and Ding and Dang Canyons. The proposed plan would extend new roads, improve facilities, and of course, charge an entrance fee.
The Utah state parks system has another BLM recreation area in its sights, too, at Little Sahara Recreation Area which is currently managed as an off-highway-vehicle open area. Little Sahara is a management nightmare that draws up to 30,000 people and their motorized toys on Easter Weekend. The State seems to think this would be a money-maker, but considering the need for law enforcement and medical evacuation, that seems doubtful.
In the past the State has complained that parks cost too much money. A 2011 audit of Utah’s state parks system noted that “state park systems across the nation [are] under pressure to reduce use of taxpayer funds,” and advocated business-focused operation, reducing park staff, downsizing law enforcement, scaling back operations and permanently closing or privatizing some parks.
Grand County elects progressive to council
Three cheers for the voters in Grand County, Utah (where Moab is located). In the November 4 election, three progressive candidates, Jaylyn Hawks, Mary Mullen McGann and Chris Baird, were elected to the Grand County Council, defeating conservative opponents
The surprise election result was due to public backlash after the Grand County Council disregarded public outcry and voted to join the controversial Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC).
SCIC is indeed a very bad idea. The purpose of SCIC is to promote oil and gas development by using public money to subsidize infrastructure such as paved roads, rail lines, pipelines, electrical lines, water development and so on.
As if that weren’t stupid enough (why should the public pay to protect oil company profits?), counties that joined had to sign over decision-making authority to the Coalition for the next 50 years.
Carbon, Emery, Daggett, Duchesne, Grand, San Juan and Uintah counties are the seven counties duped into trying to prop up the current oil and gas boom as oil prices fall and progress on clean energy transition makes fossil fuels increasingly obsolete.
Fracking at Dead Horse Point
Moabites are right to be worried about the future of public lands in Grand County. Moab’s economy depends on recreation and tourism, but the scenic area around Canyonlands National Park, Arches National Park and Dead Horse Point State Park is filling up with oil wells and natural gas fracking.
In October, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Sierra Club sued to stop construction of a gas pipeline in the area after the Bureau of Land Management failed to consider the combined impacts of multiple projects. Recently the State of Utah gave permission for Fidelity Exploration and Production to do experimental fracking on state-controlled land near Dead Horse Point.
Fracking (short for hydraulic fracturing) means injecting high pressure chemicals into underground rocks to release natural gas. It causes significant damage to groundwater and aquifers. Unfortunately, fracking remains largely unregulated while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency studies the problem.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management/Utah Canyon Country District is preparing a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the areas near Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park and Dead Horse Point. Look for a final plan and public comment period.
Moab Master Leasing Plan: www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/moab/MLP.html
Sage grouse tug of war
Two conservation groups are suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service over a recent decision to designate the Gunnison sage grouse as a “threatened” rather than “endangered” species under the Endangered Species Act. Sage grouse occupy only 7% of their historic range and the groups say that USFW caved to political pressure because the oil industry wants to drill in sage grouse habitat. This seems likely because the State of Colorado is also suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service complaining that “threatened ” status might hamper the oil and gas industry.
Center for Biological Diversity: biologicaldiversity.org. Western Watersheds Project: westernwatersheds.org
Who pays for water waste?
Utah’s tax structure is encouraging water waste and creating a fake water crisis, says a new report from the Utah Rivers Council. The problem is, the state of Utah collects water subsidies from property taxes which means low-water users are subsidizing large water users.
And even though Utah has the highest per-capita water use in the nation, water officials want the public to foot the bill for billion-dollar projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline and dams on the Bear River.
The report says, “Phasing out property taxes for water would mean that Utah taxpayers would pay only for the water they use and no one would get a free ride to waste water.” It would also put a stop to unnecessary environmental destruction of Utah’s river ecosystems to water green lawns in a desert.
Utah Rivers Council: utahrivers.org