Environews, Regulars and Shorts

Environews: April 2012

By Amy Brunvand

2012 Utah Legislative round up; Feds report coal strip mine bad for wildlife, parks; everything you need to know about oil shale; UMFA aquires activist art; Utah losing out on oil and gas money. 

2012 Utah Legislative round up

In the 2012 General Session, the Utah Legislature passed both good and bad environmental bills. A positive trend in citizen involvement included record attendance at both Democratic and Republican caucuses (where they choose the delegates that choose which candidates you get to vote for), and an outbreak of citizen activism that convinced Governor Herbert to veto a bad anti sex-education bill.


  • The Legislature tried and failed to override Salt Lake City ordinances that control automobile idling and billboards.
  • SB122 means urban farms can qualify for lower property tax.
  • SB78 implements a study of property tax subsidies for water projects and could eventually lead to common-sense reform of Utah water management.
  • SR3 encourages the inclusion of air quality information in driver’s education.

Maybe good, maybe bad?

  • HB 176 requires a report detailing the impacts of any increased protection of public lands (but no such report for activities that harm the environment).

Definitely bad

  • HJR3 demands that the federal government hand over all federal public lands to the State of Utah.
  • HB148 threatens to cut public education funding even closer to the bone if the federal government doesn’t hand over all public lands to the Utah to State by December, 31, 2014. Also authorizes squandering taxpayer money on expensive lawsuits if the feds don’t comply (an attached Legislative Review note says the bill is unconstitutional).
  • HB187 forbids you to take photos of farm animals.
  • SB245 allocates $750,000 for killing coyotes, supposedly in order to improve mule deer hunting.
  • SB21 concentrates the power of the Environmental Quality Board in the hands of the Executive Director.
  • SCR10 promotes development of the Wasatch Mountains watershed and backcountry through ski area interconnects.

Utah losing out on oil and gas money

When former Wyoming Governor Dave Freudenthal spoke at the University of Utah recently he said, “If you are going to be governor of Wyoming you’ve got to understand that more oil and gas production doesn’t always mean more jobs or revenue.” He explained that the main benefit to the state from oil & gas production is via severance taxes (that is, taxes on impacts from the industry) that fund, among other things, Wyoming schools.

It turns out that Utah severance taxes are exceptionally low. If Utah were collecting the same severance tax as Wyoming or North Dakota, there would be a lot more money for schools, and no need for the Utah Legislature try to sell off our public lands heritage. http://tinyurl.com/headwatersreview

Feds report coal strip mine bad for wildlife, parks

Both the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service (NPS) opposed plans to expand a coal strip mine near Bryce Canyon National Park. Noting that tourism represents 60% of the economic base in Garfield County, the NPS objected that developing the Alton Coal Tract would introduce industrial development to a wildlands landscape, with impacts to air quality, dark night skies, and wildlife habitat. NPS disputed the claim that the projected 25-year impacts could be considered “short term.” Likewise, the Fish and Wildlife Service recommended withdrawing the tract for sale due to impacts on sage grouse, Utah prairie dogs and migratory birds. They estimated that restoring wildlife habitat would take 35 years after the mine ceased operation. http://www.suwa.org

Everything you need to know about oil shale

At the 2012 Energy Summit Governor Gary Herbert railed against “bureaucrats from the Department of Interior [who] took nearly 1.8 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land off the table for oil shale and tar sands development,” but the governor’s boosterism doesn’t change the fact that oil shale is a bad deal for Utah. According to a new report from Western Resources Advocates, oil shale is a poor energy source with a huge climate impact, and processing it sucks up vast quantities of precious water: “As we found in our research, any reasonable analysis of commercial oil shale production would make it hard to conclude that this is a wise energy pursuit.” http://westernresourceadvocates.org/oilshale2050/index.php

UMFA acquires activist art

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts (UMFA) has acquired two artworks with local relevance by Los Angeles artist Andrea Bowers: “Tim DeChris­topher (I Am the Carbon Tax)” (2010, graphite on paper) and “The United States v. Tim DeChristopher” (2010, single-channel HD video). Bowers, whose political art focuses on nonviolent direct action, is the 2012 War­nock Artist in Residence at the University of Utah. She will be leading projects at the University of Utah and Artspace through May 2012. http://artistsofutah.org/15bytes/12mar/page6.html

This article was originally published on March 30, 2012.