Environews, Regulars and Shorts

Environews: April 2014

By Amy Brunvand

Utah legislature cleans the air (a little bit, maybe); Sierra Club rates 2014 legislature; ski industry launches new bid to grab Wasatch; civil disobedience highlights plight of Yellowstone bison; Ogden pro- motes the business of bicycling.
by Amy Brunvand

Utah Legislature cleans the air (a little bit, maybe)

In January, over 5,000 Utah citizens rallied at the state capitol building demanding clean air. During the 2014 General Session of the Utah Legislature, more than 28 air-quality bills were introduced, and a few even passed, but at a press conference, Dr. Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment expressed dismay that no bills of real substance passed, particularly none that would limit industrial pollution.

The worst disappointment was the failure of a bill that would have allowed Utah to enact air quality standards that exceed federal minimum standards. The effect is not just status quo but will actually lead to worse air quality problems since, as other states implement new Tier 3 vehicle emission and fuel standards, oil companies will send the dirtiest fuels to Utah in order to take advantage of lax regulations. Another disappointment was a failure to finance transit or give a tax subsidy to purchase transit passes.

On the bright side, a bipartisan Clean Air Caucus formed that may be able to make better headway in the future. Bills that passed will help people replace wood burning stoves, buy high-efficiency vehicles for the state fleet, and ban incineration of medical waste within close proximity of a school or residential subdivisions (looks like the Stericycle incinerator might have to move to Tooele County). Business got money to make clean air improvements, and the Division of Environmental Quality got funds for more research and a public awareness campaign. You can now get a tax break for buying an alternative fuel vehicle, but on the other hand, you’ll pay higher registration fees because according to skewed Utah legislature logic, with your high-mileage car you’re not buying enough gasoline to pay your fair share of road taxes.

Utah Moms for Clean Air, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and CleanAirNow! issued a scorecard grading Utah lawmakers based on their air-quality votes during the 2014 Legislative session. Overall, Governor Herbert earned a B, the House got a B- and the Senate got a D. (Legislators who got an “F” were those actively trying to undermine clean air legislation).

2014 Clean Air Legislative Scorecard: scribd.com/doc/213338041/2014-State-Legislature-Grades

Sierra Club rates 2014 Utah Legislature

The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club also rates the environmental voting records of Utah (not just air quality, but all environmental issues). In the Utah House of Representatives it’s no surprise that mostly Democrats earned 100% “A” scores, but so did one Republican (Kraig Powell (R-Summit, 54), and a number of Republicans also earned scores of 80% (B-) or higher.

It’s reassuring to know that environmental issues can be bipartisan even in Utah.

However, as Mark Clemens, Utah Chapter lobbyist, pointed out, “Three members of the Utah House representing urban districts with serious air quality problems voted against every measure that would protect human health. It’s amazing these three representatives, Anderegg (R-Utah, 6), Grover (R-Utah, 61) and Oda (R-Davis, 14), are so out of touch with their constituents’ lives and needs.”

Likewise of the five Utah senators who earned 100% “(A”), four were Democrats (Luz Robles D-Salt Lake 1), Jim Debakis (D-Salt Lake, 2), Gene Davis (D-Salt Lake, 3), Patricia Jones (D-Salt Lake, 4) and one was Republican (Lyle Hilliard R-Cache, 25); Three other senators earned over 80% (B): Jerry Stevenson (R-Davis, 21), Brian Shiozawa (R-Salt Lake, 8) and Karen Maynes (D-Salt Lake, 5). Everyone else earned a grade of C or lower.

2014 Utah Sierra Club Legislative Scorecard: utah. sierraclub.org/content/utah-legislative-scorecard

Ski industry launches new bid to grab Wasatch

A little background: In the 1980s when the Mount Olympus, Twin Peaks and Lone Peak wilderness areas were established, the boundaries were specifically gerrymandered to accommodate future expansion plans of ski areas. Ever since then, ski area development has been gradually creeping into the undeveloped places. Historically, whenever citizens seem to be getting really serious about implementing conservation policies in the Wasatch Mountains, the ski industry responds by announcing big new “interconnect” plans to turn it all into one gigantic lift-served resort.

In recent years it was “SkiLink,” an appalling plan to force the privatization of public lands in order for the Canyons Resort to build a new gondola. This year the threat is “ONE Wasatch,” which seems intended to preempt the Wasatch Accord public visioning process for the Wasatch Canyons. Save Our Canyons and the Wasatch Backcountry Alliance are leading the effort to contain the ski industry and preserve the Wasatch Mountains backcountry.

Save Our Canyons: saveourcanyons.org; Wasatch Backcountry Alliance: wasatchbackcountryalliance .org; Mountain Accord: mountainaccord.com/

Civil disobedience highlights plight of Yellowstone bison

An act of civil disobedience drew public attention to the slaughter of bison near Yellowstone National Park after more than 500 wild bison were trapped or killed in Montana. Comfrey Jacobs of Grand Junction, Colorado handcuffed himself to a barrel to stop bison from entering a trap set up by the National Park Service. The Park had limited public and media access to the trap site, apparently because they know exactly how bad it looks for the Park to slaughter animals that are considered rare and valuable within Park boundaries.

The root of the problem is the “Interagency Bison Management Plan” which was essentially written by Montana’s livestock industry. The plan requires the Park to keep the bison herd around 3,500 (far below the actual carrying capacity of the ecosystem) and allows hunters to kill animals that cross park boundaries so that bison are prevented from inhabiting their historic winter range.

Shortly after Jacobs’ arrest, the Montana Supreme Court decided in favor of an EarthJustice lawsuit, saying that cattle ranchers could not kill bison that cross the park boundary, but a few days later unknown poachers shot three more bison within the park. Yellowstone bison are the last remnant of the tens of millions that used to migrate across America’s Great Plains. Utah’s wild bison herds on Antel­ope Island and in the Henry Mountains are descendants of Yellowstone bison.

Buffalo Field Campaign: buffalofieldcampaign.org. Comfrey Jacobs Legal Support Fund: gofundme.com/7h179w

Ogden promotes the business of bicycling

Ogden city Mayor Mike Caldwell says that Ogden has over 600 jobs related to the bicycle industry and he hopes to attract more sports-related companies to Utah by promoting Ogden as a “bicycle cluster” of businesses.

In a press release he stated, “We’ve found that once these bicycle-related companies see the city and our natural amenities, they fall in love with the area. You can build a rec center or a sports venue, but so can the community down the road. What you can’t build are natural resources. Either you have them or you don’t.”

Happy Earth Day!

National Geographic Traveler magazine recently named Kane County, Utah as one of the 10 best worldwide spring trip destinations for 2014 citing the “staggering geological smorgasbord: narrow slot canyons, polychrome cliffs, wavelike buttes, and world-class paleontological sites.” Let’s be grateful that it’s right in our own backyard, but at the same time let’s not forget the howls of outrage when President Clinton designated Escalante-Grand Staircase National Monument in 1996. As we give thanks for Utah’s glorious landscape, let’s take seriously our obligation as Utah citizens to help preserve and protect these places we love.

This article was originally published on March 30, 2014.