Environmental news from around the state and the West.
Land grab undermines SLC Northwest Quadrant plan Internationally important Great Salt Lake wetlands at risk
On March 16 Governor Gary Herbert signed SB 234, a bill creating an unelected Utah Inland Port Authority to take control of nearly 20,000 acres in the Northwest Quadrant of Salt Lake City. The move to create a massive industrialized trade hub on undeveloped pastures and Great Salt Lake wetlands took city leaders by surprise. The legislation which passed without hearings and with no opportunity for public debate, makes the City responsible for public safety and street maintenance but lets the Port Authority collect taxes so that there is no revenue to pay for infrastructure. If that weren’t bad enough, the bill contains language to undermine environmental protections. Under this law, the city would not be able to block transportation of coal or storage of toxic materials. The bill overrides Salt Lake City’s Northwest Quadrant Master Plan, developed through public process and approved by the City in 2016. The Master Plan envisions economic development in the area, but it also recognizes that Great Salt Lake wetlands are an important, environmentally sensitive habitat for migratory birds. One reason the Northwest Quadrant is not already built out is that much of the area is not suitable for building. Much of it was underwater in the flood year of 1983, and natural hazards include earthquake fault lines and “liquefiable” soil. Nonetheless, all that empty space has proven too tempting for the real estate developers who dominate the Utah Legislature. This is not the first land grab in the Northwest Quadrant. In 2015, the Utah Legislature forced Salt Lake City to accept a new $860 million state prison site near the Salt Lake City International Airport. The move opened up valuable property near Draper for development. Alliance for a Better Utah noted an apparent conflict of interest since real estate developers in the Legislature were particularly behind the prison move. (A commission to sell the former prison property has now been formed, so we’ll see who gets that windfall.) At the time, the Salt Lake City Council issued a statement opposing prison relocation which noted, “Salt Lake City has been very cautious in planning its northwest quadrant. The balance of potential for development and the need for preservation of important wetlands is delicate. Dropping a 5,000-person prison in this area is the polar opposite of the careful planning that Salt Lake City has done to date.” Unfortunately, it seems that careful, environmentally sensitive planning for the lake floodplain is precisely what the Utah Legislature intends to undermine. The Salt Lake City Council has already canceled existing development agreements due to uncertainty. Governor Herbert says he will call a special session of the legislature to address concerns over the Inland Port bill. The responsible thing would have been for the governor to veto this bad piece of legislation, but it’s too late for that. Salt Lake City NW Quadrant Master Plan: slcdocs.com/Planning/Projects/NorthwestQ/NWQ.pdf
Oil leasing commences near our monuments When President Trump “downsized” two Utah national monuments, Interior Ryan Zinke claimed that “Bears Ears isn’t really about oil and gas.” That turned out to be a blatant lie. The New York Times and Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic sued the Interior Department to obtain emails regarding monument downsizing. These show that the maps of oil, natural gas and coal had been drawn long before Zinke’s monument review ever began, and that new boundaries were drawn to match the maps. Last month the Trump Administration started auctioning oil and gas leases on sensitive areas of Utah public lands that would likely be off limits under proper environmental review. Leases were sold on the edge of Bears Ears National Monument as well as near Hovenweep and Canyons of the Ancients. The National Park Service has expressed concerns that the flurry of leasing will impact air quality, groundwater and dark skies near Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. Zinke, who seems to misunderstand the public responsibility of government, told an audience at an energy industry conference in Texas that “Interior should not be in the business of being an adversary. We should be in the business of being a partner” and called environmental regulation of drilling “un-American.” Citizen organizations pressing for proper environmental review before lease sales include Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society.
For happy bees, go pesticide-free
Grassy lawns in Salt Lake City are borrowed from a whole different ecosystem than the one we live in. Maintaining a perfectly green lawn not only requires copious water but also application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides that can be hazardous to people and pets as well as wild birds and pollinating insects. If fertilizer gets into lakes and streams it can cause toxic algae blooms like the one that shut down recreation in Utah Lake last summer. In an effort to reduce chemicals in the environment, SLC Green (Salt Lake City’s Department of Sustainability) has launched a new initiative for pesticide-free yards. The new Pesticide-Free Yard Guide features happy bees on the cover and offers practical tips for how to create attractive pesticide-free landscaping. Take a pledge to go pesticide free and SLC Green will send you a yard sign with a picture of those happy bees. And mark your calendar for the 8th Annual Bee Fest, June 16, of which CATALYST is the proud new organizer. See more on page11. Pesticide Free Yard Guide: SLCGreen.com/pesticidefree
Environmental roundup for the Utah State Legislature
During the 2018 General Session the Utah Legislature passed good and bad environmental bills, and one very, very ugly bill.
• HB 27 Environmental assurance for underground storage tanks
• HB 38 Fireworks restrictions for better air quality
• HB 101 Emissions testing for diesel powered vehicles
• HB 216 Money for the Jordan River trail
• HB 261 Rocky Mountain Power can go solar
• HB 302 Licensing to grow industrial hemp
• HB 331 Air quality as a part of driver education
• HB 369 You can buy a Tesla electric car in Utah now!
• HCR 7 Advocates environmental stewardship and sound science to address climate change
• SB 141 Renewable energy tax credits through 2020
• SB 157 Solar industry accountability
• SCR 2 Encourages shielded outdoor lighting to preserve dark skies
• HB 169 A $1.72 million tax break for Energy Solutions radioactive waste company
• HB 249 Adopts a statewide resource management plan that promotes the transfer of public lands agenda, prioritizes extractive industry, and is anti-wilderness
• HB 272 Privatization of state land to build artificial islands in Utah Lake (I am not making this up)
• HB 372 Plans to sell the 700-acre former prison site at Point of the Mountain
• HJR 1 Asks the U.S. Congress to exempt Utah from the Antiquities Act that gives presidents the power to create (but not dismantle) National Monuments.
• HJR 2 Asks the federal government to move the Department of the Interior and U.S. Forest Service headquarters to Utah
• SB 71 Toll roads to target public lands recreation
• SB 135 New fees on electric and hybrid vehicles. Also “rebrands” the Utah Transit Authority for no good reason
• SCR 8 Supports replacing Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument with a much, much smaller national park in order to block lawsuits to restore original boundaries
• SB 234 a land grab to develop the Northwest Quadrant of Salt Lake City
Read the full text of bills that passed at le.utah.gov. And find more about these bills from Ashley Miller and Jessica Reimer in this issue.
Mike Noel: conflicted
The Utah Rivers Council has filed an ethics complaint against Representative Mike Noel (R-Kanab 73) regarding apparent conflicts of interest, unsurprisingly connected to real estate development. Noel, who uses his elected office to make himself an anti-environmental nuisance, owns a large piece of undeveloped property in Kane County. When President Trump downsized Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument he opened up a route to build the billion-dollar Lake Powell Pipeline (LPP) project. The Trump monument boundary also has a peculiar cutout that goes right around Noel’s land. Connecting the dots, if the pipeline were built it would carry water directly past Noel’s land, and it seems Noel (who also serves as Director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District) may have already secured a water right from the yet unbuilt pipeline. With a reliable water supply, Noel’s land would be far more valuable for development. If the Lake Powell Pipeline ever is built, the public would have to pay for super-expensive water, but Noel himself would get rich. For years, Noel has used his position as Rules Chair to engage in strong advocacy for the Lake Powell Pipeline, but he has never registered as a lobbyist for the Water Conservancy District or disclosed his real estate holdings. Utah Rivers Council: utahrivers.org