Utah Legislature: The good, the bad and the ugly.
The 2020 General Session of the Utah Legislature wrapped up on March 12 with 510 new bills passed into law. Here is a selection of bills and resolutions that affect environmental issues. (See more on Grace Olscamp’s column, “At the Capitol,” this issue.)
HB40 Water Loss Accounting. Saves water by fixing leaks.
HB180 Emission Inspection Revisions. No emissions fee for electric vehicles.
HB233 Natural Resources Legacy Funding. Creates a new board focused on open spaces, habitat, and species (Bad depleted uranium language was removed!)
HB235 Voluntary Home Energy Information Pilot Program. Ratings to compare energy use and emissions when you buy a house.
HB259 Electric Vehicle Charging Network. A statewide network.
HB283 Outdoor Adventure Commission. Strategic planing for outdoor recreation.
HB396 Electric Vehicle Charging Infrastructure. A utility to support the network.
HB431 Energy Rebate Program. Incentives for decarbonizing technology.
SB26 Water Banking. An alternative to use-it-or-lose it water management.
SB 50 Transportation Governance. Supports transit hubs and smart growth.
SB112 Inland Port Amendments. Gives Salt Lake City more representation.
HCR13 Supporting the Protection and Restoration of Wildlife Corridors.
HB41 State Water Policy Amendments. Supports Lake Powell Pipeline and Bear River development.
HB85 Federal Designations. Bullies local governments seeking conservation status for federal public lands.
HB92 Fire Amendments. Exemptions from air quality regulations.
HB228 Livestock Predators Removal. Livestock owners can kill predators whenever.
HB347 Inland Port Modifications. A giveaway to developers.
SB100 State & Institutional Trust Lands Administration Amendments. Closed meetings for the SITLA Board.
SB131 Mining Amendments. Doubles the size of under-regulated “small mines”.
SB154 Taxed Interlocal Entity. Industry grants for nuclear energy projects.
HB125 Division of Wildlife Resources Amendments. Mandates killing predators in response to the size of big game herds.
HB328 Division of Water Resources Study Update. Proposed water diversion from the Green River to the Wasatch Front.
HCR19 Opposing the Introduction of Wolves. Despite Utah’s existing wolf management plan.
Official Citation Honoring President Donald J. Trump thanking him for, among other dastardly deeds, reducing the size of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.
Complete list of 2020 General Session Bills Passed: le.utah.gov/asp/passedbills/passedbills.asp
Fracking permits threaten pronghorn migration
A coalition of environmental groups has filed a legal objection to a federal permit for 3,500 fracking wells that would cut off the “Path of the Pronghorn,” a 170-mile migration route between Grand Teton National Park and winter range in the Upper Green River Valley. The petition notes that the pronghorn migration route is “one of the longest large mammal migrations in the lower 48 and one of the few remaining long-distance migrations in the world.”
Along with species such as bison, mule deer, California condors and cutthroat trout, pronghorns are survivors of the Pleistocene mass extinction; they have been migrating along the same route for 5,800 years. The 42-square-mile footprint of the fracking area also includes important winter habitat for sage grouse. Environmental groups on the petition are Upper Green River Alliance, Western Watersheds Project and Center for Biological Diversity.
No snowpack, no Colorado River
Utah’s largest water reservoir is contained in snowpack that releases water all summer long. Scientists estimate that in the Colorado River basins, annual mean discharge from snowpack decreases by 9.3% for every degree Celsius of warming.
This is not just because of less runoff. U.S. Geological Survey scientists found that loss of reflective snowpack also increases evaporation.
One way to increase snowpack might be through weather modification. The Utah DWR has had an operational cloud seeding program since 1976, spraying silver iodide particles into clouds to encourage formation of ice crystals. DWR claims that cloud seeding increases precipitation by 5% to 15%; the science is still not conclusive as to how well it works outside of a laboratory.
Colorado River flow dwindles as warming-driven loss of reflective snow energizes evaporation (Science, 13 Mar 2020): science.sciencemag.org/content/early/2020/ 02/19/science.aay9187
Another bad sage grouse plan for Utah
The Trump Administration has announced yet another bad plan to undermine sage-grouse conservation.
Sage grouse are an indicator species for the health of sagebrush ecosystems and more than 350 other species that live there.
The Center for Biodiversity says that greater sage grouse populations are dwindling in all Western states; just over the past few years numbers are down 61% in Utah.
In 2015, the Obama Administration developed collaborative landscape-level plans to protect remaining sage grouse habitat, but in 2019 the Trump Administration undid the Obama era plan and issued new rules to avoid a public process of environmental review. Conservation groups sued. A federal court found that that the Trump era plans had indeed failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Now, with no public scoping period, BLM has produced supplemental revisions for seven states: California, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. These new plans are the same as the 2019 plans only with more excuses for why BLM doesn’t have to comply with NEPA.
Utah Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Greater Sage Grouse Conservation. Public Comments due April 6, 2020 on the eplanning website, https://bit.ly/36uazln
Save 2% for Utah
The Utah Rivers Council has launched a “Save 2% for Utah” campaign demanding more ambitious water conservation strategies from the Utah Division of Water Resources (DWR). DWR plans to decrease per-person water use by only 0.5% per year from a 2015 baseline through 2065.
During that same time span Utah’s population is expected to grow to over 6 million. The math simply doesn’t work. Right now Utah uses more water per person than other Colorado River States that have set far more ambitious conservation goals.
It is irresponsible to predict water needs based on current practices that encourage people to squander water. Nonetheless, the DWR “2020 Water for Utah” plan calls for expensive desperation measures to avoid conservation including cloud-seeding for weather modification, and construction of large-scale environmentally damaging water projects such as the Lake Powell Pipeline and Bear River water diversion.
A scheme to move Green River water from the Uinta Basin to the Wasatch Front (supported by HB 328 passed by the 2020 Utah Legislature) would put huge new stresses on Colorado River watersheds. A 2% per year conservation goal would be in line with neighboring states and help eliminate the need for massive water development projects and help protect Utah’s rivers
2020 Conservation in the West Poll
Colorado College has released the results of their annual Conservation in the West Poll, which asks voters in the Rocky Mountain West to weigh in on conservation of national parks and public lands, energy, water, wildlife and other pressing challenges.
The 2020 poll reports that 95% of Utahns think air pollution is a serious problem; 75% think wildlife migration routes should not be open to oil and gas drilling; 69% support a goal of protecting 30% of America’s lands and oceans by 2030; 69% support providing full dedicated funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (which Congressman Rob Bishop [R-UT-1] tried to eliminate).
The Poll indicates a disconnect between conservation attitudes and voting patterns. 80% of Utahns say that issues involving clean water, clean air, wildlife and public lands are important in deciding whether or not to support an elected official, but Utah Republicans typically support policies that increase pollution, undermine scientific wildlife management and favor industrial development and privatization of public lands .
Colorado College State of the Rockies Project: coloradocollege.edu/stateoftherockies/
Slashing monuments costs jobs
More than 700 jobs in the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante regions could be lost as a result of Trump-era National Monument reductions, according to an economic study published in the journal Science Advances.
Researchers studied 14 monument designations in eight Mountain West states over a 25-year period. They found that monument designation increased the number of business establishments and had no effect on rates of employment in mining and other public lands industries.
“Protecting lands as national monuments has been more help than hindrance to local economies in the American West,” researchers conclude.
National Monuments and Economic Growth in the American West (Science Advances, 2020): advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/12/eaay8523