Environmental news from around the state and the west.
—by Amy Brunvand
Public pressure halts SkiLink (for now)
Kudos to local citizen groups for halting SkiLink, a misguided proposal to sell Wasatch National Forest Land to a ski area developer in order to avoid doing an environmental review of a proposed new ski lift. Congressional sponsors of Skilink agreed to let the Wasatch Summit visioning process play out before raising the issue again. Save Our Canyons, the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club and the Wasatch Mountain Club led the effort to halt the SkiLink land sale.
Tar Sands threat grows in Utah
Nationally known climate activist Bill McKibben visited Moab, Utah in July to join anti-tar sands activists from Living Rivers and Before it Starts in protesting the threat of tar sands and oil shale strip mining on Utah’s public lands. The likelihood that Utah’s climate, landscape, water, wildlife and natural beauty will be sacrificed to “extreme oil” looms ever larger as fossil fuel companies have begun building the infrastructure needed to support such large-scale industrial development of Utah’s public lands. Here are some projects to keep an eye on:
Enefit utility corridor: Enefit, the Estonian company that wants to start large-scale strip mining for oil shale in the Uinta basin, has applied to the Bureau of Land Management for a permit to cross federal lands with a water pipeline, power lines, an oil pipeline and road improvements to support oil-shale mining operations. (For details Search “Enefit” on the BLM Environmental Notification Bulletin Board: blm.gov/ut/enbb/index.php
Green River oil refinery: The Governor’s Office of Economic Development gave a $12 million tax credit to Emery Refining (LLC), based in Houston, Texas, to build a new oil refinery in Emery County near the town of Green River in order to process oil from tar sands and oil shale the Uinta Basin. The Utah Division of Air Quality has also issued air pollution permits. There is currently no pipeline or road connecting the oil field with the refinery site, implying that the developer is counting on new road construction.
The location of the refinery outside of the Uintah Basin strongly suggests that the company expects tar sands strip mining to start up soon in the San Rafael Swell, a popular recreation area that contains multiple Wilderness Study Areas and has been proposed as a National Monument.
Book Cliffs highways: For years, environmentalists and hunters have opposed building a “Book Cliffs Highway” connecting Uintah and Grand counties through one of the largest roadless areas in the lower 48 states. Building a new refinery is sure to re-open that can of worms.
Mexican Mountain airstrip: The expectation of renewed mining activity in the San Rafael Swell may or may not lurk behind a request for the BLM to re-open an abandoned airstrip in the Heart of the Mexican Mountain Wilderness Study Area. (for more information: suwa.org)
Public input sought on Utah’s water future
Utah is the second driest state in the nation but home to the most wasteful water users, and as a result it is also home to endless, costly water boondoggles and water grabs: the Lake Powell Pipeline, Gooseberry Narrows Dam, Flaming Gorge Pipeline, Snake Valley water grab, Green River nuclear power plant (which would need 50,000 square feet of water to cool its reactors), and oil-shale/tar sands strip mining.
Meanwhile, climate change and population growth threaten to dam and de-water every wild river left in Utah. Surely we could do better.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert is holding statewide public meetings to gather community input about Utah’s water future. Water developers and water grabbers will be out in force, so it’s important for the conservation message to be heard. As the Utah River Council says, “Although inexpensive water conservation efforts could easily eliminate the ‘need’ for billion dollar diversions, these water agencies scare the public into unnecessary spending with a campaign of fear and ignorance.”
Public meetings—SLC: Aug. 13, 7pm, Department of Natural Resources. 1594 W. North Temple. Logan: Aug. 15. 7pm, Mount Logan Middle School. 875 No. 200 East.
National Parks Depend on Colorado River
The beleaguered Colorado River is the lifeblood of five national parks and monuments: Dinosaur National Monument, Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Canyonlands National Park, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Grand Canyon National Park. A new report from the National Parks Conservation Association describes the impact of Western water wars on these cherished places. See it here:
Audit Division of Water Resources
The Utah Rivers Council (URC) is calling for an audit of the Utah Division of Water Resources for mismanaging Utah’s water resources and promoting policies that actively discourage water conservation. URC says, “The Utah Division of Water Resources is charged with planning for the use and conservation of Utah’s water. In practice, this agency has devoted itself to misinforming decision-makers and the public about the need to raise taxes for a single purpose: unnecessary government spending for large capital projects.”
Where did the money go?
Speaking of audits, nobody seems to know how Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (SFW) spent $300,000 the Utah Legislature gave them to fight wolf reintroduction in Utah. SFW, founded by Don Peay, is not a conservation organization but rather a group that advocates privatization of wildlife resources.