Environmental news from around the state and the West.
—by Amy Brunvand
Anti-federalist weirdness out of control
The political circus surrounding San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman keeps on getting weirder. In May 2014, inspired by the anti-federalist antics of Nevada public lands rancher Cliven Bundy, Lyman led a group of off-road vehicles into an area of Recapture Canyon that had been closed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in order to protect archeological sites. A jury found Lyman guilty of misdemeanor conspiracy and illegal use of off-road vehicles. Lyman insisted that he was not guilty because, in his opinion, BLM shouldn’t have closed the road to vehicle traffic.
Utah anti-federalists leaped to his defense. Supporters created a fundraising T-shirt comparing Lyman to Rosa Parks, Rev. Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi. During a legislative committee meeting, Rep. Mike Noel (R-Kanab) gave an impassioned speech in favor of looting archeological sites and asked for Constitutional Defense Funds to pay Lyman’s lawyers, arguing that all anti-federalist acts are in the best interest of the State of Utah Rep. Joel Briscoe (D-SLC) rightly questioned whether Noel could actually believe such a thing.
When it became clear that most of the public opposes giving Lyman any taxpayer money, legislators flung $100 bills onto a table to declare their personal support. Gov. Utah Governor Herbert has asked Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes to investigate whether the road closure was, in fact, legal. Herbert has also found a loophole that allows him to donate unused campaign funds to Lyman’s cause.
Let’s be clear, what all these people are defending is Lyman’s supposed right to vandalize public lands if he happens to disagree with official reasons for closing an area to motorized recreation.
Mountain Accord reaches a deal
The Mountain Accord process has led to a signed agreement, though one without any force of law behind it. Wasatch Mountain ski resorts have agreed to give up plans for resort expansion in exchange for expanded development of hotels and such at resort base areas.
Nonetheless, a spokesman for Ski Utah says that the ski industry not giving up on “One Wasatch” a plan to merge Wasatch Mountain ski areas into one big mega-resort.
Another controversial part of the plan is building a tunnel for car traffic between Big and Little Cottonwood Canyons, or a tram or mountain rail.
In order for the Mountain Accord plan to go forward, Utah’s U.S. congressional notoriously anti-federal congressional delegation would have to be persuaded to support a new National Conservation and Recreation Area in the Wasatch Mountains, hopefully one that would specifically prohibit ski areas from expanding into public lands beyond existing resort boundaries.
Mountain Accord: mountainaccord.com
A new national monument for Utah?
In July, President Obama was busy creating three new national monuments under the Antiquities Act —Basin and Range in Nevada, Berryessa Snow Mountain in California, and Waco Mammoth in Texas. Predictably, Utah’s congressional delegation threw a fit and Rob Bishop (R-UT-2) griped that none of the new monuments “had anything to do with an antiquity”—never mind the rock art or fossil mammoth bones.
One of the most archeologically rich (and unprotected) areas in Utah is Cedar Mesa. Since even Mike Noel (R-Kanab) admits that it’s a prime area for archeological looting, it seems Bishop would have to admit that a monument there would have something to do with antiquity. Dare we hope that maybe President Obama has a Bear’s Ears National Monument in the works?
Energy development vs. clean water
You’d think the State of Utah would require water quality and air quality monitoring as a matter of course when they issued permits for expansion of a tar sands strip mine at PR Spring in the Book Cliffs, but you’d be wrong. The Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining has refused to require any type of environmental monitoring until recently when Western Resource Advocates and Living Rivers filed a protest.
U.S. Oil Sands, which operates the mine, says there is no need for monitoring because there is no groundwater on the ridge top where the mine is, but geologists have pointed out that groundwater in the area flows down from ridge tops.
Meanwhile, U.S. Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT-2 and chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources) objected to a new federal regulation intended to keep coal mines from dumping debris into rivers and streams. “Clearly, the Obama administration will stop at nothing to stomp out American livelihoods dependent on coal,” Bishop railed; he had nothing to say about Americans whose lives depend on clean drinking water .
Public comments due on Alton Coal Mine
Alton Coal Development LLC operates a strip mine near Bryce Canyon. Uncovered coal trucks from the mine rumble though the town of Panguitch covering everything in a layer of dust, and the mine has been cited for a number of environmental violations—including dumping untreated wastewater into a creek, failing to do environmental restoration and damaging sage grouse habitat.
The company says all this is perfectly normal for coal mines and is asking for BLM approval to expand into 3,500 acres of public lands. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says BLM should say no because mine expansion “would pollute the air, flood Bryce Canyon’s world-famous dark night skies with light, degrade the habitat and health of wildlife such as the imperiled sage grouse, lower water quality, and mar one of the most majestic landscapes in the world.”
Alton Coal Tract Lease public comment period ends August, 11, 2015. blm.gov/ut/st/en/prog/energy/ coal/alton_coal_project.html
Rain barrels help conserve water
The first round of Utah Rivers Council’s RainHarvest rainwater collection project was such a big success that they are expanding the program into Sandy City, Park City and Ogden.
Residents of these cities can order rain barrels for a greatly subsidized price of just $40 ($75 for residents outside of these cities).
Utah Rivers Council reports that over 1,000 barrels were purchased in Murray and Salt Lake City last May, meaning that a potential 50,000 gallons of water are saved with every good rainstorm.
Utah Rivers Council Save Something: savesomethingutah.org
Utah is an ecological debtor
July 14 was “Ecological Deficit Day” for the United States according to the Global Footprint Network. On that date the U.S. used up more ecological resources than U.S. ecosystems could regenerate within a full year. The report says that Utah is an ecological debtor, which means our ecological footprint is larger than the biocapacity of the state to support the existing human population.
Global Footprint Network: http://cdn1.footprintnetwork.org/USAFootprintReport.pdf