Environews: August 2018

By Amy Brunvand

Environmental news from around the state and the West.

My deepest sorrow is for the degradation of the natural world and the corresponding grief that people feel when they lose the places they love.

– Trebbe Johnson


Sierra Club: Coal power is costing consumers

Sticking with coal-fired power generation is going to cost Utah consumers a lot of extra money according to a new report from the Sierra Club.

An analysis of PacifiCorp, the parent corporation of Rocky Mountain Power, compares the cost of continuing to operate existing coal-fired plants versus replacing them with renewable energy. Currently, PacifiCorp owns 24 coal-fired power plants. As they age, the cost of operation goes up.

The out-of-state energy market is drying up. The City of Los Angeles plans to stop purchasing coal-fired power from Utah once its current agreement expires in nine years. The State of Oregon is also phasing out coal power. That means Utah, Wyoming and Idaho will have to pay the entire cost to keep old coal plants running.

Meanwhile, the cost of renewable energy is coming down to the point where replacing coal with wind and solar would offer significant savings in the long run. The transition to 100% clean energy will require cooperation from Rocky Mountain Power (PacifiCorp) which currently generates about 62% of power using coal.

PacifiCorp Coal Unit Valuation Study (2018) bit.ly/2Kuzpac. Ready for 100% Clean Energy: 2017 Case Study Report (2017) bit.ly/2LnBjgV


Alton Coal Mine expansion

The Trump administration has released a final environmental impact statement (EIS) endorsing the expansion of an open pit coal mine near Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks that environmentalists have opposed since 2004.

Alton Coal Development, LLC, which has operated the Coal Hollow strip-mine since 2009, has a history of violations.

Under the expansion proposal, the Alton Coal Tract would strip about 3,581 surface acres and produce an estimated 44.9 million tons of coal over the lifespan of the mine.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, burning one ton of coal generates about 5,720 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2), the greenhouse gas that is driving global climate change.

The EIS states that it is “necessary” for the coal industry to expand into new coal fields even though demand for Utah coal has sharply decreased due to cheap natural gas.

A final decision will be announced after August 12, but a letter from the BLM Kanab Field Office quotes Kane County Commissioners gloating about their expectations of jobs and mineral lease royalties. The wholesale destruction of Utah’s landscape is expected to provide about 100 mining jobs.


Coyote hunters are cheating

It seems that hunters have been cheating to get a $50 bounty on coyotes offered by the State of Utah. To receive payment, the State requires hunters to turn in a dry or frozen coyote scalp with ears attached, but people have been turning in coyote pelts from roadkill and possibly from out of state.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resource (DWR) has stopped reporting the number of coyotes submitted per person, but 2014 data indicate that while most participants turned in just a few pelts, a relatively few people turned in more than 25 pelts for cash. In May, a couple who had turned in over 200 coyote pelts for the bounty were found to be paying other people to supply them with dead coyotes.

The Mule Deer Protection Act, passed by the Utah Legislature in 2012, established a coyote bounty of $50 per animal. The law is based on a premise that paying hunters will reduce the coyote population and increase mule deer herds, but it’s not supported by scientific evidence. In fact, Utah’s mule deer herds are in decline because human activity is impacting deer habitat, not because of excessive predation.

Wildlife biologists say the bounty amounts to a subsidized recreation program for people who shoot animals for fun. Nonetheless, each year $500,000 in public money is set aside to pay for coyote bounties. DWR reports that in 2017, 11,505 coyotes were killed and the State of Utah paid out $575,250 to 1,214 individuals (that works out to $473 per participant).

There is a strong connection between bad wildlife laws like the Mule Deer Protection Act and a right-wing movement to privatize public lands and wildlife. For many years, anti-conservation hunting groups like Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife have been lobbying to change hunting laws in order to give preference to rich trophy hunters. These groups have strong ties to the Trump administration.

Don Peay, founder of Sportsmen for Fish & Wildlife, was Trump’s campaign manager in Utah. In May, Peay was appointed by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to a newly formed Hunting and Shooting Sports Conservation Council, an advisory group with a mission to “expand access to hunting and shooting sports on public and private lands.” This group is heavily stacked with trophy hunters and is behind an effort to expand hunting in national wildlife refuges, including the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in northern Utah.


Mining begins in Grand Staircase Escalante

A Canadian mining company called Glacier Lake Resources, Inc. has announced that it will begin exploration for an underground mine on 200 acres that were formerly inside the boundaries of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

In a press release the company boasted that the area “recently became open for staking and exploration after a 21 year period moratorium, due to the reduction of the ‘Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument’ [sic quotation marks] by President Trump in December 2017.”

The mining claim is located on Colt Mesa near Boulder, Utah and retains impacts from mining in the 1970s.

Groups working to block mining include the Wilderness Society, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Grand Staircase Escalante Partners.

A lawsuit to restore the original boundaries of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument is still pending. In the meantime, Representative Chris Stewart (R-UT-2) has introduced the misleadingly named “Grand Staircase Escalante Enhancement Act,” a bill to create a small national park instead of a large national monument. If Stewart’s bill were to become law, the Trump boundaries would be permanent and it would be difficult to stop industrial development inside the original national monument boundaries.

Grand Staircase Escalante Partners: gsenm.org

Conservation groups oppose Estonian company’s expansion of its Utah oil shale strip mine

A coalition of environmental groups has come out in opposition to a massive expansion of oil-shale strip mining in the Uinta Basin. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has issued a Final Environmental Impact Statement that would allow rights-of-way for the Enefit American Oil Utility Project, a corridor of natural gas pipelines, water lines, power lines and roads to supply proposed mines.

The proposed expansion of mining would remove up to 100 billion gallons of water from the already over-allocated Colorado River basin during the next 30 years.

It would increase air pollution in an area that already violates federal air quality standards. Oil shale refining emits nearly 40% more carbon dioxide per unit of energy than conventional oil.

Enefit (an Estonian company) claims they will expand mining even without the permit, but has refused to supply any information to support that claim.

Nonetheless, BLM concluded that the utility corridor would have little additional environmental impact due to the fact that it would supposedly not impact the scope of mining. The circular logic seems to be an effort to avoid environmental review of the project.

In Canada, cancer clusters have developed among people who live downwind of oil and tar sands mining.

Groups opposing the Enefit permit are Earthjustice, Grand Canyon Trust, Waterkeeper Alliance, Living Rivers, Sierra Club, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Center for Biological Diversity, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council.


Pruitt gift to Utah oil

In July Scott Pruitt, the head of Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency resigned in disgrace due to ethics scandals. Before he left he gave a gift to Utah’s oil industry: an exemption from air quality regulations. Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) had been pushing for air quality deregulation in order to “streamline” oil and gas permits.

The air pollution will affect portions of the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation.


Senator Lee advocates  “homesteading” public lands

It seems that rural people are catching on that privatization of public lands would mostly benefit corporations and rich people. In an online presentation to the right-wing Sutherland Institute, Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) advocated eliminating federal public lands and opening them up to homesteading. Lee described public lands inaccurately as “the federal government’s ‘royal forest,’” and “off limits to development of any kind.”

In fact, federal lands are open to leasing for grazing, logging, mining and oil and gas development. The public uses federal lands for recreation, hunting and fishing.

The idea of privatizing public lands through homesteading seems to have originated in a network of right-wing think tanks financed by the billionaire Koch Brothers. It was proposed in February on Free Range Report, a phony “grassroots” anti-federalist website that often published posts written by Koch-affiliated authors.

The author of the homesteading proposal is a board member of the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think tank best known for climate change denial.

Mike Lee often posts links to Free Range Report on his social media pages. In his proposal Lee emphasized that homesteaders were ordinary people, not corporate elites. What he didn’t mention is that the Homestead Act started a brutal land grab and displaced Native American tribes. What’s more, most homesteaders failed and their family farms have been consolidated into industrial-scale farms.


Nature Conservancy poll:

A poll taken by the Nature Conservancy in February found that Utah voters rated a number of environmental problems in Utah as “extremely” or “very” serious including lack of snow (70%), air pollution (67%), water supply (65%), drought (53%), water pollution (52%) and wildfires (50%).

Nature Conservancy Utah Voter Survey: bit.ly/2Np4m0K

This article was originally published on August 1, 2018.