Environmental Politics, Think
Environews: December 2013
Sugar house streetcar grand opening; Mormons and environmental stewardship; Becker joins national climate task force; SLC sustainability board; BLM plans need a do over; Not-so-swell leases withdrawn; refinery expansion=bad air.
—by Amy Brunvand
Sugar House Streetcar grand opening
The Sugar house Streetcar is the latest addition to Salt Lake City’s growing rail network. The public can ride the new
“S Line” free with a food donation on Saturday, December 7. The S Line opens for regular service on December 8.
Mormons and environmental stewardship
Sometimes it’s tempting to blame the Mormon Church for the anti-environmental attitudes of Utah Republicans. So it’s a welcome surprise to read a statement on the official Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Church website that supports environmental stewardship as an LDS spiritual value. The statement reads: “The state of the human soul and the environment are interconnected, with each affecting and influencing the other….Approaches to the environment must be prudent, realistic, balanced and consistent with the needs of the earth and of current and future generations, rather than pursuing the immediate vindication of personal desires or avowed rights.”
The website offers tips for energy conservation and recycling as well as statements about environmental stewardship from a Mormon spiritual perspective.
LDS Environmental Stewardship and Conservation: http://mormonnewsroom.org/article/environmental-stewardship-conservation
Becker joins national climate task force
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker has been appointed to serve on President Obama’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience. The task force will advise the Administration on how the federal government can respond to the needs of communities nationwide that are dealing with the impacts of climate change. Mayor Becker can offer his first-hand experience implementing programs such as Salt Lake City Green to inform the task force’s recommendations.
Council on Environmental quality: http://whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ceq/initiatives/resilience/taskforce
SLC Sustainability Dashboard
Salt Lake City has launched a new “Sustainable City Dashboard” that offers information about city planning for issues such as energy, recycling, open space, water and urban forestry. The website tracks Salt Lake City’s progress toward the goals outlined in Mayor Ralph Becker’s Livability Agenda and the Sustainable Salt Lake Plan 2015.
SLC Sustainable City Dashboard: http://ci.slc.ut.us/city-launch-innovative-web-tool-track-sustainability-efforts-engage-public
BLM plans need a do over
Environmentalists won a major legal victory in November when the United States District Court struck down significant parts of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Resource Management Plan (RMP) for the Richfield Field Office. During the Bush Administration the BLM was pressured to re-write management plans for Utah in order to prioritize fossil fuel development and off-road vehicle recreation (and minimize conservation and non-motorized recreation).
After a legal challenge from a coalition of environmental groups, a judge found that BLM failed to minimize the destructive impacts of ORV use on streams, native plants, wildlife, soils and irreplaceable cultural sites and artifacts, as required by law.
In a particularly damning example, the judge found that the BLM failed to designate the Henry Mountains as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern due to “the national BLM office’s concern that the counties were not ‘on board’ with that designation.” The judge noted that despite BLM characterization of areas in French Spring Canyon, Buck Canyon and Pasture Canyon as “dry washes,” guidebook author Steve Allen (who has traveled the area extensively on foot) has evidence of reliable perennial springs. (I have been to French Spring Canyon myself. Steve Allen is right, it does have a nice spring with cottonwood trees.)
The Richfield RMP is one of six Bush-era BLM Resource Management plans, and because they were all written hastily and under political pressure, they probably all have similar legal problems.
Conservation groups challenging the BLM’s 2008 land use plans in Utah include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Rocky Mountain Wild.
Not-so-swell leases withdrawn
Due to public outcry Utah BLM has withdrawn nearly 100,000 acres in the San Rafael Swell from an oil and gas lease auction that was the most controversial since the one Tim DeChristopher monkeywrenched in December 2008. The lease sale included canyons with rock art treasures, Wilderness Study Areas and parts of the Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.
When activists pointed out that BLM’s own planning documents forbid oil and gas development in the dinosaur quarry, BLM responded that such complaints are evidence that its public-comment process works.
That didn’t stop Utah Senators Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch from screaming. The two senators issued a joint statement saying that “this last-minute bait and switch only reinforces the widespread belief that, under this Administration, BLM is becoming a vehicle for policies created by radical environmentalists,” and they speculated that withdrawing inappropriate leases prior to sale might “drive investment away from the families and communities that live near lands managed by the federal government.”
In fact, a report from Headwaters Economics says that oil and gas drilling is at an all-time high in the western U.S. The report also points out that in response to markets, “Drilling activity can shift quickly between geographies and resource types,” which explains why energy-producing areas can be so hard hit by boom-bust cycles of energy development.
Refinery Expansion = Bad Air
As if air quality on the Wasatch Front weren’t already bad enough, the State of Utah issued a permit to expand oil refineries in Davis County. Industry spokesmen say the refinery is needed to process increased production of “waxy crude” from the Uintah Basin (where federal regulations have apparently not discouraged oil and gas production no matter what Mike Lee thinks).
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) issued a statement opposing the refinery expansion saying, “Utah has never turned down an expansion permit by any of our biggest polluters. And now Governor Herbert has granted Holly Refinery their expansion [doubling its capacity to 60,000 barrels a day], this at a time when Utah’s air quality has been the worst in the country.” UPHE is currently raising money for a lawsuit to stop the refinery expansion. Give the gift of clean air? Donate.
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment: http://uphe.org/donate