Environews: December 2016

By Amy Brunvand

Environmental news from around the state and the West.

Trump, grief and what you can do

Things don’t always change for the better, but they change, and we can play a role in that change, if we act. Which is where hope comes in, and memory, the collective memory we call history.

—Rebecca Solnit (Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities; Nation Books: 2006)

The election of Donald Trump as President of the United States threatens to be catastrophic for Utah’s public lands and Utah’s environmental quality. People who oppose conservation of public lands often say, “I like things how they are. Please don’t change it.” What they fail to realize is, things are how they are largely because citizen environmental groups have been fairly successful at mitigating or stopping some of the worst anti-environmental ideas.

In the past, federal regulations have enabled citizen input on public lands management and helped communities reach decisions that protect environmental values. A Trump administration threatens to undo these regulations, which conservatives deride as “overreach.” With Republicans in control of both the U.S. House and Senate, we can expect to see all kinds of bad environmental legislation come back from the dead.

Heads up on the big issues

  • Public Lands Initiative: Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) is almost certain to re-introduce his Public Lands Initiative (PLI), a bill loaded with poison pills that undermine wilderness protection and conservation. If it passed, President Trump would probably sign it.
  • RS2477 claims: The State of Utah will redouble efforts to claim dirt roads and tracks that cross public lands as “highways.” The State of Utah would gain the right to widen and pave claimed roads.
  • Public land transfer: Handing federal public lands over to state control is part of the official 2016 Republican platform so this very bad idea (you’ve read about it here before) is likely to gain momentum.
  • Wasteful water projects: Utah environmentalists have been holding at bay some huge, expensive, environmentally damaging projects like the Lake Powell Pipeline and the Bear River Development Project. Stopping these projects just got harder.
  • Bundy-style politics: Last winter a group of gun-waving angry white men associated with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy took over the Malheur National Wildlife Reserve in Oregon (incredibly, in October a jury found them not guilty). Meanwhile, violence is escalating against protestors opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota. Reasonable people are scared that this kind of violence will spread.
  • Drill, baby, drill: The oil industry has falsely blamed environmental regulations for impeding economic development. With President Trump, the industry is likely to push for drilling leases on wilderness-quality lands and other inappropriate places.
  • Privatized wildlife: Trump’s sons are hunting buddies with Don Peay, who advocates abandoning the model of wildlife as a public resource in order to give special preference to rich and private land owners. The Utah legislature has already handed over millions of dollars to organizations associated with Peay’s Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, and evidence of Peay’s influence was seen in a recent unscientific decision by the Utah Division of Wildlife resources to increase mountain lion trophy hunting permits.

Blue Castle Nuclear can’t pay the bills

This past July HEAL Utah lost a lawsuit trying to block a nuclear power plant proposed for Green River, Utah, but decided not to appeal because it seemed like Blue Castle Holdings did not have the financial backing to actually go through with the project. It seems that HEAL Utah was right. Blue Castle missed the September 19 deadline to pay $1,800,000 it owes for 53,000 acre feet of water rights.

HEAL Utah: healutah.org

Utah Open Lands saves Owl Meadow

Utah Open Lands raised $700,000 (including a $250,00 grant from the Salt Lake County Council) to purchase Owl Meadow in Emigration Canyon. The meadow, adjacent to the Perkins Flat Preserve, provides nesting habitat for great horned owls, saw-whet owls and hawks.

Utah Open Lands: utahopenlands.org

Star gazing in Utah

“Millions of children will never see the Milky Way,” according to the International Dark Sky Association website, but lucky for us the stars in Utah are still as awe-inspiring as ever. In 2016, Goblin Valley State Park and Dead Horse Point State Park both earned Dark Sky Park certification, and 11 more state parks plan to submit Dark Sky applications in 2017.

Dark Sky Initiative: stateparks.utah.gov/resources/utah-state-parks-dark-sky-initiative/

Great Salt Lake drying up

Great Salt Lake reached another historic low level in October.

In order to keep Great Salt Lake from turning into a toxic dust bowl, the Bear River has to keep flowing into it, but a proposed multi-million dollar Bear River Development Project would divert 20% of the Bear River as municipal water for the Wasatch Front.

The problem is, we live in a desert. We can’t squander Bear River water and also have a functioning Great Salt Lake ecosystem with migratory birds, boating, brine shrimp, lake-effect snow and all that good stuff.

A new Bear River Coalition, led by the Utah Rivers Council, is leading efforts to save the Bear River and Great Salt Lake.

Bear River Coalition: savethebearriver.org

No snow for Thanksgiving

Utah ski resorts were reporting 0” base and no new snow three days before the Thanksgiving holiday, typically the ski season opener. The loss of reliable early and late season skiing is a predicted effect of global climate change and the ski industry is worried.  In October, Park City Mayor Jack Thomas signed on to Climate Reality’s 100% Committed campaign, pledging that the city’s electricity would come entirely from renewable sources by 2032.

Park City Green: parkcitygreen.org

RMP vs solar

Rocky Mountain Power has asked the Public Service Commission to approve new fees for customers with rooftop solar panels, but the solar industry says the fees would effectively kill Utah’s transition to solar power. Vivent Solar estimates that the proposed fees would add $10,000 to the cost of a rooftop solar system over its lifetime and extend the “payback period” from 10 years to 25 years making solar unaffordable. Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s Executive Director, says that Rocky Mountain Power’s study justifying the fees was one-sided, only considering costs to the utility company and not benefits to the community such as clean air and stable fuel prices since the sun is free.

What to do:

  1. Go outside. Reaffirm your values and remind yourself of what you are trying to protect.
  2. Identify citizen groups that are working on issues you care about. Become a member. Donate money, or if you don’t have money, volunteer time.
  3. Information is power! Get on the e-mail lists of lots of environmental groups. People from these organizations track proposed legislation and policy, and attend public meetings to keep informed about the issues. (See also #4).
  4. Read the newspaper. Fake news was a real problem in the November election.
  5. Be prepared to work like crazy. It will be two years before the next mid-term election.
  6. Show up! Go to protests, volunteer events, fund raisers and social get-togethers. Get to know the other people who are working with you to save the Earth.
  7. Know your politicians. There are people who represent you in city, county, state and federal government. Learn their names and contact them regularly about issues you care about.
  8. Be pro-active as well as re-active. Work for a better world, and not just to stop the bad stuff.


Amy Brunvand is an academic librarin who currently works in the University of Utah Sustainability Office, coordinating sustainability education, research and initiatives at the University.


This article was originally published on December 1, 2016.