Environews, Regulars and Shorts

Environews: February 2009

By Amy Brunvand

Environmental news from around the state and the west.
by Amy Brunvand

Surprises result from BLM oil & gas lease sale

The December 19 BLM oil and gas lease sale was intended to put sensitive public lands into the clutches of energy developers before President Bush left office, but it has had the actual result of putting Utah environmental issues in the national spotlight. First was the dramatic act of civil disobedience when University of Utah economics student Tim DeChristopher bid $1.79 million he didn’t have in order to buy 22,500 acres of leases near Arches National Park and Labyrinth Canyon to protect them from oil and gas development. The bold action turned DeChristopher into an instant folk hero, and since then he has done countless media interviews and has been a guest on programs like Democracy Now!, the CBS Evening News and KRCL RadioActive. DeChristopher’s action has opened a spirited public dialogue about the moral requirement for civil disobedience in order to preserve a livable planet.

The second unexpected environmental victory came on January 17 when a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order that prevents BLM from cashing the checks to finalize any of the leases that were sold to developers. The decision says in part, “Although the court recognizes that the ‘development of domestic energy resources’ is an important public interest, this interest is far outweighed by the public interest in avoiding irreparable damage to public lands.” Even more extraordinary, the judge’s decision called into question the validity of hastily revised BLM Resource Management Plans that have been widely criticized by environmental groups for giving far too much away to resource development and motorized recreation. The judge wrote, “BLM cannot rely on EISs [Environmental Impact Statements] that lack air pollution and ozone level statistics.”

Tim DeChristopher website: www.bidder70.org.

Wasatch Front air unbreatheable

In January a series of “red air” days pushed bad air quality to levels where not just sensitive groups (people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children), but even healthy people were urged not to breathe out-of-doors. Cleaning up our air will take a combination of personal and political action. About 60% of Utah’s air pollution comes from vehicle emissions, so you can help simply by tuning up your car and driving less. However, about 90% of Utah’s electricity comes from polluting coal-fired power plants so implementing a moratorium on new coal-fired power as Al Gore suggests will require major political changes.

AirNow: airnow.gov.
Choose Clean Air: www.cleanair.utah.gov.
Sierra Club: Stopping the Coal Rush:

Washington County Wilderness moves forward

One of the first votes by the newly convened 111th Senate passed a public lands bill that will designate new wilderness in and around Zion National Park if it is also approved in the House. The “Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009” included a version of Senator Bob Bennett’s 2006 “Washington County Growth and Conser­vation Act” (which environmentalists opposed), but with the especially objectionable parts removed. Thanks to citizen activism and the efforts of organizations like Citizens for Dixie’s Future, the Sierra Club and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the current version of the bill no longer sells federal public lands in order to fund county development projects (as the old bill did). Rather, the new bill specifies that any sales of BLM land will finance the purchase of private inholdings surrounded by newly designated wilderness areas. In Utah, the bill would designate new Wilderness Areas in Beartrap Canyon, Blackridge, Canaan Mountain, Cottonwood Canyon, Cougar Canyon, Deep Creek, Docs Pass, Goose Creek, Laverkin Creek, Red Butte, Red Mountain, Slaughter Creek and Taylor Creek.

SUWA Statement on the Washington County bill: www.suwa.org/site/PageServer?pagename =WashingtonCountyBill_2009PressStatement

Mayor Becker in top 20 for sustainability

“The Department of Environmental Quality has an environmental kindred spirit in Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker,” says the federal agency’s January “Environmental Connec­tions” newsletter. “In his first year at the job, Becker is tackling the types of environmental issues that are at DEQ’s core: clean air, clean water and clean land.” For these efforts, Becker was recently named one of America’s top 20 mayors for sustainability by Our Green Cities Initiative.

Our Green Cities: ourgreencities.com

This article was originally published on January 30, 2009.