Environmental Politics, Think
Environews: February 2012
Environmental news from around the state and the west.
I was journalist enough to recognize that global warming was a big damn story. Most things I’ve written since have, in some often very tangential way, stemmed from the underlying premise of that book: that we were going to have to change pretty much everything in order to deal with it.
—Bill McKibben on his book The End of Nature
“Rio Tinto/ Kennecott violate Clean Air Act”
Rio Tinto/Kennecott contributes about 30% of the overall pollution in Salt Lake County, according to a fact sheet from Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. Nonetheless, last May the Utah Air Quality Board (DAQ) ignored public concern about air pollution and issued a permit allowing Kennecott to expand its open pit mine by almost a third. (See “Tall Tailings: Kennecott plays coy with the EPA, Utah’s Dept. of Air Quality and SLC officials as it lays a plan to mine the mineral-rich dustpiles of yesteryear,” by Sallie Dean Shatz, August 2011, CATALYST). When environmental groups tried to negotiate directly for better pollution controls, the company maintained that since they got a permit there is no problem. In January, a coalition of air quality activists filed a lawsuit claiming that Rio Tinto/ Kennecott is in violation of the Federal Clean Air Act (which looser state regulations can’t override). Groups supporting the lawsuit include Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE), Utah Moms for Clean Air, the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians.
Kennecott, power plants major greenhouse gas sources
Particulate air pollution from Kennecott Utah Copper, LLC is a health problem for people living along the Wasatch Front, and the mining operation is also one of Utah’s big sources of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. A new EPA database shows that the six largest emission sources in in Utah are five coal-fired power plants plus Kennecott.
Governor Herbert faces water grab dilemma
Utah Governor Gary Herbert has found himself in an awkward position: He can’t criticize a proposed Colorado water grab from Flaming Gorge Reservoir because he wants the State of Utah to build a similar project to bring water from Lake Powell to St. George. According to a report from Western Resource Advocates, the Flaming Gorge Pipeline Project threatens to suck water out of Flaming Gorge Reservoir and pipe it to Denver, Colorado, which would not only produce the most expensive water ever seen in Colorado but result in a multi-million dollar economic hit to the Utah and Wyoming recreation economies. Nonetheless, Utah legislators propose to earmark 15% of future growth in statewide sales tax revenue for the Lake Powell pipeline, making over $1 billion unavailable for other uses such as education funding. Climate change models indicate that, pipeline or no, the water in question may not exist in the future, and the Utah Rivers Council points out that in any case water conservation is a cheaper, more practical and sustainable alternative to multi-billion dollar pipeline boondoggles.
SkiLink: real estate vs. watershed
If Utah politicians were really concerned about water for urban areas, you’d think they would support Congressman Jim Matheson’s (D-2) Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act. Instead Rob Bishop (R-1) is trying to circumvent local planning for the Wasatch Mountains by introducing a bill to sell public land for a “SkiLink” lift connecting Canyons and Solitude resorts. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker testified against the plan in Congress saying, “Close inspection of the assumptions and facts reported in these studies show the studies’ conclusions are not well supported and the public’s interest in protection of its municipal watersheds, habitat, and diverse recreation is not considered.” Save Our Canyons says that the proposed ski lift seems intended to promote housing development in Big Cottonwood Canyon, and it would impact hiking trails and wipe out popular backcountry skiing areas in Bear Trap Fork and Willow Heights.
Keystone XL pipeline blocked
Activist Bill McKibben, who led protests against the Keystone XL pipeline credits NOAA climate scientist Jim Hansen and Utah activist Tim DeChristopher as inspiration. An article from Inside Climate News quotes Mckibben saying, “It was Jim helping me understand how much carbon is up there that made the difference, and Tim reminded us that the point of civil disobedience is to make people aware that an issue is morally urgent and so important that we’re willing to go to jail for it.” The pipeline, which would carry oil from Canadian tar sands, represents a perfect storm of peak oil (the point when oil production surpasses oil discoveries) and climate change. The project is not dead, but this welcome delay could give activists time to spread the climate change message.
Uranium time out near Grand Canyon
Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar put a 20-year moratorium on uranium mining near Grand Canyon National Park after speculation about renewed demand for nuclear power led to a surge of new uranium mining claims. Nuclear power has been suggested as a solution to the problems created by fossil-fuel dependence (including a proposal to build a nuclear power plant in Green River, Utah). Even though it produces no carbon emissions, nuclear power has other problems: It requires huge amounts of water, there is no safe place to store radioactive waste, and Fukushima-type disasters are always a possibility.
Radioactive waste, coming soon?
EnergySolutions is trying to get around Utah law by blending legal Class A nuclear waste with banned Class B & C waste, and Governor Gary Herbert seems ready to step aside and let it happen. The Utah Division of Radiation Control (DRC) is accepting public comments on a DRC Technical Assessment that supports accepting blended waste. HEAL Utah responds, “Our regulators have failed us. It’s time for Gov. Herbert to stand up and use his authority to keep blended waste out of Utah!”
Oh my heck! The Utah Legislature is in session
The 2012 General Session of the Utah Legislature runs from January 23 to March 8. The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club maintains a Utah Legislative bill tracker so you can keep up with the good, the bad and the ugly of environmental lawmaking.