Environmental news from around the state and the West.
—by Amy Brunvand
Mayor brainstorms to clear the air
Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker used his entire 2014 State of the City speech to focus on the ongoing problem of air pollution in Salt Lake City which he said is killing our future, impacting physical and mental health and driving away businesses. Becker particularly criticized a Utah law that forbids enacting air quality standards that are stricter than federal regulations and suggested five specific measures that state and local government can take to combat pollution:
1. Allocate more money for public transit
2. Make lower sulfur gasoline available
3. Change state law to allow for standards that are relevant to Utah
4. Make the true cost of driving transparent at the pump
5. Require buildings to use power efficiently
Concerned citizens can contact state legislators and use the power of social media to communicate ideas for cleaning up the air, Becker said. “We can plan ahead—by combining our errands to make fewer trips that start from home; walking, biking or taking transit when possible; carpooling with friends; telecommuting; and turning off our engines while we wait for our kids at school.”
After the Mayor’s speech a group of fourth graders from Whittier Elementary School (who are sick of missing recess on red-air days and who took public transit to the event) performed a song they wrote.
2014 State of the City: slcgov.com/mayor-ralph-becker-2014-state-city-address
Video Gamers for Clean Air?
Could a video game help clean up Utah’s air? The University of Utah has received a $40,000 grant from the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR) to develop a game with scenarios like a character that drives on a “red air” day. The game developers hope that exploring the consequences of various choices will convince people to change their habits in real life.
HEAL Utah asks for True Blue Sky
Apparently Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) is feeling threatened by the transition to clean, small-scale energy production. The power company wants charge a fee of $4.25/month to “net-metering” customers who generate their own electricity with rooftop solar and other technologies. The company says these customers aren’t buying enough (mainly) coal-powered electricity to pay for their fair share of the electrical grid.
Meanwhile, HEALUtah reported that currently only 8% of RMP electricity comes from renewable energy despite the heavily marketed and popular “Blue Sky” program that started 10 years ago. It will be 11 years before RMP plans to build a utility-scale renewable power plant.
HEAL Utah: truebluesky.org
Swell Back in Oil & Gas Crosshairs
In November the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) deferred 57 oil and gas lease parcels for further study after public outcry over sloppy environmental and cultural reviews. The Utah Rock Art Research Association pointed out that “only 8.5% of all the parcels being offered in the San Rafael Swell had any type of cultural inventory, and those inventories were over a decade old.”
Now the Western Energy Alliance has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Castle Valley Holdings, LLC demanding that The 57 withdrawn parcels be offered in the next BLM lease sale. The suit claims (with somewhat circular logic) that it’s too late now to evaluate possible impacts to cultural and rock art sites that BLM didn’t know about.
Ironically, the suit also frets that uncertainty about disputed leases could deter future public lands oil and gas development. If the BLM had done a proper environmental and cultural review in the first place, the ensuing public protest and uncertainty for the oil company could have been avoided.
Public opinion supports conservation
A new report from the Center for American Progress says Tim DeChristopher’s 2008 protest of a BLM oil and gas lease auction marked a turning point for public lands oil and gas management.
The report says that after the Bush Administration pressured BLM to override environmental regulations, public outcry grew so that “40% of all leasing parcels were formally protested by local communities, recreational users, and conservation organizations by 2008, up from just 1% in 1998.”
The BLM will seek to avoid such disputes by writing “Master Leasing Plans” that identify conservation and recreation conflicts with oil and gas development before auctioning leases.
The report cites public opinion polling that found protecting public lands for future generations and recreation access are high priorities for voters; even among Republican voters, “concerns about environmental safety clearly outweigh complaints about bureaucratic red tape stalling energy development on public lands.”
A Turning Point for the Bureau of Land Management www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/12/BLMturningpoint.pdf
Fairly Free Thinker of 2014
The First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City has named writer Terry Tempest Williams as Fairly Free Thinker of 2014. The Fairly Free Thinker award extends gratitude and appreciation by a progressive congregation in Salt Lake City to an individual whose actions in the wider community best capture the essence of justice.
Previous award winners were Salt Lake Tribune cartoonist Pat Bagley, Charles Lynn Frost (aka Sister Dottie Dixon), Rebecca Heal and the Saliva Sisters, climate activist Tim DeChristopher and Mormon author Carol Lynn Pearson.
Idaho wolf management fail
After grey wolves were removed from the federal endangered species list, the State of Idaho demonstrated the incompetence of states to manage endangered and threatened species by hiring a hunter to kill wolf packs in the 2.4-million-acre Frank Church –River of No Return Wilderness Area.
Conservation groups sued to stop the wolf killing, but a federal judge rejected the suit proffering the ecologically illiterate reasoning that “the wilderness character of the Frank Church Wilderness includes not only the presence of wolves but also the historical presence of elk which have been particularly impacted by the ‘human intervention of wolf reintroduction’ into the area.”
Conservationists plan to appeal the decision. Groups involved in the lawsuit are Defenders of Wildlife, Western Watersheds Project, Wilderness Watch and Center for Biological Diversity.