Environmental Politics, Think
Environews: January 2014
Next steps to fight Green River nuke plant; Snake Valley saved from Vegas; Water agency audit planned; Utah suffers from resource curse; Your tax tollars, working against wildlife; S-line connects Sugar House to TRAX; SLC offers Resident Transit Pass; Don’t like the air? Do something about it.
—by Amy Brunvand
Next steps to fight Green River nuke plant
It’s up to federal regulators to save Utah’s Green River from de-watering the Gren River to cool a proposed nuclear power plant, according to a district court judge. Last year Utah’s State Engineer allocated water for the Blue Castle Project, assigning unused water rights from back in the 1960s before anybody predicted climate change and drought. HEAL Utah challenged the decision in court, but in December a judge rejected HEAL Utah’s arguments, writing, “No matter what the State Engineer determines, if the environmental impacts cannot be satisfactorily resolved the project will not be able to use the water rights.”
In other words, the judge believed that State of Utah has no responsibility to worry about environmental impacts of allocating non-existent water from the Green River, and didn’t seem worried that Utah water law specifically prohibits transferring water for “purposes of speculation.”
As of this writing, HEAL Utah has not decided whether to appeal the decision, but in any case, the federal environmental impact process may be the next opportunity for the public to oppose this misguided allocation of scarce water resources.
HEAL Utah: http://healutah.org/
Snake Valley saved from Vegas
A district court judge in Nevada did a better job of sorting out western water issues, finding that the Southern Nevada Water Authority has failed to consider environmental effects of pumping large amounts of ground water from the Great Basin.
The city of Las Vegas has been trying to snatch groundwater from under rural areas (including Snake Valley on the Utah/ Nevada border) since 1989, but rural communities fear that lowering the water table would dry up springs that support agriculture and wildlife.
Steve Erickson of the Great Basin Water Network praised the decision saying, “This ruling affirms our long-held positions that groundwater withdrawals of this huge scale are not sustainable and can’t be effectively managed or mitigated, will pre-empt existing water rights, and will cause permanent, widespread damage to the environment, the economy, the health, and the quality of life in the Great Basin.”
Rob Mworka of the Center for Biological Diversity said, “Rather than robbing the desert of its precious little water, we should be looking at sustainable ways for Las Vegas to live within its means without destroying the environment and rural communities.”
Great Basin Water Network: http://greatbasinwater.net
Water agency audit planned
The Utah Rivers Council led a successful campaign demanding an audit of the Utah Division of Water Resources to address chronic mismanagement of Utah’s water.
Utah has the highest per-person water use in the nation, but instead of implementing conservation policies, the Division keeps insisting that it is necessary to build big, new, expensive, environmentally destructive water projects subsidized by public debt (such as the $1 billion Lake Powell pipeline in Kane County).
The audit could help set the State agency on a more responsible course of planning and conservation in the Colorado River Basin.
Utah Rivers Council: http://utahrivers.org
Utah suffers from resource curse
Utah Governor Gary Herbert’s Strategic Energy Plan claims that developing fossil fuel resources in Utah would boost the economy and provide jobs, but in other countries that hasn’t worked out so well. Economists have documented a phenomenon known as the “natural resource curse” —countries with resource-dependent economies are less resilient and more subject to socioeconomic woes than resource-poor countries with diverse economies.
A new study from Headwaters Economics shows that Western counties in the six major oil- and gas-producing states in the U.S. West: Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming suffer from the natural resource curse.
The study found that, while oil and gas development provides short-term boost to employment and income, “when fossil fuel development plays a role in a local economy for a long period of time there are negative effects on per capita income, crime rates, and educational attainment.”
Oil and Gas Extraction as an Economic Development Strategy: http://headwaterseconomics.org/energy/ western-counties-fossil-fuel-development
Your tax dollars, working against wildlife
State Senator David Hinkins (R-Orangeville) wants to spend your tax dollars making sure that sage grouse and other endangered species don’t receive federal protection in Utah.
At the behest of oil industry lobbyists (and specifically in order to promote oil shale strip mining,) Hinkins has proposed a special fund to fight endangered species designations.
At the same time, nobody knows what happened to $800,000 the State of Utah gave to an organization called Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife (a.k.a. Big Game Forever) to lobby for taking grey wolves off the federal Endangered Species List. Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife can provide no detailed accounting and a legislative audit issued in October concluded that “we cannot ensure that state funds were used appropriately.” Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife/Big Game Forever is known for advocating privatization of fish and wildlife. There are currently no wolves living in Utah.
Audit of Wolf Management Funds: http://le.state.ut.us/audit/13_11rpt.pdf
S-Line connects Sugar House to TRAX
On December 7, the Sugar House community broke out donuts and hot chocolate to celebrate the grand opening of the new S-Line that connects the 2100 South (Central Pointe) TRAX stop with the Sugar House shopping districts. The traffic construction nuisance on 1300 East in Sugar House is also a step toward a more walkable neighborhood—they are building a pedestrian tunnel connecting Sugar House Park with Hidden Hollow and the Sugar House Business District.
S-Line Schedule: http://rideuta.com/mc/?page=Bus-BusHome-Route720
SLC offers Resident Transit Pass
A report earlier this year found that the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) charges among the highest fares in the country ($2.50 for a single ride), but starting in 2014 Salt Lake City residents will be able to purchase a UTA transit pass for $350/year (payable in monthly installments).
The break-even point is 140 rides, or 70 round trips. The lower cost is hoped to encourage more people to take the bus or train and it could help reduce congestion and pollution from automobile exhaust. The City says that the Resident Pass Program is the first of its kind in the country. (A similar program for the San Francisco Bay area costs $76/month.) Right now it’s only available to people who can prove residency in Salt Lake City, but if the idea is successful, it could spread to other Wasatch Front communities.
SLC Resident Transit Pass Program: http://slcgov.com/transitpass.
Don’t like the air? Do something about it
Utah Moms for Clean Air says: Call Gov. Herbert and tell him how cranky you are about the bad air. Tell him to limit industrial pollution and ask for real solutions to air quality problems on the Wasatch Front.
Governor Gary Herbert: 801-538-1000.