Environews, Regulars and Shorts

Environews: July 2008

By Amy Brunvand

Enviromental news from around the state and the west. Solar power plants for BLM lands?

Could utility-scale solar power projects on public lands eliminate the need for dirty coal-fired power plants? What would be the environmental, social, and economic impacts of large-scale solar projects? The Bureau of Land Management and Department of Energy have begun a public scoping process in order to develop environmental policies and mitigation strategies for public lands solar energy projects in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada and Utah. The public comment period for the Solar Energy Development Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) is open until Monday, July 15, 2008.

Submit comments to: Solar Energy Development Programmatic EIS: http://solareis.anl.gov/

All about NEPA (or what is a PEIS anyway?)

Environmental groups (and this column) often ask you to submit comments on public lands projects. If you would like to know more about why your comments are important and how they are used by government agencies, you can find out by reading “A Citizen’s Guide to the NEPA: Having Your Voice Heard” published by the Council on Environmental Quality. The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) is a key environmental law that created a process for citizens to express concerns when the federal government proposes to do things that might have significant environmental impacts (such as building large-scale solar power projects on BLM land, or leasing 631,000 acres in Utah for oil-shale development). NEPA is not a voting process. You can’t stop a project just by sending in lots of comments that oppose it. However, citizen comments can make federal agencies address issues that they were not aware of and can nudge the final plan towards one that mitigates environmental impacts. The guide features a flowchart of the NEPA process and a list of all those unintelligible government acronyms like “PEIS” that are associated with the process.

“Citizen’s Guide to the NEPA”: ceq.hss.doe.gov/ntf/Citizens_Guide_Dec07.pdf

Chris Cannon wants NEPA to go away

Although there is virtually no chance that this legislation will pass, Utah representative Chris Cannon has introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress that raises nightmare visions of how much worse public lands management could be without NEPA. The “Oil Shale Opportunity Act of 2008” would allow the president to override the environmental review process and  grant oil shale and tar-sands leases without any public comment whatsoever. Lawsuits would be forbidden except for constitutional violations. The Salt Lake Tribune quoted Rep. Mark Udall of Colorado calling Cannon’s bill “almost a parody of sound energy policy.” Last year, Udall sponsored a law that put a moratorium on oil-shale leases in 2008 in order to allow time for a more thorough environmental review. Cannon claims his bill would help reduce the price of gasoline, but even if we were willing to turn Utah into an oil-shale sacrifice zone in order to save a few pennies, it’s important to consider that right now the technology to extract useable oil from oil-shale and tar-sands doesn’t exist.

TRAX expansions launched

One way to cope with high gasoline prices is to take the train, and due to popular demand (and a quarter-cent sales tax increase approved by voters), several new TRAX lines are currently on the fast track. Over the next seven years, UTA is committed to build 70 new miles of light- and commuter-rail lines, and in June construction began on the Mid-Jordan and West Valley lines. Mayor Ralph Becker has signed an agreement to begin work on the Airport line, and as part of that agreement, the downtown “free-fare” zone has been extended to include the Library TRAX stop.  Unfortunately, UTA has to pay for fuel just like the rest of us, so the adult fare increased to $2 on July 1, 2008.

UTA Frontlines 2015: www.rideuta.com/projects/default.aspx

August is Wild Utah Local Action Month

From August 11 through September 5, U.S. senators and representatives will be in their local offices instead of in Washington, D.C. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance would like you to pay them a visit while they are in the neighborhood. In order to build support for Utah wilderness, SUWA is coordinating a nationwide effort to promote wilderness designation for Utah public lands, so sign yourself up and ask your out-of-state relatives to join the effort, too.


This article was originally published on July 8, 2008.