Environmental Politics, Think
Environews: July 2013
Gov. Herbert testifies in D.C.; Tar sands update; Can Utah manage wolves?; SLC recognized for resilience; Would cheaper fares increase transit use?
—by Amy Brunvand
Governor Herbert testifies in D.C.
In May, Utah Governor Gary Herbert delivered testimony on Utah’s attempted takeover of federal public lands to a congressional subcommittee. Though he toned down his radical states’ rights rhetoric, Herbert still made a number of disingenuous claims that the State of Utah does a better job of public lands conservation than do federal environmental policies. For instance, Herbert complained that national parks and national forests are underfunded (without mentioning GOP obstruction on passing a federal budget); that Utah forests are infested with bark beetles and subject to wildfires (both are side effects of warming climate, though Herbert is a climate change denier); and said that “special interest groups” create gridlock with litigation (which means citizens who care about public lands).
Herbert cited the popularity of Utah’s State Parks as evidence that they are well managed (but failed to mention that Utah’s parks are seriously underfunded and some have been threatened with closure). He praised SITLA for fostering prairie dog conservation (SITLA is the state agency providing marginally regulated access to state land as an incentive for tar-sands strip mining).
Perhaps the low point in truthfulness came when Herbert boasted, “Utah has never had a single recorded instance of hydraulic fracturing fluids polluting Utah’s waters.” (The composition of fracking chemicals is considered a trade secret which makes it nearly impossible to definitively link water contamination to fracking; a Harvard Law School report found that the FracFocus database used in Utah is “not an acceptable regulatory compliance method for chemical disclosures.”)
On the plus side, Herbert said the right things as far as negotiating solutions to Utah’s public lands battles. He testified that the process must include all willing stakeholders and interest groups, and must incorporate meaningful environmental protections. He admitted that people “flock to Utah because Utah lands are unique, precious; and visually, even spiritually, stunning,” which is clearly true. It is not as clear whether he’s right to say, “These lands will be just as precious and valued if they are managed by state or local entities.”
Tar sands update
While Utah Governor Gary Herbert was in Washington praising the State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) as beneficial to schoolchildren and prairie dogs, his administration was working to turn Utah’s SITLA lands into ground zero for extreme energy development in the form of tar-sands strip mines.
While local activists are working to prevent strip mining before it starts (see: Tar Sands Action Camp), other environmental groups have initiated a lawsuit hoping to keep the destruction from spreading onto lands managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM). A coalition of environmental groups has initiated a lawsuit against the BLM for violations of the Endangered Species Act in connection with the Record of Decision for Oil Shale and Tar Sands Allocations in over 810,000 acres of public land in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming. The coalition includes Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club.
Can Utah manage wolves?
Scientists consider wolf reintroduction a major success to restore a keystone predator to Western ecosystems, but on June 7 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed to take wolves off of the endangered species list and turn wolf management over to the states. In Idaho, Wyoming and Montana where wolves are already under state management they are being killed at alarming rates. Currently there are no wolves in Utah, but Utah law requires the Division of Wildlife Resources to “prevent establishment of a viable pack of wolves within areas of the state where wolves are not listed as endangered or threatened.”
SLC recognized for resilience
Salt Lake City is on a list of the top 20 “resilient cities” in America. The city earned praise for a master plan that considers predictions for a hotter, drier future climate; development of infrastructure to cope with minimize energy demand during heat waves; and efforts towards transit-oriented development. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker was also one of the 45 inaugural signers of the “Resilient Communities for America Agreement” along with Mayor Dana Williams of Park City, Utah. The selection was made by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives, an association of local governments with a commitment to sustainable development.
Would cheaper fares increase transit use?
Mass transit is a key strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution, but success requires getting people out of cars and on to busses and trains. The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has come under criticism for discouraging riders with the highest fares in the nation at $2.50 for an adult rider. During the last General Session of the Utah Legislature, Representative Joel Briscoe (D-Salt Lake City) proposed an experiment to offer free transit in January and July—the worst inversion months—in order to test the idea that cheaper fares might encourage more riders.
Briscoe’s bill failed to pass, but the idea caught on. In June, Zions Bank partnered with UTA to offer 3,000 “Ride Clear” passes good for a week of free bus, TRAX and FrontRunner in July. The passes were snapped up in a day. It’s nice to see this good idea getting a fair test.