Environews, Regulars and Shorts

Environews: June 2012

By Amy Brunvand

AZ Gov vetoes land grab; Utah files roads lawsuit; endangered Green River; DeChristopher appeals; SLC bikes website.
by Amy Brunvand

AZ Gov vetoes land grab

Republican Governor Jan Brewer is best known for defending of Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant laws, so it took everyone by surprise when she vetoed an Arizona federal land-grab bill similar to the one Utah Governor Gary Herbert signed last March. In her veto letter Governor Brewer wrote, “The legislation does not identify an enforceable cause of action to force federal lands to be transferred to the state,” and pointed out that it is apparently unconstitutional as well. Brewer worried that such a bill would create a lack of certainty for individuals holding current leases on federal lands and estimated that the Arizona State Land Department would need “approximately $23 million in additional dollars and an untold increase in staff and resources” to manage millions of acres of federal land.

Brewer’s veto leaves Utah on its own trying to jump-start a new Sage­brush Rebellion to grab state control of federal public lands. A legislative analysis found that the Utah bill is also likely unconstitutional, but Utah Senator and self-proclaimed “constitutional scholar” Mike Lee thinks there’s a way around that (as the Constitutional Account­a­bility Center says, “With friends like Senator Mike Lee, the Constitution needs no enemies.”)

The last Sagebrush Rebellion fizzled in the 1980s after the general public realized they had a lot to lose and very little to gain by privatizing federal lands and shutting themselves out of recreational use. So why the new enthusiasm to pour Utah tax dollars into anti-federal lawsuits? It seems that State Representative Ken Ivory and State Senator Wayne Nieder­hauser who sponsored Utah’s Public Land Transfer Act didn’t think up the idea themselves.

They just adapted a model bill written by the American Legislative Ex­change Council (ALEC), a right-wing group supported by big corporations like Koch Industries and ExxonMobil that operates as a shadow government by feeding pre-written bills to state and local legislators.

Alecexposed.org lists 33 Utah legislators with close ties to ALEC. As it happens, ALEC is holding its annual meeting in Salt Lake City from July 23-28, 2012 and Occupy Salt Lake is forming an “ALEC Welcoming Committee” for all citizens who object to having their government taken over by large corporations (Bring a tent. Pitchforks optional.) alecwc.org

Utah files roads lawsuit

Utah state and county governments are rushing to file lawsuits claiming ownership of 12,000 roads crossing Utah public lands in order to beat a June 14 deadline. About 2,000 of the claimed roads really are roads which nobody, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, is trying to close. The other 10,000 are really not roads. These non-roads are known as “RS2477 claims” after a statute in the 1866 Mining Act.

About 100 of the claims are in national parks, some of them cross private property and most of them are hiking trails, seismic lines, cow trails, streambeds and tire scars left by driving off existing trails.

Why spend millions of tax dollars with little to gain but the bureaucratic hassle of controlling 10,000 dirt tracks with no particular destination or purpose? Because the legal definition of “Wilderness” is mainly a roadless area so the existence of roads would block wilderness protection.

The good news is, the state originally planned to litigate over 25,000 RS2477 claims, but seems to have already admitted that about 13,000 of them couldn’t plausibly be called roads under any circumstances. suwa.org

Tim DeChristopher appeals

On May 10 climate activist Tim DeChristopher appealed his felony conviction at the 10th District Federal Court of Appeals in Denver, Colorado on the basis that he took action to stop an illegal BLM oil & gas lease auction. There isn’t a set time frame for the ruling so DeChristopher could serve the majority of his two-year sentence before a decision is reached.

In the meantime DeChristopher has been transferred to a federal prison in Littleton, Colorado. If you would like send him a letter his new address is on the Peaceful Uprising web site. peacefuluprising.org/tim-dechristopher

Green among most endangered rivers in America

Utah’s Green River is among the most endangered rivers in America according to a new report from American Rivers. The biggest threat is a proposal to build a massive pipeline to suck water out of Flaming Gorge reservoir and send it 500 miles away to Colorado’s Front Range. “The impacts of this grave threat would be aggravated by other projects in the Green River Basin, including the proposed diversion of 53,000 acre-feet of water for a proposed nuclear power plant, and oil shale, tar sands, and natural gas development, all of which threaten the fragile desert ecosystem this river supports,” states the report.

Wyoming Governor Matt Mead has already voiced strong opposition to dewatering the Green River. Utah Governor Gary Herbert has yet to take a strong stand. The report recommends putting public pressure on the governors of Utah, Colorado and Wyoming to stand in opposition to the Flaming Gorge pipeline and stand up for more efficient, cost-effective water supply solutions. americanrivers.org

New website for SLC bikes

Have you noticed new spray painted messages in Salt Lake City’s bike lanes referring you to bikeslc.com? The new bike-dedicated website from the Salt Lake City Transportation Division was unveiled May 14 after the annual Mayor’s Bike to Work Ride. It offers information to all types of cyclists from bicycle commuters to recreational riders to hard-core mountain bikers. The site features maps, trail information, safety tips, new bicycle projects (such as Utah’s first bicycle traffic signal at the south entrance to Liberty Park) and everything else you need to know to bike in Salt Lake City. bikeslc.com


This article was originally published on May 25, 2012.