Environmental Politics, Think
Environews: March 2012
Fact-checking Herbert’s State of the State; Salazar limits Utah oil shale/tar sands leasing; conservation in the west; SLC community food assessment; water subsidy = water waste; Green River: nuclear reactors vs. melons (and more).
In January, Utah governor Gary Herbert delivered a radically anti-federal government, anti-environmental State of the State speech blaming federal regulation for the poor economy and attacking conservation of public lands and declaring Utah a self-sufficient sovereign state. Never mind that a report from Utah Vital Signs says Utah went into ecological overshoot in 2003 to the point that “ Utah citizens are now consuming 11% more of nature’s annual ‘interest’ of renewable biological capacity than the lands and waters of Utah can provide annually.” The governor’s plans are likely to hurt efforts to create a more sustainable future in Utah.
• In the speech Herbert claimed that his 10 Year Strategic Energy Plan will promote energy independence.
In fact: Herbert’s plan promotes fossil fuel dependence and prioritizes destructive energy development on public lands.
• Herbert blamed federal environmental laws for halting energy development on Utah public lands.
In fact: A report from Headwaters Economics shows that oil and gas production in Utah is currently at a 20-year high. The Headwaters report also notes, “Getting past hyperbole is critical to informed public policy decisions about how to manage state and federal lands, what tax policies best reflect longterm interest of communities, how to protect air and water resources, and how to encourage a healthy energy industry.”
• Herbert boasted, “Whether fighting the federal government on ownership and control of our RS2477 roads, restoring our mule deer population, defending multiple use of our public lands, ending the budget-busting drain of Medicaid, or challenging the constitutionality of mandatory nationalized healthcare in the Supreme Court, be assured that this governor is firmly resolved to fortify our state as a bulwark against federal overreach.”
In fact: Never mind that suing the federal government would cost taxpayers a bundle: Utah’s mule deer herds are in decline because of RS2477 roads and the multiple use policy. The Utah DWR Statewide Management Plan for Mule Deer says degraded winter range, a boom in energy development, uncontrolled OHV use and drought are the major causes of mule deer population decline. (Despite the science, the first instinct of Utah legislators was to blame predators, and Sen. Ralph Okerlund (R-24) introduced a bill encouraging hunters to kill more coyotes.)
On the plus side, Herbert promised not to ignore the “human and economic consequences of poor air quality.” It turned out he was less worried about human health than getting federal dollars. Utah stands to lose significant federal transportation funding if the State continues to violate those pesky federal clean air regulations. Instead of doing something significant like, say, encouraging the Division of Air Quality to regulate air pollution from the Kennecott pit expansion, Herbert introduced a voluntary program called the Utah Clean Air Partnership (UCAIR).
Salazar limits Utah oil shale/tar sands leasing
In 2008, when the Bush Administration fast-tracked oil shale and tar sands development on two million acres of Western public lands, Utah politicians immediately became cheerleaders for the industry. Colorado and Wyoming, however, were skeptical about environmental impacts and opposed the rush to strip-mine for fossil fuel. This February, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar placed a hiatus on Bush’s fast-track plan in order to evaluate it further. In response, Utah Governor Gary Herbert issued this particularly undignified official statement: “I see absolutely no benefit. This nonsensical, bass-ackwards, peek-a-boo policy is nothing more than political posturing by over-reaching federal bureaucrats. How about they seek our input, we comment on it first and THEN [sic] they make a decision? With no science and no data, and with a wave of their federal bureaucratic magic wand, they just take the bulk of the acreage off the market, stifle innovation, and demonstrate, yet again, that this administration is patently hostile toward even the possible development of much needed energy resources.”
Ironically, Secretary Salazar withdrew the leases specifically because after reviewing public input and comments, the Government Accountability Office found that science and data don’t support the Bush era leasing plan.
Conservation in the West
A 2012 poll by Colorado College found that “Utah voters across the political spectrum—from Tea Party supporters to those who identify with the Occupy Wall Street movement and voters in-between—support upholding and strengthening protections for clean air, clean water, natural areas and wildlife. Voters also view Utah’s parks and public lands as essential to their state’s economy, and quality of life.” The report notes that even though Utah had the strongest pro-conservation response of the six states polled (AZ, CO, MT, NM, UT, WY), the results are in sharp contrast to the anti-conservation positions taken by Utah elected officials.
Green River: nuclear reactors vs. melons (and more)
Does Utah really have so much extra water that we can squander 53,000 acre-feet (as much as much water as a city of 200,000 people uses in an entire year) on a nuclear reactor in Green River? State Water Engineer Kent Jones thinks so. In January he declared the Blue Castle Holdings nuclear project “economically feasible” and approved a massive water transfer to the company. Just a few days later it turned out that the biggest investor in Blue Castle Holdings was scamming investors. Jones admitted he hadn’t investigated the validity of the plan.
HEAL Utah hopes a lawsuit can reverse the nuclear power water grab since sucking so much water out of the Green River would not only hurt wildlife habitat and recreation, it might cut off Utah’s supply of the world’s most delicious melons which are, of course, grown in Green River.
SLC community food assessment
Speaking of melons, Salt Lake City is conducting a community food assessment to evaluate the City’s local food system from production-to-plate to food waste. In conjunction with this project the City has drawn a map to show how much food you could potentially grow in your own yard.
Water subsidy = water waste
Did you know that Washington County, Utah, is America’s most wasteful water user—even worse than Las Vegas? The true cost of water is hidden from water users because the Washington County Water District receives 51% of its revenues from property taxes—so people are unaware of their water consumption. Worse, Washington County wants Utah taxpayers to cough up $1.4 billion to build a pipeline from Lake Powell so they can keep on squandering water.
A better solution is to encourage conservation by letting water users pay directly for what they use. That’s why one of the most important environmental bills before the Utah legislature is Senate Bill 78 which would phase out property taxes for water in counties with 125,000 people or more (a portion of Salt Lake County’s property taxes go toward the Central Utah Project) and let people who conserve water save money.