Environews, Regulars and Shorts

Environews: May 2012

By Amy Brunvand

SLC climate change resolution; Tesoro refineries and your lungs; Lawsuit targets Utah nuke plant; Desolation Wilterness drilling; Alton Coal vs. Bryce Canyon; Matheson promotes Wasatch Wilderness.

If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from its current 385 ppm to at most 350 ppm.
—Dr. James Hansen

SLC climate change resolution

Joining a larger “Clean Air Cities’ campaign, the Salt Lake City Council approved a resolution urging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and President Obama to employ the Clean Air Act to do our part to reduce carbon in our atmosphere to no more than 350 parts per million (the level scientists say is needed to avoid catastrophic climate change). Local government action on climate change is especially important because, as a Natural Resources Defense Council report notes, “climate action at the federal legislative and state government levels has noticeably diminished as economic conditions have deteriorated and political interests have shifted.” The NRDC report lists Utah as one of the most unprepared states in the nation with regard to coping with climate change impacts on our water supply. tinyurl.com/slcclimateresolution

Tesoro refineries and your lungs

Never mind that the Wasatch Front has some of the worst air quality in the Nation, the Utah Division of Air Quality (DAQ) keeps on issuing permits for even more pollution. Last year Rio Tinto (Kennecott) applied to increase in their pollution emissions by 54% to 65% to be able to expand their mining operations. Now Tesoro wants to expand its oil refinery in north Salt Lake City, adding even more pollution to Utah’s already dirty air. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment warns that refinery emissions are particularly toxic and will increase childhood asthma and other illnesses, but alarmingly, DAQ says they can’t deny a permit because under Utah law the refinery is allowed to emit more pollution. Groups working to stop the refinery expansion include Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. uphe.org

Lawsuit targets Utah nuke plant

A coalition of environmental groups and individuals has filed a lawsuit arguing that State Engineer Kent Jones failed to uphold state law when he gave Blue Castle Holdings approval to take more than 50,000 acre feet of water from the Green River in order to cool their nuclear power project. Currently there is no un-appropriated water in the Green River, and sucking more water out of the river would have serious impacts on wildlife, farming and rafting. During drought periods (which are predicted to get worse according to climate change models) there may not be enough water in the river to cool a nuclear plant that could precipitate a Fukushima-style catastrophe. Jones dismissed these concerns with climate-change denial stating that he was “not aware that any available predictive model has been scientifically validated as a definitive predictor of future conditions.” Environmental groups participating in the lawsuit include HEAL Utah, Uranium Watch, Living Rivers, Center for Water Advocacy and Utah Rivers Council. healutah.org

Desolation Wilderness drilling

Nuclear power isn’t the only threat to Utah’s Green River. A storm of protest has arisen over a plan by Gasco, a Colorado company, to drill nearly 1,300 new natural gas wells near Desolation Canyon which is one of the one of the largest blocks of roadless BLM public lands within the continental United States, as well as a world-class river-rafting destination. A letter from Congressman Maurice Hinchey (NY-D) advocates for a less damaging alternative: “Though the BLM recognizes that Desolation Canyon is a wilderness resource, the area is managed under a significantly flawed plan finalized the last [i.e. Bush] administration and those values are not being upheld.” suwa.org

Alton Coal vs. Bryce Canyon

The May/June 2012 issue of Sierra magazine offers an in-depth article about the proposed Alton Coal Mine strip mine expansion near Bryce Canyon National Park. The coal would be used to generate electricity for Los Angeles. The Sierra Club suggests this creative alternative: “Instead of destroying a national park to create dirty energy from coal, the sun-drenched city of Los Angeles should create its own solar energy.” tinyurl.com/brycecanyoncoal

Matheson promotes Wasatch Wilderness

In March Congressman Jim Matheson (UT-D-2) reintroduced the “Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act” to protect critical watershed in the Wasatch canyons above the Salt Lake Valley. The bill would create a Grandeur Peak wilderness area of 26,000 acres, also expanding existing wilderness protection for Mount Olympus, Twin Peaks and Lone Peak. Since the population of the Wasatch Front is predicted to grow by 1.4 million people (!) over the coming 30 years, Matheson says, “The alternatives to supply the burgeoning population would be costly recycling of water and extreme conservation measures.” The Act was originally introduced in 2010, but never received a vote. saveourcanyons.org

This article was originally published on April 25, 2012.