Environews, Regulars and Shorts

Environews: May 2014

May 4, 2014

Amy Brunvand

NV rancher provokes public lands brawl; San Juan ATVs to stage illegal ride; Dirty fuels, clean futures; Oil spills & water pollution; Sprawl in Utah.

Nevada Rancher provokes public lands brawl

In April a public lands dispute erupted dangerously close to armed violence in Nevada. The situation developed after the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rounded up cattle owned by Cliven Bundy, a Nevada rancher who has refused to pay grazing fees over a 20-year period (and who incidentally has too many cattle grazing in federally protected desert tortoise habitat). Bundy insisted that he doesn’t have to obey federal laws and Fox News promoted him as an anti-government hero. Pretty soon Bundy had attracted a self-styled armed militia waving guns and flags in defense of his supposed right to take public resources without paying fees.

A letter written by Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ-3) traced Bundy’s false ideas about states’ rights to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and called on the U.S. Dept. of the Interior to investigate the role of ALEC in promoting state laws that directly contradict federal land management policies and directives.

The Utah Transfer of Public Lands Act introduced by state representative and ALEC member Ken Ivory (R-West Jordan) and signed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert in 2012 is clearly based on ALEC model legislation. ALEC is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that has claims not to engage in lobbying activity but Grujalva’s letter says, “ALEC’s pattern of activity raises serious questions about how changes to land management laws and regulations, especially in the Western United States, are being pushed by ALEC without public disclosure of its role or that of the corporations that fund its legislative agenda.”

Even as the situation in Nevada unfolded, Ivory, Herbert, Utah Speaker of the House Becky Lockhart and other Utah politicians gathered closed-door for a “Legislative Summit on the Transfer for Public Lands” with other western lawmakers to strategize for the ALEC anti-public lands agenda.

Governer Herbert insisted, “The Cliven Bundy issue is completely separate from any discussion we have on public lands here in Utah.” However, Herbert is among those responsible for spreading vitriolic anti-government rhetoric and Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) has stated that federal control of public lands is “unconstitutional.”

Utah politicians need take responsibility for their own inflammatory speech if they hope to tame the angry anti-government monster they helped create.

San Juan ATVs to stage illegal ride

Insisting that he is absolutely not inspired by Cliven Bundy, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman is organizing an illegal off-road vehicle ride through Recapture Wash near Blanding, Utah. Recapture Wash was closed to vehicle traffic in 2007 by the BLM Monticello Field Office in order to protect archeological sites after an illegally constructed vehicle route was discovered in the canyon. Unfortunately, the BLM Monticello Field Office wants to legitimize other “existing, although undesignated, routes” in Blanding to Bulldog, Jacob’s Chair, Nokai Dome, River House and Woodenshoe.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance calls the proposal “reckless management that encourages more illegal user-created trails on public lands” and notes that BLM has inadequate staff to monitor the 3,000 miles of already-designated motorized routes in the area.

Dirty fuels, clean futures

While Utah Governor Gary Herbert dreams of Utah becoming the next North Dakota (he’s envious of their oil boom, at least until it goes bust the way booms always do, leaving social and economic ills behind) a new Sierra Club report says that developing just 10% of oil shale contained in the Green River Formation of the Uinta Basin would create eight times as much CO2 pollution than what new CAFE standards would prevent.

“Utah could have the dubious distinction of becoming the dirty energy and climate-disrupting capitol of the U.S.,” says Tim Wagner of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. Expanding Uinta-based shale oil extraction could suck up as much water per year as is used altogether by the cities of Denver, Salt Lake City and Albuquerque.

The Sierra Club is calling for a national action plan to keep dirty fuels in the ground. The Club recommends: 1) the Obama Administration should withdraw all federal lands from consideration for oil shale and tar sands development and 2) the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) should not collaborate with the state of Utah to trade federal lands away that facilitate oil shale and tar sands development without any federal safeguards.

•Dirty Fuels, Clean Futures report: content.sierraclub.org/ourwildamerica/resources

Oil spills and water pollution

Oil companies insist that environmental regulations are overbearing and unneeded, but in March hikers discovered an oil spill in the backcountry of Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument from oil wells that were grandfathered in when the Monument was established. It is not clear whether some of the oil is from a decades-old leak but some is clearly from recent leaks that went unreported by Citation Oil Company which operates five active production wells and two injection wells on the Monument.

The Utah Rivers Council says that Utah’s lax environmental oversight and energy-friendly politics over the past 30 years have resulted in a massive increase in Utah public lands energy development, creating a sprawling industrialized landscape in the Uinta Basin that is seriously threatening wildlife habitat and water supplies for 35 million people who live downstream.

Utah Rivers Council: utahrivers.org

Sprawl in Utah

The University of Utah Metropolitan Research Center developed a way to measure urban sprawl that has been used by Smart Growth America to rank U.S. counties. The report says that urban sprawl has been linked to physical inactivity, obesity, traffic fatalities, poor air quality, increased residential energy use, slow emergency response times, teenage driving, lack of social capital and longer private-vehicle commute distances and times.

A bigger number generally indicates better livability: the average index is 100, meaning areas with scores higher than 100 tend to be more compact and connected and areas with scores lower than 100 are more sprawling.


Cache 110.14

Davis 104.52

Juab 82.20

Salt Lake 120.12

Summit 83.61

Tooele 85.94

Utah 109.98

Washington 90.67

Weber 111.17

Measuring Sprawl 2014″ smartgrowthamerica.org/ documents/measuring-sprawl-2014.pdf