Environmental Politics, Think
Environews: November 2013
Federal government shutdown creates state of emergency in rural Utah. Also: Mining in Labyrinth Canyon. Salt Lake City Visioning. Clean Air Action Team. saltfront.
—by Amy Brunvand
Utahns got an unpleasant taste of an economy without federal public lands recreation in October when the Republican-led federal government shutdown occurred during the peak of fall tourist season. As national parks were shuttered and tourists canceled reservations en masse, rural Utah counties declared a state of emergency.
Even while Utah’s congressional delegation actively supported the shutdown in Washington D. C., Governor Gary Herbert called on President Obama to re-open national parks, complaining that park closures were “devastating individuals and businesses that rely on these areas for their livelihood.” After two tense weeks, negotiations with the U.S. Department of the Interior allowed the State of Utah to pay $166,572 per day to re-open a few of Utah’s parks. That put Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks, Glen Canyon and Natural Bridges back in business. However, most BLM and National Forest Service facilities remained closed.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewel made it clear that the State of Utah can only be re-paid for this expenditure by an Act of Congress, which led to the sorry spectacle of Utah’s four congressmen (all of whom were responsible for causing the shutdown) co-sponsoring legislation to demand that the U.S. Treasury “reimburse States that use State funds to operate national parks during the federal government shutdown.”
The question is, what lesson will Utah’s strident anti-federalist politicians learn?
It seems that the Outdoor Retailers have been right all along about the importance of public lands recreation to Utah’s economy, but in 2012 the Utah Legislature passed the “Transfer of Public Lands Act” which demands that most of Utah’s federal public land be transferred to state ownership. Some Utah politicians are already pointing to the 10-day park opening as supposed “proof” that Utah could do a better job managing public lands (never mind that in 2012 the Utah Legislature proposed doing away with Utah’s national parks altogether, or that state funding only covered 10 days of operation and Utah legislators expect the federal government to pay back the money).
The Outdoor Industry Association opposes the transfer of public lands noting that Utah “has not had a collaborative policy relationship with the outdoor industry” and that the outdoor recreation industry is “often surprised and frustrated by Utah’s unfavorable positions on public lands policy.”
In the past, Utah legislators have typically downplayed the economic importance of recreation, insisted that federal lands drain tax money from Utah and complained bitterly about federal environmental regulations on mining and oil and gas. We can anticipate that any transfer of public lands to the State of Utah would result in more industrial development and less conservation for wildlife and recreation. Now that we citizens know what Utah is like without federal public lands recreation, we should redouble our efforts to oppose the Utah land-grab and protect the places we love.
Mining in Labyrinth Canyon?
Utahns are often surprised to find out that some of our most beloved public lands wilderness and recreation areas have no protection from industrial development. Labyrinth Canyon on the Green River is a popular river trip for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and other youth groups because of easy flat-water canoeing and glorious redrock scenery. But in October The Bureau of Land Management issued a permit for American Potash (a subsidiary of a Canadian mining company), to develop mines in areas that have been proposed for Wilderness designation as part of America’s Redrock Wilderness Act.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance opposes the permit, saying, “The BLM has acknowledged that its current management plan for this area (a product of the Bush administration) failed to correctly identify areas where oil, gas and potash development should occur.”
Salt Lake City Visioning
Salt Lake City has released an “Existing Conditions Analysis” to support the quest for a greener, more sustainable downtown. The resulting document is a fascinating portrait of our community and the potential to make progress on such issues as air quality, transit, urban forests and other sustainable urban development. An accompanying “Public Engagement Report” identifies community values that could help drive sustainable planning decisions.
Downtown Plan SLC: downtownplanslc.com/home-2/publications/
And this time, listen to the list-makers
The Downtown SLC plan says, “On average Salt Lake City experienced 11 hazardous or ‘red’ air days annually from 2000 to 2012.” Last year Governor Gary Herbert announced a voluntary air pollution reduction campaign.
The results? Wasatch Front air quality is no better. In fact, a study from the University of Utah Geography Department found that red air alerts actually increase traffic as Salt Lakers flock to the Wasatch Mountains for a breath of fresh air.
This year, Governor Herbert has appointed a 38-member Clean Air Action Team charged with “recommending practical and effective strategies to improve Utah’s air quality.”
The team might start by reviewing a similar list of recommendations produced by Governor Bangerter’s Clean Air Commission 22 years ago.
Clean Air Action Team: utah.gov/governor/ news_media/article.html?article=9409
Stericycle turns medical waste into air pollution
The well-known community activist Erin Brockovich (played by Julia Roberts in a 2000 Hollywood movie) came to Salt Lake City to join protesters trying to shut down the Stericycle medical waste incinerator in North Salt Lake. Medical doctors involved with Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment say that “incinerators do not eliminate hazardous substances; they concentrate them, and even create new ones.”
The incinerator burns toxic medical waste like bloody surgical bandages, toxic chemicals like chemotherapy agents, human organs and animal carcasses suspected of dying of diseases known to be transmissible to humans.
Stericycle was caught by the Division of Air Quality falsifying records and emitting 400% more dioxins than their permit allows. Dr. Scott Hurst pointed out that the incinerator is just part of the problem: “The concentration of five oil refineries, I-15, Legacy Parkway, nearby Hill Air Force Base, and numerous smaller industries, all emitting pollution that converge on South Davis and North Salt Lake make this area a true pollution hot spot.”
Communities for Clean Air:
saltfront: a new environmental literary journal for SLC
The first issue of saltfront is out. And we learn a new word: The new arts and literary journal, published in Salt Lake City, is named after the “a site of mixing, interaction, and transformation,” particularly between fresh and salt water.
The concept began in a bar last March among grad students of the University of Utah Environmental Humanities program, who lamented the lack of publications that print the type of writing they were doing. The journal aims to find “new ways to tell stories of what it means to be human amidst the monumental ecological transformations taking place on this planet.” The magazine prints twice a year.
$12; $22/year. Available at King’s English, Ken Sanders Book, Wellerworks and online: saltfront.org/index.html.