Environews: November 2017

By Amy Brunvand

At a material level, life cannot exist without death: recycling of organic matter in the biosphere makes it about two hundred times more productive than it would otherwise be. _Caspar Henderson, The Book of Barely Imagined Beings: A 21st Century Beastrairy

Bishop attacks Antiquities Act

Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) has launched an attack against the Antiquities Act of 1906 which is part of the conservation legacy of president Theodore Roosevelt.

The Antiquities Act allows presidents to create national monuments on federal public lands without approval from the U.S. Congress and it was originally passed to enable quick action in response to looting of Native American artifacts.

Bishop’s bill to alter the Antiquities Act is cynically titled “The National Monument Creation and Protection Act,” even though it is a horror show of anti-monument rules.

The legislation would severely limit the size of new national monuments and forbid creating several monuments within 50 miles of each other. It would require county and state government approval to designate national monuments, and give private landowners veto power if they own property adjacent to proposed monuments. It would also change the rules to allow sitting presidents to shrink existing monuments so that President Trump could shrink Utah’s Bears Ears and Escalante Grand Staircase National Monuments without needing congress to vote.

Historically, if Bishop’s law had been in effect, most of Utah’s national parks and monuments would never have been created including Arches National Park, Bears Ears National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Dinosaur National Monument and Zion National Park. It’s hard to imagine Utah without these places. The Antiquities Act has been essential in shaping the landscape of the entire American West.

Bishop’s attack on public lands is part of a national Republican Party agenda to privatize America’s public lands. The 2016 Republican Platform calls for undermining the Antiquities Act as part of an agenda to transfer ownership of public lands to state government.

U.S. Oil Sands goes bankrupt

The first tar sands strip mine in the United States has run out of money, leaving behind a 100-acre open pit and the 40-mile Seep Ridge “road to nowhere” paved at taxpayer expense at a cost of $86.5 million.

In September, U.S. Oil Sands Inc. (a misleadingly named Canadian company) suddenly announced that they had gone into receivership, meaning they no longer have enough money to pay financial obligations.

Western Resource Advocates calls oil shale and tar sands “the most polluting fuels on the planet.” The mining process, similar to mountaintop removal in the Appalachian Mountains, involves stripping away plants and soil, crushing rock, and cooking it with chemicals to extract oil. The landscape and ecosystem are destroyed and replaced with organically dead material that the company calls “clean sand.”

Despite the industrial ecocide taking place in Canadian tar sands, the Bush administration made a push to open U.S. public lands to oil shale and tar sands leasing. The State of Utah played along, offering incentives to promote so-called “unconventional fuel” development including low royalty payments, tax incentives, and leases on State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) lands in order to help mining operations avoid federal environmental regulations.

In 2012, U.S. Oil Sands dug a test pit on land leased from SITLA at PR Springs in the Book Cliffs and the company holds leases for the potential development of strip mines on 32,000 acres of SITLA property in the Uinta Basin. For the past six years, protesters with Utah Tar Sands Resistance have been holding a vigil at PR Spring to bear witness to the sacrifice of Utah’s environment.

Anti-environmental Utahn to drive BLM policy

Utah politico Brian Steed has been appointed as BLM Deputy Director of Programs and Policy. Steed was chief of staff to Representative Chris Stewart (R-Ut-2) since 2013. Prior to that, he was a political science and economics Instructor at Utah State University where he co-authored a number of papers opposing national monument designation and wilderness conservation.

BLM cancels sage grouse study

The Trump administration has canceled an environmental impact study of sage grouse habitat in six western states including Utah. The study, which began in 2015, designated a 10-millionacre Sagebrush Focal Area in order to study the impacts of resource extraction on sagebrush ecosystems.

Acting BLM director Mike Nedd says, “The proposal to withdraw 10 million acres to prevent 10,000 from potential mineral development was a complete overreach.” Of course, without the study it is impossible to know which acres are essential sage grouse habitat since mineral leasing will resume in the entire area.

SLC bike trails expand

Crisp fall weather makes this a great time to get out and explore some new additions to Salt Lake City’s non-motorized trail system.

A new segment of Parley’s Trail opened in October, linking Tanner Park to 1700 East along the I-80 freeway corridor. With this new segment in place, the trail extends east/west along the S-Line and through Sugar House Park to connect the Jordan River Trail and the Bonneville Shoreline Trail.

A long-planned Sego Lily Plaza artwork is under construction in Sugar House Park near the 1300 East underpass. The giant sego lily, designed by artist Patricia Johanson, is a sculpture designed for flood control to direct runoff under 1300 East and into Parley’s Creek. (Due to this construction, the bike underpass tunnel is currently closed, blocking access to Sugar House Park.)

At 200 South and North Temple, Salt Lake City is constructing a bridge over the railroad tracks in order to connect segments of the 45-mile Jordan River Trail that runs from Utah Lake to Great Salt Lake marshes.

Bears Ears dance a triumph

Congratulations to Repertory Dance Theatre (RDT) In October, RDT presented a new work to celebrate Utah’s newest national monument (if we can keep it). “Dancing the Bears Ears,” a world-premiere by choreographer Zvi Gotheiner, got rave reviews from both dancers and environmentalists. The rhythmic movement, set against multimedia images of the Bears Ears region conveyed a profound spiritual and emotional response to an extraordinary landscape. With the new National Monument under political attack, this unabashed celebration was a healing balm for the community. This work of art came at exactly the right time, and I hope it will be performed again in the near future.

U of U moves toward clean energy

The University of Utah has signed a contract for clean energy that will reduce the university’s total carbon emissions by 25%. The purchase agreement with Cyrq Energy will provide 20 megawatts of geothermal energy and 10 megawatts of solar energy to the university for the next 25 years.

This article was originally published on November 1, 2017.