Environews, Regulars and Shorts

Environews: October 2012

By Amy Brunvand

Salt Creek lawsuit back from the dead; GOP platform attacks Western public lands; Governor withdraws Radiation Board nomination; Beaver conspiracy theory; Leases are still illegal, DeChristopher still in the pen; Fracking in Moab?; CO2 emis- sions decline in the Mountain West; Prop. #1, regional parks and trails; Sierra Club political endorsments.

—by Amy Brunvand

Salt Creek lawsuit: Back from the dead

Salt Creek is a freshwater stream that forms from snowmelt off the Abajo Mountains and runs through Canyonlands National Park, so why does the state of Utah keep insisting that it’s a highway? The answer seems to be because if the state could only force the Park Service to let jeeps drive in Salt Creek, then they would be able to claim a road exists pretty much anywhere they want it to.
Off-road vehicles were banned from driving in Salt Creek in 1998 after studies showed that they were damaging the river ecosystem and archaeological sites. A series of lawsuits by San Juan County and the State of Utah has affirmed that the Park Service decision was justified—Salt Creek is not a road. But now the State of Utah is spending even more tax dollars to appeal.
Ironically, Governor Gary Herbert has tried to calm fears about bad consequenses of his federal land grab proposal by insisting that no national parks will be harmed. In an ill-tempered letter responding to criticism from Outdoor Retailers, Herbert even wrote that national parks, national monuments, designated wilderness areas and historic sites “would remain under federal control, and a committee would be tasked with determining other areas of unique character and beauty which would be protected by statute.” If that were an honest intent, it seems the State of Utah would immediately give up their R.S. 2477 road claim to Salt Creek, a uniquely beautiful area inside a National Park.

GOP platform attacks Western public lands

Governor Gary Herbert’s attempt to grab state control of federal lands in Utah has made it into the official 2012 Republican Platform which says, “Congress should reconsider whether parts of the federal government’s enormous landholdings and control of water in the West could be better used for ranching, mining, or forestry through private ownership.”

Governor withdraws Radiation Board nomination

Governor Gary Herbert’s nomination of EnergySolutions executive Dan Shrum to the state’s Radiation Control Board was too much even for his fellow Republicans. After a storm of citizen protest over the failure of state regulators to prevent EnergySolutions for accepting hotter nuclear waste, a legislative audit was performed. The auditors found that due to a cozy relationship between EnergySolutions and the Utah Division of Environmetnal Quality, “prohibited nuclear waste has come to Utah,” and “current controls do not adequately prevent banned nuclear waste.” State Senate President Michael Waddoups (R-Taylors­ville) demanded better accountability, and shortly afterwords Herbert withdrew the nomination.
le.utah.gov/audit/12_10rpt.pdf, healutah.org

Beaver conspiracy theory

Along with those mysterious black helicopters, add furry brown rodents to the list of conspiracies that threaten American freedom. The Utah Division of Wildlife offered to reintroduce beavers on Boulder Mountain to help improve the local water supply since beavers build dams that conserve snowmelt and keep streams running all summer. Garfield county commissioners said no way. They feared that environmentalists would find a way to use beavers to attack livestock grazing on public lands. Huh?

Leases are still illegal, DeChristopher is still in the pen

After Interior Secretary Ken Salazar withdrew 77 oil and gas leases that environmental activist Tim DeChristopher bid on at the infamous December 2008 Utah BLM oil & gas lease sale, the Energy Industry responded by appealing the decision in court. In September the court decided in favor of Salazar, so the leases were illegal then and they are still illegal now.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance applauds the court’s decision, but says there is still a larger battle to fight concerning pro-development BLM Resource Man­age­ment Plans from the Bush era which enabled such irresponsible leasing in the first place.
Meanwhile, DeChristopher appealed but failed to overturn his conviction. He is currently in a Colorado prison scheduled to be released on April 21, 2013, the day before Earth Day. Meanwhile, “Bidder 70,” a documentary about DeChristopher’s action, is earning glowing reviews at film festivals around the country, drawing national attention to Utah’s threatened public lands.
suwa.org/2012/09/07/reflecting-on-the-77-leases-ruling, bidder70film.com

Fracking in Moab?

Moab’s drinking water comes from underground wells, so fracking for natural gas there seems like an especially bad idea. Short for ” hydraulic fracturing, ” fracking means injecting liquid underground to fracture rocks and release natural gas. The procedure has caused groundwater contamination in other parts of the country (though the natural gas industry denies it) but nontheless the Utah BLM is proposing to sell or lease natural gas parcels near Moab’s water source. A Draft Environmental Assessment is available for public comment on the BLM website:
blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/moab/energy/oilgasleasesalefeb2013.html, signon.org/sign/protect-the-moab-utah

CO2 emissions decline in the Mountain West

It’s working! Greenhouse gas emissions from power plants in the Mountain West are on the decline, according to a new report from Western Resource Advocates. The reduction in CO2 is due to closing a coal-fired plant in Nevada, reduced demand for electricity caused by the recession, better regulatory policies, and community sustainability efforts.

Proposition #1: Regional parks & trails

On the November ballot, Salt Lake County voters will have the opportunity to support urban open space by approving a Park and Trails Bond, which authorizes the County to issue $47 million in bonds to complete the Jordan River Parkway Trail, Parley’s Trail, acquire land for future park development in Magna, and build three new regional parks in Bluffdale, Draper and West Valley City/Kearns.

Sierra Club political endorsements

The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club has announced political endorsements for the Utah Legislature and Salt Lake Coutnty. Look on their website to see their picks and vote for the environment!

This article was originally published on September 28, 2012.