Environmental news from around the state and the West.
—by Amy Brunvand
Book Cliffs leasing angers hunters, anglers
Utah Governor Gary Herbert and Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) found out that they can’t control their own oil and gas monster when the State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) leased a Book Cliffs roadless area that is highly valued by hunters and anglers.
In his 2013 State of the State speech Utah Governor Herbert declared, “I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again—in fact, I’ll keep saying it until it’s understood from L.A. to D.C.: Responsible development of Utah’s energy resources and the protection of Utah’s scenic wonders are not mutually exclusive ideas!” The governor had to eat his words after Trout Unlimited, The Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and others complained that the public was never informed of plans to issue oil and gas leases surrounding property that was acquired by The Nature Conservancy specifically in order to protect game herds. Ironically, SITLA receives money from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses in order to profit from such lands.
In response to public outcry, the governor issued a statement saying, “SITLA’s decision to lease the entire Book Cliffs block could be at the expense of a more vital and potentially more valuable land management strategy.”
According to Utah Law, SITLA has the sole mandate to generate maximum profits that provide about 1% of the funding for Utah public schools. Because SITLA board members are paid bonuses according to how much money they raise (and not by budget allocation) the organization has zero accountability for its actions to either State government or to Utah citizens.
This lack of public accountability has caused problems in the past, such as when SITLA issued drilling leases next to a camp for school children, or when they threatened to sell developers the famous climbing area at Castleton Tower and the blue-ribbon fishing access at Little Hole on the Green River, or when they offered speculators bargain-basement prices on tar-sands leases near PR Spring in order to enable the first tar-sands strip mining operations in the United States.
The secretive Book Cliffs deal was particularly embarrassing for politicians because Utah Congressman Bishop is proposing to strike a “Grand Bargain” in order to determine the future of Utah’s federal wildlands. If such a bill is written, state-owned property such as the roadless areas of the Book Cliffs could be essential as bargaining chips to negotiate federal land trades.
In the end, SITLA refused to budge to public or political pressure, but Governor Herbert was able to negotiate with Anadarko Petroleum, the company that holds the leases. With the petroleum company on board, SITLA reluctantly agreed to delay leasing until 2016 while seeking an alternative plan.
This latest debacle shows yet again that Utah legislature needs to change the law in order to hold SITLA accountable to public interests.
San Rafael Swell in the oil & gas crosshairs
It would be nice if Governor Herbert and Utah’s congressional delegation would recognize that recreation in the popular San Rafael Swell is a more valuable land management strategy than oil & gas development. On September 17 over 200 citizens spent their lunch hour gathered in front of the Salt Lake City Bureau of Land Management (BLM) office to protest an oil and gas lease auction planned for November that includes Wilderness Inventory Areas in Eagle Canyon and Lost Spring Wash.
Astonishingly, the original lease sale announcement included parts of the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry (where Utah’s state fossil, the Allosaurus is found) that are protected by federal law. When the mistake was pointed out BLM responded ingenuously that the public comment process works, essentially placing responsibility on the public to suss out illegal leasing activity.
The problem of over-eager leasing in sensitive Wilderness areas is largely caused by BLM Resource Management Plans that were written during the Bush era when public land managers were under tremendous pressure to develop everything and conserve nothing. Environmental groups are currently challenging the Bush-era plans in court.
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: http://suwa.org
Feds reject West Davis Corridor; Bishop throws hissy fit
Utah transportation planners failed to learn their lesson from the protracted Legacy Highway fights of the past—that it’s essential to consider environmental impacts of highway building.
After State officials approved a controversial route for the West Davis Corridor, an extension of the existing Legacy Parkway that would cut though Great Salt Lake wetlands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service slammed the plan because Great Salt Lake is an essential part of the Western Hemispheric Shorebird Reserve Network and “the GSL ecosystem is an irreplaceable and immitigable resource due to its location within an arid region, large size, diversity of habitats for migratory birds, and the sheer number of birds, estimated at 7.5 million per year. ” USFWS recommended the no-build alternative: “We note that a local coalition has proposed another alternative which has been termed the “Shared Solution.” We encourage UDOT to fully vet this alternative as it did with all 23 preliminary alternatives and to provide its agency resources to further develop and assess its details.” The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which needs to approve the highway plan, also supported the no-build plan citing inadequate water quality and air quality assessment.
In response to this harsh criticism from federal agencies Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) wrote an angry editorial insisting, “We refuse to accept the notion that it’s OK to sacrifice the rights of families living in their homes just so a road disrupts fewer wetlands. It is our firm belief that the West Davis Corridor can be built in harmony with both urban and ecological needs.”
In fact, that’s exactly what the citizens’ “shared solution” would accomplish. If Bishop is really serious about finding an ecological solution and not just boosting more highway construction, he should throw his support behind the Shared Solution.
Shared Solution: http://sharedsolution.org
Water developers squander public money
A Government Records Access and Management Act request filed by the Utah Rivers Council (URC) found that the Washington County Water District paid a Las Vegas consultant over $100,000 to market the proposed $1.5 billion Lake Powell Pipeline to area residents and elected officials.
This amount adds to the $25 million the State of Utah has spent to date on the highly controversial water project. URC points out that the same money could have financed a significant water conservation campaign.
Utah Rivers Council: http://utahrivers.org
Trees and spirituality
The University of Utah Center for Science and Mathematics Education (CSME) is seeking faith communities to participate in a program to raise awareness of trees that grow in places of worship. The first publication from the project, “Trees, Spirituality, & Science: A Guide to the Trees of the First Unitarian Church of Salt Lake City” has been published on the CSME website.
Faith-Based Public Engagement: http://csme.utah.edu/faith-based-public-engagement/
County boosts recycling
Salt Lake County is hoping to boost recycling with a new website that explains what to put in your blue bins. The County estimates that 65% of the material in the County landfill could have been recycled. NOTE: Be sure to click on the “by City” link and choose your area. Salt Lake County is comprised of about 17 separate cities with various recycling facilities and regulations.
Salt Lake County Recycling: http://recycle.slco.org