Environmental news from around the state and the West.
—by Amy Brunvand
Transit funding on November ballots
On November 3, voters in Box Elder, Weber, Davis, Tooele, Salt Lake and Utah counties will be asked to vote on a “local option” sales tax to help pay for better public transit. If approved, sales tax would increase by one cent on every $4 spent; 40% of the money would go to the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) with the rest distributed to cities and counties. UTA promises to spend the money on more frequent service, longer service hours and additional weekend service, with a focus on enhancing bus service. UTA is accepting public comments about possible service improvements.
UTA Service Expansion: rideuta.com/mc/?page= UTA-Home-serviceimprovements
Blue Sky or brown sky?
How green is Rocky Mountain Power’s “Blue Sky” program, really? Blue Sky claims to support renewable energy projects, but a new report from HEAL Utah says the program is not as green as you might expect. The report, titled “Brown Sky,” says that when people pay extra on their energy bills for Blue Sky they think they are buying renewable energy for their own homes, but in fact they are still buying power from coal and natural gas . Renewable energy projects built with Blue Sky dollars don’t actually supply Rocky Mountain Power customers, and here in Utah, “about 84% of our electricity mix comes from fossil fuels—much higher than the national average.”
Disappointingly, the report concludes that Blue Sky is “a great way to channel people’s desire for clean energy, without disturbing the utility’s reliance upon fossil fuels.”
Brown Sky: The Truth About How Rocky Mountain Power Obstructs Renewable Energy: healutah.org/ wp-content/uploads/2015/08/ RMP-White-Paper-FINAL.pdf
Moab Master Leasing Plan: A chance to Get Things Right
The Moab Master Leasing Plan currently under development is a chance to get things right but public comments are essential. The plan governs oil and gas development on 750,000 acres of public land near Moab and could keep industrial development out of areas that are valued for recreation or wilderness.
When you submit comments, you might tell the BLM about your trips to the Moab area, with details about specific places and how your visits were enhanced by the area’s wilderness character or marred by oil and gas development, potash mining and so on.
Moab Master Leasing Plan (public comments due by November 15, 2015) blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/moab/MLP/deis.html
Native trout restoration in Mill Creek
In September wildlife biologists released a “piscicide” (fish killer) called rotenone into Mill Creek near Elbow Fork in order to remove non-native trout. This month the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources plans to restock the stream with native Bonneville cutthroats (the official state fish of Utah).
This is an exciting re-wilding project, restoring native species to their historic range. In the past Utah streams were stocked with non-native species like rainbow trout from California. Bonneville cutthroats evolved from fish in Pleistocene Lake Bonneville (which has shrunk down to become Great Salt Lake). They were thought to be extinct until remnant populations were found in the 1970s. Due to restoration efforts they now occupy nearly 2,500 miles of stream.
Mill Creek Restoration: wildlife.utah.gov/millcreek-restoration.html
Orrin Hatch vs. The Desert Tortoise
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has introduced bad-faith legislation trying to backtrack on a conservation agreement from 2009 and undermine the Endangered Species Act.
Back in 2009, then-Senator Bob Bennett and Congressman Jim Matheson negotiated a deal to sell 300,000 acres of federal public land in Washington County, Utah in exchange for designating Wilderness and National Conservation Areas including the 44,000 -acre Red Cliffs Reserve with habitat for Mojave Desert tortoises. The deal was included in the “2009 Omnibus Public Lands Management Act” and was widely praised as an example of how public lands controversies can be solved when all stakeholders are invited to the table.
Hatch’s bill (S. 1783) would change the agreement by designating a “Washington Parkway” transportation route though the Red Cliffs Reserve and mandating “that the designation and construction of the route is not subject to additional restrictions or requirements from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.”
The timing of Hatch’s bill seems intended to undermine a public planning process since a Draft Resource Management Plan for the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area is currently open for public comment through October 15. Citizens for Dixie’s Future opposes building any new transportation routes through the Red Cliffs Reserve.
Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, Draft RMP (Public comments due Oct 15): blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/ st__george/planning2/nca_resource_management.html; Citizens for Dixie’s Future: citizensfordixie.org