Environmental Politics, Think
Environews: September 2013
Hero beavers released in Uinta mountains; Stewart denies air pollution science; Sen. Lee attacks bicycle funds; Anti tar sands activists at work; Roads in the wilds.
—by Amy Brunvand
Hero beavers released in Uinta mountains
In August the heroic beavers of Willard Bay were released to a new home in the Uinta Mountains. The beavers are credited with building a dam that contained a spill of diesel fuel from a Chevron pipeline this past March. Five beavers injured by contact with the fuel were rescued by the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah and spent nearly five months recovering. Beaver dams are an important component of water conservation since they control soil erosion and prevent flood and drought. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is currently working to relocate beavers into unoccupied habitat in Utah in order improve water quality. Unfortunately, the beavers may not be safe in their new home. Utah wildlife regulations allow hunters to trap beavers using inhumane methods that are outlawed in other states. The Grand Canyon Trust has published a pamphlet outlining best management practices for living with beavers in Utah.
Stewart denies air pollution science
Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT-2) who represents parts of Salt Lake City has regressed from being a well-known climate change denier to being an air pollution denier as well. After the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that air quality on the Wasatch Front is out of compliance with federal regulations, Stewart sent EPA an angry letter demanding the public release of so-called “secret” data used in scientific studies linking air pollution to poor health. In fact, the data is not public because it contains personal medical information. In his letter, Stewart indicates that he believes older published studies are discredited merely because the EPA data sets have not been continually updated to support future research.
It seems that Stewart could verify for himself that air pollution is bad for people who breathe just by going outside in Salt Lake City on a red air day.
Sen. Lee attacks bicycle funds
Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) introduced an amendment to the transportation appropriations act that would eliminate the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP)—the program that helps local communities become safer for biking and walking. Rails to Trails Conservancy notes that in Utah TAP “helped develop a trail at the Fishers Towers Recreation Site and opened up Zion National Park and the Historic Union Pacific Rail Trail to multi-modal access.” A letter from Lee’s office said that “Senator Lee understands the importance of having well maintained trails but also believes that many of these functions should be reserved to the states and localities,” but notably Lee didn’t propose funding automobile infrastructure at the state level.
Anti tar-sands activists at work
Environmental activists are fighting with all they’ve got to stop the catastrophic start-up of tar-sands strip-mining in Utah that would industrialize backcountry and destroy habitat, pollute and deplete water, and emit greenhouse gases that contribute to global climate change. In July a coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit challenging federal approval of tar-sands mining permits that failed to consider impacts on endangered species. Groups supporting the lawsuit are Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild, Biodiversity Conservation Alliance, the Center for Biological Diversity and Sierra Club. Several of the same groups are also mounting a legal challenge to Utah Department of Air Quality’s June 21 approval of a new oil refinery in Green River that is intended to process oil from tar sands.
“The public needs to understand that the Colorado River Basin’s carbon bomb dwarfs Alberta’s,” said Taylor McKinnon, director of energy with Grand Canyon Trust. “In addition to polluting Utah’s already-dirty air, this refinery is another step toward massive strip mining, greenhouse gas emissions and Colorado River drying.”
Meanwhile climate activists from Peaceful Uprising hosted a Utah Canyon Country Action camp in August to practice the skills of nonviolent direct action. Over 100 activists from the camp joined a protest at the U.S. Oil Sands mine (operated by a Canadian company) at PR Springs, Utah. The U.S. Oil Sands Mine would be the first tar-sands strip-mine in the U.S. (See story, this issue.)
Utah wilderness bills re-introduced in congress
Only the U.S. Congress can add new areas to the U.S. Wilderness Protection System, and a new Congress convenes every two years after the general election. That means that Wilderness bills need to be re-introduced with each new congress. Even if Utah wilderness bills don’t pass, they are useful to help define existing boundaries of wilderness quality lands and to generate congressional support for conservation of those lands.
Roads in the wilds
The State of Utah has filed 29 lawsuits trying to claim ownership of about 36,000 miles roads and trails that criss-cross Utah federal public lands.Meanwhile, EarthJustice and Juab County sat down at the table to talk about dirt roads and proved that instead of contentious and expensive litigation it’s far easier, cheaper and more effective to have an honest dialog between stakeholders.