Environmental Politics, Think
To be alive in this beautiful, self-organizing universe—to participate in the dance of life with senses to perceive it, lungs that breathe it, organs that draw nourishment from it–is a wonder beyond words. Gratitude for the gift of life is the primary wellspring of all religions, the hallmark of the mystic, the source of all true art. Furthermore, it is a privilege to be alive in this time when we can choose to take part in the self-healing of our world.
—Joanna Macy, Personal Guidelines
Utah legislative session bill trackers
The 2020 General Session of the Utah Legislature ends March 12, 2020. The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club and HEAL Utah track priority environmental bills that they support or oppose to help you know what’s happening on the hill. (See “At the Capitol,” this issue.)
2020 Utah Legislative Tracker: utah.sierraclub.org/priority-bills. HEAL Utah 2020 Bill Tracker: healutah.org/billtracker/
Fact-checking the Inland Port
Since the State of Utah has so far failed to analyze environmental impacts of building an inland port northwest of Salt Lake City, a coalition of citizen groups has released a fact sheet to address environmental and quality-of-life concerns.
The Coalition to Stop the Polluting Port looked at the experience of other cities where inland ports are massive sources of pollution and environmental degradation and mainly provide low-paying warehouse jobs that are threatened by obsolescence due to automation. Here are some of their findings.
The port would become a significant new source of air pollution in the Salt Lake Valley, with Westside neighborhoods most heavily affected.
The proposed construction area is in wetland habitat, directly in the flight path of 10 million migratory birds.
Since wetlands breed midges, gnats and mosquitoes, human use of the area will require heavy use of pesticides, exposing birds and humans to toxic chemicals.
The planned port would generate up to 25,600 additional truck and car trips each day, exceeding the capacity of existing roads.
A proposed system of satellite ports is being developed in secret with no public input, including one in Tooele that would increase traffic on I-80 even more.
The fossil fuel-dependent port would also be a source of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.
The report concludes, “There needs to be a balance of profit, planet and people in order to preserve our society and natural world. We need to understand how economic decisions can affect the environments. Our current economic system based on unlimited fossil fuel consumption is not sustainable. The Utah inland Port looks backward—we must look forward.“
Common Sense vs. the Utah Inland Port: It’s Time for Answers to Obvious Questions: bit.ly/37GW3qK
Oil & gas leases on Slickrock Trail?
The federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is set to offer oil and gas leases on 5,000 acres in the Sand Flats Recreation Area, home to Moab’s famous Slickrock Trail, adjacent to both the Mill Creek and Negro Bill (a.k.a. Grandstaff Canyon) Wilderness Study Areas and overlying the Glen Canyon Aquifer that supplies water to Moab and Spanish Valley.
The parcels were nominated for sale anonymously as part of President Trump’s “Energy Dominance” agenda that deregulates oil and gas extraction on public lands.
The Sand Flats Recreation Area gets approximately 125,000 visitors per year and has been managed by a partnership between Grand County and BLM since 1995. Both the Grand County Council and Moab City Council oppose the leases.
Stop the Uinta Basin Railway
The federal Surface Transportation Board recently began work on an Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed Uinta Basin Railway intended to send Utah crude oil to out-of-state markets.
The railway is a pet project of the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition which is mis-using $27.89 million in public money that is supposed to be used to mitigate impacts from fossil fuel extraction, not promote more extraction.
Boosters see this as a way to jump-start a moribund fossil fuel industry. At the end of 2019 there were only four rigs drilling for oil in the Uinta Basin. If the railway is ever built it is expected to start a drilling frenzy and prop up a fossil fuel-dependent economy in the Uinta Basin for years to come.
Stop the Uinta Basin Railway: stopuintabasinrailway.com
Can Dominion Energy meet a net-zero goal?
Dominion Energy, which supplies natural gas to Utah consumers, has announced a “net-zero” goal to offset greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Unfortunately, the details are a bit sketchy.
The net-zero goal depends on an offset program using “renewable natural gas” or “biogas” which is methane captured from food waste, landfills, animal manure and sewage treatment. The American Gas Association says burning captured methane releases greenhouse gasses that are about 21 times less potent than releasing methane directly into the atmosphere. It also avoids releasing sequestered carbon as happens with gas from fracking wells. Based on this, Dominion asserts that substituting 1% biogas for fracked methane would reduce carbon dioxide by 25%.
That’s not quite accurate. Renewable natural gas comes from factory farms and trash heaps which are sources of air and water pollution, and it still releases carbon dioxide when it’s burned.
Renewable natural gas is hard to scale, but current technology can supply about 4% of the natural gas supply, coincidentally exactly the amount that Dominion claims will result in net-zero emissions.
Dominion Energy also plans to extend licenses for its “zero-carbon nuclear generation fleet” which is worrisome for Utah since the uranium industry was a major lobbyist pressuring President Trump to downsize Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument.
Development plans issued for land cut from monuments
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has approved development plans for public lands cut from Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments even though lawsuits to restore the original boundaries of the two Utah national monuments have not yet been heard in court.
These plans are just as dreadful as you might expect, emphasizing drilling, mining, grazing, “vegetation removal” (chaining) in pinyon-juniper forests, and opening new routes to off-road vehicles.
New names make the plans confusing. For instance, a new “Paria River District” has been formed under the BLM Kanab Field Office to manage 86,000 acres stripped from Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument as well as what remains in the monument.
A small bright spot is that BLM pulled back from a threat to restore cattle grazing along 40 miles of the Escalante River. As for the Bears Ears plan, Shaun Chapoose, a Ute co-chair of the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, called it “just another in a series of unlawful actions reducing and revoking the Bears Ears National Monument.“
Regarding both plans, Stephen Bloch, Legal Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, commented, “Our members and the public should rest assured that these management plans will not be the final chapter for the management of these remarkable public lands. We are confident that the lawsuits challenging President Trump’s unlawful attack of the monuments will succeed and these plans, which are the fruit of Trump’s poisonous actions, will be undone.”
Rubber Dodo goes to Secretary Bernhardt
The Center for Biological Diversity has given Interior Secretary David Bernhardt the 2019 Rubber Dodo award for a person or group who has most aggressively sought to destroy America’s natural heritage or drive endangered species extinct.
Bernhardt won the dis-honor for “gutting key provisions of the Endangered Species Act, suppressing data showing that pesticides harm species, opening vast tracts of public land to oil and gas drilling, and fueling the wildlife extinction crisis by delaying protections for imperiled animals and plants across the country.”
Bernhardt beat out Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso and Homeland Security Director Kirstjen Nielsen for recognition as top eco-villain.
Previous Rubber Dodo Awards went to President Donald Trump (2018), Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (2017) and Utah Rep. Rob Bishop (2016).
University of Utah shifts to clean energy
As of January the University of Utah is ranked #8 in the Environmental Protection Agency list of the largest green power users in higher education, with 49% of total electricity use generated by geothermal and solar power.
The University has contracted for 20 megawatts of geothermal energy from a Cyrq Energy plant in Fallon, Nevada; an additional 10 megawatts of solar energy are supplied by Berkshire Hathaway Energy Renewables.
The green power purchase together with solar projects on campus means that 53.7% of the U’s energy comes from renewable sources reducing carbon emissions by 23%.
Green Power Partnership: bit.ly/2ucC3yC
SITLA renewable energy
Even the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) is getting into the green energy business. SITLA, notorious for oil sands leasing and support for various other environmentally unsound projects, reports that annual revenue from wind, solar and geothermal leases has doubled from $311,257 in 2012 to $604,815 in 2017.
SITLA manages state-owned lands in order to raise revenues for public schools. The first SITLA lease for renewable energy was issued in 2012.
SITLA Renewable Energy Report: bit.ly/2HDJVwe
Environment and quality of life
Despite a strong economy, environmental degradation has negative impacts on Utah’s quality of life, according to the 2018 Quality of Life Survey conducted by the Utah Foundation and Intermountain Healthcare.
When people were asked, “what could most improve your area as a place to live?” the most frequent answers were: reduce traffic, improve affordability of housing, improve air quality, improve roads and sidewalks, and improve public transportation.
Utah Foundation 2018 Quality of Life Index: