I think there’s a trap in loving that empty western possibility, especially when you don’t live in it all the time. That’s part of the deepening divide between urban and rural areas, and it’s tied to how water is used. By being there, you’re changing it, and by being removed from and romanticizing it, you’re probably not seeing it change.
—Heather Hansman, Down River: Into the Future of Water in the West
Zion Narrows trail remains open
A popular hiking trail though Zion National Park remains open to the public thanks to a $1.5 million deal negotiated by the Trust for Public Lands and funded by the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), a federal program that uses offshore oil and gas revenues to preserve and protect public lands.
The 16-mile Zion Narrows Trail passes through two parcels of private property—the Chamberlain Ranch trailhead and Simon Gulch on the park boundary. The Trust established a conservation easement through Chamberlain Ranch in 2013, but in 2018, “no trespassing” signs appeared in Simon Gulch, advertising 880 privately owned acres with “resort potential.” The Park Service stopped issuing hiking permits for Zion Narrows until the situation was resolved.
The threatened sale was a bit of a stunt. The property owner wanted to sell to the federal government, but felt that the appraised value was too low. However, without LWCF there might not have been enough money to make a fair deal.
In 2015, Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT-1), then chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, allowed LWCF to expire because he opposed the purchase of new public lands. In 2016, due to public outcry, Congress voted to re-activate LWCF with a three-year extension; it was permanently reauthorized by the bi-partisan Dingell Act, passed in 2019.
Zion Narrows hiking permits: www.nps.gov/zion/planyourvisit/narrowspermits.htm
Best Friends Animal Society saves the day
Activists in Kanab successfully beat back a plan by Southern Red Sands, LLC to open a 13,000-acre frac sand strip mine 10 miles north of town.
The company had planned to start operations on land leased from the Utah State and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and held mineral rights on surrounding BLM lands. The sand was destined for fracking in Utah’s Uinta Basin.
Southern Red Sands withdrew from the controversial project after negotiating with the Best Friends Animal Society which operates an animal sanctuary near the proposed mine.
Last July, the Kanab City Council and Kane County Water Conservancy District (led by former Utah Legislator Mike Noel) approved a 50-year water rights contract for the mine, raising concerns about damage to local seeps and springs.
Best Friends commissioned a hydrological study that found something even more alarming than expected—the sandy soil near Kanab acts like a sponge to soak up rain water. If the sand is removed, groundwater near Kanab will dry up.
Despite the scientific evidence, Noel stated in a report aired on KUER 90.1 FM, “I honestly believe in my heart of hearts that [the mine] would have had a very minimal effect on the water.”
Steep rise in rafting, camping fees proposed
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Price Field Office is planning to jack up recreation fees in order to maintain facilities and build new campgrounds.
If approved, the per person fee for Desolation Canyon rafting would go from $25/person to $50/person; the cost of Price area campgrounds would rise from $6-$8/night to $20/night ($75/night for group sites).
The fee increase is intended to address management costs and deferred maintenance. BLM says that “the traditional BLM dispersed camping model is not sustainable when many people wish to camp in the same location with no toilets, trash service or other services.”
Twelve new developed campgrounds are planned in and around the San Rafael Swell, which would have toilets, picnic tables, fire rings, tent/trailer spaces, access roads and garbage collection.
BLM Recreation Site Business Plans: blm.gov/programs/ recreation/permits-and-fees/business-plans. Comments Due: Feb 12, 2020. Submit comments for the Draft Business Plan for the Desolation Canyon River Program to Jaydon Mead at firstname.lastname@example.org (put “river business plan comment” in the subject line). Submit comments for the Draft Business Plan for BLM Price Campgrounds to Myron Jeffs at email@example.com.
Air Quality Road Map
At the request of the Utah Legislature, the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute at the University of Utah has prepared a report on strategies to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions in Utah.
The report notes that mountain topography and population growth create air quality challenges. Climate change is creating warmer, drier conditions associated with greater wildfire risk, reduced snowpack, beetle infestations, harmful algal blooms, heat-related illness, and extreme weather events.
The report advises legislation and rules to reduce air pollution 50% below 2017 levels by 2050 and to reduce CO2 emissions statewide 80% by 2050.
The report envisions that Utah’s conservative politics could make the state a leader in a national dialogue about market-based approaches to reduce climate change. The report also advises economic assistance to rural Utah counties that currently depend on energy extraction including Carbon, Emery, Millard, Uintah, Duchesne, Sevier and San Juan counties.
See more about the Air Quality Road Map in this issue under “At the Capitol.”
Utah Roadmap: Positive Solutions on climate and Air Quality: gardner.utah.edu/utahroadmap/
20 Utah communities commit to 100% renewable
At total of 20 Utah communities have committed to 100% renewable energy by 2030 under Utah’s Community Renewable Energy Act (2019). The Act set a deadline of December 2019 for communities served by Rocky Mountain Power to adopt a renewable energy goal with an agreement for support from the power company.
Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) provides 80% of Utah energy but still generates 71% of its power from coal.
The Sierra Club notes that RMP lags behind nearly all other western utilities in carbon reduction goals and transition to clean energy. By scaling up solar and wind power to serve community energy plans, it is possible that a quarter of the state’s population could be using renewable energy by 2030.
Commitments include: Park City, Salt Lake City, Moab, Summit County, Cottonwood Heights, Holladay, Salt Lake County, Oakley, Kearns, Kamas, Millcreek, Francis, Ogden, Grand County, Orem, West Jordan, Springdale, Alta, Coalville and West Valley City.
Sierra Club: bit.ly/30JBtEc
Lawsuit targets federal lands leasing
WildEarth Guardians and Physicians for Social Responsibility filed a lawsuit in January to challenge 2,067 oil and gas leases on 2 million acres of federal land in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming. The lawsuit says that the BLM approved the leases without analyzing the cumulative impacts of oil and gas leasing on global climate change.
Fossil fuel extraction from federal public lands contributes 24% of the U.S.’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
The lawsuit says that “if federal lands were their own country, their GHG emissions would be ranked fifth globally,” and that “unleased federal minerals represent a “carbon bomb” that would likely push global climate change to catastrophic levels.”
WildEarth Guardians: bit.ly/36cFD8L
Trump attack on NEPA is anti-environmental, anti-democratic
The Trump admiration is trying to gut the law that puts the “public” in public lands management.
The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) is the foundation of environmental protection and public participation in public lands management. It requires environmental impact reviews for major federal projects and gives citizen stakeholders a role in federal land management.
In 2018 the Trump Administration Council on Environmental Quality proposed to “modernize” NEPA supposedly in order to remedy the poor condition of America’s infrastructure. Instead the rules were re-written to eliminate environmental review and block public participation.
One of the most damaging rule changes is to say that cumulative effects would not be required under NEPA.
In fact, most environmental harm is not caused by a single catastrophic effect but by a combination of minor impacts over time, in turn driven by the cumulative impacts of decisions by multiple federal state and local agencies. To ignore cumulative effects would actually mean ignoring most environmental impacts.
The NEPA re-write would also curtail information by placing arbitrary limits on how long the environmental review process can take and how many pages can be in an Environmental Impact Statement.
Along with the NEPA rule changes, the Trump administration is trying to redefine what constitutes a major federal project to expand the list of exclusions that don’t require a review. Since the opportunity for public comment derives from NEPA, there would be no public comment period for these excluded projects.
Utah Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT-1) cheered the changes, saying that “fringe-left special interest groups will continue to scream bloody murder.” If by “fringe-left” he means people who care about functioning ecosystems, clean air and clean water, they will, indeed.
Protect NEPA: protectnepa.org/
Update: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante
Lawsuits are moving forward to restore two Utah national monuments downsized by President Trump in 2017.
Last October, the Trump administration tried and failed to dismiss the lawsuits without a trial.
In January 2020, The Tribal and Environmental groups defending Bears Ears and Grand Staircase Escalante National Monuments issued memoranda asking for a “partial summary judgment” to affirm that it was illegal for Trump to slash the monuments. The Bears Ears memorandum says that Trump “acted well beyond the law and well beyond the constitutional limits of his power.”
The memorandum for Grand Staircase Escalante asks the court to “declare that the Revised Plans are invalid attempts to implement the 2017 Proclamation, which was promulgated without authority.”
U of U welcomes new chief sustainability officer
Kerry Case is the new Chief Sustainability Officer at the University of Utah. Case has led sustainability initiatives at Westminster College for 13 years and is ready to take on a job with the potential for larger impacts.
With more than 20,000 employees and 30,000 students, the University of Utah is the size of a small city. Sustainable change at the U can have ripple effects throughout the Wasatch Front.