Roundup Tuesday August 11, 2009

Geoengineering to mitigate global warming may cause other environmental harm—Science Daily 8/7/09

Geoengineering techniques have been suggested to slow global warming through massive human-made changes to land, seas or atmosphere.  Ecologists at the Ecological Society of America’s Annual Meeting have concluded the risks outweigh the benefits.  Robert Jackson, Director of Duke University’s Center on Global Change, said “The bigger the scale of the approach, the riskier it is for the environment.”

One reason is that global alterations of the Earth’s natural cycles have too many uncertainties to be viable with our current level of understanding, Jackson said.  Atmospheric seeding for instance, an approach that would cool the climate much like volcanic ash by placing light-colored sulfur particles or other aerosols that would reflect the sun’s rays back into space, could cause significant changes in localized temperature and precipitation.

Though 1991’s Mount Pinatubo eruption in the Philippines cooled the Earth by .9 degrees Fahrenheit, simulations by a National Center for Atmospheric Research scientist suggests sulfur seeding could destroy atmospheric ozone and lead to increased UV radiation.  She added that it could delay recovery of the ozone hole over the Antarctic by decades.

Other global-scale geoengineering ideas include seeding the oceans with iron, which would increase carbon uptake from the atmosphere.  But an Oregon State University scientist argues that increased iron could cause iron-limited phytoplankton populations to increase, with massive die-offs creating large ocean dead zones due to oxygen deprivation.  Even without the phytoplankton disruption, he believes the offset would be miniscule, and ocean acidification due to over-rich CO2 uptake in seawater remains unaddressed, and potentially exacerbated.

Smaller scale geoengineering, such as geologic sequestration, offers safer possibilities, Jackson says.  He sees the technique as having the potential to store up to a century or more worth of electric power emissions at a relatively low cost.  Still, sequestration risks carbon leakage and groundwater interactions.

Overall, ecologists like Jackson support more direct approaches such as energy efficiency, reduced consumption, and investment in renewable options.

Seattleites slowly learning to BYOB—bring their own (shopping) bags—Marc Ramirez, The Seattle Times 8/7/09

A referendum on the August 18 ballot would mandate a 20 cent charge for plastic bags at Seattle stores.  Earlier and more informal behavior change programs and suggestions have seemingly led successfully to the “do the right thing” at the right time strategy for getting consumers to utilize their own reusable bags.

Many of the individuals and social-change consultants interviewed for the story already had clever ways to remember to take their bags with them.  Stores are selling and donating logo-sporting totes and remember-your-tote stickers as well as posting parking lot signs as reminders.

Many stores already have eliminated plastic bags.  Last year’s Seattle City Council-passed 20 cent surcharge was delayed by fierce opposition backed by the American Chemistry Council, which forced the referendum.  Under the law, stores earning less than $1 million would keep collected surcharges, while those grossing over $1 million would keep 25% and pay the rest to the city.

Surcharge fees would then go to educate people about and promote recycling.  One social change consultant said successful social-change programs rely on appealing to a sense of responsibility and the greater good.  Especially impactful are campaigns with a feel-good catch to it, like “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires” and “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk”.

Other social change programs have used regulation and enforcement, such as the Transportation Security Administration’s post-911 shoe removal law to pass through airport gates.  Peer pressure too has been successfully invoked, and some imagine Trader Joes customers as particularly vulnerable to such peer pressure.

Opponents to the surcharge say other bags have worse carbon footprints, and a spokesperson with the Coalition to Stop the Seattle Bag Tax said Seattle already was a voluntary leader without the bag tax.  Bob Lilienfeld, editor of the Use Less Stuff Report, said reduced bag consumption paled next to for instance driving to the store in terms of carbon footprint, but changing those kinds of behaviors are more difficult to do.

Senate confirms Abbey to Lead BLM—David Frey, NewWest.Net 8/7/09

Bob Abbey, known as the architect of the Great Basin Restoration Initiative, has been confirmed as Director of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).   Abbey served as Nevada state BLM director and led successful restoration efforts there.  Interior Secretary Salazar noted Abbey had “more than 32 years of experience working with states and federal land management agencies.”

Suggested by Nevada senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Arizona Republican senator John McCain blocked the nomination temporarily over a proposed copper mine dispute in an Arizona national forest.

Abbey also served as chair of the Executive Committee for the implementation of the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act and has consulted for Abbey, Stubbs & Ford LLC. of Nevada.  He has served on numerous boards and committees.

Conservation group says drilling on federal land could hurt big game—AP, Deseret News 8/8/09

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership is concerned that drilling will spook mule deer, elk and pronghorn away from prime Utah western desert habitat.  26,000 acres slated for lease this month have raised protests by the partnership, which will be reviewed by the Bureau of Land Management.  The BLM’s quarterly auction for Utah will take place Aug. 18.  The partnership has advocated environmental safeguards be adopted by federal land managers to protect big-game herds in Utah’s West Desert.

Some question the environmental impact of clunkers program—Ambar Espinoza, Minnesota Public Radio 8/7/09

Complaints over the program focus on the lack of stringent fuel economy standards.  The program offers a $3,500 credit for trade-ins that get 18 mpg or less if the new vehicle gets between 4 and 10 mpg better than the old one and $4,500 if it gets better than 10 mpg more than the trade-in.  Notably, large vans, pick-ups and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) qualify for the $3,500 incentive if the new vehicle gets just 2 mpg better, and 5 mpg better earns the larger credit.

An environmental studies professor from the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University said consumers could turn around and buy a truck that gets 16 mpg or a hybrid that gets up to 40 mpg, “so how green it is ultimately depends on the consumer’s choice.”  Recent sales data from the federal government shows around 80% of trade-ins have been trucks and SUVs.

The most popular replacements nationwide have been the Ford Focus, Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry.  On average the new purchases get about 25 mpg, 10 mpg more on average than trade-ins.  Environmental professor Derek Larson would rather have seen the bill written so that a minimum incentive was available for 25% better gas mileage, and a larger incentive at 50% improvement.  He said rather than calling it an environmental bill, it’s more of a stimulus bill with some “positive environmental impact”.

According to experts at nonprofit CalCars, vehicle replacements reduces carbon emissions only at better than 50% improved fuel economy, due to energy costs of manufacture and disposal of the old car.  The Associated Press published analysis suggesting the “Cash for Clunkers” program may impact CO2 emissions in the same way shutting down power for the entire country for an hour per year would.  Trade-ins by law must be destroyed to prevent re-sale and re-use.  Most of the refuse is recycled after processing.

Some critics worry the program is stimulating unnecessary production of new cars, though current sales are from existing inventory, and the program has boosted only a relatively small increase in average yearly sales.

Plan urged to save national parks from global warming effects—Margot Roosevelt, Los Angeles Times 8/7/09,0,7287363.story

A recent report published by the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), a Washington-based advocacy group, calls for decisive action in the wake of anticipated global warming impacts on the nation’s national parks.  NPCA wants the National Park Service to devise a detailed plan replete with funding for global warming adaptation.

Concerns related to climate change include the bleaching of coral reefs in Florida and the drying up of high-altitude ponds in California that support yellow-legged frogs.  President Thomas C. Kiernan wrote; “[N]o national plan exists to manage wildlife throughout their habitat, which is often a patchwork of lands managed by multiple federal agencies, states, tribes, municipalities and private landholders.”

The Waxman-Markey climate bill that has yet to win senate approval would provide over $500 million per year for natural resources adaptation through its carbon-trading program.  Obama administration park service director nominee Jon Jarvis recently testified; “Climate change challenges the very foundation of the national park system and our ability to leave America’s natural and cultural heritage unimpaired for future generations.”

Jarvis sees national park holdings as places to monitor and document ecosystem change absent of stressors dominant on other public lands.  The NPCA report recommends a number of adaptation strategies such as inter-park wildlife corridors for freedom of species migration and more effective limits on environmental hazards.

Nevada Water Authority vote sought on pipeline project—Henry Brean, Las Vegas Review-Journal 8/7/09

Southern Nevada Water Authority chief Pat Mulroy is seeking an “up-or-down-vote” from her board on the Authority’s controversial proposed pipeline project from Snake Valley in the central eastern part of the state to Las Vegas.  Mulroy said Thursday she was seeking the vote “in order to show that the political will is still there to move forward with the project.”  Mulroy added that there had been a recent surge in opposition to the multibillion-dollar pipeline.

The proposed pipeline, ahead of federal permits and environmental clearances, would draw water for about 270,000 homes from 300 miles north.  Board chair and North Las Vegas Mayor Shari Buck believes the vote will come down on the side that protects sustaining Las Vegas.  The Authority’s current strategy is to get all the studies and permits out of the way so that the project can be initiated when it’s most needed.

Another Authority spokeswoman said if Lake Mead shrinks at its current rate, that could be as soon as three years or less.  About 90% of Vegas area drinking water comes from the Colorado River-fed lake, which has dropped over 100 feet in the wake of the past decade of drought.  Another 20 feet and the vote for pipeline production would be triggered.  At 50 feet lower than the current levels, Hoover Dam would stop producing power and the Authority would no longer be able to draw from the reservoir.

Mulroy said “It is high risk to assume that the worst is not going to happen.”  Some of the seven-member board, assembled from county commissioners and city council members across the region, have never voted on the pipeline.  One such voter admitted the Authority has said there were no other options, but he was not completely convinced.

Opposition groups, including the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN)—a liberal advocacy group, are expected to protest the vote.  PLAN said the last month reaped 16,000 signatures against the pipeline from Southern Nevada residents.  A spokesman for PLAN called Mulroy’s alarmist comments “fear mongering”.  He added that the original argument for the pipeline was growth.

In reversal, highly developed nations see rise in fertility—Rob Stein, The Washington Post, SLT 8/10/09

Though birth rates have slowly declined for a number of decades in highly developed countries, triggering a number of policymakers, demographers and social scientists to speculate over the result, new research suggests that once a nation achieves especially high development, birthrates begin to grow again.  One professor from the study said “We project a more optimistic future where fertility will go up, which reduces fears of rapid population decline and rapid aging.”

The debate over the demise of countries with diminishing populations revolves around a nation’s fertility rate.  A generally desirable number has been the replacement rate, an average of two children per woman.  As economic prosperity has risen during the 20th century, fertility rates have fallen in places such as Japan, South Korea, Germany, Spain and Italy.  Concerns over the sustainability of pension programs and rapid loss of a labor force grew under the apparent one way downward trend in fertility rates.

Some countries such as Sweden and Italy, resistant to immigration, have offered female citizens incentives for births, though without significant impact.  By examining fertility trends from 1975 to 2005 in 37 of the most developed countries and utilizing the United Nations’ human development index (HDI)—which utilizes income data and other measures of advancement such as longevity and education levels—researchers found fertility rates declined as HDI rose, but after 18 of 26 countries crossed an HDI of .9, fertility rates began to rise again.

Timing of the turnaround differed between countries.  The US turnaround was in the mid-1970’s, Norway’s in the early 1980’s, and Italy’s in the early 1990’s.  Causes are unclear, but one speculation suggests women in most-developed countries can both work and have children.

Idaho ranchers embrace deal to help sage grouse—AP, SLT 8/10/09

The conservation measures developed by southwestern Idaho farmers and ranchers with Idaho Department of Fish and Game would improve sage grouse habitat and limit conflicts should the grouse be named an endangered species.  US Fish and Wildlife may decide in February whether the bird will land on the federal Endangered Species list.

Some measures would change the way hay fields are cut and delay livestock grazing in areas where nests exist until chicks are raised.   Some farmers already utilize such measures, and the voluntary conservation efforts would be rewarded with exemption from further regulation on private lands if the sage grouse becomes an endangered species.

Public lands would still be subject to endangered species regulations.  66% of the area identified in the agreement now up for public comment is held privately.  Landowners would join the 30 year agreement voluntarily, and could opt out at any time.  A biologist with Idaho Fish and Game said the bigger threat to the bird is development, where Washington County, Idaho is one of the fastest-growing counties in the state.

Up to 16 million sage grouse may have lived across the West from Kansas to California in the early 1800’s, diminished by urban sprawl, farming, ranching, oil and gas drilling, wildfires and the spread of invasive weeds, encroaching on the bird’s habitat.   Some environmentalists have called the state agreement “piecemeal” and “doomed to fail”.  A spokesman for the Western Watersheds Project said that sage grouse “are so imperiled that only listing will provide the protections that they need.”

Perseid meteors to shower down late Tuesday, early Wednesday—Sheena Mcfarland, SLT 8/10/09

Billed as the most-watched meteor shower of the year, the Perseid meteor shower is predicted by NASA to be even more intense between 2 and 3 a.m. Wednesday morning.  Astronomers expect the Earth will pass through an especially rich pocket of meteor-producing particles.  The particles are fragments of the parent comet Swift-Tuttle which last approached Earth in 1610, and will not return for about another 100 years.  Other comets may have contributed to the Perseid shower’s debris.

While the showers can be viewed before and after Aug. 12, early Wednesday morning will find the Earth centered in, and Utah facing directly into the meteor showers.  With a dry, high-pressure system expected in the area Tuesday thru Wednesday, conditions should be optimal for viewing.  The Perseid shower is named for the constellation Perseus, where the showers appear to occur.  The shower is considered to be one of the fastest, with meteors entering the atmosphere at 60 kilometers per second.

Utah chemical incineration operation gets safety award—AP, SLT 8/10/09

The US Army’s Tooele Chemical Agent Disposal Facility was recognized with a “voluntary protection program” award by the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recently.  The chemical weapons incinerating facility was recognized for its exemplary health and safety program that exceeds OSHA standards.  Over 1,000 people work at the facility that works to destroy the Army’s largest stockpile of aging chemical weapons under an international treaty.

Fire crews continue to gain on Big Pole fire—Jason Bergreen, SLT 8/10/09

The Big Pole fire, about 55% contained, was reined in enough Monday morning to allow some fire crews to be shifted to California.  Cooler weather over the weekend aided in control, and winds are expected to be low, though hotter, drier conditions are forecast.

Feds hold back $40 million in Utah drill leases—Paul Foy, AP, SLT 8/9/09

Around $100 million paid for millions of energy lease acres over the past 7 years in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming remains in a federal account pending final review of environmental protests and lawsuits on the backlogged parcels.  A spokeswoman for the Denver-based Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States said the government shouldn’t be sitting on that kind of money during times of economic hardship.

One oilman during Salazar’s trip to Salt Lake City in May said “We think the government should issue the leases we purchased or give the money back.”  Leasing delays have grown worse, officials say, but legal wrangling that allows anyone to challenge a lease on public lands has their hands tied.  Kent Hoffman, deputy Utah director of lands and minerals for the Bureau of Land Management, said “We have to answer these protests in a very legal fashion, knowing the next step could be the Interior Board of Land Appeals or federal court.”

While protested parcels are sold in buyer-beware fashion, speculators, brokers, drillers and oil companies have not previously been deterred.  The Utah director for the American Association of Professional Land Men said in past years protests were resolved quickly:  either a site was fit for oil and gas development or it wasn’t.  He complained that the current process leaves investors on the hook while the money sits idle in federal accounts.

International Petroleum, a Salt Lake City-based family firm with outside investors, has had 46 leases awaiting administrative review since 2005, and Par Five Exploration of Orem also has had hundreds of thousands of dollars of leases dating as far back as 2005.

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance staff lawyer Stephen Bloch said “Leases were being issued at a breakneck rate throughout the Bush administration, and we were challenging that because they were being sold in spectacular landscapes.”  Complaints rose after Interior Secretary Salazar blocked 77 parcels leased at the tail end of the Bush administration, but Salazar ordered the return of those auction monies.

Records show $40 million in held up leases in Utah, about $50 million in Wyoming and $1.2 million in Colorado, with an additional $5.7 million in coal, uranium and potash leases in Colorado.  In a June 23 Salt Lake City auction that was billed as protest-free, Utah BLM director Selma Sierra decided in mid auction to allow protests filed after the deadline by Denver-based Center for Native Ecosystems and Washington D.C.-based Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership on all the leases.

ESR Editor’s note—While critics argue that “anyone” can challenge a lease on public lands, BLM guidelines acknowledge repeatedly that only those challenges on substantive grounds will be considered.

At Caffe Ibis, social change is brewing—Arrin Newton Brunson, SLT 8/8/09

Owners Sally Sears and husband Randy Wirth began business ventures in Logan in 1976 with a health food store.  Caffe Ibis roasts around 300,000 pounds of coffee per year, and serves its home brew in a trendy Logan coffee house and café.  Exceptional quality and freshness are key to the enterprise’s success.

Wirth said the goal is to “have the eyes of the coffee bean farmer and the eyes of the customer in front of us as we work.”  The owners’ own software tracks coffee products from farm to roaster.  Triple Certified Coffees, the highest industry standard, lie just below certifications like Fair Trade and Smithsonian Shade-Grown and Organic.  The search for beans from a healthy environment started for the couple well before the movement became popular.

Fair Trade standards guarantee a decent wage, humane labor conditions and community improvements.  The Smithsonian designation protects birds and rainforests, benefitting farmers who provide habitat for insects, orchids and animals.   Caffe Ibis pays an additional premium to farmers boasting these designations, and hasn’t passed the cost on to consumers.  The couple say it’s part of what their ‘ethical consumers’ pay for.

Whereas coffee production has meant women in oppression, the couple took advantage of a plan to help disenfranchised female farmers in northern Peru in 2003.  “They [women] had been forced up into the highlands.  A lot of them didn’t have husbands and were abused…We wanted to see if we could raise up those women.  In raising up those women within their village, it raised up the entire village,” Sears said.

Sears and Wirth were the first non-natives to visit a remote village north of Lima that is a part of their co-op for harvest, in 2005.  They described the villagers as often sleeping eight to a room on earthen floors.  “They hand-carried mattresses from other villages for the two married couples in our group,” Sears added.  The farmers regularly carry 152 lb bags of coffee on their backs.

With the Café Feminino project, the couple brought nine new wet mills to the region, cutting the 4 hour one way trip to the wet mill to just 20 minutes. Until four years ago, only one vehicle was available in the region, and shared by many villages, often used to truck kids to one remote village school.  Every village now has a school, and the girls of the villages are attending as well, where only boys once attended.

Café Feminino began with 76 members and has grown to more than 800 members, expanding into the Dominican Republic, Columbia and Mexico.  The group trades exclusively with other women in the coffee industry.

“We wanted to honor and respect the woman-to-woman experience,” Sears said.  “We call it the triple-bottom-line because we’re looking at social justice.  We’re looking at the environment and it gets us out of bed in the morning.  We’re thrilled to come to work and we know that we are making a difference every day.”

Coffee ranks as the world’s second largest commodity and the US consumes one third of the resource.

ATV protest:  A few thousand ride to ‘Take Back Utah’—Tom Wharton, SLT 8/8/09

Around 3,000 riders with American flags paraded up State Street to the state Capitol for the rally Saturday morning.  One sign read:  “I’ll keep my guns, my freedom, my land.  You keep the change.”  Another read “This is the Place for US, not the U.S. Government.”  The parade included sheep trailers, mountain bikers, oil and coal trucks and ATV riders defiantly riding without helmets.

Utah Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett spoke to the “appreciative and somewhat angry throng.”  Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and Cherilyn Eagar, both Bennett’s 2010 Republican Senate nomination opponents, also spoke to the rally, organized by Rep. Mike Noel R-Kanab with off-road vehicle clubs and sponsored by an array of public land users including hunters, farmers, miners and oil and gas companies.  “[T]he event was long on anger and rhetoric and short on specifics about how federal land management should be changed or even eliminated,” reporter Wharton said.

A representative of the OHV group USA-All said “We’re God-fearing and gun clinging.”  Aiming his words at what he termed radical environmental groups, he said “You guys that love rocks and trees more than human beings, you have awakened a sleeping giant.  We are not going away.  We’ve been too easy on you.  There is a new war in the western United States to take back our lands.”

Targets of the rally included the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Bureau of Land Management, the Obama administration, wilderness designation and the federal government in general.  After 20 years working for the BLM as a lands specialist, Rep. Noel quit in disgust when the Clinton administration established the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.  He said he hoped the event would push more people to explore the public lands on off-road vehicles.

“[I]t’s about farming and mining and keeping revenues generated by the lands of Utah…We have got to be extreme in the way we take back these public lands,” Noel said.  Hatch told the story of how he became a part of the Sagebrush Rebellion in 1976 in an effort to gain more state and local control over Western public lands during the Carter administration.  Rep. Rob Bishop R-UT said states with large swaths of public land find their education funds hamstrung.  His oration included a historical and constitutional case against wilderness and federal ownership of public land.

Bennett, Shurtleff and Egar all vied to establish credentials as freedom-loving states’ rights advocates.  Senator Bennett said of the oil leases pulled earlier this year in Utah, “They listened to SUWA rather than abide by the law.”  Shurtleff, present state attorney general, rallied, “These are our roads, our lands, our families, our resources, our rights and we are going to stand up for them once and for all.”  Egar called federal ownership of the public lands in Utah unconstitutional.

In a pre-emptive news release, SUWA associate director Heidi McIntosh said “Despite their rhetoric, these groups have long had access to nearly all public lands in Utah, frequently to the detriment of the long-term health of the public lands, with no long-term economic stability.”

ESR Editor’s note:  Elsewhere McIntosh said of the rally that organizers were trying to capitalize on recession angst among those hardest hit.

Births down:  Economy not the only thing receding—Mike Stobbe, AP, SLT 8/7/09

In the first annual decline in births since the start of the new millennium, US births declined almost 2% from 2007 to 2008.  The largest declines were in California and Florida, where recession issues have been very strong since its start in December 2007.  By the fall of 2008, there were about 68,000 less births than the year before, or 4,247,000 new births nationwide.

2007 marked the largest birth year in the nation’s history.  While birth rates have been on the rise since 2002 in women of different age groups, new demographic statistics are not yet available.  Births were up in 10 mostly northwestern stats.

Utah’s new bison herd thriving, expanding—AP, SLT 8/7/09

Recent Utah Division of Wildlife Resources surveys of the Book Cliffs herd found the 44 transplants in good health after their first winter, with four newborns in tow.  Utah’s newest wild herd is the first in 70 years.  Two others exist in the state.  Officials anticipate the Book Cliffs herd to peak at 450.  The transplants were donated by the Ute Indian tribe and rounded up from the Henry Mountains.

Staying vigorous in Utah’s ozone season—Judy Fahys, SLT 8/7/09

After hearing from health and environmental officials that smog can harm even healthy people, Utah Nordic Association president Richard Hodges asked his son’s cross-country coach to switch workouts to mornings when the ozone is lower.  “Everyone has a personal, vested interest in the air we are breathing,” Hodges said.

A group of state health officials, environmental staff and advocates met last winter and spring, updating the public message on ozone.  Because ozone pollution affects everyone, each individual can take steps to protect themselves from hot, sunny, ozone-rich afternoons.  The group reviewed ways to prevent typical wheezing, fatigue and asthma symptoms caused by the pollution.

While smog is generally obvious as haze, ozone builds up as a technically colorless and odorless sun-activated pollutant.  New .075 parts per million EPA standards are expected to be even more difficult to reach by northern Utah counties that already struggled to meet .080 ppm standards.  According to the EPA, the reduction will prevent as many as 2,000 premature deaths per year and save up to $19 billion in related costs.  Critics such as the Utah Manufacturer’s Association say compliance could cost as much as $8.5 billion.

Several counties will face new compliance requirements due to the changes.  The state task force was struck by growing evidence that ozone impacts healthy people.  Inflammation responses in the blood breathing and heart functions can lead to heart attacks, strokes and cancer, though some studies have not found associations.  Repeated inflammation is known to repetitively trigger the body’s immune system.  New advisories are targeted at reducing this physiological stressor.

Suggestions include shifting exercise to mornings or evenings when ozone is lower.  The Utah Asthma program offers a tracking sheet to help asthmatically sensitive individuals identify their ozone thresholds.  Inhalers too may be for the first time recommended for summer use by physicians.

This article has a number of additional features titled “Ozone and you” at the bottom.  See the original article.

Utah Asthma program tracking page

Big Pole fire continues to burn—Jason Bergreen, SLT 8/7/09

The Tooele County west desert fire burned 44,700 acres since lightning ignition Wednesday night, across northeastern parts of Skull Valley and the Stansbury Mountains, making the Big Pole fire the largest in Utah so far this year.

Utah’s oil, natural gas boom ebbing—Steven Oberbeck, SLT 8/6/09

Oil and gas well starts are down 54% over the first half of last year, and a strong uptick is considered unlikely.  A spokesman for the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining said while 50 drilling rigs were in operation a year ago, that number has fallen to 15, many of which are thanks only to big companies like Anadarko, New Field and Kerr-McGee.

The University of Utah Bureau of Economic and Business Research’s new report notes that in 2007 Utah ranked 13th in crude oil production and 8th in natural gas, bringing over $370 million in royalties, fees and taxes into the state’s coffers.  Crude oil production in 2008 was the highest in 16 years at 22 million barrels, while natural gas production shot to a new high of 441.5 billion cubic feet.

A senior research economist at the bureau called the oil and gas business “an extreme boom-bust industry”.  In a low-growth scenario the industry is still expected to create 16,820 additional jobs, $5.7 billion in personal income and $4.7 billion in earnings over the next 30 years.  The federal Energy Information Administration projects light-sweet crude rise above $100 a barrel by 2014.

EnergySolutions confident about foreign imports—Judy Fahys, SLT 8/6/09

Embroiled in a legal fight with Utah and radioactive waste organizations the Northwest Interstate Compact on Low-level Radioactive Waste and the Rocky Mountain Compact, company chair and CEO Steve Creamer told investors on a Thursday conference call the company was optimistic.  Creamer has offered to split $3 billion in profits from Italian waste burial with Utah, though shareholders may force withdrawal.

Creamer told shareholders Utah was lacking conviction about the lawsuit.  Some insiders have told him the law is on EnergySolutions’ side, and the Utah legislature is just “playing delay tactics”.  While the lawsuit on whether EnergySolutions has the right to import foreign waste is up in the air, the company, which saw a 19% revenue decline and 42% profit decline in this year’s second-quarter, in addition to seeking some of the US’s $6 billion in stimulus funds and $19 billion in prime contracting opportunities, is shopping in the UK, China and Germany for contracts.

Push is on for mine cleanup funds to go to uranium sites—Sue Major Holmes, AP, SLT 8/6/09

New Mexico has some 259 abandoned uranium sites that need cleanup with a total of 800 abandoned hardrock sites, more than ¼ of which suffer from radioactivity or chemical contamination.  The pattern is similar across 13 western states, according to the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  New Mexico state officials are pushing that more cleanup money go to the hazardous uranium sites.

Of Wyoming’s 956 abandoned hardrock sites, half are considered environmentally degraded, as with 9,900 of 50,000 Arizona sites and 5,200 of over 47,000 sites in California.  Uranium dust exposure has been known to cause kidney toxicity and acute kidney failure, and radiation exposure is known to increase cancer risk.

During the last quarter of the Bush administration, laws that allowed states to direct cleanup monies to sites deemed a threat to public health and safety were re-interpreted to direct monies primarily to coal mine cleanups.  New Mexico is calling on Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to reverse the solicitor general’s opinion.  Salazar is reportedly taking the matter under review.

Of $20 million over the next 6 years dedicated to New Mexico’s abandoned mine and mill cleanup, only $800,000 of this year’s $3.8 million grant can be used for hardrock site cleanup.  And an Obama administration proposal could cut a $142 million program dedicated to states and tribes certified for completed coal mine remediation.  That means as many as 520 abandoned uranium sites in Navajo country could go unaddressed.

The executive director of the Navajo Nation Environmental Protection Agency noted too that the Abandoned Mine Lands Program focuses on reclamation, where reclamation attends to removal of physical hazards.  In many instances, he noted, remediation—such as removing contaminated soil or studying groundwater concerns—is necessary.

During a demonstration last month marking the 30th anniversary of a tailings spill that flooded the Rio Puerco with millions of gallons of acidic water, one Navajo Nation leader decried the notion of covering but leaving intact radioactive tailings at a proposed site.  His expectation is that the cover will deteriorate.

Uranium cleanup concerns have heated up with the proposal of new uranium mines across the West.  Legislation is being proposed at the national level that would tie cleanup funds to production values.  Existing abandoned sites date back before 1977, when the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act began requiring financial assurance for cleanup on new development once mining was finished.  Some say the US is additionally responsible, since uranium until the 1970’s went primarily to national defense concerns.

Beetle battle being won near downtown Orem—AP, SLT 8/6/09

Japanese beetles that began proliferating near downtown Orem since 2006 have apparently been curtailed thanks to an aggressive spraying program rapidly launched after the outbreak.  While 2,000 beetles were found in the area in 2007, recently only four have been found.  Without aggressive, early treatment, officials feared the hungry beetles would spread to other areas, severely damaging lawns, gardens and trees.  Monitoring of the area will continue.

Eagle recovering after collision with semi—Lindsay Whitehurst, SLT 8/6/09

The 5 plus year old male golden broke through the cab’s windshield as the truck moved westbound on I-80 near Echo.  The bird experienced severe head trauma and lost vision in one eye, according to the executive director of Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Northern Utah, where the animal is rehabilitating.  The golden eagle may regain vision, and could be released into the wild within a month.

Common in Utah, golden eagles have a 30 year lifespan.  Their young carry a white base at the tail that fades with age.  While not the apparent cause, large birds of prey have been known to be hit after gorging on fresh kill, diminishing their ability to fly quickly.  The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center treats 2-3 goldens from auto accidents per year.

American Indian linked to federal artifacts looting case—Patty Henetz, SLT 8/6/09

The man found it easy to buy bowls, Hopi kachina masks, SunDance skulls, eagle feathers, knives, pots, fetishes and other Puebloan artifacts from tribal members on New Mexico reservations.  Santa Fe resident Thomas “Tommy” Cavaliere sold thousands of dollars of such artifacts to undercover FBI investigators over a 2 ½ year period, allegations say.  A former antiquities dealer sparked the investigation after contacting the FBI in 2006 in Utah, seeking to curtail illegal trading.  Over 23 individuals have been charged in Utah in the case.

Cavalier pleaded guilty in 2002 to four counts of violating the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) of 1990.  Several artists and antiquities dealers in the Santa Fe area were involved in the circle of connections the FBI’s undercover operative—“The Source”—was introduced to, and while confiscation of a number of artifacts from their property has occurred, no charges have been made.

Though most of the Santa Fe based individuals were not available for comment, one said that searches and prosecutions of dealers was politically motivated, utilizing the Obama administration’s interpretation of NAGPRA, another in a long line of uneven applications since hitting the books as law.  The dealer added “I’m doing the same thing today I was doing 38 years ago when I started in this business.”  He claims the federal government is serving people like him up to the tribes rather than honoring old treaties or offering compensation for stolen land.

The Santa Fe collective sold or traded to the FBI’s informant artifacts from Taos, Zia, Acoma, and Santa Domingo Pueblos, as well as from Hopi kivas.  Better than 20 tribes continue on pueblos—reservations without public land—across the Southwest, and the tribes consider themselves descendants of the Anasazi, who dispersed from Chaco Canyon and the region between the 12th and 13th centuries.

One confiscated kachina mask allegedly came from the Hopi Third Mesa, where the oldest continuously inhabited village in the US has existed since circa 1050 A.D., Old Oraibi.  According to a Hopi consultant, all kachina masks are considered living gods and unavailable for a tribal member to sell.


Courage, collaboration are keys to Jordan River’s future—Jenny Wilson, Corey Rushton, Chris McCandless, Salt Lake County Council, West Valley City Council, Sandy County Council respectively; co-chairs Blueprint Jordan River Implementation Committee, SLT 8/8/09


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