1. How to kill a coal plant—Mark Engler, Salon.com 8/18/2009
ESR Editor’s note: Salon.com in its Salon Fact Sheet claims the “award-winning online news and entertainment Web site combines original investigative stories, breaking news, provocative personal essays and highly respected criticism along with popular staff-written blogs about politics, technology and culture.”
On Oct. 8, 2007, a handful of Greenpeace activists from Britain entered a smokestack in a coal-fired power plant in Kent, England as others cut electricity on the plant’s grounds. The ambition of the activists in their 30’s and 40’s was to rappel down the outside and paint a message to Prime Minister Gordon to end operation of such plants, which spew close to 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere daily.
Scaling the 600 foot smokestack took 9 hours instead of 3. “It was the most physically exhausting thing I have ever done,” one participant said, “the hottest, dirtiest place you could imagine.” Only one word was painted—Gordon—before the troupe was arrested. The effort, however, has transformed the debate over fossil-fuel power plants in Britain and sent shock waves across the entire global movement determined to use direct action to combat climate change.
As the Kingsnorth Six went to court, they executed what is termed in the US a “necessity” defense. The valid, legal defense applies in situations where one violates a law to prevent a greater harm from occurring, such as breaking down a door to enter a burning building. Renowned climate scientist James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified.
The Guardian reported that he presented evidence showing that the Kingsnorth plant could cause sufficient global warming in its lifetime to prompt “extinction of 400 species over its lifetime.” A British government study cited by the defense showed each ton of CO2 yields $85 in future climate-change costs. The defendants argued that shutting the plant down for one day prevented $1.6 million in damages, a far greater necessity than the violation of law required to prevent the emissions.
A jury of 12 agreed. The acquittal made front page news and produced political results. Britain’s energy and climate change minister announced a new policy in April, announcing “The era of new unabated coal has come to an end.” A longtime environmental activist from Germany said “it was probably one of the most impactful civil disobedience cases the world has ever seen, because it was the right action at the right time.”
Following quick on Kingsnorth’s heels, the Dominion 11 were arrested in Nov. 2008 for forming a human blockade to halt construction of a coal plant in Wise County, Va. The Drax 29 went to trial this summer for boarding and stopping a coal train en route to North Yorkshire, England in 2008. The Coal Swarm Web site tracks these incidents. Their number is expanding weekly.
Al Gore, Nobel Prize winner who authored An Inconvenient Truth, remarked in August 2007 to a New York Times reporter, “I can’t understand why there aren’t rings of young people blocking bulldozers and preventing them from constructing coal-fired power plants.” As youth across the world are moving in that direction, there is yet a disconnect between widespread acknowledgement of the gravity of climate change and a willingness to respond in kind.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2007 report suggests a 2 degree Celsius increase in average global temps will, by 2050, create severe water shortages for up to 2 billion people and risk extinction for 20-30% of all plant and animal species. A Guardian poll from April 2009 showed “Almost 9 out of 10 climate scientists do not believe political efforts to restrict global warming to 2C will succeed.” They anticipate a 4-5C rise by end of century. Desertification, depleted food supplies and coastal flooding would displace hundreds of millions.
Direct action is attempting to confront the success of the oil and coal lobbies in suppressing the urgency of this issue, not to mention the remoteness and seeming improbability that much of the American public seems to face, far from a real scientific debate. Abigail Singer of the grassroots network Rising Tide said of Gore’s civil disobedience endorsement, “It’d be more powerful if he put his body where his mouth is.”
68 year old James Hansen spent the 1980’s and 1990’s publishing groundbreaking papers on the reality of global warming. Hansen assumed the knowledge would lead to action as it had with the hole in the ozone layer in 1987. As Hansen has faced the wall of climate change denial and political monopoly of industry interest groups, he has begun risking arrest at demonstrations.
Meanwhile others are opting for greater civility and invest a perhaps overconfident belief that the worst can’t happen. Harvard Oceanographer James McCarthy said of the IPCC 2007 report, “The worst stuff is not going to happen, because we can’t be that stupid.” Since the civil rights movement in the American South, it seems plain that an unruly civil rights movement is necessary for necessary change. Political power wielded by the powerful industry lobbies may be far stronger at resisting change than run of the mill ignorance and stupidity.
Hansen and others have concluded that if there is not “a public counterbalance to the organized money of those who profit from the status quo, what science has to say will be largely irrelevant, no matter how theoretically convincing it may be.” Hansen was first arrested in West Virginia, the heart of coal country. Coal is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the US and worldwide, and the Earth holds enough coal to heat the planet to catastrophic levels. “As long as US and European power plants continue spewing coal smoke, their governments will have absolutely no credibility in trying to influence the policies of rising economies such as China and India.”
With mountaintop removal coal mining, the impact has connected with environmental atrocity. West Virginia has been labeled by one blogsite as “Climate Ground Zero”. Not only are large amounts of landscape impacted, drinking water is contaminated, and lakes of toxic coal waste give way as with the billions of gallons of sludge that flooded lands near Harriman, Tenn. last December. These impacts are much less abstract than an odorless, invisible gas that is warming the atmosphere, or complex climate change science. A staffer from Coal River Mountain Watch of West Virginia said; “You stand at the edge of one of these mountaintop removal sites and you’ll never feel the same way again.”
Massey Energy has been one of a series of focal points for demonstrations in West Virginia. Direct action such as chaining one’s self to a rock truck, obstructing coal roads, and occupying crane-line machines are seen alongside of community organizing, research for environmental impact statements, and garnishing political sponsors for a congressional ban on filling valleys with mining waste. The staffer added “at this point there is not the political will to deal with the crisis. I see it as my role as an activist to create that political will.”
A spokesperson for E.On Corporation, the Kingsnorth plant operator, said after the jury reached a verdict they were “worried that this ruling will encourage other protestors to engage in similar actions at power plants across the country.” Diverse local protests occurring internationally are having an impact. Over half of the 214 proposed coal plants in the US since 2000 have been canceled, abandoned or put on hold. Coal Moratorium Now, a website tracking public campaigns, found citizen dissent instrumental in many of those cancellations. Companies are seeing the PR nightmare such resistance is creating.
Bill McKibben of 350.org with Hansen and others formed a human chain in March to block entrance to Washington D.C.’s Capitol Power Plant, built in 1910. Arrests were avoided due to the number of participants and the potential high-profile scene arrests could create. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid responded with a letter to the Acting Architect of the Capitol calling for the plant to convert to gas.
An international day of action could soon follow as the UN climate conference in Copenhagen in December approaches. The conference to replace the Kyoto protocol will occur nearly 10 years since the 1999 Seattle protests that disrupted World Trade Organization meetings and changed global debates thereafter. Previously, global justice advocates working at local levels such as student anti-sweatshop drives, environmental boot camps. organic food gatherings, corporate ad spoofs, indigenous rights battles, and cross-border labor campaigns already showed a groundswell of international support.
Some say up to 100,000 people could show up to protest in Copenhagen. Activists are deciding whether to create a strong presence near the conference or at a heavily polluting company nearby that exemplifies bad climate-change behavior. Synchronized events in the US also are in planning stages, where activists are debating whether to work with the Obama administration or criticize its limited policies.
BeyondTalk.net managed by the satiric Yes Men and others in a coalition, is serving as a pledge site for nonviolent civil disobedience as the Copenhagen conference approaches. So far, 3,210 have pledged, small compared to the number of people necessary for meaningful change. Still, it suggests expanding dedication and personal sacrifice for the sake of the planet and our species. Those people are saying they are willing to take the chance that a determined action, even if botched, could have a significant impact. “It’s more than 3,000 people who may just be willing to climb for hours through a huge radiator in order to stop the planet from becoming one in all too short a time,” wrote Mark Engler.
2. Another delay likely in trial of oil-bid ‘monkey wrencher’—AP, SLT 8/20/09
Lawyers for Tim DeChristopher said both sides need time for arguments and a decision from a hearing yet to be scheduled, and are calling for the Sept. 14 date to be moved back. DeChristopher’s defense team with DeChristopher will be arguing the ‘lesser-of-two-evils’ defense, based on DeChristopher’s admission that he sought to protect wild lands in Utah from drilling and draw attention to climate change tied to oil consumption. Prosecutors are trying to block the argument that he had a higher purpose in mind when bidding on oil leases without intending to pay for them.
3. Thousands blast Whole Foods CEO over health care column—Cox Newspapers, SLT 8/19/09
Whole Foods Market Inc. CEO John Mackey recently published an op-ed column in the Wall Street Journal denouncing President Obama’s health-care proposal and calling for less regulation of the insurance industry. Thousands have vowed online to boycott the company in a mounting backlash. Mackey is a known opponent of unions, and criticized the Federal Trade Commission from his blog on the Whole Foods site two years ago. 11,000 posts had logged in to the company’s online forum on the topic as of late Tuesday. A Facebook group calling for a boycott had over 13,000 members as of Tuesday. One supporter of Mackey posted on the Whole Foods website, “I would rather heed the sage advice of a proven leader who has decades of experience in the employment of thousands of individuals over nebulous and untested ideas of reform.”
4. New government study shows mercury in fish widespread—Dina Cappiello, AP, SLT 8/19/09
A new federal study of mercury contamination that assayed fish from almost 300 streams nationwide found mercury in every fish sampled, attesting to the widespread presence of the pollutant. Only ¼ had mercury levels exceeding safe standards for human consumption according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
The US Geological Survey study, conducted from 1998 to 2005, is the most comprehensive to date. Over 1,000 fish were collected for the study. Interior Secretary Salazar said “This science sends a clear message that our country must continue to confront pollution, restore our nation’s waterways, and protect the public from potential health dangers.”
Mercury has been associated with nervous system damage and learning disabilities in humans. Women and children are especially vulnerable. The main source of mercury for most of the streams tested was coal-fired power plant emissions. Smokestacks release mercury into the atmosphere where it blows on the winds and rains down into waterways where it is naturally converted to methylmercury, the substance that travels up the food chain.
Highest levels showed up in blackwater streams along Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Louisiana coastlines. Bacteria in nearby forests and wetlands facilitate mercury conversion. Largemouth bass in the North Fork of the Edisto River around Fairview Crossroads, S.C. had the second highest concentration of mercury. Researchers have found mercury contamination in fish from remote Alaskan waters and even from the deep ocean.
Western streams draining areas mined for mercury and gold also showed heavy mercury levels in fish. The highest level showed up in a smallmouth bass from the Carson River at Dayton, Nev., where heavy gold mining activity has occurred. Scientists say acidic conditions from mining could also facilitate higher mercury levels.
Alaska and Wyoming are the only two states without mercury-based fish-consumption advisories. The Obama administration plans to craft new mercury emissions regulations from power plants in the wake of a federal appeals court ruling that dismissed Bush-era plans favored by industry. Under that plan, plants could buy and sell pollution credits rather than reduce their own pollution. Cement plants have also been targeted for tighter regulation.
View the study: http://water.usgs.gov/nawqa/mercury/
5. Utah lawmakers not sold on Snake Valley water deal—Patty Henetz, SLT 8/19/09
Rep. Brad Winn, R-Ephraim said “I don’t believe a bad agreement is better than no agreement.” Sitting on the Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Environment Interim Committee, he and others got their first overview of the deal crafted behind closed doors by directors from Utah’s and Nevada’s natural resources divisions.
Executive Director of Utah Department of Natural Resources Mike Styler argued the deal is Utah’s best chance of protecting its water supplies as Las Vegas bears down on northeastern Nevada to quench its thirst. Winn lamented the lack of involvement the 4-year deal has had with lawmakers and constituents.
Picking apart the agreement, he favored the delay of approval for the pipeline to 2019, when Las Vegas would convert 50,000 acre-feet of water from paper water shares. He argued against the 7 to 1 division of unallocated water in favor of Nevada.
Sen. Margaret Dayton, R-Provo, preferred waiting until scientific studies are complete on water and air quality impacts. “My hope is there isn’t a rush to sign this,” she added. No action was taken at the committee hearing, thought the co-chair asked that the committee be kept informed.
6. Feds haul off more seized artifacts—Patty Henetz, SLT 8/19/09
Vern and Marie Crites, a Colorado couple indicted with 23 others for illegal trafficking of ancient Puebloan artifacts, have turned over their collection to federal authorities. The collection includes prayer sticks, fire sticks, a bone scraper and “cloud blowers”, Hopi ceremonial pipes. The couple are alleged to have openly and willfully excavated, bought and sold artifacts in the Four Corners area. Their home in Durango harbored a large number of items that required several vans for confiscation.
Indicted on 7 felony counts, the Criteses could pay up to $250,000 per count with up to 10 years in prison for each. Crites, who claimed to have been in business for 50 years, offered the FBI-BLM informant an Abajo pottery collection he estimated at $50,000, as well as the opportunity to sell his entire collection. He also claimed to have made half-million-dollar sales to two other collectors, one of which has since committed suicide.
Crites admitted to the informant—the Source—that federal agents had missed a safe when raiding his home in 1985, confiscating artifacts and business records. The safe held an eagle that he and his son had tacked by the claws to a board to dry. Crites also wanted to take the Source to as-yet unexcavated sites in San Juan County on BLM lands.
Court papers state Crites took the Source to graves on Sept. 14, which they excavated from an ancient Puebloan burial mound. A human skull was excavated in the process, which was picked up and returned to the hole by one of the others implicated directly with Crites. They filled the hole with excavated dirt but came up short. Crites allegedly said at the time, “wished that fella had still been intact, the skeleton, I mean.” In a conversation recorded earlier that day, one of those indicted, when planning where to park the truck, said it was better to be paranoid when doing something illegal.
7. McEntee: For tribes, land deal is personal—Peg McEntee, SLT 8/19/09
Northern Shoshone elder Helen Timbimboo was pleased with Governor Herbert’s orchestration of diverse stakeholders into an agreement that will preserve 252 acres in a conservation easement near the Jordan River in Draper. The site was found in 2007 to host pit houses, stone tools and knives, spear points and arrowheads, awls and needles of animal bone, small bone beads, cooking and gardening stones and other artifacts suggesting the 3,000 year old Indian village had been inhabited a long time. Evidence of corn farming has suggested the site is the earliest known in the Great Basin, with an 11,000 year archaeological record.
“From Salt Lake to the Brigham City area, Shoshone people are buried along the Wasatch Front. It’s just something that will always be there,” 81-year-old Timbimboo said. Ed Naranjo of the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation added, “We’ve inhabited this area for thousands of years. Those are our ancestors who had those homes. There’s a lot of history there, not only for we Indians, but for all Utahns. This is something you preserve. You don’t destroy it.”
Naranjo talked about his people roaming throughout the centuries with Utes, Paiutes and Shoshone. Some of the stories he recollected were of Crow, Blackfeet, Navajo, Zuni and Pueblo people coming to the Salt Lake Valley for salt for their tribes. “It was an open, sharing area.”
The site will be called Galena-Soonkahni, Shoshone for “many dwellings”.
8. Lawmakers tip scale on climate change debate—Judy Fahys, SLT 8/19/09
Utah lawmakers heard from a metals scientist, a lawyer, a politician, businessmen and others who are relatively uniform in their warning that Utah will pay a heavy price in lost jobs and high energy costs should Washington’s climate change bill become law. No climate scientist testified, but testimony did center on the dubious nature of the science behind the policy.
Rep. Mike Noel, climate change skeptic and co-chair of the Interim Public Utilities and Technology Committee declared the committee had heard from plenty of scientists. “We’ve had some that had fairly good credentials”, Noel said, though he recalled none by name and assured none had been able to “refute the data I’ve seen.” Noel claimed the forum was bringing “a little bit more reason and rationality to the process” than the media.
The executive director of Utah Clean Energy pointed out that understanding the science was crucial to indirect decisions that were showing up on lawmakers’ dockets more and more. An environmental lawyer who testified to another interim committee Wednesday said lawmakers need to seek out input even from experts they disagree with. He likened the situation to getting a second opinion, or a hundred opinions, for a fatal prognosis. “[T]he reality is that the state of Utah is going to face a carbon dioxide limit in the not-so-distant-future,” the lawyer added.
Rob Gillies of the Utah Climate Center at Utah State University has been called to present data for legal, academic and policy-making forums, but has not been called to speak to the Legislature. “We’re learning an awful lot very quickly,” Gillies says of the data that feeds agriculture, water managers and others depending on climate information. Of note is the indication increasingly that Utah will warm and is likely to suffer deep droughts even if more water accompanies that forecast. Jim Steenburgh, professor and chair of atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah, who with his team provided former Gov. Huntsman’s Blue Ribbon Advisory Commission on climate change with the 2007 science report, also has not been invited to speak.
Rep. Noel on the other hand introduced Tom Tripp, a US Magnesium metallurgist who spoke at this year’s Utah Farm Bureau conference on the fallacies of climate change, as a Nobel Prize winner and recipient of the Peace Prize awarded to Al Gore and the IPCC last year for its work on climate change science. Though Tripp openly acknowledged his lack of training in climate model expertise, he argued that scientific evidence doesn’t support the notion of man-made climate change. Tripp estimated greenhouse gas emissions from metals-melting processes worldwide for climate modelers. Tripp says global cooling is under way.
Utah State University physicist and climate scientist Robert Davies said it’s misleading to consider Tripp a climate change authority.
9. Culture Vulture: ‘Flash mob’ rule: Web makes politics easy—Sean P. Means, SLT 8/18/09
Last Thursday’s “flash mob” event—“an environmental protest organized via e-mail, text message and social networking sites—at the Gallivan Center followed similar events of the past. Anonymous faces blend in a crowd, until at a certain time they act in concert, utilizing a YouTube video to record and broadcast the event well after the event is done and the faces have disappeared back into the crowd. Events such as a 2006 “silent disco” in London Underground stations, a multi-city “Worldwide Pillow Fight Day” in 2008, and a 200-participant dance to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Do Re Mi” at a train station in Antwerp, Belgium this year serve as earlier examples.
Thursday’s Gallivan flash mob drew together around 100 people who played dead around the balanced rock in the middle of the plaza while a large banner unfurled warning “Climate change kills” from a nearby parking garage. Peaceful Uprising organizers utilizing Thursday’s Twilight Concert Series venue said they were looking to raise awareness of the dangers of global climate change, especially with young people. Almost 300 confirmed on Facebook they would participate in the event, with 400 attesting they might. 200 signed up for the text messages that triggered the start of the event.
Elsewhere, as in Iran during election protests, easy web-based emblems utilized on features such as Twitter suggested solidarity at times with true depth, at times superficial, a fad. Faddish users of solidarity symbols, much like Facebook surfers who can check in as coming on the “Flash Mob” site, are likely to move on to the next fad when the impulse strikes. “Getting politically active online is fine as far as it goes, but it should be matched by action in the real world. Raising awareness, whether on a Facebook page or a flash mob, should be the first step, not the last,” Means argues.
10. What to plant with the first frost in mind—Maggie Wolf, SLT 8/18/09
Most areas in the Salt Lake Valley region hit their first frost dates about mid-October, with seven weeks of frost-free weather left. Tender vegetables will have to be protected by then, but cold-hardy vegetables can be planted now for post-frost harvests.
Hardy vegetables like turnips, cabbage, kale, mustard greens, broccoli, kohlrabi, green onions and radishes survive and produce even if temps dip to 21 degrees. Semi-hardy vegetables like beets, cauliflower, spinach and Chinese cabbage can withstand night temps of 32 degrees after a frost. Transplants are quickest and easiest, though new plants may not be available at garden centers tapering off of spring and summer products. Independent garden centers, nurseries and farmers’ markets may be a better bet.
“Early” varieties are ones that will reach harvest maturity quicker. Cooler temps and shorter days will slow plant growth. 50 days or less to harvest are favored unless cold frames or other season extending devises will be used. Utilize existing prepared beds, and keep in mind some fall crops are suitable as ornamentals in beds and pots, such as kale, Swiss chard and lettuce. If utilizing seed, protect the beds from hot summer sun with temporary shades. Fine mulch applied after seedlings emerge will keep the soil moist and cooler.
11. SLC company plans to store natural gas in salt caverns—Steven Oberbeck, SLT 8/18/09
Magnum Gas Storage would use eight salt caverns north of Delta to store as much as 45 billion cubic feet of natural gas. The company has called the project one of the West’s first large-scale salt-cavern natural gas storage facilities. The project is considered a boon to future alternative energy development in the area. Underground storage is common, utilized in the summer when demand is low and drawn from in winter as demand increases. The company is seeking federal permits for the project on 2,000 acres it controls, and expects to have them by next spring. The facility would go online in 2012.
Salt deposits under the property are almost a mile thick. Water will be pumped underground to dissolve salt and form the caverns, and the brine will be recovered and offered for sale. Each cavern will take 18 months to two years to develop. 26 companies have expressed interest in use of the storage site, including Questar Gas, though a spokesperson for Questar said the project was still in its infancy. Questar utilizes the Clay Basin facility near the Utah-Wyoming border, a depleted natural gas field that can hold as much as 57 billion cubic feet.
If Magnum and its partners follow through, the site—already a pipeline nexus—would be developed as a “Western Energy Hub”. As such, it could use renewable energy resources in the area to compress air for storage into one of the domes not used for natural gas. The compressed air would then drive power-generating turbines as necessary. Salt storage caverns, rare in the West, are common along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas.
12. Target: New coal seam—Paul Foy, AP, SLT 8/18/09
UtahAmerican Energy Inc., a subsidiary of Murray Energy Corp. of Ohio, has worked over the past year to tunnel into a section of the Book Cliffs to position itself under a potentially profitable coal seam. The 500 feet of tunnels will eventually be excavated to 1,200 feet to access the coal. The mining outfit has taken the more expensive route to avoid entering the seam through Lila Canyon, “a wild fold in the Book Cliffs that hides big game habitat and ancient rock art panels,” Foy said.
The site is 5 miles east of State Route 191 in eastern central Utah. Three tunnels have been excavated, one for vehicles and equipment, one for a coal conveyor belt, and one for ventilation. After entering the cliff face, they angle up 12 degrees. The Federal Register notes that the Bureau of Land Management is estimating the value of the proposed 42.2 million tons of coal the mining operation will buy at the Dry Canyon site. Regulations provide for a sealed bid based on what the company believes the seam is worth. If the company wins the bid, they will be obligated to pay 1/5 of the bid for mining rights.
The company will be obligated to pay a rental fee of $3 per acre and an 8% royalty on coal produced. The royalties will be split between the federal government and Utah. Dry Canyon’s coal tract is around 6 ¾ square miles or 4,324 acres. A Murray Energy affiliate operated Utah’s Crandall Canyon mine when a collapse in 2007 killed 9 miners. Murray Energy is seeking to expand coal operations at Aberdeen, seven miles north of Price, as well.
13. Idaho F&G commissioners approve hunt of 220 wolves—John Miller, AP, SLT 8/18/09
The Idaho Department of Fish and Game Commission vote will allow hunting of 220 of an estimated 880 wolves in Idaho, starting in September. Environmental groups are threatening a lawsuit. 70,000 hunters are considered likely to purchase one of the tags, though commissioners did not expect that number would exhaust the quota. An earlier plan called for 430 permits to be issued. Montana acted similarly last month, offering 75 permits beginning in mid-September.
Officials estimated Idaho wolf populations would grow to 1,020 without a hunt this year alone. And the commission is not concerned that even a quarter of the population will threaten the species in the state. Wolves have been roving into areas like the resort region of Sun Valley as more inhabit Idaho.
One commissioner said, “It’s time for some environmental groups to abide by their previous promises. It’s time for our judicial system to put science before partisan ideology. Neither our sportsmen, our ranchers or our elk herds can wait any longer. It’s time.” While the commissioners intend to limit the wolf population to 518, the threat of lawsuit coupled with the likelihood that even 220 wolves could be bagged this year alone prevented a higher number of permits.
Thirteen environmental groups have filed lawsuits after the federal government decided in May to remove wolves from the Endangered Species List in Idaho and Montana, and warn hunts could damage restoration efforts. Lawyers for the groups could seek an injunction in US District Court in Missoula, similar to one issued in July 2008 that prevented similar hunts.
A spokeswoman for Earthjustice, who is representing the environmental groups, said “[h]unting of an imperiled species at any level is inappropriate. the science tells us this wolf population will remain imperiled and even become moreso under state management.” The 2008 ruling held that interbreeding between wolf packs in the region was not adequate.
14. S.L. County plows forward with urban-farming plan—Jeremiah Stettler, SLT 8/18/09
The plan, supported unanimously by the County Council, will offer farmers the opportunity to lease county property that has not yet been developed for agriculture or biofuel. Other opportunities would shift “underutilized” parks to public gardens for home-grown food. According to the program’s sponsor, the program will not cost the county anything. Plans are expected to be submitted to the council by mid-October. See related story Salt Lake County hopes to sprout more community gardens 8/17/09 below.
15. Magistrate wants progress in artifacts cases—Nate Carlisle, SLT 8/18/09
Defense lawyers representing 20 defendants in the cases argued Tuesday they had not had the chance to review the thousands of pages of reports and voluminous hours of video and audio made by the fed’s informant. The federal magistrate scheduled a conference with the attorneys for Nov. 23 to assess preparedness and possibly set trial dates. The majority of the defendants are from Blanding and Monticello in a case that accuses them of removing American Indian artifacts from public land and offering them for sale or trade to an FBI—Bureau of Land Management informant. Two have pled guilty in the case and two committed suicide.
16. Feds: 29 species may need protection—AP, SLT 8/18/09
The species, from a near-extinct beach-dwelling plant in Yellowstone National Park to a caddis fly in Nebraska could be recommended across 20 or more states, US Fish and Wildlife Service said recently. Utah is home to 14 of the near-extinct species, including 10 plant species and the Northern leatherside chub, a minnow-like fish. Six snails and two insects also make up the threatened species being considered for Endangered Species Act protection.
WildEarth Guardians, an environmental group, petitioned protections for over 200 species in 2007, mostly across the West. US Fish and Wildlife denied protection for 165 species in February, and delayed their decision for 38 species. Each species will get a thorough review, identifying range, distribution and threats.
The species may be protected as an endangered species—“in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range”—or as a threatened species: “one that is likely to become endangered soon.” Several of the species under consideration could be threatened by climate change. Other threats include habitat loss, road construction, mining, livestock, energy development, off-road vehicles, and water diversions.
17. Pipeline foes worry their objections falling on deaf ears—Patty Henetz, SLT 8/18/09
Neither director of Utah’s or Nevada’s natural resources departments have offered articulate answers to how they will respond to comments from residents and others concerned about the proposed split of the Snake Valley aquifer. Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Director Allen Biaggi told the attendees at Tuesday’s Salt Lake City meeting simply that they would “respond” to comments.
Of the 75 or so attendees, Great Basin Water Network’s Steve Erickson said “You should have been recording this.” Utah Department of Natural Resources Executive Director Mike Styler replied, “We’ve taken some notes. Just because we aren’t recording doesn’t mean we aren’t listening.” Tuesday’s marked the third of four public hearings on the directors’ ‘behind closed doors’ water deal, which has generally been met with protest and objection. Monday’s Delta hearing saw 100 farmers and ranchers up in arms over what they alleged as a Las Vegas water giveaway.
Chair of the Confederate Tribes of Goshute Reservations said the tribes should have been included in preliminary talks or at least engaged before release of a draft accord. “You guys make it look like we’re already extinct. There is serious drought in the west desert.” Valley area water users are convinced the aquifer will not support additional patrons, especially one as thirsty as Las Vegas. The directors have stressed repeatedly that the deal protects existing water users first.
The Nevada state engineer would make the final agreement allocating 50,000 acre-feet of Nevada water from the Snake Valley and elsewhere in the northeastern part of the state to Las Vegas, and the agreement on the table would restrain that decision to 2019. The states are abiding by a 2004 federal law that rules they must agree on how to split the aquifer. A breakdown of the proposed split can be found in Snake Valley ranchers riled at sellout deal SLT 8/17/09 (see story below).
The USGS has given its estimates the aquifer only a 67% chance of accuracy. The states have agreed on a 24,000 acre-foot reserve to manage any discrepancies. That reserve would only be available provided that state engineers confirm drawdown won’t “unreasonably” affect already allocated supplies.
18. Environmental Quality nominee still awaits Senate OK—Judy Fahys, SLT 8/18/09
The confirmation hearing for Utah Department of Environmental Quality director nominee Amanda Smith will not be scheduled until September, due to scheduling difficulties with the hearing panel. The department has been without a director for 9 months. Smith was nominated by then-Governor Huntsman in May just before his own nomination as US ambassador to China. Delays have alternately been due to one member on a trip overseas and vacations. The Republican chair of the panel said they also wanted to give Gov. Herbert time to settle into office.
Smith held a position at The Nature Conservancy before becoming Huntsman’s legislative director. She has become known for her collaborative style, and lawmakers who will decide whether to confirm her have suggested support. State Sen. Steve Urquhart, R-St. George said she was “an excellent public servant…very skilled.” Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, chairman of the panel that will review her nomination and a veteran of past work with Smith, said “I really like Amanda Smith. She’s pretty reasonable.” Deputy DEQ Director Bill Sinclair oversaw the agency after director Rick Sprott retired in December. Smith has been serving as acting director pending confirmation.
19. Dogs, cyclists to co-exist along planned Parley’s Trail—Derek P. Jensen, SLT 8/18/09
Salt Lake City Council elected this week not to build a 900-foot fence down the middle of yet to be built Parley’s Trail to separate dogs and owners from cyclists. The trail will cross the northern portion of Parley’s Historic Nature Park. One councilman noted that the two park use groups co-existed well in City Creek Canyon. The trail may be expanded to 12-14 feet wide, and a soft shoulder could be added, to afford more room to a variety of users. Salt Lake County will pay for the project and construct and maintain the trail.
Concerns from some dog owners were not allayed. “Be warned that you will be getting complaints,” a director of Millcreek’s Friends Interested in Dogs and Open Spaces commented. Other concerns hinged on whether dogs could be restrained from the park’s wetlands area and whether the area will remain a popular “dog park”. Public services executives and county engineers were opposed to the fence from the beginning. The trail is intended to bridge the park with lands east and west of Sugar House Park as well as connecting the Bonneville Shoreline Trail with the Jordan River Parkway.
20. SLC chases $35 million in stimulus funds for Sugar House streetcar—Derek P. Jensen, SLT 8/18/09
With $2.5 million pledged by Salt Lake City, the city hopes to secure $35 million in federal stimulus funds to accelerate the completion of the Sugar House streetcar line to as early as 2012. Total project costs anticipate $46 million. The director of the city’s redevelopment agency warned the chances of winning the grant were “fairly low”, though to its benefit the streetcar is competitive with the least expensive transit projects that have applied, and Salt Lake City’s planning is well ahead of the pack.
The award will be announced in January. The streetcar line would run from the Central Pointe Trax station near 2100 South at 250 West to 1100 East in Sugar House’s business district. Seven stations would be spaced about every two blocks along the 2-mile line, and service would run every 30 minutes with more frequent service at peak service times.
Other options for funding would be through the standard federal earmark process, though the city would not likely fare as well. South Salt Lake will match Salt Lake City’s $2.5 million for the project. Salt Lake City plans on paying its share with redevelopment funds, special assessment areas, or area sales taxes.
21. Herbert hands tribes a big win—Rosemary Winters, SLT 8/18/09
Utah’s new Gov. Herbert signed the deal Tuesday that will protect 252 acres from Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) Frontrunner development in Draper. The station and accompanying mixed-use development will be moved to a site further north, protecting ruins of a 3,000 year old Indian village and artifacts identifying the site as the Great Basin’s oldest known site for corn farming.
The Galena property, poised on a bluff east of the Jordan River and home to migratory birds, is considered “sacred ground,” according to the chair of Utah Tribal Leaders and the Confederated Tribes of the Goshute Reservation. “It’s a place where our ancestors had ceremonies. They mourned their dead. They laughed and ran around and taught their children.”
In keeping with UTA’s hope to finish the Frontrunner line to Provo before 2015, the agency will work toward attaining 10 acres of a 150 acre parcel near 12800 South for the station. The rest of the site would likely be developed into “housing, eateries, shops and offices”—mixed use—which would help make the station successful.
While the Legislature opted to preserve the 252 acres as open space in 2000, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) never signed an agreement, and the Legislature reversed their decision late last year to favor UTA’s preference. The reversal was afforded in part by a request that then-House Speaker Greg Curtis made to the DNR’s director to delay signing an agreement. Curtis as an attorney was representing a purchaser for the land at the time that later backed out.
As time came to finalize decisions on the parcel, Utah tribal leaders balked at the move that would have destroyed the archaeologically significant site, and urged the governor to oppose it. A Paiute chairwoman said, “This [land] is our history and also our culture. Without our history, I really don’t think we have a future. We need to know where we came from and who we are.”
The mayor of Draper acknowledged that the site was preferred for its location to surrounding development, proximity to Draper residents, access to the Bangerter Highway as well as a future freeway interchange. Utah Open Lands’ executive director, pointing out the parcel made one of the largest protected open spaces along the Jordan River, said, “There’s an incredible sense of solace when you’re down there. The sacredness of this site, the conservation value of this land is now protected—and that’s an amazing thing for the entire state.”
22. Salt Lake County hopes to sprout more community gardens—Jeremiah Stettler, SLT 8/17/09
A proposal expected to be introduced by Salt Lake County Councilman Jim Bradley would convert “under-utilized” neighborhood parks throughout the county to community gardens. Other county lands could be leased to farmers for food and biofuel production while awaiting future development plans.
Tyler Montague, head of the grocery department at Liberty Heights Fresh market with his own home garden near the capital, punctuated the announcement with a gift of home-grown tomatoes. “It is a really smart move in terms of strengthening the Valley,” he said, adding that increased local crop production and enabling more people to grow their own food served the community well.
County Mayor Peter Coroon called the proposal “a great way to bring sustainable development into the county and a great way to remember our agricultural roots.” Parcels such as a 200-acre plot on the city’s west side slated for a wastewater treatment plant years from now could be used to grow safflower for its oil-seed that could be converted to up to 10,000 gallons of biofuel a year.
A spokesman for the city’s mayor Ralph Becker said “We thought it was a no-brainer.” A research scientist from the Utah State University Extension lauded the proposal even for smaller parcels. He noted an 8-acre strip adjacent to Mountain View Golf Course that could be used for raspberries or a tree farm for the county parks. The county-owned Wheadon Farms property, a 64-acre plot in Draper, could be leased to a farmer or provided to a government-assisted co-op.
Additional community gardens would also be created in open spaces. One such Salt Lake City garden already in existence has a wait list of 5 years. The urban-farming proposal would be initiated with a newly constructed technical advisory committee and the county’s open-space coordinator would be assigned to manage the program. Bradley hopes the plan will be active by next spring.
23. New penalties in the works for tailpipe testing—Judy Fahys, SLT 8/17/09
The federal Legislative Administrative Rules Review Committee will set new limits for penalties charged against emissions-testing stations that fail to meet standards. In Utah, Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties are the only ones where health departments currently set those penalties. Health departments license service stations and inspection sites to certify vehicles are within acceptable emissions standards. Cache, Box Elder and Tooele counties could develop emissions testing penalties under the new federal law as well.
Owners of two Weber County emissions-testing locations testified that Weber-Morgan Health Department had been heavy handed in enforcement. Current penalties can exceed $10,000, according to the owners’ attorney, the same as a rape or murder case. He argued for penalties closer to the $1,000 fine that can be levied in a drunken driving case. Owners also balked at the possibility that they could be shut down if for instance cars were substituted for successful emissions inspections, and after three violations in two years, they could lose their license forever. The two are currently fighting Weber-Morgan Health Department in court.
“This is the most outrageous penalty schedule I’ve ever heard of,” one owner testified, while the other responded “It’s their way or the highway…They’re in it to win it.” An official from the Weber County Attorney’s Office implored legislators to solicit testimony from other shops, including ones that have never been cited for a violation, as well as other affected counties. “I think you need to hear from unbiased parties before we go down this path,” he added.
24. Snake Valley ranchers riled by ‘sellout’ water deal—Brandon Loomis, SLT 8/17/09
Directors from both the Utah Department of Natural Resources and Nevada Department of Conservation and Natural Resources both were on-hand at the Millard County Fairground public comment meeting on the proposed water share split ahead of a contentious Las Vegas pipeline development. Around 100 farmers and local officials showed up to protest the deal that both directors say protects existing water users while paving the way for Las Vegas to mine the rest of the resource.
Ranchers, fearing legal maneuvering and barely sufficient water as it is, expressed their attitudes in fighting terms. “Does anyone think Southern Nevada [Water Authority (SNWA)] is going to build a $15 billion pipeline and then let somebody turn it off?” one Callao rancher said. Speaking against Utah director Mike Styler’s desire to settle in order to avoid a US Supreme Court settlement, the rancher fired “To hell with that…Let’s fight for it.”
Officials say requirements in the deal call for water table monitoring in the Snake Valley, ensuring that flows will not exceed mountain-based annual recharge levels. Older water rights would be protected first, and since Las Vegas’ rights date to 1989, their spigot would be one of the first to be shut off. Requirements also guarantee action should dust, vegetation or wildlife degradation fall beyond moveable thresholds. The deal would also postpone review of SNWA’s pipeline application until 2019.
The postponement will offer more time for ecological and geological studies. As it stands, the deal divides the 132,000 acre-feet (a-f) of annually available water between existing and future users in the two states. Utah uses 55,000 a-f, while Nevada uses 12,000 a-f. Nevada would receive 36,000 a-f for future users compared to Utah’s 6,000 a-f. An additional pool of allocations split 18,000 a-f to 6,000 a-f in favor of Nevada could be vetoed by either side.
Utah director Styler said his goal was to protect current Utah water users and allow for some local growth to occur. Nevada’s director Allen Biaggi said though Utah developed its part of the valley for agriculture, aquifer recharge comes mainly from Nevada-based mountain ranges. Local ranchers argued the surface water and some springs in the valley have dried up since the 1970’s, and additional withdrawal was unsustainable.
A Millard County prospector reacted; “Why are you agreeing to this garbage? These people out here are good people—good Americans—and you’re screwing them.” A second public comment meeting is to be held Tuesday in Salt Lake City, and another Thursday in Las Vegas.
25. Guv likely to save ancient Indian site from train station project—Kristen Moulton, SLT 8/17/09
A conservation easement agreement that newly-sworn-in Governor Herbert is expected to sign will set aside 252 acres near the development site of a new Frontrunner station in Draper. Though considered the Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) top choice, the authority developed three other alternatives to choose from for its new station. A final meeting scheduled with stakeholders Draper City, UTA, representatives from seven Utah-based Indian tribes, environmentalists and state agencies will ensure a satisfactory final agreement.
The agreement, which will protect the site of an ancient Native American village, received kudos from Utah Open Lands (UOL) and tribal representatives. “[I]f everyone is satisfied with the terms and everyone is comfortable with it, he will sign it tomorrow,” a spokesperson for Herbert relayed. Situated on an eastern bluff above the Jordan River, the 3,000 year old site has been declared a significant American Indian site by the state archaeologist. Artifacts suggest the earliest known corn farming in the Great Basin region occurred there.
Chair of the Northwestern Band of the Shoshone Nation, speaking on the meaning of the easement, said “it’s got to be protected for time and all eternity, as we say in Utah.” UOL’s executive director said “[t]he sacredness of this site, the significance it has for generations speaks volumes about its value for future generations.” An adjacent 70 acres exists already under a conservation easement.
26. Feds and lands—Patrick Shea, SLT 8/17/09
On FLPMA section 303 regarding contracting with local law enforcement to protect the public lands.
27. Joe would just say no to Albion Basin development—Salt Lake Tribune 8/18/09
28. Can natural gas save the world? Well, it’s better than coal—Randy Udall, SLT 8/18/09