Roundup Friday September 11, 2009

1.  Dispute roils over route to remote Utah landmark—AP, SLT 9/11/09

A lawsuit filed by San Juan County in 2004 contests the National Park Service’s decision to permanently close the unpaved route into a southeastern portion of Canyonlands leading to Angel Arch.  The route was a popular OHV route for locals and a hotly contested issue.  Under a Civil War era law titled RS 2477, the county claims ownership of the road and the right to keep it open.  The park service will argue that the county hasn’t proved legitimate ownership in the trial that begins Monday.

2.  Federal judge says gray wolf hunts can continue—Matthew Brown, AP, SLT 9/09/09

The decision follows from a request filed by environmentalists and others who have sought to overturn hunts reinstated after delisting of the gray wolf in Montana and Idaho.  The decision found that 20% kill rates of an estimated 1,350 wolf population would not impose long-term harm.  Federal biologists have pegged the threshold at a 30% reduction.

One side note indicated that due to the singling out of Wyoming in the three states and not de-listing wolves there, US Fish and Wildlife may have violated the Endangered Species Act by basing its decision on political boundaries.  If so, environmentalists may have a resource for enforcing their aims.   “The Service has distinguished a natural population of wolves based on a political line, not the best available science,” the opinion reads.  “That, by definition, seems arbitrary and capricious.”

“If they violated the endangered species act, then this population eventually is going to have to go back on the [endangered] list,” an Earthjustice attorney representing 14 groups opposed to the hunts said.  Attorney Doug Honnold said he “took no comfort” in the opinion that the wolves were resilient enough to endure the hunt without threat to future population.  Three wolves have been taken in Idaho since the Sept. 1 season open, with up to 220 wolves allowed under Idaho’s quota.  Montana, with a 75 wolf quota, will open their season Sept. 15.

A spokesman with Idaho Fish and Game said “Everything is working just like we planned, which shouldn’t be a surprise since we’ve done this for years with other critters.”  Last year’s ruling by the same judge kept wolves in Idaho and Montana as well as Wyoming on the endangered list until delisting in Montana and Idaho in May.

3.  State Fair strives for a green ribbon—Ben Fulton, SLT 9/09/09

While last year’s Utah State Fair featured 25 blue 65-gallon recycling bins, and collected 9 tons of cardboard and 3 tons of plastic from the 327,000, 11-day crowd, officials hope this year to up the recyclability of even more waste generated by the popular event.  While last year saw manure delivered to waste transfer stations for use as an absorbent, this year animal waste will go to topsoil enrichment.  Food oils will be recovered again and an additional 125 recycling bins will be added.

“It’s a journey,” one fair employee said while distributing the bins.  “They go all over the grounds.  It’s like a treasure hunt.”  Lightbulbs that are no longer useable will be returned to the manufacturer for recycling.  Recycled paper towels and toilet paper were purchased for the fair, now in its 154th year, and Mount Olympus will be unveiling biodegradable water bottles.

The fair’s director of operations continues to search out more recycling possibilities for the event.  At a recent San Diego County Fair visit, the director, now in the 4th year of his tenure, found a 95% recycling rate.  “It took them 20 years to get to that point,” director Andy Carlino said.  “It’s a definite challenge, but hopefully it will take us only two.”  Boy Scout troops will help direct fair-goers to the bins over the weekends.  Juvenile labor from the 3rd District Court will be used to sort recyclables into larger bins.

Green bins for leftover food waste are planned for next year’s event, providing a waste stream for additional compost.  Because the fair is a self-funded nonprofit, further recycling efforts await a larger budget.  Officials say recycling has no profitability.  Last year’s recycling efforts also saw an isolated incident where a man emerged from a 30-yard bin slugging when paper and plastic from smaller bins was dumped on him.  Carlino said “We’re hoping people will take the initiative to help us here.  It’s got to be a joint effort from everyone, or it doesn’t work.”

4.  Dangerous chemicals mishandled, feds say—Erin Alberty, SLT 9/09/09

The EPA has filed suit on Parish Chemical Co. in Utah County for allowing hundreds of gallons of various chemical discards to be stored in open, unlabeled containers at its manufacturing plant. The suit  identified failing containers found on inspection, and the 2008 visit also found EPA crews removing hundreds of containers “to reduce the potential of fire and/or explosion threat,” in order to prevent spillage.

Methylene chloride, acetone, petroleum, ether, benzene, toluene and perchloric acid were among the volatile and flammable solvents and materials identified.  Inspections dating back to 2007 found thousands of gallons of discarded chemicals unlabeled, labeled “?”  or “Unknown, Label Mis-ing”.  Incomplete records were reported, drums collapsed or degraded, and hazardous waste years beyond a 90-day storage limit.  Tank inspections and air emissions tests had no record.  No liability insurance for accidents was found.  The EPA’s response is priced at $640,000 in the suit, which also is seeking penalties of between $32,500 and $37,500 per violation.

Uintah Pharmaceutical Corp. has been named a defendant, though the company solely exists as the landowner of record.  Parish Chemicals says on its website that it produces chemicals for pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and chemical manufacturing companies.  Parish was sued by the EPA as far back as 1997 for 1992 fire cleanup costs. That lawsuit also named extensive illegal chemical storage issues.

While fire investigators found arson responsible, Parish’s president Wesley Parish accused federal authorities of touching off the fire.  Parish served as an undercover informant for a sting involving the sale of chemicals to illegal stimulant manufacturers.  According to Parish, the fire was set because he refused to continue cooperating with authorities.  The lawsuit Parish filed against the US Drug Enforcement Administration and federal law enforcement agencies was dismissed.

5.  Utah-Nevada water plan draws fire—Patty Henetz, SLT 9/09/09

A citizen’s meeting sponsored by the Great Basin Water Network and the Utah Association of Counties drew opposition from citizens for the Utah-Nevada water settlement based on the idea that the agreement has overestimated water availability in the West Desert.  Many citizens and experts questions why secrecy for some parts of the deal were still maintained, especially since potential harm to area residents and the environment is perceived to be high.

“We don’t have any surplus water in Snake Valley.  For goodness sake, we’re the epicenter of the drought,” Callao area longtime rancher Cecil Garland said.  All four recent public hearings unveiling the plan have drawn opposition from ranchers, conservationists and elected officials alike from the two states.  The deal is a preliminary to the 300-mile Las Vegas pipeline, which, if approved would draw 50,000-60,000 acre-feet of water from the region.

State-sponsored hearings allowed questions but no public comment and no recording or note-taking occurred.  Tuesday and Wednesday nights’ hearings were organized to remedy the shunted public input and provide Governor Herbert and elected officials with a public record.  The US Geological Survey has suggested the water table is likely to drop over 100 feet, allowing soils in the Snake Valley to dry up and blow away, Garland said.

Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment’s Brian Moench said east-blowing Nevada dust storms hitting the Wasatch Front would bring toxic substances like radioactive erionite, left over from Nevada’s long history as a nuclear testing site.  In addition, spores causing the potentially deadly valley fever would be spread with airborne soils.

6.  Chinese solar plant expected to be the biggest—AP, SLT 9/8/09

Solar cell manufacturing kingpin First Solar says the Chinese government has offered initial approval for the plant.  The 10-year deal would site the plant in China’s desert region of Inner Mongolia, and cover 25 square miles with panels, roughly a bit larger than Manhattan.  The field would produce 2 gigawatts, far more than any other field across the globe, the equivalent of two coal-fired power plants or supply for 3 million homes.

The company’s CEO said the size of the plant would be impossible to achieve in the US due to a lack of transmission capability.   Government agencies, environmental groups and opposing residents further push such capability away from areas that technically would be large enough in land mass.  “In the U.S., energy policy is made on the state level,” CEO Mike Ahearn said.  “Every state has a different approach.”  China on the other hand has designated a renewable energy generation and transmission region.  Approval will be fast-tracked and profitability virtually guaranteed.

The market price for the Tempe, Az. company’s project has yet to be decided, along with other particulars.  Ahearn estimated the cost at $5-$6 billion to build, though labor is expected to cost less in China.  Sales of the energy will generate profit, but China’s subsidy has yet to be determined.  A “feed-in tariff” is expected to price fix solar energy for utilities for a number of years.

7.  U. to help ‘stimulate’ geothermal production—Brian Maffly, SLT 9/8/09

Over $7 million in federal dollars will go to the Energy and Geoscience Institute’s program for “stimulating fissures in heat-bearing rock utilizing injections of high pressure water.  “Using these techniques to increase pathways in the rock for hot water and steam would increase availability of geothermal energy across the country,” U. geologist Ray Levey said in a news release.  The project is aimed at US Geothermal Inc.’s Raft River power plant located in southeastern Idaho.

“Hot rock is present across the United States, but new methods have to be developed to use the heat in these rocks to produce geothermal power.” the project’s leader said.  “There’s incredible potential in Utah and other states for geothermal development.”  Levey and project leader geologist Joe Moore are research engineering professors.  By making the hot rock formations below more permeable, electrical output for Raft River could increase by a factor of 10.  Cold-water injections followed by high pressure should spread fissures for greater heat release.

8.  Goshutes agree to improve public water system—Pamela Manson, SLT 9/8/09

Due to a federal government complaint filed in US District Court against the Skull Valley Band Goshute Indians under the Safe Water Drinking Act, the tribe has agreed to pay a fine and make water system improvements.  The complaint was filed against the tribe as well as tribe-owned Pony Express Store, a convenience store that supplies the community with water.  Improvements are expected to cost $3,750 and the civil penalty levied was $1,250.

9.  Bogus bidder:  I did it for the good of the planet—Christopher Smart, SLT 9/8/09

Attorneys for Tim DeChristopher, the civil disobedient who bid on oil and gas leases in Utah in December 2008 at a Bureau of Land Management oil and gas lease sale in an attempt to block the sale of leases to developers, have called for the US District Court Judge hearing DeChristopher’s case to dismiss a significant government motion. The motion would prevent DeChristopher from arguing his actions were motivated by the threat of global warming.

“The government is not entitled by way of motion to invade DeChristopher’s attorney-client privileges,” defense attorneys said, “or to violate his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and 14th Amendment rights to prepare his defense to serious criminal charges.”  A separate motion seeks information from federal prosecutors over the question of whether other individuals or corporations have ever failed to pay for oil and gas lease bids and whether they were prosecuted.

DeChristopher’s attorney Pat Shea, a Clinton-era BLM head, said Constitutional guarantees offer DeChristopher a “full and complete defense, rather than a trimmed defense when the trimming is done by the government.”  In response to a two-count federal indictment, DeChristopher pleaded not guilty in April.  He bid a combined $1.8 million for 14 leases around Arches and Canyonlands national parks and admitted he had no intention of paying.

Federal prosecutors argued in May that a civil disobedience defense based on fighting the climate crisis would antagonize a jury and serve to encourage lawlessness.  “Accordingly, at trial,” US Attorney for Utah Brett Tolman’s motion reads, “defense counsel should focus the jury’s attention on facts and not try to confuse it with appeals based on emotion, sympathy or other similar conclusions.”

One expert perspective argues that prosecutors are attempting to block the civil-disobedience defense out of a fear some jurors could side with DeChristopher, regardless of the false bids.  Others say DeChristopher needs the defense to fight the charges.  Federal prosecutors must prove DeChristopher guilty, Shea said.  “They want a straight rendition of the facts that transpired on Dec. 19, 2008,” Shea said.  “We want a contextual examination of those events within the parameters of global warming,” He added.  A hearing motion has been set for Sept. 25.

10.  Campaign seeks to stem killing of grizzlies—Matthew Brown, AP, SLT 9/7/09

The plan comes in response to record numbers of deaths last year in the greater Yellowstone region.  Backcountry patrols are part of the federal and state wildlife agencies’ plan, as well as ramped-up warnings, education campaigns and behavior change recommendations to pepper spray in place of weapons.  Of 79 grizzly bear deaths, 48 were killed by humans in 2008, including self defense and hunters mistaking the animals for black bears.

Wildlife experts estimate around 600 grizzlies in the Idaho, Montana and Wyoming region that makes up the greater Yellowstone.  De-listed from the federal endangered species listing in 2007, intentional shootings remain outlawed.  Seventeen have been killed this year so far, and a second year of consecutive high death rates will mandate endangered status review.  Biologists who monitor the region say the population is strong and growth averages 4-5% per year in the 15,000 square mile region.

Even in the wake of prolonged drought, adequate moisture recently has provided plentiful berry crops and other foods the bears favor, increasing optimism the bears will avoid human-based conditioning for forage.  Climate change, however, has spawned expansive die-off in whitebark pine forests, drastically reducing seed availability for the bears’ diet.  Lower food resources will likely increase human-bear conflicts.

A spokesperson for the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, a conservation organization, wants to see hunters and hikers required to carry bear spray in the bears’ habitat.  “I don’t think education alone is necessarily going to address some of these issues,” the coalition spokesman said.  “In some cases, that’s going to mean we need both a carrot and a stick.”  Wildlife agency representatives in the region will meet in October to review the new campaign and make new decisions based on progress.

11.  Utah town no longer hawk monitor—AP, SLT 9/7/09

The Wellsville location that has served Hawk-watch International as an observation post and data collection site for over 30 years has been dropped due to staffing shortage and budget cutbacks.  The local Audobon society will sponsor volunteers during peak observation season and other volunteers are wanted for upcoming weeks.  Around 17 hawk species are tracked in the Cache Valley.


12.  Radioactive refusal—Tribune Editorial, SLT 9/08/09

Keep in Mind

13.  Reuters summit-September UN summit seen as key to climate deal, Reuters 9/10/09

14.  Milkvetch is put on protection list—Ami Joi O’Donoghue, Deseret News 9/10/09

15.  Think big by thinking small—Judith Lewis, Missoula Independent 9/10/09

On small power generation tied into the grid.

16.  Obama enviros now total 34—Ray Ring’s West, High Country News 9/10/09

17.  Book Cliffs, Uinta Forest on ‘imperiled lands’ list—Ami Joi O’Donoghue, Deseret News 9/10/09

18.   At long last, environmental supplement to the GDP takes shape—Paul Voosen, The New York Times 9/9/09

19.  Officials urge shoppers to remember reusable bags—Faroe Robinson, Deseret News 9/9/09

20.  Group sues over EPA’s review of air plans for Colorado, other states—AP, Vail Daily 9/9/09

21.  Hogle elephant calf ‘a ton of energy’—Matthew D. LaPlante, SLT 9/8/09

22.  Conference to open eyes to local food systems—Staci Matlock, The New Mexican, 9/8/09

23.  Utah faces more than 9 degree increase over next 100 years—The Nature Conservancy, 8/27/09


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