Steve Bloch, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance


  • July 29th, 2020

    It’s been a wild month. Two weeks ago, the Trump administration finalized its attack on America’s bedrock environmental law—the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Today, SUWA, along with a nationwide coalition of conservation and environmental justice organizations, challenged the administration’s rollback of NEPA regulations in federal court.

    NEPA, often referred to as the “Magna Carta” of environmental law, is our “national charter for the protection of the environment.” It has two primary goals. First, it guarantees that federal agencies such as the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) analyze and disclose the impacts of proposed projects on the environment and public health. Second, it guarantees that the relevant information will be made available to the public so that they can play a role in both the decision-making process and the implementation of that decision.

    The Trump administration’s revised NEPA regulations severely undermine these goals. For example, they:

    • Allow Federal agencies such as the BLM to exempt a broader range of projects from analysis and disclosure;
    • Expedite the decision-making process by establishing presumptive time limits on environmental reviews;
    • Encourage the use of programmatic environmental reviews, which allow agencies to front-load generic, boilerplate analyses and effectively postpone meaningful analyses until the 11th hour, if at all.
    • Limit the range of potential “effects” that must be analyzed and disclosed by the agency prior to approving new projects;
    • Put private interests ahead of public interests by allowing Federal agencies to consider “the goals of the applicant” when crafting alternatives to the proposed project; and
    • Restrict public participation by allowing federal agencies to require that the public post a bond before they can challenge development proposals on public lands.

    In short, the revised NEPA regulations are designed to allow federal agencies such as the BLM to push through more projects, faster, and with less analysis and public scrutiny.

    Make no mistake, Trump’s assault on NEPA strikes at the heart of our work to protect the redrock. If left unchallenged, it will weaken the scientific review process, stifle public input, and open the door to unchecked exploitation of America’s public lands.

    Contact your members of Congress today and tell them to oppose Trump’s attack on this crucial environmental law.

    Importantly, NEPA regulations apply to all federal projects on public lands, including those managed by the BLM, Forest Service, and National Park Service. It is estimated that federal agencies approve more than 110,000 projects each year, including thousands in Utah alone.

    Without an intact NEPA review process it would have been significantly harder for SUWA to successfully challenge more than 300,000 acres of oil and gas leasing, or the two enormous vegetation removal projects proposed for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    Beyond its importance to public land protection, NEPA also gives vulnerable populations a chance to voice concerns about development proposals that may harm their communities, including power plants and fossil fuel pipelines. The Trump administration’s rollback of NEPA regulations exploits these marginalized communities, endangers human health, and exacerbates the climate crisis.

    Like so many of Trump’s policies, we are confident that this one will be sent to the trash pile of bad ideas. You can help ensure this by contacting your members of Congress today.

    Please urge your representatives to defend the public process and oppose any weakening of NEPA.

    Thank you!

  • December 6th, 2019

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering giving away the United States’ interest to a 10-mile dirt road (the so-called “Manganese Road”) in the southwest corner of Utah. This is a test case brought by the State of Utah that, if successful, would open the door for the Trump administration to cede control of tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails that Utah claims as rights-of-way across federal public lands.

    The State of Utah and its counties have filed more than 20 federal lawsuits claiming title to 14,000 alleged rights-of-way totaling approximately 35,000 miles. They are pursuing their claims under an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act known as “Revised Statute 2477” (aka R.S. 2477).

    A State of Utah R.S. 2477 claim in the Paria River streambed (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area). Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    The Trump administration’s BLM is trying to give the state a leg up by using a controversial and unlawful tool known as a “recordable disclaimer of interest” (RDI) to simply surrender control over federal public lands to the State of Utah and its counties. In other words, the BLM is essentially telling the state “don’t bother with that cumbersome litigation, we’ll just give you everything you’re after.”

    Click here to tell the BLM to reject the state’s unlawful RDI application! The public comment deadline is this Monday, December 9th.

    If the State of Utah succeeds with this first disclaimer it has thousands of similar claims blanketing Utah’s redrock country waiting in the wings. Many of these claims are nothing more than cow paths, streambeds, and two-tracks in the desert.

    And make no mistake about it, if Utah secures title to these federal lands it has been outspoken about its intent to widen, improve, and even pave these dirt paths and trails in an effort to take control of public lands and prevent wilderness protection.

    The BLM is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review Utah’s proposal and submit written comments. To make matters worse, the agency is only providing the one-sided application from Utah for reference and is refusing to share the agency’s own information and analysis about this claim.  At this point the BLM does not plan to offer a second comment period to allow the public to review and comment on the agency’s findings.

    The BLM may approve the State of Utah’s RDI application as soon as February 2020.

    Please join with our Senate champion Richard Durbin, along with Senators Feinstein, Baldwin, Udall, and Heinrich, and tell the BLM to reject Utah’s RDI application.

    Thank you!

  • May 30th, 2019

    Without prior notice or opportunity for public input, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Richfield field office announced last Wednesday—just before Memorial Day weekend—that it has opened 5,400 acres of public lands surrounding Utah’s iconic Factory Butte to unfettered cross-country off-road vehicle (ORV) use.

    The BLM’s decision reverses the agency’s 2006 closure of the area to ORV use and will allow unrestricted motorized travel throughout the designated “play area.”  When the BLM implemented the 2006 closure it explained that “Factory Butte itself is an iconic formation, highly visible from Highway 24 and is often photographed.”

    Please take action! Tell the BLM what you think of its decision to open Factory Butte to off-road vehicle destruction.

    Call or email Joelle McCarthy, the BLM’s Richfield Field Office Manager, today!
    jmccarth@blm.gov
    435-896-1501

    Tell the BLM:

    • It’s ridiculous that the agency re-opened Factory Butte to motorized use after being closed for nearly 13 years without seeking public input beforehand and without giving any advance notice. The BLM manages places like Factory Butte on behalf of the public and is accountable for its decisions.
    • Post signs! ORV riders—even those who are well intentioned—won’t stay in the newly designated “open area” if that area is not easy to distinguish on the ground. The BLM has placed no signs on the inside of the “play area,” meaning there is nothing to keep riders off the butte itself.  And contrary to the agency’s claims in its press release announcing that the area is open to cross-country use, the trend of violations by ORV riders around Factory Butte is on the rise.
    • The BLM is destroying an iconic landscape! The agency’s decision ensures that one of Utah’s most recognizable landscapes will be defaced and damaged for years to come. Contrary to popular myth, these tracks don’t simply disappear after the next rain!

    Click here for more information on the BLM’s opening of Factory Butte.

    Longtime SUWA members will recall that protecting Factory Butte was a major fight in the late 90s and early 2000s. The closure of the area to ORV abuse in 2006 gave the land a much-needed chance to recover.

    The BLM’s decision last week is further proof that the Trump administration has found its legs, and that no previous environmental victory is safe from those who would destroy Utah’s wildlands.

    Please take action today. The BLM needs to hear from you.

  • November 28th, 2018

    Shortly after the Trump administration took office in 2017, SUWA filed several Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with the Interior and Justice Departments seeking records related to several then-pending lawsuits, including a lawsuit brought by an oil and gas trade group (Western Energy Alliance) which challenged Obama-era oil and gas leasing reforms as well as the State of Wyoming’s lawsuit against Obama-era regulation of oil and gas fracking.  In particular, we sought communications between the plaintiffs in those lawsuits and federal officials, concerned that one or more sweetheart settlements might be in the making.

    After both Departments largely ignored our requests, SUWA filed suit in federal district court in Washington, DC seeking the release of all responsive records. After much back and forth with lawyers for the United States we began receiving a rolling production of records. We wanted to share a few notable items:

    •  The American Petroleum Institute’s wish list encouraging the rescission or weakening of Obama-era oil and gas leasing reforms. The Trump administration has followed through with many of these proposals.

    •  Emails between the Western Energy Alliance and the Departments of Interior and Justice as early as February 2017 regarding the settlement of an Alliance lawsuit. These discussions ultimately led to the Interior Department rescinding key Obama-era oil and gas leasing reforms.

    •  The National Mining Association’s wish list encouraging the rollback of Obama-era policies, including a coal leasing moratorium.

    SUWA has several other outstanding FOIA requests and lawsuits regarding records related to President Trump’s attack on Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments as well as the State of Utah’s sweeping RS 2477 litigation. We’ll keep you posted as those bear fruit.

  • August 16th, 2018

    President Trump’s Interior Department just released draft management plans revealing their vision for how to manage what’s left of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments as well as the lands that were illegally excised from those monuments. It was only last December that the president unlawfully attacked both of these monuments.

    We expected bad, but these plans are horrible.

    Help us protect Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments by contributing to SUWA today.

    At Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) plan sets the stage for the destruction of a unique landscape that has been protected for more than two decades.

    The BLM’s preferred alternative would open huge swaths of Grand Staircase to new oil and gas leasing, mining, and off-road vehicle damage. And a new report released today from the Department of Interior crows that the lands cut from the original monument by President Trump are “rated high for development potential” of coal reserves.

    The BLM is not shy about its intentions to oversee the destruction of this place.  To quote directly from the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, their preferred alternative would “conserve the least land area for physical, biological, and cultural resources . . . and is the least restrictive to energy and mineral development.”

    Circle Cliffs, copyright James Kay

    Places like the Circle Cliffs region along the Burr Trail and Wolverine Loop Roads and the Vermillion Cliffs east of Kanab are now in the crosshairs and at immediate risk of being irreparably destroyed.

    At Bears Ears, the plan is terrible, prioritizing consumptive uses such as grazing and logging while failing to protect cultural resources and wilderness-quality lands.

    Under these just released plans even the smaller national monuments that
    Trump left behind would be managed in a way that offers less protection
    than they currently enjoy.

    We’ll have more information for you in the coming days, as well as instructions on how you can tell Trump’s Department of Interior what you think of their plans to further decimate Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments.

    With your support, SUWA won’t rest until Trump’s unlawful orders are overturned—and we will do everything in our power to ensure that these terrible plans are never implemented.

    Please contribute to SUWA today.

    Thank you for taking action.