Climate Change Archives


  • January 17th, 2020

    The Trump administration’s rush for “energy dominance” encounters another setback in Utah; BLM forced to reanalyze environmental impacts of oil and gas development

    For Immediate Release

    Contact:
    Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991, landon@suwa.org
    Ann Alexander, Natural Resources Defense Council, 415.875.8243, aalexander@nrdc.org
    Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, 303.225.4636, phil_hanceford@tws.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (January 17, 2020): Earlier this week, the Trump administration announced that it had withdrawn its approval of 175 controversial oil and gas drilling permits on public lands in the Desolation Canyon region of eastern Utah.

    In September of 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved the Horse Bench Natural Gas Development Project and the drilling of up to 175 natural gas wells on “Horse Bench,” a prominent prow of land overlooking Nine Mile Canyon and the Desolation Canyon stretch of the Green River. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Natural Resources Defense Council, Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, and The Wilderness Society appealed the local BLM manager’s approval of this project to the Utah BLM state director. 

    The conservation groups argued that the project, if implemented, would decimate greater sage-grouse habitat, destroy BLM-identified wilderness characteristics, and exacerbate the ongoing climate crisis—impacts that the BLM had failed to fully analyze. In his decision, the state director agreed, reversed the BLM’s drilling approvals, and ordered the agency to “complete additional [environmental] analysis.”  

    “The Desolation Canyon region, one of Utah’s most remote areas, provides critical habitat for wildlife—including greater sage-grouse—as well as outstanding opportunities for hiking and camping, and evidence of a rich cultural history,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Without this victory, these values would have been lost to the sights and sounds of industrial development.” 

     The state director’s decision grants a reprieve to one of Utah’s wildest and most culturally significant landscapes. The BLM itself has recognized that the Desolation Canyon region at issue here is “one of the largest blocks of roadless BLM public lands within the continental United States.” 

    “The original finding that plunking down 175 natural gas wells next to the Desolation Canyon wilderness would have no significant environmental impact was clearly out of whack with reality’” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney with Natural Resources Defense Council. “The State Director did the right thing in setting it aside, which should lead to real scrutiny of the proposal.” 

    “For far too long our public lands have been handed off to the oil and gas industry without any consideration for the enormous impacts of these decisions on our climate, wildlife and health,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director at The Wilderness Society. “We welcome the BLM’s decision and hope the agency will move towards managing our public lands to be a key solution to climate change, not a growing contributor.”

    In addition, the large industrial equipment required for this drilling project, including tanker trucks, drill rigs, and fracking equipment, would have passed through Nine Mile Canyon to access Horse Bench. Nine Mile Canyon is world-renowned for its remarkable density and diversity of prehistoric sites and artifacts—including petroglyphs and pictographs, kivas, and granaries—and is significant to several Native American tribes. The canyon also contains important historic sites, including evidence of the post-Civil War era Buffalo Soldiers and early settlers. The BLM has described the canyon as “the world’s longest art gallery” and an “outdoor museum.” Dust and pollution from passing trucks could harm these irreplaceable treasures, and proposed roads would make the area more accessible to vandals.

    “Nine Mile Canyon is a cultural and archaeological treasure,” said Pam Miller, Director of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition. “This victory goes a long way to protecting these world-class resources for future generations.” 

    The BLM’s withdrawal this week of 175 oil and gas drilling permits is just the latest setback for the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda in Utah and nationally. Following several significant legal precedents, including a pivotal March 2019 federal court ruling, the BLM on four recent occasions has been forced to pull back oil and gas leasing decisions covering more than 328,000 acres of public lands in Utah due to inadequate environmental analyses (more about these decisions here). 

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  • January 9th, 2020

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact:

    Kya Marienfeld, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org
    Laura Welp, Western Watersheds Project, 435-899-0204, laura@westernwatersheds.org
    Mary O’Brien, Grand Canyon Trust, 435-259-6205, mobrien@grandcanyontrust.org

    Moab, UT (January 9, 2020) – On New Year’s Eve, the Utah office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a five-year, $75 million-dollar financial agreement to support the continued destruction of pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush ecosystems throughout Utah.

    The BLM committed up to $75 million dollars to the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative (UWRI), a partnership of federal and state agencies and public land grazing and hunting interests. UWRI has clearcut and mechanically “treated” hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands in Utah in the name of restoration since its inception 12 years ago.

    Recent scientific literature clearly outlines the risks associated with large-scale surface disturbing activities, such as chaining or mulching live pinyon pine and juniper forests, yet the BLM and UWRI have almost always ignored this information and instead forged ahead with an antiquated, unscientific approach to land management that more often than not converts the “treated” areas into exotic forage and invasive species.

    “The BLM’s commitment to fund the Utah Watershed Restoration Initiative over the next five years represents the worst of the Trump administration’s war on science and refusal to acknowledge the global climate crisis we’re witnessing on a daily basis,” said Kya Marienfeld, wildlands attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Rather than destroying large native ecosystems, the BLM should be working to preserve the ecological integrity of intact landscapes in order to mitigate the ongoing climate crisis. ”

    “Utah’s public lands are forever scarred by 60 years of counterproductive vegetation removal projects, which have historically done little more than increase non-native forage for cattle,” said Laura Welp, Ecosystems Specialist with Western Watersheds Project. “These destructive projects are based on fundamentally flawed concepts and failure should be expected. Continuing down the current path of promoting large-scale pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush clearcuts that are driven by funding rather than science spells disaster for Utah’s remarkable public lands.”

    “While a rare BLM project funded by UWRI is actually committed to diverse public input and species other than livestock and big game, most are hell-bent on clearing out pinyon pine, juniper, and sagebrush to make room for livestock forage, and then UWRI and land managers never look back when the land has been reduced to cheatgrass, tumbleweed, bare soil, and/or a feedlot of non-native forage grasses,” said Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director with Grand Canyon Trust.

    “Not only does the agreement represent a gross misuse of taxpayer funding, it also supports a partnership that has continually ignored best available scientific information regarding the risk of large-scale surface disturbing activities and the need to bolster climate resiliency by maintaining native ecosystems in a hotter, drier desert Southwest,” added Marienfeld.

    Additional Resources

    More information, including recent scientific literature and reports on the risks of BLM’s vegetation removal program, is available here.

    BLM press announcement.

    Link to this press release here.

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  • September 12th, 2019

    SALT LAKE CITY, UT (September 12, 2019)— Conservation groups sued the Trump administration today for failing to consider the climate pollution from 130 oil and gas leases spanning 175,500 acres of public lands in Utah.  

    Eagle Canyon in the San Rafael Swell, Utah, the location of one of 130 oil and gas leasing parcels being challenged in court for failing to consider the impact on climate.

    Today’s complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City, says the Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act by approving five lease sales from 2014 to 2018 without accounting for the climate pollution that would result from oil and gas development. It asks the court to invalidate all eight approvals and their 130 leases.

    The lawsuit comes as climate scientists urge drastic cuts to greenhouse gas pollution over the coming decade. New oil and gas leases, whose production can last decades, commit public lands to more pollution. Nearly a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas pollution results from fossil fuel development on public lands. 

    “The climate crisis is being exacerbated by the BLM’s reckless and uninformed oil and gas leasing and development on public lands,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The development of these leases will push us closer to the point of no return on climate, while sacrificing some of the most wild, scenic and culturally significant public lands in America.”

    Most of the challenged leases resulted from the Trump administration’s “energy dominance” agenda. In addition to slashing environmental reviews to hasten oil and gas leasing, the administration has attacked federal development and reliance on climate science in agency decisions and reports.  

    “Each new oil and gas lease commits us to more greenhouse gas pollution that our planet can’t afford,” said Diana Dascalu-Joffe, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “There are already more fossil fuels under development in the world than can be safely burned. New leases dangerously disregard urgent climate warnings from scientists. These leases were irresponsible and illegal, and we’re hopeful that a court will agree.” 

    The leases also threaten public lands and endangered species, including the Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker. Fracking sucks up enormous amounts of water and threatens to pollute the Colorado River and tributaries where the fish live.

    “Several accidents involving water pollution have already happened on the Green River and its tributaries,” said John Weisheit, a professional river guide in eastern Utah and a representative of Living Rivers and Colorado Riverkeeper. “Combined with diminished flow volumes for these rivers, the multimillion-dollar investment already made to ensure a successful endangered fish program must not be further compromised.”

    Background
    Federal fossil fuel production causes about a quarter of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Peer-reviewed science estimates that a federal fossil fuel leasing ban would reduce CO2 emissions by 280 million tons per year, ranking it among the most ambitious federal climate policy proposals in recent years.

    Federal fossil fuels that have not yet been leased to the industry contain up to 450 billion tons of potential climate pollution. Those already leased contain up to 43 billion tons. 

    Existing laws provide executive authority to stop federal leasing on public lands and oceans. Hundreds of organizations have petitioned the federal government to end new onshore and offshore federal fossil fuel leasing.

  • November 9th, 2017

    On November 8th, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed one of the most egregious dirty energy bills Trump’s Congress has attempted yet. H.R. 4239, the so-called “SECURE Act,” prioritizes fracking above all other energy sources, decimates rules that regulate drilling, guts public involvement and input on development through the National Environmental Policy Act, and worst of all, gives the states permitting and oversight authority over energy development on federal lands!

    Please contact your representative and tell them to oppose H.R. 4239 when it comes to the floor!

    We won’t bother to tell you the Orwellian phrase they came up with to get to the name “SECURE Act.” You should think of it as the “So the Earth is Completely Undermined, Ravaged, and Eviscerated Act.”

    Can you imagine a world in which state politicians are calling the shots on which federal lands should be drilled? In Utah, precious little public land would be left unexploited. The passage of this bill would effectively be the first step in the state of Utah’s wild-eyed plan to take over federal lands.

    Troublingly, we’re hearing that the SECURE ACT could get a vote on the floor as soon as next week. That’s why it’s imperative that you contact your member of Congress and ask them to oppose it today!

    In addition to all the horrors listed above, the bill weakens protections for marine mammals, expands offshore drilling in America’s oceans, undoes protections in the Arctic, and eliminates the ability for a president to withdraw areas from drilling off the coasts. It’s a veritable smorgasbord of destruction.

    Tell your representative to vote NO on this blatant attempt to hand over America’s natural wonders to fossil fuel developers!

    Thank you!

  • October 19th, 2017

    A band of badgers confronted Utah state officials today about their efforts to turn federal public lands over to the state of Utah to own or manage.  “How can we trust the state with our public lands when they assert that badgers loot artifacts and deny that human driven climate change is damaging the health of our public lands and forests?” asked the badgers. “The answer is that we can’t.”

    A band of badgers confronts state officials at the Utah Legislature’s Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands meeting.

    The badgers were referring to state legislator Mike Noel’s claim last year that badgers were to blame for digging up artifacts in the Bears Ears area. Noel asserted that “those little suckers are going down and digging up artifacts and sticking them in their holes.”

    Spokesperson Badger John cleared the name of badgers: “This is a falsehood.  Badgers do not loot archaeological sites, people do.”

    Badger John makes a statement at the commission meeting.

    The badgers also criticized the state for denying the deleterious effects of climate change on public lands and forests, pointing out that human-driven climate change is having real, measurable impacts every day that range from hotter, more intense wildfires to prolonged drought and multiple thousand-year storm events occurring over just a few years. “But the legislature and this commission refuse to recognize these indisputable truths,” lamented Badger John.

    Several commissioners said they cared about badgers, but continued to insist that federal public lands in Utah would be better managed by the state. The badgers wholeheartedly rejected that claim. Calling upon history, they noted that it was the failure of states to adequately steward America’s public lands that led to higher national standards in the first place.

    “When this commission asks people for trust while simultaneously spreading falsehoods and denying widely accepted science, it earns the mistrust of people and badgers everywhere,” they said.  “Leave Utah’s federal lands in America’s public hands.”

    The badgers traveled from their burrows in southern Utah to the State Capitol for the meeting of  the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands—a misnamed commission seeking ways to advance the transfer of federal lands to the state of Utah.

    SUWA is pleased to have badgers as allies in our fight to protect our public wild lands!