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*Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit. All contributions are tax-deductible to the extent allowed by law.
Thanks largely to fossil fuel development and consumption and the changes they are bringing to the planet’s climate, Utah – and particularly Utah’s canyon country – is predicted to be hotter and drier than ever. In fact, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the American Southwest, including Utah, will be ground zero for some of climate change’s most significant impacts in North America.
SUWA has long championed protecting America’s redrock wilderness – more than 9 million acres of outstanding BLM-managed public lands in Utah – from fossil fuel leasing and development ranging from oil, gas and coal to oil shale and tar sands. In fact, SUWA was working to “Keep It in the Ground” long before this concept had a hashtag, a Facebook page, or even a World Wide Web to promote it.
Our work to limit fossil fuel leasing and development is consistent with SUWA’s mission to protect Utah’s wildest places for current and future generations to enjoy. It has the added benefit of helping maintain the many ecological and climate-buffering functions provided by wild public lands. This work has perhaps never been more relevant than in today’s rapidly changing world.
No time to lose
Recent news headlines on climate change have been particularly dire: “hottest year in historical record,” “2015 was hottest year on record, by a stunning margin” and “Utah’s third warmest year.” The dramatic changes we are seeing in the Earth’s climate appear to be happening in a “nonlinear” fashion, meaning that the changes are happening faster and with more disastrous effects than were previously predicted.
Fortunately, the Obama administration is taking a series of wide ranging, if overdue, steps to tackle these issues. Most recently, the Interior Department issued a moratorium on new coal leasing for Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service lands and released proposed regulations to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and gas wells. These are significant steps towards reducing America’s greenhouse gas emissions and its dependence on the dirtiest fossil fuels — but more work needs to be done!
We believe one of the next logical steps is to extend the administration’s coal leasing moratorium to new oil and gas leasing on BLM and Forest Service managed lands. Such a moratorium would allow the administration to make the same clear-eyed assessment about whether its current oil and gas leasing program is consistent with the steps our country must take to address climate change.
Because Utah, like all western states, has millions of federal lands already under lease, but not in production, such a moratorium would not solve all of our problems. Like the coal moratorium, production from and development of existing leases would not be limited by such an action. SUWA will continue to keep a watchful eye on those potential projects.
And because the impacts of leasing, developing and burning fossil fuels affect Utah’s redrock wilderness even if they take place outside of the wilderness proposal, you can expect to see us taking a more active role in working to defeat these proposals no matter where they occur.
The confluence between “Keeping It in the Ground” and protecting America’s redrock wilderness is a topic we plan to explore further in a series of blog posts over the coming months, so please stay tuned.
Rep. Bishop’s long-awaited draft Public Lands Initiative (PLI), released on January 20th, is essentially a fossil fuel development bill that gives away public resources and fails to advance the conservation of public lands in eastern Utah. To educate the public on just how bad this bill really is, SUWA has launched a television, web, and outdoor advertising campaign in Utah (view television spots below).
Bishop’s bill rolls back existing protections for wilderness-quality lands and carves out major loopholes in the meager wilderness it does propose. It also fails to protect the extraordinary cultural and natural resources of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument and gives away federal lands owned and cherished by all Americans. Finally, it promotes a fossil fuel bonanza that will industrialize Utah’s scenic landscapes and exacerbate climate change.
The draft PLI has been roundly criticized by conservation groups, climate activists, the Outdoor Alliance, and the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, among others, for failing the American people on multiple levels. We need visionary legislation that future generations will thank us for, not a shortsighted bill that forfeits our common heritage for the benefit of only a few.
Rep. Bishop needs to hear from you that the PLI is unacceptable as currently written. Click here to send a message to Rep. Bishop.
Rep. Bishop’s long-awaited draft Public Lands Initiative (PLI), released on January 20th, is essentially a fossil fuel development bill that gives away public resources and fails to advance the conservation of public lands in eastern Utah.
Some bad ideas just don’t go away. In 2011, with your help, we sent a clear message to the BLM to “just say no” to a proposed coal lease on the western doorstep of Bryce Canyon National Park. So did the National Park Service. So did the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. You would think the BLM would get the message.
Yet here we are, in the summer of 2015, and the BLM has just released a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) analyzing the potential coal lease at the behest of Alton Coal Development—a small, privately held, out-of-state company. The lease would expand the current Coal Hollow mine from private land onto adjacent public land.
The impact of the mine expansion on the local environment would be significant. It would pollute the air, flood Bryce Canyon’s world-famous dark night skies with light, degrade the habitat and health of wildlife such as the imperiled sage grouse, lower water quality, and mar one of the most majestic landscapes in the world.
The expanded Coal Hollow strip mine would also allow up to 300 coal trucks to barrel through the historic town of Panguitch each day, threatening shops, restaurants, motels and small businesses that depend on tourists, and putting residents at risk for respiratory health problems related to toxic coal dust.
We need your help again to tell the BLM, in no uncertain terms, “just say no!”
The BLM is holding five open houses in the coming weeks: July 14 (Cedar City), July 15 (Panguitch), July 16 (Salt Lake City), July 21 (Kanab) and July 22 (Alton). Please consider attending one of these meetings to learn more about this terrible proposal. Click here for specific locations and times.
We’ll post another alert soon on how you can take further action and submit detailed comments via our website (to submit comments now, visit the BLM comment page).
EPA Allowed by Court to Turn Back on Dangerous Smog Levels, Giving Fracking Industry Free Rein to Pollute
For Immediate Release: June 2, 2015
Washington, D.C. – A federal court ruling today denied clean air for Utah’s Uinta Basin, allowing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to sacrifice public health for the oil and gas industry.
“Instead of requiring the EPA to adhere to its mission of protecting public health, the court has allowed the agency to evade their responsibility through essentially a trivial technicality,” said Dr. Brian Moench of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment. “The Uinta Basin already has documented abnormal spikes in infant deaths. While this ruling is a disappointment to us, it is a serious setback to protecting the thousands of Basin residents, including children and pregnant mothers, from some of the worst air pollution in the nation.”
Utah’s Uinta Basin has for several years now been experiencing dangerously high levels of ground-level ozone, the key ingredient of smog. Ozone pollution in the Uinta Basin rivals that found in Los Angeles and Houston. Ozone levels well-above federal health standards have been recorded throughout the region.
Studies have confirmed that oil and gas development is a key culprit for the region’s unhealthy air. More than 11,000 oil and gas wells have been drilled in the region. A recent study published in the journal, Environmental Science and Technology, reported that total ozone forming pollution from oil and gas operations in the region equals the amount released by 100 million passenger vehicles.
“Out of control fracking is taking a terrible toll on clean air in Utah,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “Sadly, today’s court ruling lets the oil and gas industry continue to put its profits before public health.”
In spite of monitoring data showing the Uinta Basin is violating federal health limits for ozone, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 declined to order a clean up. Instead, the agency declared that air quality in the region was “unclassifiable,” meaning that the Clean Air Act’s mandatory requirements for improving air quality would not apply in the Uinta Basin.
In 2013, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, WildEarth Guardians, and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed suit to compel the Environmental Protection Agency to declare the Uinta Basin’s air quality to be unhealthy and take steps to restore clean air. Represented by Earthjustice, the groups called on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s unclassifiable designation.
In a ruling today, the court rejected the suit, upholding the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision.
“Today’s ruling is unfortunate news for the people living and working in the Uinta Basin who must continue to breathe unhealthy air,” said Robin Cooley, attorney for Earthjustice who argued the case. “The Environmental Protection Agency knows the air is unhealthy, and we will continue to hold their feet to the fire until they take the steps necessary to protect public health. Given the rampant oil and gas development in the Uinta Basin, there is no time to waste.”
The court’s ruling comes even as monitoring continues to confirm the Uinta Basin’s sickening smog levels. In early 2014, public health and environmental groups again called on the Environmental Protection Agency to clean up the region’s smog.
For More Information Contact:
Dr. Brian Moench, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, (801) 243-9089, email@example.com
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663, firstname.lastname@example.org
David Garbett, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 428-3992, email@example.com
Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 263-2472, firstname.lastname@example.org