Uncategorized Archives - Page 9 of 10


  • November 5th, 2014

    Last night the Republican Party gained a majority in the U.S. Senate to match its existing control of the House of Representatives. Now what?

    For Utah wilderness, a shift in White House control generally means more than a reshuffled congressional deck, largely because of the Executive Branch’s control of land management agencies. But even off-year elections matter, and so will this one.

    Not all Republicans are bad on environmental issues, nor are all Democrats good. But when it comes to the Congress, the League of Conservation Voters paints a clear picture. In the first session of the 113th Congress, House Republicans’ votes were good for the environment just 5 percent of the time, with House Democrats scoring 87 percent on average. Senate Republicans scored an average of 17 percent; Senate Democrats 92 percent. It is bad news for the environment that the Republicans now run the Senate.

    For starters, the Republican majority may prevent the administration’s filling of federal court vacancies—any vacancy, no matter how qualified the appointee. And the Senate will no longer act as the reliable counterweight to terrible anti-environment bills coming from the House, a role it has played since the 2010 election.

    Digging through the ordure for the Shetland pony that must surely be here somewhere, we find some solace in the likelihood that an anti-environmental majority will likely last only two years, given the balance of Senate seats up in 2016. That overlaps the time remaining in President Barack Obama’s second term. Partisan warfare will probably intensify. If you were disgusted with the last Congress, the next one may send you around the bend.

    Some Senate races remain undecided. But even if Republicans win them, they’ll still be shy of the three-fifths majority needed to override Democratic filibusters and the two-thirds supermajority needed to override a presidential veto. Thus, the Republican leadership has indicated it will operate by attaching riders to major spending bills that the government needs to pass in order to operate—and spending bills are not subject to filibusters. Expect an anti-environmental majority to use this route to repeal Obama’s efforts to address climate change and to hobble the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to reduce corporate pollution.

    As the House and Senate spend the next two years attacking President Obama, he could respond as Bill Clinton did by creating a legacy of protected American landscapes under the Antiquities Act. Please!

    Here in Utah, we’ll hope the congressional delegation continues discussions with us to seek resolution of tough wilderness issues through Mr. Bishop’s public lands initiative. We’ll also hope the new power balance will not tempt the delegation to follow some of our kookiest state legislators in their fencepost-dumb drive to seize public lands instead.

    Some specific races deserve mention. Sadly, Doug Owens, the son of the original Redrock Champion Wayne Owens, lost his bid for Utah’s 4th congressional district. Long time redrock supporter Colorado Senator Mark Udall lost his re-election bid. On a brighter note, in Grand County, Moab residents sent a sharp rebuke to county council members hell bent on ripping apart the Book Cliffs with a highway to foster dirty fuels development. And lead Redrock champion Senator Richard Durbin won his fourth term.

    We’ve experienced similar flips in congressional control before. In 1994, the Republicans gained control of both House and Senate for first time in 40 years. That set off a seismic wave against the Redrock. The Utah congressional delegation tried to ram through a terrible “wilderless” bill, but we stopped Rep. Hansen in the House. A filibuster by Bill Bradley, then a New Jersey senator, blocked Utah’s two senators, Hatch and Bennett. President Bill Clinton’s response was to proclaim the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

    George W. Bush won the White House in 2002 while the Republicans already held the Senate and House, bringing the “drill baby drill” mentality to public lands management. We fought back with litigation against their mindless rush to drill. We won.

    No matter what this election brings, because of you we will endure and prevail. We always have.

  • November 4th, 2014

    Allege Utah BLM illegally piecemealing oil and gas development

    Contact: Landon Newell, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3991; Devorah Ancel, Sierra Club Environmental Law Program, 415.977.5721

    SALT LAKE CITY – Last Friday, October 31, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Sierra Club challenged a decision by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Moab field office to approve a natural gas gathering pipeline system on public lands close to Dead Horse Point State Park and the Island in the Sky District of Canyonlands National Park.  These lands are remarkably scenic, are visited by hundreds of thousands of people annually from around the country and the world, and are important to Moab’s tourism economy.

    The gathering pipeline system was proposed by Fidelity Exploration & Production, the primary oil and gas operator in this area. The system can only operate when connected to another pipeline project that BLM approved last year, known as the “Dead Horse Lateral.”  Rather than analyze the environmental impacts of these two projects together, BLM piecemealed its review into separate analyses.  Federal environmental laws prohibit the agency from taking such an approach.  Instead, BLM was required to prepare a comprehensive analysis that considered both pipeline proposals as well as associated development activities.

    Big Flat Pipeline

    “BLM’s decision to consider Fidelity’s gathering pipeline system in isolation, and not take into account the environmental impacts from other projects necessary to make the gathering system work, is a textbook violation of environmental laws,” said Landon Newell, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “As a result, BLM significantly underplayed the impacts from swelling oil and gas development in this remarkable landscape.”

    Oil and gas development has significantly expanded over the past five years with dozens of new wells already drilled or planned.  Along with that drilling, Fidelity has conducted intrusive seismic tests and installed other oil field infrastructure.  Heavy truck traffic is now common along Utah State Highway 313 leading to Canyonlands National Park, Dead Horse Point State Park, and the region’s scenic redrock country.

    “The ever-expanding oil and gas extraction in the Big Flat region requires the BLM to conduct a full analysis of the numerous impacts to this iconic landscape,” said Moab resident William Rau.  “I am highly concerned over the safety of the pipeline, oil wells and increased heavy truck traffic, and the dangers they pose to the 500,000 annual visitors to the area.”

    In its third quarter earnings report, issued Monday, November 3, 2014 Fidelity’s parent company the MDU Resources Group announced its intention to sell Fidelity Exploration and Production.

    SUWA and Sierra Club’s challenge was filed with the BLM’s State Office in Salt Lake City.

     

  • October 24th, 2014
    UT-WhiteCanyon-FortknockerNarrows_ChrisCase(MediumRes)

    Fort Knocker Narrows, copyright Chris Case.

    San Juan County, which contains some of redrock country’s most magnificent treasures, is developing a wilderness proposal in response to Congressman Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative.

    Unfortunately, the three alternatives recently proposed by the San Juan County Lands Council fall far short of protecting some of the most outstanding wild lands in southern Utah. Even the best of the alternatives (Alternative C) would roll back currently existing protection for some lands.

    All alternatives ignored input of local residents, including the Dine Bikeyah proposal submitted by Utah Navajos who make up nearly half of the county’s residents.

    Even the best of the alternatives (Alternative C):

    • Fails to provide protection for spectacular areas proposed for wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. All or portions of places like Nokai Dome, White Canyon, Upper Red Canyon, Fort Knocker Canyon, and Hart’s Point were left on the chopping block.
    • Perpetuates off-road vehicle (ORV) abuse by codifying BLM’s Bush-era ORV route designations even though a Utah federal court judge set aside a nearly identical travel plan for failure to comply with requirements to protect cultural sites, riparian areas and other natural resources. It’s just a matter of time before the court overturns the BLM’s Monticello and Moab travel plans in San Juan County.
    • Amplifies the impacts of ORV use by adding even more routes in wilderness areas on top of the thousands of miles of routes designated in the BLM’s seriously flawed travel plans. Thus, even lands proposed for protection will be crisscrossed with ORV routes.
    • Significantly overstates the total amount of acreage protected by double-counting the wilderness lands and National Park Service lands that are included in the National Conservation Area boundaries.

    Significant areas in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act were left out of all the alternatives, and areas included were compromised with ORV routes.

    San Juan County’s ultimate proposal to Rep. Bishop should protect the remaining wilderness in San Juan County, and with your help we will work toward that goal.

  • October 22nd, 2014
    Portions of Red Canyon will soon become part of the Lower Flaming Gorge Wilderness under the Daggett County conservation agreement, and this stretch of the Green River will receive a new Wild and Scenic River designation.

    Portions of Red Canyon (above) will soon become part of the Lower Flaming Gorge Wilderness under the Daggett County conservation agreement, and this stretch of the Green River will receive a new Wild and Scenic River designation.

    SUWA is pleased to announce that we, along with our conservation partners, have reached an agreement with Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) on land conservation in Daggett County. In short, it should result in the protection of many worthy, remarkable lands in northeastern Utah.

    None of this would have been possible without thirty years of tireless effort by activists, supporters, and staff to protect the redrock. It is because for many years our supporters across the country—in places like Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey—have brought cosponsors to America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act that we are here. It is because activists in Utah and nationwide are pushing for Greater Canyonlands National Monument that we are here. It is because people fought in the ‘80s and ‘90s to stop bad wilderness bills that we are here. This is an outgrowth of the work of thousands of unsung heroes. Many thanks to all of you who have helped to bring this day about.

    Also, we owe our conservation partners a debt of gratitude for their help in reaching this agreement. We were joined in this effort by the Grand Canyon Trust, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society.

    A little background. Last year, Rep. Bishop announced that he would pursue a sort of grand bargain to address public land issues in eastern Utah; he asked rural counties to come forward with proposals for public lands within their boundaries. One of the first to volunteer was Daggett County.

    Daggett County, nestled in the northeast corner of the state, shares a border with Wyoming and Colorado. It is Utah’s least populous county and contains remarkable wildlands. These run the gamut from the redrock-topped Diamond Breaks; to the beautiful Red Canyon, formed by the Green River; to the snowy peaks of the Uinta Mountains, Utah’s highest range.

    Daggett County’s initial proposal for the area was low on wilderness. However, SUWA staff worked for months to change that. In particular, our eyes and ears on the ground, Ray Bloxham, distinguished himself once again as the most knowledgeable field expert on BLM issues. His expertise did much to persuade the county to accept wilderness.

    Our agreement highlights 33,254 acres of BLM as wilderness. This includes our Lower Flaming Gorge, Dead Horse Pass, and Diamond Breaks units. North of the Green River, our Goslin Mountain, Home Mountain, and O-Wi-Yu-Kuts areas will be protected as part of a 31,000-acre conservation area with wilderness-like protections. Utah’s largest existing wilderness area, the High Uintas, will be expanded by nearly 50,000 acres in the county. The cherry on top is the protection of fourteen miles of the Green River as part of the Wild and Scenic River System.

    Naturally, this deal involves more than wilderness. Part of this agreement will include a federal/state land exchange that will remove the threat of development in conservation areas while allowing development in more appropriate areas (in actuality, the centerpiece is the state acquisition of an existing natural gas storage facility on federal land that is already in operation). The agreement also resolves R.S. 2477 claims in the county: the state and county will get recognition for many of their claims but they must abandon all claims that conflict with wilderness and conservation lands. The county will receive federal acreage adjacent to the town of Dutch John for a shooting range and landfill.

    Although the acreage figures are small here when compared to many other counties in the state, the impact is huge. This agreement will protect the lion’s share of lands proposed for wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in this region and, hopefully, it lays the groundwork for substantial protection moving forward. Rep. Bishop will now move his Public Lands Initiative to the next county, using this agreement as a model.

    >> Read our press release

    >> View a map of lands in the Daggett County conservation agreement

    >> Read details of the conservation agreement

  • October 2nd, 2014

    055Thanks to a terrific team of six Utahns, protecting Greater Canyonlands was on the agenda this week in Washington D.C.!

    For two days, volunteer activists representing young people, archaeology, veterans, health professionals, and local Moab residents met with key offices of the Obama administration.

    Loaded up with an armful of items showcasing public support for protecting Greater Canyonlands, the activists spoke eloquently about the need for presidential action.

    2014 GC Fly-In (Jerry Spangler)Archaeologist and author Jerry Spangler shared our new publication showcasing the cultural treasures of Greater Canyonlands, emphasizing that without action this outdoor library containing 12,000 years of human history will be inevitably degraded.

    Veteran Michael Cumming described how climbing in Greater Canyonlands allowed him to heal from the trauma and loss of war, explaining that this landscape now brings similar healing to other vets through the therapeutic climbing program he then founded, Operation Climb On.

    Presenting a letter signed by over 750 health professionals (including 350 from Utah) to President Obama, social worker Tom Laabs-Johnson explained how protecting Greater Canyonlands would benefit the physical, emotional and public health of all Americans.

    2014 Greater Canyonlands Fly-In (DC)Local Moab resident Edgar Fuentes described how growing up with Greater Canyonlands in his backyard “kept me out of trouble” and how Moab’s economic well-being would benefit from a monument proclamation.

    Brigham Young University student Sarah Karlinsey and Colorado College student Brooke Larsen implored the Obama administration to act for the next generation, describing how young people find spiritual renewal, inspiration and adventure in Greater Canyonlands and presenting 5 videos created by youth about the area.

    2014 Greater Canyonlands Fly-In (DC)Meetings included the Council on Environmental Quality — the office that advises the president on monument proclamations — and advisers to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

    The message was clear: local Utahns from many different backgrounds cherish Greater Canyonlands for many reasons and want the president to act.

    We suspect some of the activists may have left a bit of red sand from their shoes in the carpets of the people they met with. We know they left an impression with their eloquent arguments and personal stories!

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