All is not well in Zion. And in this case by Zion I mean Utah, however not Zion National Park (there are so many Zion references in Utah!).
While there are many topics one could include in describing what is not well in Utah, my focus today is that of the environmental dilemmas that face Utah, its citizens, its lands.
Because we still maintain the power to vote no matter what else is happening in the world or the country or the state, I want to focus on the powers that be and their reckless pursuit of environmental destruction in Utah. And by the powers that be I mostly mean Governor Gary Herbert, to whom I often refer as Herbie (however, Herbie the Lovebug is way cooler than the governor so maybe a new nickname is in order).
Here are just a few of the ways Governor Herbert and his cronies, the Utah Legislature, seem to be trying desperately to destroy the health of Utah citizens, and the natural beauties that make Utah the incredible place it is.
Clean Air (or lack thereof)
January 25, 2014 marked the largest clean air rally in United States history. And that rally took place here, atop Utah’s Capitol Hill. More than 4,000 people appeared on the Hill demanding clean air. Even a few state representatives showed up, but not our dear friend Herbert.
This rally was timely for it was held just prior to the start of the legislative session. Senate Bill 164 was designed to allow Utah to have stricter clean air regulations than those of the EPA in order to address the unique needs Utah and the Wasatch Front face given our climate, topography, and population.
However, the senate refused to even vote on this bill.
Governor Herbert is a proud purveyor of reducing wood burning and driving less, two things that would absolutely help clean the air. Nonetheless he and many of the legislators turn a blind eye to the many refineries, factories, mines, and waste plants that dot the Wasatch Front, instead commending them on a job well done for improving air quality. This is unacceptable behavior from the man who is supposed to be a steward of the welfare of Utah citizens. I would like him to look a lung cancer patient who has never smoked a single cigarette in the eye and say, “Well, if you had just driven less you wouldn’t be here, would you!”
UPDATE: Governor Herbert recommended to the legislature that they repeal the law preventing Utah from expanding its regulations beyond those of the EPA. Good on ya, Herbie. But we’ll see how this actually plays out.
“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed … We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in.” –Wallace Stegner
Governor Gary Herbert is quite bent on obtaining control of acres upon acres of federally run land in Utah. His claims for wanting this land include tripe that it is for the children, and that Utah’s government can do a better job taking care of it.
I am not the federal government’s biggest fan, but thus far Utah’s land has fared much better than it would if Herbert had his way.
Herbert claims Utah needs to obtain control of the lands because of about 14,000 roads that intersect the area, roads that if recognized as actual roads (they are mostly cattle, biking, and hiking trails) would remove protection of the land because of the Wilderness Act, which defines wilderness as:
…an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition;
So, claim trails as roads and you circumvent the definition of protected wilderness. Sneaky, Herbert. Very sneaky.
What really gets me and causes my sense of suspicion to start tingling is, Herbert claims he will use the lands to give more money to schools, healthcare, etc. Both Senator Hatch and Herbert’s attorneys say this is a lost cause, that the federal government is not going to cede the land to Utah. And yet, Herbert continues to spend millions of dollars trying to commandeer those lands. If he really wants to give money to students, why doesn’t he disburse those millions to schools around the state? Who is lining his pockets and telling him to push for this land grab despite the money, the opposition from citizens, and the counsel from people with more knowledge than himself?
For a great article on this topic click here.
Tar Sands, Oil Shale, and Death
When I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma,one line of wisdom from a farmer he interviewed memorized itself immediately, “You can’t do just one thing.” Call me melodramatic if you will, but destroying our landscape for the sake of tar sands, oil shale, or other dirty energies is death to our desert spirit, death to wildlife, and death to Utah as a thriving state. You can’t do just one thing… like mine for tar sands. The impacts will spread far and wide.
Tar sand extraction in Alberta, Canada has already shown us the damage that is achieved from this kind of energy production. Now Herbert wants to bring this kind of damage to Utah, a place known for its natural beauties.
Tar sands are deposits of bitumen, which requires loads of energy to convert to usable oil. Before it can even be turned into oil (using oil, coal, or another source of energy) it has to be extracted, which can use a lot of water (the same water we in Utah seem to always lack), pollutes waterways, contributes to air pollution and global warming, endangers wildlife, and destroys the land.
Oil shale is a type of sedimentary rock that contains kerogen, which when heated creates hydrocarbons that can be used for fuel and energy. Like tar sands, oil shale requires more resources to harvest the benefits than it creates. In addition, it disturbs groundwater (sounds like bad idea, right?), and disturbs the landscape and wildlife.
Proponents of tar sands and oil shale claim we need to use these resources because we’ve reached “peak oil” and need to find other ways to power our cities, cars, airplanes, etc. other than crude oil. It is a very good idea to invest in ways to deal with the dead end that is crude oil. However, destroying the planet to access alternate dead end energy sources isn’t the way to do it. Instead, we should invest in renewable energy like solar, wind, and geothermal energy. (And don’t even try mentioning nuclear power as an option. No, no, no, and no. Not a good option.)
And good ol’ Herbert tends to become a little miffed if these destructive techniques are challenged:
“I see absolutely no benefit. This nonsensical, bass-ackwards, peek-a-boo policy is nothing more than political posturing by over-reaching federal bureaucrats. How about they seek our input, we comment on it first and THEN they make a decision? With no science and no data, and with a wave of their federal bureaucratic magic wand, they just take the bulk of the acreage off the market”
I sort of wish he’d listen to the input of citizens, scientists and environmentalists.
Why Does This Matter?
I’m always pretty baffled when people argue against environmentalism. It just makes absolutely no sense to destroy your environment because when you destroy your environment you destroy yourself.
However, because people argue the fact, the question, “Why does it matter?” needs to be addressed.
Protecting the environment, and in this case Utah, matters because even if we as humans are completely selfish and only care about our own welfare and not the welfare of other species, it is still nonsensical to disregard the planet. The planet allows us to survive. The planet feeds us, gives us air to breathe, has intricate systems that all work to keep life on earth going.
If we destroy that, we kill ourselves. It’s that simple.
But coming from an economic standpoint, because many people care more about economics than beauty and survival, where Utah is concerned it is a terrible economic move to destroy the landscape and wildlife.
As much I dislike crowds, I have to admit Utah’s wilderness draws tourists, which is good for the economy and job growth. Furthermore, our landscape and outdoorsy people are draws for outdoor recreation companies and the Outdoor Retailer show that pulls in about $40 million of revenue per year for the state. The Outdoor Retailer show threatened to leave Utah last year if environmental issues weren’t addressed. Herbert quickly created the Outdoor Recreation Vision plan in response, and the show signed a contract to remain in Salt Lake City until at least 2016. However, while Herbert continues to attack our lands there is no guarantee the show will choose to stay here.
In addition, tourists who come to Salt Lake to ski are put off by the polluted air and might choose to not come back. One tourist from California even wrote a letter to one of Utah’s local newspapers to share his outrage at the air quality in Utah and wondered whether or not he should take his tourism dollars to Colorado instead.
And finally, on a more poetic and beautiful note, protecting our environment matters because:
“Wilderness is not a luxury but a necessity of the human spirit, and as vital to our lives as water and good bread. A civilization which destroys what little remains of the wild, the spare, the original, is cutting itself off from its origins and betraying the principle of civilization itself.” –Edward Abbey