Legal Victory – Happy 50th Birthday Canyonlands!

The 'highway' as roaring creek, about 4 miles south of Peekaboo. © Ted Zukoski

The ‘highway’ as roaring creek, about 4 miles south of Peekaboo. © Ted Zukoski

On the eve of Canyonlands National Park’s birthday on September 12, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals gave the park and the Americans who own her a beautiful gift: an ecologically intact perennial desert stream – Salt Creek.

On Monday the Court refused to re-hear San Juan County and the state of Utah’s case before the full court, affirming a positive April 2014 ruling by a three judge panel. That ruling found that “The state and county failed to carry their burden of establishing ten years of continuous public use of the Salt Creek Road as a public thoroughfare prior to reservation of Canyonlands National Park in 1964.”  This means that the beautiful desert stream is not, in fact, a vehicle highway owned by the state of Utah and San Juan County. It’s a riparian area, home to most of the desert’s birds and wildlife.  And thanks to the Tenth Circuit Court, it can stay that way.

With the ruling, Salt Creek will remain a place of quiet beauty, with healthy wildlife habitat and clean water. © Ted Zukoski

With the ruling, Salt Creek will remain a place of quiet beauty, with healthy wildlife habitat and clean water. © Ted Zukoski

Long a treacherous 4×4 route in and out of the stream bed of Salt Creek, the National Park Service closed the Salt Creek route to vehicles in 1995 after concluding that off-road vehicles were causing severe damage to the streambed, wildlife, vegetation and archaeological resources in the area. San Juan County sued to re-open the road in 2004, and ten years and more than $2 million in taxpayer money spent on litigation later, the Tenth Circuit has affirmed what we knew all along – that the state and county have no legitimate claim to the stream as a “road.” The state and county can appeal the ruling to the Supreme Court, but the Tenth’s refusal to re-hear the case is a tremendous victory.  Earthjustice Attorneys Heidi McIntosh, Ted Zukowski, and Steve Bloch of SUWA represent Grand Canyon Trust, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and The Wilderness Society in the litigation.

To see a gallery of Salt Creek, click here.

Read the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance press release on the ruling.

Read the ruling here.

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Posted in Land Conservation, Utah Issues | Comments Off

Alpine Protection vs. Mountain Goats for Hunters? La Sal Mountains in the Cross-hairs

A Forest Service sensitive species, sweetflower rock jasmine, lies torn and trampled in a goat hoofprint in the La Sal Mountains.

A Forest Service sensitive species, sweetflower rock jasmine, lies torn and trampled in a goat hoofprint in the La Sal Mountains.

In September 2013, over the written and verbal objection of the Forest Service, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) airlifted 20 exotic mountain goats for hunters into the small, fragile alpine area of the desert-bound La Sal Mountains of southeastern Utah. The goats are now wallowing in the formerly-protected Mt. Peale Research Natural Area, trampling sensitive plant species and consuming lichens, mosses, flowers, grasses and shrubs year round.

Dylan Brown tells the story of this fiasco in E&E News. Grand Canyon Trust is working with numerous entities to encourage the Forest Service to exercise its national commitments to protection of sensitive species and research natural areas. The story isn’t over.

If you would like to learn more or support the Trust’s efforts on this issue, please:

  • Contact Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director, at maryobrien10@gmail.com.
  • Become a member of the Grand Canyon Trust by making a donation today. As a non-profit organization, we rely on your financial partnership to carry out this important work.
Fragile wildlowers, growing slowly on cushion plants above treeline in the La Sal Mountains, are highly vulnerable to being trampled by invasive mountain goats.

Fragile wildlowers, growing slowly on cushion plants above treeline in the La Sal Mountains, are highly vulnerable to being trampled by invasive mountain goats.

 

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Posted in Grazing Reform, Land Conservation, Uncategorized, Utah Issues | Comments Off

The Forest Service is Asking You Why and How Livestock Grazing Should Change On the Three National Forests of Southern Utah

Active cattle pasture, Dixie NF: Erosion and  exotic smooth brome grass seeded for cattle forage.

Active cattle pasture, Dixie NF: Erosion and exotic smooth brome grass seeded for cattle forage.

Finally, 29 years after the Dixie, Fishlake, and Manti-La Sal National Forests first developed their forest plans, the three forests are going to change those plans for how and where livestock are grazed. This is great news because 97% of the three forests is currently grazed, and too many areas reel under the impacts of livestock hooves and mouths to water, wildlife, soils, and plant diversity.

Between now and September 29, 2014, the Forest Service is seeking YOUR INPUT on how livestock grazing is impacting the Dixie, Fishlake, and Manti-La Sal National Forests in southern and central Utah. They want you to send photos of conditions caused by livestock on the three forests, and they want your “information about social, economic, and ecological values relevant to these ecosystems and use of these ecosystems for livestock grazing.”

The Forest Service is proposing to limit this livestock impacts assessment to riparian areas; wetlands; sagebrush communities; and stream channel habitat. But we need to show that significant livestock damage is occurring throughout the three forests, and especially wherever slopes are less than 15%.

Active cattle pasture, Dixie NF: Forest meadow

Active cattle pasture, Dixie NF: Forest meadow

Grand Canyon Trust has written a one-page guide on how you can tell the Forest Service that the upcoming amendment to the three forests’ plans for grazing needs to significantly change how and where livestock are grazed. Your photos and/or comments are needed by Sept. 29.

This is your first and best opportunity in more than a quarter of a century to limit the damage livestock causes on the Dixie, Fishlake, and Manti-La Sal National Forests.

-Mary O’Brien

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Posted in Grazing Reform, Uncategorized, Utah Issues | Comments Off

Grand Canyon Under Siege – But You Can Help

“Every 15 or 20 years, it seems, the canyon forces us to undergo a kind of national character exam. If we cannot muster the resources and the resolve to preserve this, perhaps our greatest natural treasure, what, if anything, are we willing to protect?”

Kevin Fedarko’s “A Cathedral Under Siege” is a clarion call. Published on the front page of the New York Times’ Sunday Review, it reminds us that Grand Canyon is “precariously vulnerable” to developments that “would desecrate one of the country’s most beloved wilderness shrines.”

SIGN THE PETITION! Click here to voice your opposition to developments that would irreparably damage the Grand Canyon.

Hopi Tribal Chairman Herman Honanie speaks to Save the Confluence coalition members about the Hopi Tribe’s cultural, religious and sacred site concerns about the proposed Escalade development.  Photo/Rosanda Suetopka

Hopi Tribal Chairman Herman Honanie speaks to Save the Confluence coalition members about the Hopi Tribe’s cultural, religious and sacred site concerns about the proposed Escalade development. Photo/Rosanda Suetopka

Grand Canyon Trust was conceived on river trip in 1981. The “menace of Interior Secretary James Watt’s anti-environmental fervor” meant that a handful of visionaries, floating through the Grand Canyon, felt an urgent need to do more to protect it.

While we’ve made remarkable progress in stemming the tide of threats, the canyon remains under siege. Fedarko writes that a massive development at the canyon’s southern gateway “requires water, and tapping new wells would deplete the aquifer that drives many of the springs deep inside the canyon—delicate oases with names like Elves Chasm and Mystic Spring.”

A second threat consists of a “1.4-mile tramway” that “would take more than 4,000 visitors a day in eight-person gondolas to a spot on the floor of the canyon known as the Confluence, where the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado River merge with the emerald green current of the Colorado. The area, which is sacred to many in the Hopi and Zuni Tribes, as well as the Navajo people, would feature an elevated walkway, a restaurant and an amphitheater.”

For more than two years, the Trust has been supporting opposition, which Fedarko calls “furious,” by a group of local Navajo families who live in the Confluence area. This summer,
Save the Confluence families and an escalating coalition of allies thwarted developers’ bid to win final approval by the Navajo Nation Council.

Recent reports to the contrary, the Grand Canyon is not doomed. But, as Fedarko’s call to action reminds us: “Whenever a developer is defeated, nothing prevents other developers from stepping forward, again and again.”

With your help, the Grand Canyon Trust will remain vigilant in opposing these developments, as well as uranium mining in Grand Canyon watersheds.

SIGN THE PETITION! Click here to voice your opposition to developments that would irreparably damage the Grand Canyon.

Please support the fight to save the Grand Canyon by becoming a member of the Grand Canyon Trust, and stay up to date by signing up for our e-news and Action Alerts and following our news blog. You can also follow and support Save the Confluence families.

-Roger Clark

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Posted in Arizona Issues, Grand Canyon Issues, Land Conservation, Native America Issues, Plateau-wide Issues, Uncategorized, Uranium | Comments Off

The “Clean Power Plan” and the Colorado Plateau: Part 1

Burning coal: The 500 megawatt Bonanza Power Plant in Utah's Uintah Basin.  Photo: Taylor McKinnon

Burning coal: The 500 megawatt Bonanza Power Plant in Utah’s Uintah Basin. Photo: Taylor McKinnon

On June 2nd, 2014, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a complex proposal to cut carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants. It promises big changes for the Colorado Plateau’s energy landscape.

The “Clean Power Plan” proposes to regulate the carbon emissions from existing power plants in order to curb the dangerous and costly impacts of global warming. Nationwide, the Clean Power Plan aims to help cut carbon pollution from the power sector by 30 percent from 2005 levels.

To do so, it sets state-specific goals for “carbon intensity”—the average amount of carbon dioxide emitted for each megawatt of electricity generated. However, it lets states choose how to best meet that goal. It affords flexibility to choose from a menu of policy “building blocks” to meet state-specific reduction goals by:

  • Reducing the carbon intensity of existing power plants through heat-rate improvements;
  • Substituting generation at the power plants with less carbon intensive power generators, like natural-gas combined-cycle plants, and filling unused capacity at existing gas plants;
  • Replacing carbon-intensive generation with renewable power generators; and
  • Lowering the amount carbon-intensive generation with demand-side measures, like increased energy efficiency options.

The Plan also gives states the option to create a trading program to cap carbon emissions (“cap and trade”). It lets them develop individual or multi-state plans to meet goals. If a state doesn’t come up with an effective plan of its own, the EPA will make one for them. Importantly for the Colorado Plateau, power plants in Indian Country–four in our region, including Navajo Generating Station and Four Corners Power Plant–are exempted from the rule.  EPA will work with tribes and sources to develop or adopt Clean Air Act programs.

The Colorado Plateau’s Power Plants: Coal is King

Most of the electricity generated on the Colorado Plateau comes from burning fossil fuels. As of 2010, there were 51 fossil fuel powered plants on or within 50 miles of the Colorado Plateau. They generate about 132 million-megawatt hours and about 23,700 megawatts of electricity by burning coal, natural gas, or oil.

Table 1 provides a break down those plants’ electricity generation, carbon intensity and carbon emissions by plant fuel type.  Note that the table does not display total energy production on the Colorado Plateau—because renewable and hydro energy make up a very small percentage of generation regionally.

PlantsTableWhen it comes to megawatts generated on the Colorado Plateau, coal is king. Most electricity produced in our region comes from coal-fired power plants—over 75% of the megawatts and 86% of the megawatt hours, according to 2010 data. The map below depicts that fact—where dot size shows generating capacity, and color depicts fuel source.

Megawatt Capacity of Colorado Plateau Fossil Fuel Power Plants

Coal burning creates the vast majority of power plant carbon emissions on the Colorado Plateau too: the biggest carbon emitting fossil fuel plants burn coal, and 94% of all fossil fuel plants’ carbon dioxide emissions come from coal plants. The map below illustrates this, showing carbon emissions for power plants according to their fuel type.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Colorado Plateau Fossil Fuel Power Plants

But coal plants don’t just emit more carbon because they produce more electricity; they’re also less efficient—and thus more carbon intensive—than other power plants.  They emit more carbon per megawatt than other fossil plants. Recall that that carbon intensity is a primary metric for the Clean Power Plan’s state goals; the following map shows the carbon intensity of Colorado Plateau power plants.

Carbon Intensity of Colorado Plateau Power Plants

Though coal makes up the lion’s share of the Colorado Plateau’s carbon pollution problem, another important part of the picture—at least as it pertains to the Clean Power Plan—is the dearth of non-hydro renewable energy generation.  Despite abundant solar and wind resources in Arizona and Utah, both states lag behind much of the nation in clean, renewable energy generation.  In fact, they cannot even keep up with their neighboring states.

AZ UT Renewables

Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

 

The Clean Power Plan’s Goals and the Colorado Plateau

The Clean Power Plan proposes substantial reductions in carbon emissions from Colorado Plateau power plants.   Table 2 shows 2005 emission rates (in carbon intensity—carbon emissions per megawatt) and the Clean Power Plan’s targets for 2030 for five states in the region.

EmissionGoalsVr2Those goals correspond to state-by-state emission reductions shown below in Chart 1.   Chart 1 also shows how EPA suggests those emissions rates can be achieved, by category (but remember, how those reductions are actually achieved is up to the states).

reductiongraphic

Chart 1: The Clean Power Plan proposes to reduce CO2 emissions from existing power plants by between 27 and 52% from 2005 levels in states on or near the Colorado Plateau.

Coal is the Colorado Plateau’s carbon problem.  While in theory states can choose among a variety of measures to meet emissions reduction goals, in reality, our region’s heavy reliance on coal makes reducing those plants’ emissions an inevitability of the Clean Power Plan.  In short, state goals won’t be met without reducing coal plant emissions.

For that,  EPA’s plan identifies two options: States can require greater heat rate efficiency of generating units (blue in Chart 1), or they can reduce emissions from the most carbon-intensive plants by substituting generation from those units “with generation from less carbon-intensive affected units (including natural gas combined cycle units that are under construction)” (red in Chart 1.).  But technology to increase power plant heat rate efficiency is limited and expensive; it’s a more limited option than turning to natural gas.

Thus, under the Clean Power Plan, coal’s future on the Colorado Plateau becomes even more tenuous.  It comes as efficiency, solar and other forms of electricity become increasingly cost-competitive with coal, and as coal plant owners already face increasing costs to upgrade old, polluting plants.

EPA’s suggested reliance on new renewable energy–or, its lack of reliance on renewable energy–is also of interest.  Despite its abundant solar resources, for example, the agency suggests that by 2030 Arizona increase its renewable energy generation to only 4% of all power generation.  In contrast, Colorado and New Mexico are pegged at 21%. Economic and environmental benefits would attend a more aggressive approach to renewable energy generation across the board–and especially in Arizona and Utah.

StateREgoalsWith major cutbacks in coal, but marginal gains in renewable, something has to fill the generation gap.  For that, EPA suggests natural gas.  For anyone who follows gas development on the Colorado Plateau, you know that prospect is complicated.

Part two of our Clean Power Plan blog installation will discuss that and other complications of the plan–including Indian Country’s exemption and some of the expected winners, losers, and legal battles.

In the meantime, you can learn more about the Clean Power Plan by visiting EPA’s website here.  For policy wonks, we recommend a series of articles by our friends at Legal Planet  here.

You can get engaged by either signing Grand Canyon Trust’s petition urging EPA to promulgate a strong, climate-responsible plan (click here to sign the petition), or you can contact EPA yourself, sending your own letter or email from this page.

 – Sam Kumasaka and Taylor McKinnon

Sam Kumasaka, a Grand Canyon Trust summer energy intern, studies environmental studies at Lewis and Clark College in Portland, OR.

 

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Posted in Arizona Issues, Climate Change, Energy, Grand Canyon Issues, Native America Issues, Plateau-wide Issues, Uncategorized, Utah Issues | Comments Off

Feds Urged to Suspend Grand Canyon Uranium Mine to Protect Water, Wildlife and People

BLM Fails to Respond to Groundwater Contamination at Pinenut Mine

For Immediate Release, August 4, 2014

Contact: Roger Clark, Grand Canyon Trust, (928) 890-7515
Sandy Bahr, Sierra Club, (602) 999-5790
Katherine Davis, Center for Biological Diversity, (520) 345-5708

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK, Ariz.— Conservation groups sent a letter last week urging federal regulators to suspend operations at a uranium mine near the Grand Canyon, where millions of gallons of uranium-laced groundwater threaten people and wildlife. Records obtained by conservation groups show that the contaminated groundwater — 80 times the limit set to protect public health and the environment — have inundated the Pinenut uranium mine immediately north of Grand Canyon National Park. It is unknown whether deep aquifers and nearby springs in the national park are also being polluted.

TAKE ACTION! You can urge federal officials to close and clean up “zombie” uranium mines threatening the Grand Canyon by signing our petition here

“The big question now is whether contaminated water has moved from the mine into deep aquifers that feed Grand Canyon springs,” said Roger Clark, Grand Canyon program director at Grand Canyon Trust. “Once polluted, remediation of the aquifers would be impossible. If agencies can’t ensure against that pollution — which they can’t — then mining should not occur.”

Records show that when the Pinenut mine was reopened in 2009, the mine operator estimated that 2.85 million gallons of water had accumulated in the mine and that it was in direct contact with high-grade uranium for nearly two decades, but water storage capacity outside the mine was limited and the water could not be pumped out to prevent seepage into the watershed. In addition, 1,500 tons of uranium ore were stored at the site when the mine was temporarily closed in 1989. That ore was subsequently eroded by wind and water, allowing the uranium to dissolve into accumulated water.

Water from the mineshaft exceeds federal water-quality standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act. In the repository pond dissolved uranium levels are 2,400 micrograms per liter — 80 times the upper limit allowed under federal law. This highly contaminated wastewater threatens migratory birds and other wildlife that are attracted to the mine’s open-air evaporative pond.

“We have raised concerns about groundwater contamination repeatedly and the agencies who are supposed to be protecting public health, public lands and public waters have ignored those concerns,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “It’s unconscionable that regulatory agencies permit such risks to Grand Canyon’s wildlife and groundwater without requiring the needed protections to prevent permanent harm.”

Records also show ongoing groundwater flow into the mine. Even after a mine closes, federal rules allow mine operators to dispose of low-grade ore and waste rock in the mineshaft before sealing it. There are no mechanisms in federal or state plans to ensure that polluted water does not move from the mine into deep aquifers after the mine is closed.

“Water is continually flowing into these mines, increasing the risk to deep aquifers and springs and opening the door to an environmental disaster,” said Katie Davis, public lands campaigner for the Center for Biological Diversity. “The BLM has ignored this problem for too long. We need our public officials to act now and respond to this crisis.”

In August 2013 Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity petitioned the Bureau of Land Management under the federal Administrative Procedures Act to require a new mining plan of operations from mine operators in light of the millions of gallons of polluted water inundating the mine. The Bureau has not responded to that petition. The groups sent a third letter to the agency on Tuesday urging action on the petition.

Tuesday’s letter requests that BLM take action, based on their authority under the Federal Land Policy Management Act, by ordering an immediate suspension of the Pinenut operations to protect health, safety and the environment.

Background

In 2012 the Obama administration issued a “mineral withdrawal” prohibiting new mining claims and the development of claims lacking valid existing rights across 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. Despite public protests and legal challenges from local American Indian tribes and conservation groups, federal agencies have allowed three uranium mines predating the withdrawal to resume operations. One of those, the Pinenut mine, was originally approved in 1986, but the mine owners closed the mine in 1989 because of low market demand for uranium. The BLM allowed the mine to reopen in 2009 after a request from Pinenut.

In 2010 water samples summarized by the USGS showed that 15 springs and five wells contained dissolved uranium concentrations in excess of the Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for safe drinking water. The USGS report concluded that these contaminated sites “are related to mining processes.”

In 2013 Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity submitted a rulemaking petition to the BLM under the Administrative Procedures Act to update its operating plan to incorporate new information regarding uranium-mining risks to groundwater. The agency has not responded to the petition.

In 2013 the National Park Service said that the “regional aquifer groundwater wells at the Canyon, Pinenut, and Hermit mines as well as the sumps at the base of Pigeon and Hermit mines have all exhibited dissolved uranium concentrations in excess of drinking water standards (30 micrograms per liter), with sump concentrations at Hermit Mine exceeding 36,000 micrograms per liter.”

Downloads:
Records showing Pinenut mine groundwater inundation
Records showing dissolved uranium concentrations of 1,500 microgrms per liter in mine water
More records showing dissolved uranium concentrations of 2,400 micrograms per liter in mine water
Letter showing 1500 tons of uranium ore was stored at Pinenut mine site
Petition to Bureau of Land Management requesting new mining plan
August 2013 letter to Bureau of Land Management urging action on petition
July 29 letter to Bureau of Land Management requesting Pinenut’s closure and response to petition
National Park Service concerns regarding uranium mining

TAKE ACTION! You can urge federal officials to close and clean up “zombie” uranium mines threatening the Grand Canyon by signing our petition here.

The mission of the Grand Canyon Trust is to protect and restore the Colorado Plateau — its spectacular landscapes, flowing rivers, clean air, diversity of plants and animals, and areas of beauty and solitude.

The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 2.4 million members and supporters nationwide, including 35,000 in Arizona as part of the Grand Canyon Chapter. Sierra Club’s mission is to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places of the earth; to practice and promote the responsible use of earth’s ecosystems and resources; and to educate and enlist humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment. For more information, visit http://arizona.sierraclub.org/

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 775,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places. www.biologicaldiversity.org

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Posted in Arizona Issues, Energy, Grand Canyon Issues, Uranium | Comments Off