Wasatch Environmental Update; Our Inattentive Electorate

Wasatch Environmental Update for March 19, 2017

By John Worlock, Member of the Board of Directors of Save Our Canyons

“Our Inattentive Electorate”


Two recent events have been wake-up calls for the environmental community.

Event #1 was the end of the Utah Legislature’s 2017 session.  It brought to an end a long and disappointing session in which a large number of bills were passed and sent to the governor that will either degrade our environment or fall short in their ambition to improve the environment.  We’ll get back to that, but let’s turn toEvent #2.

It was the March 14 meeting of the Salt Lake County Council, in which they voted to abstain from making any contribution toward preservation of the neighboring Bonanza Flats.  A large undeveloped high alpine forest area just beyond Guardsman Pass above Brighton, it is a place with extensive aspen groves along with lakes where elk, deer, moose and black bears congregate.  It is for sale for 35 million dollars and there was a proposal for Sale Lake County to contribute toward its purchase and preservation.  Alas, the Council voted 5 to 4 forego that opportunity.  Five to Four!  One more environmental voice and it would have been a different outcome!  The lesson is that we needed to be more active during last fall’s election season, when a single At-large council seat was won, by one of the Five Nay-sayers.

Event #1, the legislative session, was much more diffuse, spread as it was over the 45 days ending on March 9.  It’s not exactly correct to say that it was a disappointment, as we have learned not to expect much in the way of positive environmental or conservation legislation.

But here are some of this year’s negative accomplishments.  A bill to allow operation of a wood-burning grill in spite of the danger of highly polluted air on red-air days.  A bill that phases out solar energy tax credits.  A resolution asking for revocation of the Bears Ears National Monument and paring back the area of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Here are some failures. One bill would have shifted some of the cost of water consumption from a property tax to charges that would be proportional to water usage, expected to save water and cost nothing.  Another rejected bill would have reorganized the Air Quality Board, adding positions for two scientists, one physician and on public health professional, and shrinking the representation of oil, gas, mining and manufacturing interests.

In the case of the legislature, it’s going to take more than a single election to change its composition and its inclination to ignore, for example, the desire and the need for clean air.  But elections are exactly the place to focus if we, as environmentalists, wish to advance our programs, such as clean air, clean water and lots of wild and beautiful spaces for wildlife, solitude and recreation.

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