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Chapter #124: SITLA Deal Threatens Uintah Basin - July 9, 2009


Dust storm obscures view of Comb Ridge, Utah - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com) 

Utah's SITLA/BLM Land Swap Does Not Benefit the People or the Land

This section Courtesy KCPW News,  July 09, 2009

"U.S. House Unanimously Approves SITLA Land Swap", by Elizabeth Ziegler
(KCPW News)  The U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a land swap with the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) yesterday.  If approved by the Senate, it will authorize a patchwork assortment of more than 40,000 acres of SITLA lands to be transferred to the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in exchange for a similar amount of land in the oil and gas-rich Uintah Basin.  However, Congressman Jim Matheson, who sponsored the legislation, says it does more than that.
 
Source of the dust storm is just north of Kayenta, AZ - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)"It acknowledged that there's recreational value to this area right along the Colorado River corridor and taking that out of potential development had value," Matheson says.  "And in return, the state got some oil and gas properties for that type of development instead."
SITLA believes oil and gas development on the Uintah Basin land could add tens of millions of dollars to the school trust fund.  A portion of the interest from the fund is distributed to Utah schools each year.
 
Matheson says this is the first time that recreational value was taken into consideration for such a federal land swap.  The value of public land has traditionally been based on the value of potential development or resource extraction.  He believes the bill will set a precedent for future legislation.  Liz Thomas with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance in Moab hopes it will.
 
"We do hope it can serve as a model because this land exchange bill, honestly, it's been years in the making and it was in the end supported by pretty much all sides," Thomas says.  "And that's pretty unheard of."

Thomas says the land swap would represent a significant step toward protecting many scenic areas around Moab, including one of the largest red rock formations in the region, Corona Arch. - (End of KCPW Story)
 
Peabody Coal facilities at Black Mesa, Arizona - Click for alternate image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
July 2009 Author's Note: On a higher level, it is sad to see that we shall concentrate our destructive and extractive forces in one area.  If we were Uintah Basin Native Americans, we might think that this is not such a good idea.
 
Look south to Black Mesa, Arizona, near Navajo National Monument and you will find the best-hidden strip mine in the West.  Utilizing the Black Mesa and Lake Powell (Electric) Railroad, the aptly named Black Mesa provides relatively dirty western coal to the Navajo Generating Station, which overlooks Lake Powell and the Glen Canyon Dam.  
Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad electric locomotive - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
 
Today, there is a growing consensus that the dam itself was an unnecessary environmental tragedy.  During the increasingly hot summers, the oversubscribed Colorado River cannot supply enough water to spin a sufficient number of turbines at Glen Canyon Dam to meet peak electric power demand.  At such times, additional coal-smoke haze issues forth from the tall stacks of the Navajo Generating Station.  These smoke signals send a message of environmental degradation to each of the Four Corners states.  Fickle winds roundabout the canyons of the Colorado Plateau may contribute to such far-flung phenomena as Uintah Basin’s summer haze
Peabody Coal hopper car, Black Mesa & Lake Powell Railroad - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
 
Compromising our environment in favor of increased old-energy extraction and production will only hasten the day of our demise.  Each new scar that we place upon the land has local, regional and worldwide environmental consequences.  With this knowledge to guide us, can we still afford to create new environmental ghettos; overdeveloped, over-extracted, overgrazed and prone to 1930s-style dust storms
 
Ask the current residents of Giza, Egypt if they would support a new round of pyramid building in their once-lush valley.  In ancient times, over-development there initiated what we now call the Sahara Desert.  Yes, current dwellers of the desert southwest, it can happen here.
 
January 2012 Author's Note: According to The Salt Lake Tribune newspaper, "Utah is weary of waiting for federal funds to complete a heralded swap of recreational lands near Moab in exchange for energy swaths in the Uintah Basin, so state school trust officials plan to start paying appraisers themselves to seal the deal."
Coal-fired Navajo Generating Station, near Page, Arizona - Click for alternate image of Lake Powell (http://jhamesmcgillis.com)
 
(Some) Environmentalists like the swap, and worked for its passage in Congress, because it protects “remarkable places along the Colorado River,” said Bill Hedden, executive director of the Grand Canyon Trust.

“The schoolkids come out ahead and the natural places come out ahead,” Hedden said. “It’s a great exchange.”
 
I wonder if the Native American school kids living among natural gas wells and breathing polluted air in the Uintah Basin will be as sanguine.
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