At Bears Ears, Trump and Zinke ignored everyone but industry @HighCountryNews

Bears Ears Protest in Salt Lake December 2, 2017. Photo credit: Mother Jones Magazine

From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

Newly released documents show that locals had little voice in monument decisions.

In April 2017, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said of former President Barack Obama and the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument: “In making this unilateral decision, our former president either failed to heed the concerns of San Juan County residents, or ignored them completely.”

If Hatch were an honest man, he would say exactly the same about President Donald Trump’s drastic shrinkage of the monument late last year. Documents recently released by the Department of Interior show that when drawing the new boundaries, Trump and his Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, ignored not only the pleas of five Native American tribal nations, but also proposals from local county commissioners and the state of Utah.

That’s just one of the takeaways from a trove of documents regarding the Trump administration’s multi-monument review that the Interior Department coughed up to the New York Times. Here are the top 8 nuggets HCN has gleaned so far from the tens of thousands of documents:

1. The shrinkage of Bears Ears hurt Utah schools more than it helped.

Hatch has argued that the monument took needed cash from Utah school children because it “captured” over 100,000 acres of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands (SITLA), which are leased out or sold to help fund schools. But SITLA itself has never outright opposed the monument designation. Why? Because with designation came the promise of a lucrative land exchange with the feds.

When the monument was designated, SITLA officials said they were “disappointed” in the way it was done, but went on to ask Obama “to promptly address the issue by making Utah’s school children whole through an exchange of comparable lands.” In fact, some six months before Obama designated the monument, SITLA already had the details of a swap in mind. The state would give up the land within the proposed monument, most of which had only marginal potential for development, and it would receive oil- and gas-rich federal land, much of it in other counties, in exchange.

A decade earlier, after the designation of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a similar swap proved quite profitable, according to an email in the document dump from SITLA Associate Director John Andrews. Andrews wrote that the exchange netted SITLA $135.2 million in mineral leases alone, plus $50 million in cash from the federal government as part of the deal. Adding in investment earnings and other lease revenues, Andrews concluded that a total haul of $500 million from the exchange would be a “conservative guesstimate.”

So, when Trump set out to shrink the monument, SITLA asked only that a sliver of the monument’s southeast corner be removed so as to keep a block of land near Bluff, Utah, in SITLA hands. A representative from Hatch’s office sent a map showing this change and a message to Interior: “The new boundary depicted on the map would resolve all known mineral conflicts for SITLA within the Bears Ears.”

In the end, Zinke granted this part of SITLA’s wish. Unfortunately for the state’s school children, he did a lot more than that, cutting most of the state lands out of the monument, thus shutting down any hopes for a large-scale land exchange. That leaves the state holding on to more than 80,000 acres of isolated parcels that are unlikely to generate much revenue.

2. Zinke ignored local county commissioners.

Trump ordered the monument review amid claims that local voices had been steamrolled by Obama’s unilateral designation. So when, in March 2017, the San Juan County Commission sent maps to Interior showing their proposed boundaries, they might have expected that it would influence Zinke’s recommended boundaries. It did not.

The commission’s proposed boundaries would have covered 422,600 acres across Cedar Mesa. Cut by spectacular canyons and with a high density of archaeological resources, Cedar Mesa was at the heart of Obama’s Bears Ears designation. Under the commissioners’ plans, the eastern boundary would have been Comb Wash, leaving out the sandstone wave known as Comb Ridge, as well as motorized route up Arch Canyon. Zinke’s boundaries contain only half as much land. They leave Cedar Mesa out entirely, unlike the county commissioners’ plans, but they include as part of the monument Comb Ridge and Arch Canyon. It’s almost as if the new boundaries were drawn in defiance of the county commission’s proposal. So much for local voices.

3. The voice of Energy Fuels, the most active uranium company in the Bears Ears region, appears to have been heard.

Representatives of the Canadian company met with Obama administration officials during the lead-up to designation, and the administration ultimately excluded Energy Fuels’ Daneros uranium mine from the monument. However, the company lamented the fact that seven miles of the mine’s one access road still fell within the boundaries, and that its White Mesa mill property abutted the eastern monument boundary.

Energy Fuels lobbyists, including former U.S. Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., met with Trump administration officials in July 2017, and the company’s official comment on the monument review stated: “There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the newly created (Bears Ears National Monument) that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future. … EFR respectfully requests that DOI reduce the size of the (Bears Ears National Monument) to only those specific resource areas or sites, if any, deemed to need additional protection beyond what is already available to Federal land management agencies.”

Trump’s shrinkage removed the entire White Canyon uranium district and other known deposits from the monument.

4. The new boundaries correlate closely with known oil, gas, uranium and potash deposits.

During his review last year, Zinke specifically asked for information on mineral extraction potential within the monuments. Uranium mining has long been dormant in the Bears Ears monument due to low prices, and only three of the 250 oil and gas wells drilled within the monument have yielded significant quantities of oil or gas. Nevertheless, industry has nominated some 63,657 acres within the national monument for oil and gas leases since 2014. With the new boundaries drawn to exclude even areas with only marginal potential for oil, gas or uranium, those leases could now go forward.

Proposed Bears Ears National Monument July 2016 via Elizabeth Shogren.

5. At Grand Staircase-Escalante, the new boundaries are mostly about coal.

When the monument was designated, Andalex, a Swiss company, was looking to mine a 23,800-acre swath of the Kaiparowits Plateau, which contains one of the biggest coal deposits in the United States. Clinton’s monument designation didn’t kill those plans, though it did make access and transportation to the deposits more difficult, so the feds used $19 million from the Land and Water Conservation Funds to buy out Andalex’s leases. Now, some 11 billion or more tons of coal are once again accessible. Also freed up with Trump’s monument shrinkage: Up to 10.5 trillion cubic feet of coalbed methane and 550 million barrels of oil from tar sands.

6. Visitation at Bears Ears area ratcheted up alongside the debate over designation.

Since there are no monument headquarters, the best indicator is the number of visitors at Kane Gulch Ranger Station on Cedar Mesa, which nearly doubled between 2013, when Bears Ears was little in the news, and 2017, when it became a signature issue for Trump as he attempted to dismantle many of Obama’s legacies.

Visits per year:

2013: 3,484

2014: 3,730

2015: 4,344

2016: 4,844

2017: 6,535

The jump in visitation in 2017 will be used by both anti- and pro-monument advocates. The former will argue that extra visitors mean extra impacts, the latter that more visitors add up to greater economic benefits for neighboring communities.

7. The designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante didn’t significantly impact grazing.

There were 77,400 active AUMs, or Animal Unit Months, the bureaucrat’s way of counting livestock on public lands, when the monument was designated in 1996. As of 2017, the number had only slightly dropped to 76,957 active AUMs. “Although grazing use levels have varied considerably from year to year due to factors like drought,” an Interior staff report says, “no reductions in permitted livestock grazing use have been made as a result of the Monument designation.” Claims to the contrary have long been used to argue for the monument’s reduction.

8. Obama’s staffers were in constant contact with Utah congressional staffers and other officials for months prior to monument designation.

And they often went out of their way to accommodate them. In fact, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s deputy chief of staff, Nicole Buffa, became quite chummy with Fred Ferguson, the chief of staff for Rep. Jason Chaffetz, and Cody Stewart, policy director for Gov. Gary Herbert.

After Jewell’s visit to southeastern Utah, Buffa wrote to Ferguson, Stewart and others: “I’m looking forward to many more conversations about Utah with each of you, but in far less pretty places.”

As the debate on the ground heated up, Ferguson wrote to Buffa: “I grow more and more frustrated by the day regarding the situation in San Juan County. You and I … have been thrust into this umpire-type-role where we are supposed to determine which group is most sincere, most legit, and most deserving of ‘winning’. We’re witnessing a race to the bottom by all involved as the monument threat heats up and groups are positioning themselves for success. My ultimate thoughts are to do nothing and force all of these players to work together and resolve these issues amongst themselves in the new year when there isn’t an arbitrary deadline driving action.”

Buffa responded: “We can’t get bogged down by the side-shows, and that is what some of this is.”

Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster.

Sterling wastewater plant discharge fix will require bonding measure on fall ballot

Wastewater Treatment Process

From The Sterling Journal-Advocate (Sara Waite):

…Public Works Director George Good and two wastewater employees met with officials from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment regarding the wastewater treatment plant project and non-compliance issues with Sterling’s existing discharge permit. According to Saling, the city will be required to put a bond issue or a question approving city debt before voters for the treatment plant improvements; failure to do so would result in a $10,000 per day fine imposed dating back to last November…

The high-end estimate for the project is $36 million, but Saling said they are constantly looking at ways to save on costs. Wednesday, Saling said he expects that a presentation on the rate study for water and sewer rates will be given to the council in the next month.

Saling said the council will be asked in a coming meeting for permission to retain the services of a law firm to craft the ballot question language. He wants to put it on the November ballot to avoid the cost of having a special election. He is working on a voter education campaign, starting with inserts in city water bills to explain why the project is needed and what the plans are…

Council member Bob McCarty suggested the campaign should stress the age of the current system; the existing wastewater treatment plant began operations in 1978, Good told the council. Saling noted that the city has 82 miles of sewer lines, the oldest of which was placed in 1898. According to Saling, the life expectancy for the physical structures of a wastewater treatment facility is about 20 to 25 years.

In #Colorado implementing the #COWaterPlan will fall to the next governor

Colorado Water Plan website screen shot November 1, 2013

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Floyd Ciruli):

Although Colorado has identified its water needs and has a state plan, 2018 will be a year of political transition. Will a new governor and legislature keep water at the top of the agenda or allow it to drop until the next water crisis? Many local agencies need financial help that can’t be met through local ratepayers alone. The state water plan identified $3 billion in unmet needs. And, as California has demonstrated, conservation must be a well-articulated state goal with significant resources dedicated to public education. California cut statewide use by 25 percent during the last drought through massive education coordinated with local agencies. But, leadership, both local and from the state, is needed.

Gov. John Hickenlooper accelerated the work of former governors Bill Owens and Bill Ritter to help address the state’s projected water shortage, but he only has one year left in office. Fortunately, besides Hickenlooper’s advancement of the scientific base behind the need for new projects, his use of a state planning process that involved all eight water basins in cooperation and decision-making and his issuing of a completed state water plan in December 2015, he has also seen real progress during his term on projects. He helped facilitate approval of Denver Water’s Gross Reservoir and Northern Water’s Windy Gap projects. Still, much remains to be done.

■ How will pressing water issues fare through the upcoming political transition?

■ Will the research, river basin collaboration and planning continue?

■ Will permitting of the water projects now underway continue to make progress?

■ Will the next wave of projects — many in rural and small towns — get permitted, funded and built?

■ Will the state initiate and fund a statewide conservation public education program?

■ Will the state continue its planning processes in order to lead a ballot issue funding effort? (The previous proposal, controversial in design and promotion, failed in 2003, but lessons were learned.)

The planning and development capabilities of Colorado’s water community have grown significantly, but the needs are growing faster still. Through the 2018 political transition, we must ensure that water remains a top priority and not become another state plan ignored in a government file.

@JaredPolis talks recreation districts

Colorado Capitol building

From The Montrose Press (Andrew Kiser):

“We want to make sure our great outdoor recreation opportunities are even better for Coloradans,” Polis said. “I think by focusing on it we can do that and create good jobs as well as in the outdoor recreation industry.”

One of the aspects of the plan includes the establishment of the Colorado conservation and recreation districts. By creating such regions, lesser-known locations in the state can be discovered by tourists, he noted.

“We can help get more people to some of our great sights in Colorado,” Polis said. “That way it can ease congestion in some of the most traveled to areas and it can highlight some of the other areas in our state that have great potential through conservation and recreation districts.

“I think a lot of local communities in western Colorado will take advantage of becoming conservation and recreation districts to really help put themselves on the map to create good jobs.”

It’s not just the sights that are crucial to visitors of the state, but also the recreational activities available in Colorado, he said. Polis noted his quality-of-life goal for residents is for people to continue with outdoor interests like biking, hiking, hunting and fishing.

“Those are all the reasons why we are so proud and excited to be Coloradans,” Polis said. “We really rely on having access to great wild areas in open spaces.”

Those considerable landscapes are also key features for people interested in discovering outdoor activities in Colorado, he added.

“It’s an important part of filling our restaurants, hotels and retail stores,” Polis said. “So, it’s an important job creator in our state as we can attract people from other areas of the country for skiing, hunting, fishing or hiking.”

He added to keep such pursuits viable means to improve funding for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. With 80 percent of CPW revenue coming from users fees, Polis said he does not desire to have outdoor enthusiasts pay for most of it.

“We want to make sure the full burden of maintaining trails and our public lands doesn’t fall on anglers and hunters,” Polis said.

A way to potentially work on that is by creating a commission filled with people from the recreation side, hunters and environmental experts, he noted.

Additionally, the representative said he means to make sure the CPW and the Conservation and Great Outdoors Colorado trust funds are financed. Polis said it’s vital for GOCO to remain intact as it’s been invaluable for creating work.

“It’s really important to secure funding for Great Outdoors Colorado,” Polis said, adding such grants support over 11,000 jobs and provide millions of dollars in economic activity for the state.

It also has helped with financing locally.

The Montrose Recreation District has received numerous grants from GOCO. One of the more recent ones came in September 2017 when the City of Montrose and MRD’s $2 million grant application for trail connections was approved by the organization.

Jason Ullmann, MRD Board vice president and current acting president, said if it wasn’t for one of those grants in the past the Community Recreation Center wouldn’t have its amenities outside of the facility.

“With many of those outdoor facilities, we wouldn’t have built Phase 2, which includes the trials and pickleball courts. We wouldn’t have those without GOCO,” Ullmann said. “So the rec center was made much better with those grant dollars.”

Part of Polis’ plan is to make sure the ecosystem is still intact. He explained many organisms are on the Endangered Species list, which can lead to a snowball effect if they become wiped out.

“With certain species that become extinct it’s not just them that are affected,” Polis said. “It can lead to overpopulation of other species, it can throw entire ecosystems out of whack, it can ruin the outdoor experience for hunters or anglers, so it’s very important to help maintain healthy ecosystems.”

He added going forward he wants to preserve the outdoor way of life for future generations of Coloradans.

“We need to make sure we are protecting our environment and that we leave a legacy for our kids and grandkids in the same great state we live in,” Polis said.

What about water?

Polis said he supports Gov. John Hickenlooper’s Colorado Water Plan, and if elected, he will implement it.

“We want to make sure we have a collaborative approach to transmountain diversion. That we can make sure that our Western Colorado communities aren’t forced to pay the price for Front Range growth,” Polis said. “We want to make sure people across our whole state have access to high-quality water for the quantities we need for agricultural, as well as residents.”

Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention @COWaterCongress #cwcac2018

Coyote Albuquerque February 2015 photo by Roberto E. Rosales via the Albuquerque Journal.

I’ll be live-tweeting from the Colorado Water Congress Annual Convention today. Follow along on Twitter @CoyoteGulch or better yet, follow the conference hash tag #CWCAC2018.

Fort Lupton: #Colorado GOP gubernatorial candidates hit the trail

Colorado Capitol building

From 9News.com (Anusha Roy):

When it comes to education, several candidates supported more vocational training.

Two candidates, Doug Robinson and Greg Lopez, said a four-year college may not be the right choice for everyone.

And candidate Tom Tancredo, who’s run twice for governor before, said any student who graduates from a public high school should also be able to pass a citizenship test.

The candidates also supported the oil and gas industry. However Steve Barlock, who worked on President Trump’s campaign, qualified his support saying the industry shouldn’t’t impact Colorado’s water.

Several candidates also mentioned transportation and the need for road improvements and called for more transparency with budgets.

From The Denver Post (John Aguilar):

Several candidates on Monday called for additional water storage in the state to help Colorado capture more of it and allow less of it to flow out of state. They said several large-scale reservoir projects need to move forward.

Endorsement: Amy Beatie for Colorado House District 4

I’m excited to endorse Amy, she has been a tireless champion for Colorado in her role at the Water Trust. Here’s the press release from Amy’s campaign:

Amy Beatie, Executive Director of the Colorado Water Trust since 2007, announces her endorsement by statewide and local leaders in the Democratic primary for State Representative in Denver’s House District 4. The endorsements come from Ruth Wright, second woman ever in Colorado to become the House Minority Leader, a role that she held from 1986-1992; Gail Schwartz, former State Senator from Crested Butte; and Jeni JAMES Arndt, current State Representative from Fort Collins.

Although she had been considering running for public office for some time, Beatie’s campaign began to truly take shape after her graduation from the Emerge triaining program of 2016, a program that trains progressive women to run for office. “Seasoned leadership matters now more than ever. I have dedicated my career to public service and working tirelessly for Colorado’s environment, but for years I had been feeling such a strong push to do more. I want to be part of helping create a cohesive, progressive, and strategic Democratic party in this state. This incredible northside community also wants someone who will improve our education system, our healthcare system, and our environment. Having been in leadership for most of my career, I’ll be ready to hit the ground running on day one.”

Sen. Schwartz endorsed Beatie saying that, “Amy has dedicated her career to the preservation of Colorado’s natural resources and public service to the people of Colorado. She has distinguished herself as the leader of one of Colorado’s most effective conservation organizations for over a decade. As a former State Senator, I know that Amy’s proven ability to work with diverse interests and communities, along with a deep background on statewide issues, will make her an excellent representative.”

Beatie successfully guided the Colorado Water Trust over the last decade to return over 7 billion gallons of water to over 375 miles of rivers and streams in the State of Colorado and Jeni Arndt, State Representative from Fort Collins, was impressed with Beatie’s knowledge of the state’s water issues. “Effectively managing our state’s water is critical to our shared future. Amy has been a leader on water conservation in Colorado for a decade and having her knowledge and experience in the legislature would be an invaluable contribution to our state’s efforts to plan for one of the most valuable resources in our state.”

Ruth Wright, second woman ever to become the House Minority Leader, a role that she held from 1986-1992, and former board member at the Colorado Water Trust spoke glowingly of Beatie’s ability to lead. “Amy has taken the Trust from an organization on the brink of closing and turned it into one of the most successful environmental organizations in the state. Amy infused the Trust with her vision and passion and I can see that same vision and passion in her run for the state house.”

Amy will be hosting her campaign kickoff on September 21st at the Historic Elitch Carousel Dome at 3775 Tennyson Street, Denver, CO 80212, including guest speakers Gail Schwartz and Rep. Jeni Arndt. All are welcome.