Goldman environmental prize: top awards dominated by women for first time — The Guardian

Goldman environment prizewinners 2018: (clockwise from top left) Manny Calonzo, Francia Márquez, Nguy Thi Khanh, LeAnne Walters, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, Claire Nouvian. Photograph: 2018 Goldman Environmental Prize

From The Goldman Environmental Prize:

We are thrilled to introduce the Goldman Environmental Prize winners for 2018! Each of these individuals has moved mountains to protect the environment and their communities, and changed the world in ways large and small. Get to know these incredible Prize winners and learn more about how you can support their work.

Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, South Africa

As grassroots activists, Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid built a broad coalition to stop the South African government’s massive secret nuclear deal with Russia. On April 26, 2017, the High Court ruled that the $76 billion nuclear power project was unconstitutional—a landmark legal victory that protected South Africa from an unprecedented expansion of the nuclear industry and production of radioactive waste.

Khanh Nguy Thi, Vietnam

Khanh Nguy Thi used scientific research and engaged Vietnamese state agencies to advocate for sustainable long-term energy projections in Vietnam. Highlighting the cost and environmental impacts of coal power, she partnered with state officials to reduce coal dependency and move toward a greener energy future.

Claire Nouvian, France

A tireless defender of the oceans and marine life, Claire Nouvian led a focused, data-driven advocacy campaign against the destructive fishing practice of deep-sea bottom trawling, successfully pressuring French supermarket giant and fleet owner Intermarché to change its fishing practices. Her coalition of advocates ultimately secured French support for a ban on deep-sea bottom trawling that led to an EU-wide ban.

Manny Calonzo, The Philippines

Manny Calonzo spearheaded an advocacy campaign that persuaded the Philippine government to enact a national ban on the production, use, and sale of lead paint. He then led the development of a third-party certification program to ensure that paint manufacturers meet this standard. As of 2017, 85% of the paint market in the Philippines has been certified as lead safe.

LeeAnne Walters, United States

LeeAnne Walters led a citizens’ movement that tested the tap water in Flint, Michigan, and exposed the Flint water crisis. The results showed that one in six homes had lead levels in water that exceeded the EPA’s safety threshold. Walters’ persistence compelled the government to take action and ensure that residents of Flint have access to clean water.

Francia Márquez, Colombia

A formidable leader of the Afro-Colombian community, Francia Márquez organized the women of La Toma and stopped illegal gold mining on their ancestral land. She exerted steady pressure on the Colombian government and spearheaded a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women to the nation’s capital, resulting in the removal of all illegal miners and equipment from her community.

Click here to view the photo gallery.

From The Guardian (Jonathan Watts):

The world’s foremost environmental prize has announced more female winners than ever before, recognising the increasingly prominent role that women are playing in defending the planet.

The struggle for a healthy planet may sometimes feel like a series of defeats, but this year’s Goldman environmental prize celebrates six remarkable success stories, five of them driven by women.

From an anti-nuclear court ruling against former South African president Jacob Zuma and Russian leader Vladimir Putin to a campaign that nudged the Vietnamese government from coal to renewable energy, the winners – unveiled on Earth day yesterday – are all grassroots activists who have taken on powerful vested interests.

In Latin America, the winner is Francia Márquez, an Afro-Colombian community leader who led a 10-day, 350-mile march of 80 women from the Amazon to Bogotá that prompted the government to send troops to remove illegal miners who were polluting rivers with cyanide and mercury.

Like many previous winners, she faces immense risks. The dangers of environmental activism have been evident in the murder of two Goldman-prize recipients in the past two years.

The 2015 winner Berta Cáceres – a Honduran indigenous rights and anti-dam campaigner, was killed less than a year after collecting the award. Ten months later, a 2005 winner – Mexican activist Isidro Baldenegro López – was gunned down in the Sierra Madre mountain range. Earlier this month, one of last year’s winners, Rodrigue Katembo – a park ranger in the Virunga sanctuary for mountain gorillas – lost six of his colleagues in a massacre by militia groups.

Márquez said insecurity is also a fact of life in her campaign.

“We constantly receive death threats from militias, leaders, organisations and communities. Protecting the environment and land will always result in dispute between those who want the territory to live and those who want it to fill their pockets with money,” she told the Guardian. “This award is a recognition of the collective struggle of all peoples in the world who care for the environment … and all the leaders who have been killed for the cause of caring for our common home.”

A law student and a single mother of two, the 35-year-old has been an environment and community activist since she joined a campaign against a hydroelectric dam at the age of 13.

The increasingly prominent role of women in environmental activism has been recognised by this year’s prizes. Since 1990, six awards – one for each habitable continent – have been announced by the Goldman prize foundation, which was set up by an member of the Levi Strauss family who made a fortune in the insurance business.

This is the first time that five of the six are women. The winners include South African anti-nuclear activists Makoma Lekalakala and Liz McDaid, Vietnamese clean-energy advocate Nguy Thi Khanh, US clean-water defender LeeAnne Walters, and French marine-life champion Claire Nouvian. The one male winner is Philippine anti-lead campaigner Manny Calonzo.

Márquez says she will use the award to promote a new mode of economics and politics based on life-giving “maternal love” rather than “dead” extractivism.

“The first thing we need is to be more aware of the historical moment in which we find ourselves: the planet is being destroyed, it’s that simple, and if we do nothing to avoid it we will we will be part of that destruction,” she said. “Our time has come, we must act, we have a responsibility to future generations to leave a better world, in which taking care of life is more important than producing cumulative wealth.”

R.I.P. Steve Fearn

Steve Fearn via the Colorado Water Congress.

Steve Fearn

From Silverton, in the heart of the San Juan Mountains high on the Animas River,
in between Red Mountain Pass and Molas Pass

flowing through Durango up into Lake Nighthorse

Steve Fearn represented Southwestern Colorado on the Board of the Colorado
Foundation for Water Education 2011 to 2016

bridging the Great Divide tirelessly.

Sure, steady, a wise and patient counselor, he held and served all of Colorado
in the highest respect.

You are with us, Steve!

Greg Hobbs (April 23, 2018)

Steve Fearn. Photo credit: Greg Hobbs

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

Longtime Silverton resident wanted to bring back mining

Steve Fearn, one of the founders of the Animas River Stakeholders Group who was involved with multiple water boards, and who at one time owned the Gold King Mine, died last week at his home in Silverton. He was 74.

It is believed he died from a dormant strain of malaria that he caught while working at mines in Indonesia in the 1980s, La Plata County Coroner Jann Smith said Monday. An autopsy is scheduled for Thursday.

“I think one of the main things about Steve is that even though he often disagreed with people, he was always looking for some common ground,” said Peter Butler, another founder of the stakeholders group.

Fearn was raised in Boulder and received a civil engineering degree from the University of Colorado-Boulder, according to Bruce Whitehead, executive director of the Southwestern Water Conservation District.

Eventually, Fearn began his career building power plants, and was one of the lead engineers for the Craig Station Power Plant in Craig and the Hayden Generating Station near Steamboat Springs, Butler said.

Eventually, Fearn found his way to the Western Slope in the 1970s, working for a time at the mill for the Idarado Mine in Telluride, Butler said.

However, Fearn planted roots in Silverton when he moved there in the 1970s.

“He did do some work on several of the different mines,” Butler said. “He’s been underground in a few of those mines up there.”

In the early 1990s, after Silverton’s last mine closed and issues over water quality in the Animas River watershed became a growing concern, Fearn and others formed the Animas River Stakeholders Group.

At the time, many people believed the Environmental Protection Agency and the state of Colorado imposed water-quality standards that didn’t take into account natural loading of heavy, potentially toxic metals into the waterways.

The stakeholders group was then tasked with drafting more realistic water-quality goals, and eventually evolved into a group that conducted numerous cleanup projects throughout the watershed.

Butler said there was some level of conflict in the forming of the stakeholders group, as interests were divided among the mining industry and environmentalists.

Former miners even circulated petitions calling for the stakeholders group to get out of town, Butler said.

“He was always the level-headed voice from the mining industry,” Butler said.

Butler credited Fearn with taking the lead on many remediation projects throughout the years, including placing bulkheads on the Kohler Tunnel and the Mogul Mine.

However, critics of the stakeholders group say the group was an attempt to delay an all-out cleanup under the EPA’s Superfund program. While the stakeholders have helped improve water quality in the basin, major pollution sources outside the scope of the group’s purview has held back any major headway in accomplishing goals like restoring aquatic life in the Animas River from Silverton to Durango.

Fearn, over the years, was one of the staunchest opponents to Superfund, arguing the designation would eliminate any chance of mining’s return to Silverton and place a stigma on the town that would hinder tourism.

“He wanted to revive mining … and he didn’t make any bones about it,” said San Juan County Judge Anthony Edwards. “He wanted to bring an economy where people were paid living wages, and he believed mining was the best option for that.”

Fearn himself tried to bring back Silverton’s dying mining industry over the years. In 2000, he purchased the Gold King Mine. He then attempted to get the Pride of the West mill at Howardsville, north of Silverton, back in operation.

Butler said Fearn believed it was better to make mining viable in the U.S., where there is some level of environmental and labor force regulations, rather than other countries without those rules in place.

“He believed you may be doing a lot more damage to the Earth by sending mining to different countries,” Butler said.

However, due to a complex entanglement of lawsuits, Fearn and his mining ventures were foreclosed on around 2004. The Gold King Mine was then purchased by Todd Hennis in 2005.

The EPA in August 2015 caused a mine blowout at the Gold King Mine while working on a cleanup project at the site. The spill released 3 million gallons of mine waste laced with heavy metals into the Animas River.

In fall 2016, the Bonita Peak Mining District Superfund site, which encompasses nearly 50 mining-related sites throughout the Animas watershed, was officially declared a Superfund site.

Fearn was named in a lawsuit filed by New Mexico over the spill. He was not considered a “potentially responsible party” – a term the agency uses for people or companies it regards as financially responsible for a cleanup, EPA said Monday.

Fearn also served on numerous water-related boards. He represented San Juan County on the Southwestern Water Conservation District for 22 years, serving 10 of those years as vice president.

“He was always willing to listen and find solutions,” Whitehead said. “He didn’t just say no, he looked for alternatives and worked hard to do that.”

Butler said Fearn is credited for getting the water conservation district to fund projects that would improve water quality. He also served on the working group that eventually produced the Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act.

Fearn was ousted as a representative, however, by San Juan County commissioners in February 2017 after they said Fearn’s representation no longer reflected the county’s values.

“Historically, San Juan County has been largely dominated by mining interests, and Steve Fearn is very much associated with those interests,” county attorney Paul Sunderland said at the time. “But the board’s interests have shifted more toward recreation.”

Whitehead said Fearn was named a director emeritus despite being replaced on the board.

“He will be missed greatly,” Whitehead said. “He was a good guy and a friend.”

Edwards said more information will be forthcoming on a memorial service to be held sometime in May.

Gold King Mine Entrance after blow out on August 5, 2015. Photo via EPA.

Poem: “Silos are for storing grain in” — Greg Hobbs

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Silos are for storing grain in

Empty waits the harvest
feed trains chuggin’ up

Load ‘em up! Load ‘em up!

Load ‘em up Sally!
Load ‘em up Billy!

Winter’s comin’ in
winter’s comin’ in
trains are chuggin’ up

Chicago, South Bend, Philly!

Set them tables up
gather in your kin
set them tables up

Silos are for storing grain
stirrin’ ladles in
stirrin’ ladles in

Light them candles up
light them candles up

Chicago, South Bend, Philly
load ‘em up Sally
load ‘em up Billy!

Silos never filled
silos never emptied

Can never feed the people
can never feed the people.

Greg Hobbs 4/14/2018

@USDA: Perdue Commits to One Federal Decision Framework for Environmental Reviews and Permits for Infrastructure Projects

Here’s the release from the USDA:

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with other Trump Administration cabinet secretaries and leaders of federal agencies, committing to following the President’s One Federal Decision framework for processing environmental reviews and permits for major infrastructure projects. Under the direction of President Donald J. Trump, One Federal Decision will drive infrastructure projects to meet environmental standards, but complete the review and permitting process in a reasonable amount of time.

“This MOU will eliminate the potential for conflicting decisions, so that project sponsors don’t get one answer from agency and another answer from another agency. In agriculture, we’ve gotten some of those mixed signals before, and they’re very frustrating,” Secretary Perdue said. “President Trump is making good on his promise to free our economy from needless regulations and bureaucratic delays, and One Federal Decision is another example.”

Many of the major projects the U.S. Department of Agriculture is involved in can be very complex and require input and decisions from many other federal agencies. Projects like the Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Pipelines, which require extensive research and inter-agency coordination, are challenging under the old system. Those challenges force agencies to wait extended periods for multiple redundant reviews before making decisions which, in some cases, are unrelated to the information being gathered, causing costly project delays, confusion about who is responsible for making decisions, and conflicting outcomes from multiple agency decisions.

President Trump established the policy of One Federal Decision for the federal government’s processing of environmental reviews and permits for major infrastructure projects in Executive Order 13807. Under One Federal Decision, Executive Order 13807 requires that each major infrastructure project have a lead federal agency that is responsible for navigating the project through the process, all Federal agencies to sign one “Record of Decision” (for purposes of complying with the National Environmental Policy Act), and relevant Federal agencies to issue the necessary permits for the project within 90 days of the signing of the Record of Decision. Executive Order 13807 established a 2-year goal for the completion of the environmental review and permitting processes for the signature of the Record of Decision and issuance of the necessary permits.

In signing the MOU, Perdue joined Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Dr. Ben Carson, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of the Army Mark Esper. Additional signatories to the MOU including the Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Chairman of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the Acting Executive Director of the Federal Permitting Improvement Steering Council. These officials signed the MOU pursuant to a joint memorandum issued by Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Mary Neumayr, the Acting Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality.

Under the MOU, the agencies commit to working together to make the necessary environmental and permitting decisions for major infrastructure projects with a goal to complete the entire process within 2 years. In general, the MOU commits agencies to processing their reviews in accordance with the following 4 principles:

Establish a Lead Federal Agency for the Complete Process. Under the current process, project sponsors are responsible for navigating the decision-making processes of multiple Federal agencies. Under the MOU, Federal agencies agree to establish one Lead Federal Agency that will navigate the Federal environmental review and permitting process.

Commitment to Meeting the Lead Federal Agency’s Permitting Timetable. Under the current process, agencies are not generally required to follow a comprehensive permitting timetable. Under the MOU, Federal agencies agree to follow the permitting timetables established by the Lead Federal Agency with the goal of completing the process to 2 years.

Commitment to Conduct the Necessary Review Processes Concurrently. Under the current process, agencies may conduct their own environmental review and permitting processes sequentially resulting in unnecessary delay, redundant analysis, and revisiting of decisions. Under the MOU, Federal agencies agree to conducting their processes at the same time and relying on the analysis prepared by the Lead Federal Agency to the maximum extent possible.

Automatic Elevation of Interagency Disputes. Under the current process, interagency disputes sometimes linger for years in agency field offices before being elevated and resolved. Under the MOU, Federal agencies agree that interagency disputes will be automatically elevated and expeditiously resolved.

Poem: Taos Bound — Greg Hobbs

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Taos Bound

Through the Sangre de Cristo
on the verge of the equinox
crossing over

into the valley of the Rio Grande,
the seasons of the earth
tip back and forth

into the tilling.

“The snow had stopped, the gauzy clouds that had ribbed the arch of heaven were now all sunk into one soft white fog over the Sangre de Cristo mountains.”

— Willa Cather

Greg and Bobbie Hobbs 3/17-19/2018

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.

A setback for dark sky in Colorado’s Wet Mountain Valley — The Mountain Town News

Photos by Allen Tian, The Colorado Independent, and courtesy of Dark Skies Inc of the Wet Mountain Valley.

From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

Dark week for star-gazers as Colorado county rejects limits on lights

Dark sky proponents in Colorado’s Custer County had hoped to become the first international dark-sky reserve in North America certified by the International Dark-Sky Association.

They were buoyed in their effort by the great success of dark-sky designations for Westcliffe and Silver Cliff, the two adjoining towns in the Wet Mountain Valley.

It didn’t happen, though. Idaho earned that distinction late last year for a broad swath of the state that includes the headwaters of the Salmon River as well as the land around Ketchum and Sun Valley.

But even being No. 2 may now be out of the question. Last week the local planning commission rejected a resolution to change the definition of light pollution.

Partly at issue has been the intensity of new energy efficient LED lights. With less energy, they produce more light, and more disruptive white light. Dark sky proponents in Custer County wanted to throttle down the color temperature to 3,000 Kelvin, a warmer and less intense light. A regular incandescent or Halogen light has a “color” of about 2,700 Kelvin. More industrial settings, such as the lights you often see on the sides of warehouses, use 5,000 Kelvin lights or even stronger.

John Barentine, director of conservation for the International Dark-Sky Association, says removing all reference to light pollution in the county ordinances, as county commissioners want, “would be a significant step backward.”

Barentine tells Mountain Town News that he’s dubious the Wet Mountain Valley will achieve designation as a dark-sky preserve. “It would be a very uphill effort, if not outright impossible,” he said by e-mail.

For Idaho to achieve the designation, it took amended regulations in three counties as well as towns.

The Wet Mountain Tribune reported a packed courtroom for the meeting. In persuading the planning commissioners, opponents warned of government over-reach. “We don’t need the strong arm of government,” said one individual, who instead advocated voluntary compliance. Opponents of the limitations on light-pollution also fretted about fines imposed and possible jail time meted out to offenders.

Jim Bradburn, president of the Dark Skies, Inc. of the Wet Mountain Valley, said he and other proponents will continue to make their case. The valley’s ranchers opposed the proposed restriction on high-intensity lights. He says that as American’s shift their diets away from beef, the valley will need economic development strategies. The dark sky is an asset that can be used to draw overnight visitors from Denver, three hours away, and from Colorado Springs, about 90 miles away.

“They all love dark skies, but when you ask them how are they going to preserve it, nobody seems to have an answer,” says Bradburn of the rural property owners. “The voluntary thing is great, but we have been doing voluntary now for 10 years, and the lights keep showing up. … It’s not working,” he tells Mountain Town News.

Located along the Sangre de Cristo Range in south-central Colorado, Custer County has often had fractious political fights. In November, two of the three county commissioners were recalled.