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Utah Oil Slick: funding polluters instead of Rural Communities

By Deeda Seed and Adair Kovac - Center for Biological Diversity, et. al., August 2021

Every year Utah receives tens of millions of dollars in federal lease revenues and royalties from oil, gas and mineral extraction as a way to help mitigate the impacts of drilling and mining. Even before scientists linked fossil fuels to the climate crisis, Congress intended this money to be used to help rural communities experiencing rapid growth and infrastructure challenges. The influx of new workers and increased drilling and mining take a toll on communities.

This report from the Utah Clean Infrastructure Coalition shows that, since 2009, the little-known board charged with distributing this public money has funneled more than $109 million to projects that promote or expand fossil fuel extraction in violation of the federal Mineral Leasing Act. That includes more than $2.2 million approved after a state audit found the board was using the public funds improperly.

We examined dozens of public records — including the 2020 audit of the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board by the Utah Legislative Auditor General, meeting minutes, audio tapes and project documents — and found that:

  • Since 2009 the Permanent Community Impact Fund Board, or CIB, has issued $109 million in grants and low- or no-interest loans — all of it public money — to finance road construction, engineering studies, attorney fees and other costs to enable fossil fuel development on public and private land. Beneficiaries include well-connected private firms trying to get approval for the proposed $1.5 billion Uinta Basin Railway.
  • Over the past two years small towns, cities and special improvement districts in two counties have identified more than $60 million for community improvement projects that have not yet been funded. Unfunded projects include water and sewer services, recreation centers, road improvements and public safety equipment. Over this same period, the CIB gave more than $48 million in grants to fossil-fuel related projects.
  • The Utah Legislature failed to oversee the board’s activities. Even worse, in 2021 it changed state law to allow mineral lease revenues and royalties to finance fossil-fuel infrastructure projects, which is illegal under federal law. The new law followed the 2020 state audit criticizing the board’s spending and haphazard decision-making.
  • County governments and local agencies continue to seek public funding for projects that facilitate fossil fuel extraction and enrich private corporations over community needs. Since the audit, Uintah County commissioners approved seeking $39 million in public funds to help a private, Ogden-based oil company build a 640-acre oil refinery in eastern Utah.3 The proposed $1.4 billion Uintah Advantage refinery would have the capacity to refine 40,000 barrels of oil a day, and it may also include a rail yard for the proposed Uinta Basin Railway.

The CIB must stop funding fossil fuel development projects. The Utah Legislature should oversee the board’s grant and loan-making process to ensure it complies with the Mineral Leasing Act, which requires these public funds be used to mitigate harm inflicted on communities by oil, gas and mineral extraction and forbids using the money for economic development. Rural communities should call on legislators to ensure that infrastructure needs are met and public money is spent properly.

As Utah and the western United States experience the devastating consequences of climate change in the form of intense heat, drought and wildfires, it is even more critical that the CIB stop siphoning public funds away from much-needed community projects to finance dangerous fossil fuel extraction that worsens the climate crisis.

Read the text (PDF).

Clock ticking on benefits deadline for uranium workers

By Kathy Helms - Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment, July 10, 2021

CHURCHROCK – Larry King, president of Churchrock Chapter and a former uranium worker, doesn’t stand a snowball’s chance in the melting Arctic of receiving federal benefits afforded sick Navajos who worked in the uranium industry before 1971. King isn’t the only one.

Linda Evers of Milan, co-founder of the Post-’71 Uranium Workers Committee, and the group’s members also can forget about help with their medical bills unless Congress changes qualifications for the 1990 program.

This weekend, the first day dawned in the countdown to July 10, 2022, when, according to statute, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act Trust Fund “terminates,” along with the authority of the U.S. Attorney General to administer the law, according to the Department of Justice.

When the sun sets on this program, former uranium workers and downwinders will be unable to apply for benefits.

The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act, “RECA,” provides compassionate payments to workers for certain cancers and diseases resulting from exposure to radiation during the build-up to the Cold War. It also compensates individuals who became ill following exposure to radioactive fallout from nuclear testing in Nevada.

As the US Pursues Clean Energy and the Climate Goals of the Paris Agreement, Communities Dependent on the Fossil Fuel Economy Look for a Just Transition

By Judy Fahys - Inside Climate News, June 28, 2021

Perhaps the proudest achievement of Michael Kourianos’ first term as mayor of Price, Utah was helping to make the local university hub the state’s first to run entirely on clean energy. It’s a curious position for the son, brother and grandchild of coal miners who’s worked in local coal-fired power plants for 42 years.

Kourianos sees big changes on the horizon brought by shifts in world energy markets and customer demands, as well as in politics. The mines and plants that powered a bustling economy here in Carbon County and neighboring Emery County for generations are gone or winding down, and Kourianos is hoping to win reelection so he can keep stoking the entrepreneurial energy and partnerships that are moving his community forward.

“That freight train is coming at us,” he said. “You look at all the other communities that were around during the early times of coal, they’re not around.

“That’s my fear,” he said. “That’s my driving force.”

New research from Resources for the Future points out that hundreds of areas like central Utah are facing painful hardships because of the clean-energy transformation that will be necessary if the United States hopes to reach the Paris agreement’s goals to slow climate change. Lost jobs and wages, a shrinking population and an erosion of the tax base that supports roads, schools and community services—they’re all costs of the economic shift that will be paid by those whose hard work fueled American prosperity for so long. 

“If we can address those challenges by helping communities diversify, helping people find new economic growth drivers and new economic opportunities, that might lessen some of the opposition to moving forward with the ambitious climate policy that we need,” said the report’s author, Daniel Raimi, who is also a lecturer at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan.

Meeting the Paris agreement’s target of keeping global temperature rise “well below 2 degrees C” by the end of the century means Americans must burn 90 percent less coal over the next two decades and half as much oil and natural gas, Raimi said.

And less fossil fuel use will also affect employment, public finances and economic development region-by-region, according to Raimi. In 50 of the nation’s 3,006 counties, 25 percent or more of all wages are tied to fossil fuel energy, he notes. In 16 counties, 25 percent or more of their total jobs are related to fossil energy.

The plan to turn coal country into a rare earth powerhouse

By Maddie Stone - Grist, May 26, 2021

At an abandoned coal mine just outside the city of Gillette, Wyoming, construction crews are getting ready to break ground on a 10,000-square-foot building that will house state-of-the-art laboratories and manufacturing plants. Among the projects at the facility, known as the Wyoming Innovation Center, will be a pilot plant that aims to takes coal ash — the sooty, toxic waste left behind after coal is burned for energy — and use it to extract rare earths, elements that play an essential role in everything from cell phones and LED screens to wind turbines and electric cars. 

The pilot plant in Wyoming is a critical pillar of an emerging effort led by the Department of Energy, or DOE, to convert the toxic legacy of coal mining in the United States into something of value. Similar pilot plants and research projects are also underway in states including West Virginia, North Dakota, Utah, and Kentucky. If these projects are successful, the Biden administration hopes that places like Gillette will go from being the powerhouses of the fossil fuel era to the foundation of a new domestic supply chain that will build tomorrow’s energy systems.

In an April report on revitalizing fossil fuel communities, administration officials wrote that coal country is “well-positioned” to become a leader in harvesting critical materials from the waste left behind by coal mining and coal power generation. Several days later, the DOE awarded a total of $19 million to 13 different research groups that plan to assess exactly how much rare earth material is contained in coal and coal waste, as well as explore ways to extract it. 

“We have these resources that are otherwise a problem,” said Sarma Pisupati, the director of the Center for Critical Minerals at Penn State University and one of the grant recipients. “We can use those resources to extract valuable minerals for our independence.”

Those minerals would come at a critical moment. The rare earth elements neodymium and dysprosium, in particular, are essential to the powerful magnets used in offshore wind turbines and electric vehicle motors. A recent report by the International Energy Agency projected that by 2040, the clean energy sector’s demand for these minerals could be three to seven times greater than it is today. 

Extraction, Extremism, Insurrection: Impacts on Government Employees

The justice and equity implications of the clean energy transition

By Sanya Carley and David Konisky - Nature Energy, August 2020

The transition to lower-carbon sources of energy will inevitably produce and, in many cases, perpetuate pre-existing sets of winners and losers. The winners are those that will benefit from cleaner sources of energy, reduced emissions from the removal of fossil fuels, and the employment and innovation opportunities that accompany this transition. The losers are those that will bear the burdens, or lack access to the opportunities. Here we review the current state of understanding—based on a rapidly growing body of academic and policy literature—about the potential adverse consequences of the energy transition for specific communities and socio-economic groups on the frontlines of the transition. We review evidence about just transition policies and programmes, primarily from cases in the Global North, and draw conclusions about what insights are still needed to understand the justice and equity dimensions of the transition, and to ensure that no one is left behind.

Read the text (PDF).

Wilderness Society's 'Grand Compromise' is a fossil-fuelled sell out

By Alexander Reid Ross - The Ecologist, April 7, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

The Wilderness Society is celebrating with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance over striking a deal with the conservative elements in the state.

Trading away half a million acres of land to the energy industry for 1.5 million acres of wilderness seems good on paper, after all.

And after the Bundy Ranch fiasco in Nevada, rapprochement between the greens and the far right seems like exactly what the country needs. But not everybody is happy.

Local groups Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Peaceful Uprising are crying foul. "This is very much a sell out", organizer Raphael Cordry told me over the phone. "It's very disappointing.

"They're trading the lives of the people of Utah and their health and wellbeing for some wilderness area, and the area that they're trading is the place we've actually been protecting. They've been calling it a sacrifice zone, and we knew this, so it's not a surprise."

The Wilderness Society is shy about discussing the impacts of what the Wall Street Journal is calling 'the Grand Bargain'. To Wilderness Society spokesperson Paul Spitler, "It's pretty refreshing to see a new approach."

"We have seen for the past twenty years that the Bureau of Land Management and School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration have been strategically swapping parcels of land that was originally checker boarded, so they trade off and make that a contiguous stretch of land."

Going to Extremes: The Anti-Government Extremism Behind the Growing Movement to Seize America’s Public Lands

By staff - Center for Western Priorities, July 7, 2016

The 2016 armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon provided the American public with a ringside seat to a disturbing trend on U.S. public lands: extremist and militia groups using America’s national forests, parks, monuments, and wildlife refuges to advance their anti-government beliefs.

But these far right-wing organizations are not operating in a vacuum. To the contrary, the armed insurrection in Oregon and Nevada before—led by Ammon Bundy and the Bundy family—share the same foundations as land transfer schemes promoted by some elected leaders in states throughout the West. Both rely upon a philosophy based in vehement anti-government ideologies, both have connections to organizations that espouse armed resistance, both employ pseudo-legal theories to justify their actions, and both use scholarly support from conspiracy theorists and discredited academics.

Our nation’s parks and network of public lands are one of our finest democratic achievements. Americans see management of public lands as one of the things our government does best. But over the last four years, politicians and special interest groups in 11 Western states and in Congress have tried to seize many of these places and turn them over to state and private control.

The elected officials supporting state seizure of U.S. public lands couch their arguments carefully, but our research shows their close associations to extreme individuals, groups, and ideology characterized by antigovernment paranoia and a pseudo-legal approach to the Constitution.

Since the beginning of 2015, 54 land seizure bills have been introduced into Western states, including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. At least 22 state legislators with direct connections to anti-government ideologies or extremist groups were the primary sponsors on 29 of those bills.

Sitting at the hub of the movement and functioning as the bridge between extremism and the mainstream political debate are Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, Montana Sen. Jennifer Fielder, and their non-profit, the American Lands Council. A close analysis of Rep. Ivory and Sen. Fielder’s activities, and those of other active land seizure proponents at the state level, shows how these efforts are a functional part of an aggressive anti-government movement that will grow more potent if reasonable Americans don’t take action.

Read the report (PDF).

Breaking: Land Defenders Protest Mining Co. After River Poisoning

By Jesse Fruhwith - Peaceful Uprising, August 10, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

PR SPRINGS, UT –Several dozen climate justice land defenders will enforce a shut down at the US Oil Sands tar sands mine today in the Book Cliffs of Utah. The action comes just days after a century-old mine poured millions of gallons of toxic sludge into waterways that sustain 40 million Americans.

Calgary-based US Oil Sands is amidst an $80-million construction phase to assemble processing equipment, clear cut more land for more strip mine pits and ultimately to turn tar         sands rocks into liquid fuels. The company operates on land traditionally inhabited by Ute people and is now managed and leased to private corporations by the state of Utah.

The Animas River in nearby Colorado Wednesday was doused in toxic heavy metals from a long-abandoned gold mine–lead, arsenic and other poisons turned the river bright mustard yellow for several days. Many people risk drinking water contamination and water shortages. Thousands of mines across the region are in similarly dangerous condition.

Peaceful Uprising and other critics say tar sands and oil shale mining as well as oil and gas fracking open a new era of looming mining-related environmental disasters in the Upper Colorado River Basin.

“Thousands of mines like open wounds tell the story of a century of exploitation, destruction and violence–against the people of this land and the land and water themselves,” said Melanie Martin of Peaceful Uprising, on behalf of the crowd. “US Oil Sands continues that sick tradition by squandering precious water in a thirsty region and saddling future generations with a toxic legacy of climate catastrophe that there is no way to clean up.”

US EPA has attempted to intervene in construction of the tar sands mine in “Indian country,” but the company has stubbornly rebuffed the federal regulators. The state of Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining recently approved an expansion of the the US Oil Sands strip mine operation, but also demanded the company begin monitoring its toxic water emissions into the Colorado River watershed. That came after a University of Utah study found US Oil Sands mining plans are unsafe to the aquifers and water systems of the East Tavaputs Plateau.

The action comes on the heels of a week-long action training camp for about 80 people that the US Bureau of Land Management sought to stop.

People-enforced shut downs of operations have plagued the company for years and campaigners from Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Canyon Country Rising Tide, and others, vow some day to shut down the tar sands mine completely and forever.

Protester "Chipmunks" Halt Work at Tar Sands Mine; 5 Arrested

By Raphael Cordray - Utah Tar Sands Resistance, September 24, 2014

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

PR SPRINGS, Utah--Protesters again stopped work at the construction site of the first tar sands mine in the US. Five people were later arrested and jailed but the campaign to stop the mine said the resistance will not relent until all tar sands plans are canceled.

By moving quickly through the site to obstruct numerous construction vehicles, just a handful of speedy protesters were able to shut down the enormous construction project on a sprawling 213 acres in Utah's Book Cliffs.

The action took place Sept. 23.

"Direct, physical intervention is necessary to halt the completion of this toxic project," said one protester. "If just five percent of those people at the People's Climate March in New York City came to Utah, we could shut down tar sands construction for good--and probably get away with it."

A playful video of the action released by Utah Tar Sands Resistance shows protesters donning chipmunk masks, running, dancing and posing for pictures among the many halted machines.Despite the humor, protesters say Utah tar sands development threatens the safety of drinking water for 40 million people and would cause irreparable damage to the land, including clear-cutting of old-growth juniper, fir and pine forest.

US Oil Sands began major construction of their strip mine in 2014 and hopes for commercial sales beginning sometime in 2015. Hundreds of people have participated in actions disrupting construction work this year, vowing to prevent functioning of the mine.

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