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Water: BLM OKs massive Nevada pipeline project

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The BLM has approved a right-of-way for a 250-mile water pipeline in Nevada.

Conservation groups prepare for court battle

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Conservation advocates say they will challenge the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of a 250-mile pipeline project designed to drain central Nevada aquifers and deliver water to Las Vegas.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority’s groundwater development project would siphon more than 27.4 billion gallons of groundwater per year from at least four valleys in central Nevada. According to environmental groups, the project would imperil dozens of species dependent on precious surface and groundwater in the driest state in the U.S.

“The federal government’s own scientists are confirming this Las Vegas water project would be an epic environmental disaster,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based ecologist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “It’s really no exaggeration to say that the natural, cultural and social heritage of central Nevada is at grave risk from this project.” Continue reading

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Colorado conservation groups urge feds to continue with careful review of massive new Colorado River diversions

A Colorado River headwaters stream just below the Denver Water diversion point.

Letter to Corps of Engineers and EPA calls for careful scrutiny

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado water and environmental advocates say they’re concerned that fast-tracking the federal environmental review for the Moffat Collection System Expansion Project could lead the responsible agencies to leave out important information and not fully address the impacts of new water diversions from the Colorado River.

“We’re worried that that we’re going to hit fast forward and miss some things,” said Becky Long, water caucus coordinator with the Colorado Environmental Coalition, explaining why several groups recently wrote a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA, reiterating their concerns about water temperatures and sediment loading in the Colorado River and its tributaries.

The fast-tracking was requested by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper back in June. In a June 5 letter to President Barack Obama, Hickenlooper touted a far-reaching water agreement as “removing” West Slope opposition to the Moffat project, and urged the Corps to release a final Environmental Impact Statement by the end of 2012, followed by a formal decision in early 2013. Continue reading

Plans to increase gas exports brings new fracking worries

A fracking pump.

Lawmakers urge caution and studies before approving massive exports of liquid natural gas

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — As the energy industry looks to boost sagging natural gas prices by exporting the resource overseas, a group of lawmakers, including Rep. Jared Polis, is asking the U.S. Department of Energy to take a close look at the potential impacts of those export plans.

In a letter to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Polis and Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) said they are concerned that increasing exports would lead to more  hydraulic fracturing, threatening public health and impacting jobs. Continue reading

Colorado: BLM plans new air quality studies for drilling

Lawsuit over environmental studies and permitting continues

A spiderweb of drill pads lace the countryside around the Roan Plateau. PHOTO COURTESY SKYTRUTH.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The BLM  said this week that it’s moving for a voluntary remand of  three oil and gas drilling projects in Garfield County in order to study potential air pollution impacts.

According to a press release from Earthjustice, the BLM says it will not approve additional drilling permits implementing the projects until it completes its additional analysis, but environmental groups claim the agency has been using invalid studies to permit new wells on a regular basis.

According to Earthjustice, the BLM permitting has been a sort of regulatory shell game, with the agency using a study that doesn’t cover all of the geographic area for which it’s issuing permits. The voluntary remand covers the authorization nearly 400 oil and gas wells.

The permitting has been  challenged in federal court by conservation groups represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice. The groups — Wilderness Workshop, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, and the Sierra Club — allege that the BLM violated federal environmental laws by approving oil and gas projects without conducting any environmental analysis of the air pollution they would cause.

Earthjustice attorney Alison Flint said the BLM’s decision doesn’t address the much larger problem targeted by the legal challenge. The three projects represent only a few examples of a broader practice in which BLM has approved at least 33 drilling projects – involving thousands of wells –with no air pollution analysis. Continue reading

Summit County: Forest Service doing sound tests for proposed motorized recreation trail on Tenderfoot Mountain

Agency says draft environmental study almost finished; plan sets up showdown between federal and state jurisdictions

A Forest Service scoping map for a proposed motorized trail system on Tenderfoot Mountain.

Motorized recreation on Tenderfoot Mountain, Summit County, Colorado.

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Despite significant concerns and opposition from local neighborhoods, the U.S. Forest Service continues to push ahead with plans for a 30-mile motorized trail system on Tenderfoot Mountain.

According to the agency, the draft environmental study for the trail project is almost complete and scheduled to be released in the coming months.

As one of the final steps, the Forest Service is doing a sound test on June 21 to try and assess noise impacts to areas closest to the proposed motorcycle track, including the Tenderfoot Addition to Dillon, Corinthian Hills, Summerwood, Summit Cove, Tennis Townhomes, Saints Johns Condominiums, and The Enclave. The test will be done between 5 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.

An initial sound test conducted June 1o involved four motorcycles being ridden on trails closest to those neighborhoods. According to the Forest Service, a sound technician used a decibel meter to measure the sound — without success, primarily due to the background noise from traffic on Highway 6. Continue reading

Forest Service to cut reviews on restoration projects

Road restoration projects could be approved under a streamlined review process.

Obliteration of old roads, dam removals would be OK’d under categorical exclusions

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — The U.S. Forest Service wants to speed restoration of national forest lands by streamlining the approval process for removing dams, and cleaning up debris and sediment and for reclaiming closed roads.

Under the proposal, now open for public comments, projects in those categories could be approved under a categorical exclusion, a type of review that isn’t nearly as extensive as an Environmental Assessment or Environmental Impact Statement — all outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act.

The White House Council on Environmental Quality recently issued guidance for the use of categorical exclusions. The CEQ concluded:

“Categorical exclusions have become the most frequently employed method of complying with NEPA. The extensive and expanding use of categorical exclusions underscores the need for clarifying guidance. Categorical exclusions are appropriate in many circumstances but should not be relied on if they thwart the purposes of NEPA, compromising the quality and transparency of agency decisionmaking or the opportunity for meaningful public participation. The guidance is designed to ensure that agencies appropriately and transparently establish and use categorical exclusions.”

Under the Obama administration, Forest Chief Chief Tom Tidwell has made restoration a big priority. The agency says the proposed rule change will enable more efficient implementation of projects to improve water flow and restore land and habitat. Continue reading

Judge halts lodgepole thinning in Idaho lynx habitat

Canada lynx. PHOTO COURTESY USFWS.

Court rules that the Forest Service violated federal environmental laws by changing maps and approving logging

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Lynx in the northern Rockies got a boost from a federal court this week, as U.S. District Court Candy Dale halted a large lodgepole pine thinning project in the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, on the western border of Yellowstone National Park.

Judge Dale ruled that the Forest Service violated federal environmental laws by changing forest maps without adequate environmental reviews. The agency will have to go back to the drawing board and do more studies to disclose how the thinning will affect endangered lynx. Continue reading

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