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Court upholds ban on uranium mining near Grand Canyon

Conservation groups hail partial victory; more legal arguments on tap

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Th North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy National Park Service.

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A federal judge this week partly rebuffed the mining industry’s attempt to pursue speculative uranium claims in the Grand Canyon region, saying that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar acted within his authority when he ordered a temporary mining ban across more than 1 million acres.

The ban was adopted January 2012 to protect the Grand Canyon’s watersheds. The withdrawal prohibits new mining claims and development on old claims that lack “valid existing rights” to mine.

The National Mining Association, Nuclear Energy Institute, Northwest Mining Association and others last year filed four lawsuits challenging the withdrawal and the underlying federal authority to enact any withdrawals larger than 5,000 acres. The Havasupai tribe and conservation groups intervened to uphold both. Continue reading

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Conservation groups challenge latest BLM oil shale plan

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Conservation groups have challenged a new BLM plan for oil shale leasing.

Groups say feds ignored climate impacts in environmental studies for plan

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — Framed in the context of growing concern about global warming, the Center for Biological Diversity this week formally protested the latest scaled-back plan for oil shale and tar sands research and development in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The Grand Canyon Trust, Living Rivers and the Sierra Club also joined in the protest, claiming  the plan could unleash intensive greenhouse gas emissions, hasten the dry-up of the Colorado River, threaten wildlife and increase local and regional air pollution.

The protest is part of the formal BLM review and approval process, similar to an appeal of a U.S. Forest Service decision. The conservation groups claim that the BLM violated numerous provisions of various federal environmental laws and planning rules.

The BLM plan released last month calls for careful leasing of about 806,000 acres of public land where energy companies can try to solve the puzzle of in-situ development of oil shale. The 2012 plan resulted from the settlement of a 2009 lawsuit that challenged a previous version approved under the Bush administration that was criticized by conservation groups as a give-away to the energy industry.

Some advocates of careful oil shale research say the 2012 plan cut too much land, making it more difficult for energy companies to pursue oil shale development.

“Putting restrictions on the land doesn’t make a lot of sense to me … it would be better to let the companies decided what the best place is to operate,” said Colorado School of Mines professor Jeremy Boak, who specializes in oil shale research. “The restrictions seem extreme. Ninety percent of the land that has oil shale was taken out of play,” he said. 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

Environment: Last stand for the Florida panther?

An endangered Florida panther. PHOTO BY RODNEY CAMMAUF, COURTESY THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE.

With only about 100 panthers remaining in the wild, conservation groups push for critical habitat designation in court after 23 panthers were killed in 2010

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — Florida panthers are close to making their last stand in the swampy grasslands and forests of the Everglades. At least 23 panthers were killed last year and 11 have died in 2011. With only about 100 of the cats remaining in the wild, their survival may depend on the designation of critical habitat, a step the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has this refused to take. Read further information on Florida Panther mortality rates

But that may change. A coalition of environmental groups has filed an appeal in federal court, seeking to force the agency to protect what is left of the panthers rapidly dwindling habitat in the midst of sprawling development in South Florida. The animals only remain in about 5 percent of their historic range.

“We have a very limited population due to inbreeding depression,” said Michael Robinson, a conservation advocate with the Center of Biological Diversity. Robinson said the population was boosted by a temporary introduction of nine West Texas pumas that were subsequently removed from Florida after they reproduced. Continue reading

ORV plan for Florida’s Big Cypress reserve triggers lawsuit

An alligator rests in the swamps of Big Cypress. PHOTO COURTESY USGS.

Conservation groups claim new trails threaten endangered species like the Florida panther and indigo snake

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — Colorado is not the only place seeing conflicts between conservation and motorized recreation. In Florida, a coalition of environmental groups says it will challenge a federal plan to open up additional off-road vehicles trails in 146,000 acres of land added to  Big Cypress National Reserve in 1988.

Big Cypress has been operated as a multi-use area by by the National Park Service, providing access for ORV use and hunting. Click here to learn more about the Addition Lands.

But conservation groups say motorized use has resulted in severe damage to the area’s natural resources. In the lawsuit, the groups claim the federal government is not living up to its obligations to protect endangered species like the Florida panther and red-cockaded woodpecker, and threatened species, such as the Eastern indigo snake, which inhabit the area slated to be carved with ORV trails. Continue reading

Summit residents lobby for Arctic preservation

Arctic Sun. By Cassidy Brush

Congress is considering a wilderness bill for the 1.5 million acre coastal plain in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Last week, two Summit County residents and Sierra Club members traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with lawmakers about the wilderness bill. They described the trip in their own words for Summit Voice.

SUMMIT COUNTY — The 19-million Arctic National Wildlife Refuge may be tucked away in a remote corner of Alaska, but it’s close to the heart for millions of Americans who cherish wilderness and find inspiration in knowing it exists — even if they never visit it.

And it’s even more important for the indigenous Gwich’in and Inupiaq people of the region. The Gwich’in are believed to have lived in the area and subsisted from the Porcupine caribou herd for 20,000 years, long before political maps divided Alaska and Canada.

The Inupiaq people, or “real people” of Alaska’s Arctic coasts, rely on subsistence hunting of moose, caribou, whales, walrus, seals, and ducks, as well as salmon and berries, for their food. Their traditional whaling practice dates back thousands of years and forms the center of their diet and culture.

For decades, a political and social battle has been raging over the area, specifically over oil extraction in a 1.5 million acre piece of the refuge deemed critical for the caribou herd. Wildlife biologists studying the area have documented that existing activities already have disturbed the migration patterns and habits of the caribou herds. additional impacts could radically disrupt the indigenous way of life.

Read more after the break … Continue reading

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