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Utah Lawmakers Scheme to Fund California Coal Terminal

By Center for Biological Diversity

SALT LAKE CITY­— Republican lawmakers in Utah are attempting an eleventh-hour maneuver that would use $53 million in state sales tax money to pay for a California coal-export terminal.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams (R-Layton) has proposed using $53 million in sales-tax revenue targeted for highway improvements to fund a proposed coal terminal in Oakland. The scheme would ship millions of tons of coal from four Utah counties to be burned abroad, further deepening the climate crisis. Under legislative rules, Wednesday is the last day bills can be taken up in committee to be considered this session, which has eight scheduled days remaining.

The redevelopment of the waterfront in Oakland, California, is generating new controversy over a proposed coal export terminal. Image: "Port of Oakland 'Round Sunset" by Russel Mondy/CC BY-NC 2.0

The redevelopment of the waterfront in Oakland, California, is generating new controversy over a proposed coal export terminal. Image: “Port of Oakland ‘Round Sunset” by Russel Mondy/CC BY-NC 2.0

“This is clearly a cynical maneuver to sneak legislation into the waning days of the session,” said Wendy Park of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It makes no sense to use highway-improvement money from Utah to build a coal terminal in California. On top of that, Utah would be doubling down on coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet and one of the primary reasons our climate’s in serious trouble.”

“With China’s coal consumption falling, and coal exports down more than 20%, this bill is a risky bet,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney at Earthjustice.  “Apparently, one of the few places it’s legal to gamble in Utah is at the state legislature, where it’s OK to raid taxpayers’ wallets to wager on an industry in historic decline.”

Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund, designed to offset the effects of mining on rural communities, last year agreed to loan $53 million to four Utah coal-producing counties, which planned to invest the money in the coal terminal. The state agency asked state Attorney General Sean Reyes to review the deal’s legality. The results of the review have not been made public.

“The lack of transparency in the attorney general’s office on this review makes one wonder whether there is a legal reason that the Community Impact Board review has not been made available and could explain this last-minute attempt to shift the burden of this scheme to taxpayers,” Park said.

“It’s clear this bill is being pushed because there’s concern that the CIB loan is illegal,” said Zukoski. “The Attorney General should release his analysis now – before the bill is considered – so the public can know whether SB 246 is also vulnerable to challenge.”

In a letter to Reyes in November, environmental groups, including the Center, Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Grand Canyon Trust, argued that the $53 million loan violated federal and state laws.

The proposed coal terminal that is to be built on a former Army base in Oakland has been vigorously opposed by Mayor Libby Schaaf and many city officials, faith leaders, residents and environmental groups in the Bay Area who do not want to see trainloads of dusty coal pass through their neighborhoods. Several bills have been introduced in the California legislature to block funding for the $1.2 billion terminal project over concerns about effects of transporting coal locally and the burning of coal globally.

China announced last week that it is closing more than 1,000 coal mines due to a “price-sapping supply glut” and the government’s new determination to clean up dangerous air pollution across the country.

The Obama administration has also paused all new federal coal leasing until a comprehensive review of the federal coal-leasing program is completed. Some of the coal that would supply the Oakland terminal could come from the publicly owned coal from the Greens Hollow mine, but the president’s coal moratorium offers no guarantee that this coal will be mined, making the legislature’s gambit to bet state sales tax revenue on the coal-export terminal a very questionable move.

From DGR News: Judge throws out Quechan injunction against wind farm project threatening ancestral sites

 

Image by Pattern Energy, with inserts by Jim Pelley

By Ahni / Intercontinental Cry

A Federal judge has thrown out the Quechan Nation’s request for an injunction against the controversial Ocotillo Express Wind Project in western Imperial County, California.

The Quechan filed for the injunction on May 14, just three days after the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the U.S. Department of the Interior, gave “fast-track” approval for the project. The Quechan complaint stated that the Department of Interior, in approving the project, “violated… federal laws, regulations, and policies including the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA); National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA); National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA); Administrative Procedures Act (APA); and the CDCA [The California Desert Conservation Area] Plan.”

The complaint went on to explain that the massive 10,150-acre project area contains 287 archaeological sites including geoglyphs, petroglyphs, sleeping circles and other sites of spiritual significance; thousands of artifacts, and at least 12 burial (an exhaustive survey has not been carried out).

Construction of the 112-turbine project would utterly devastate these sites.

Furthermore, the project jeopardizes the delicate desert ecosystem which is “home to the Federally endangered Peninsular bighorn sheep and the flat-tailed horned lizard, a perennial candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act,” says Chris Clarke, Director of Desert Biodiversity. “The turbines on the site would stand 450 feet tall with blades more than 180 feet long. With blades of that length, if the turbines spin at a leisurely 10 rpm the speed of the blade tips will approach 140 miles per hour, a serious threat to the region’s migratory birds — including the protected golden eagle,” he continues.

A day after filing for an injunction, on May 15, Quechan Tribal Council President Kenny Escalanti issued this statement outside the offices of Pattern Energy, the company behind the project.

He also spoke at a press conference alongside environmentalists and area residents in which he calls on President Obama to meet with tribal leaders and halt the destruction of sacred sites.

Robert Scheid, Viejas Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, spoke at the same press conference, calling on people across America to seek a national moratorium on industrial-scale energy projects on public lands. “Viejas leaders have asked to meet with President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar”, reports East County Magazine “to share concerns over violations of laws that are supposed to protect tribal cultural resources; but have received no response”.

With the denial of the Quechan petition, Pattern Energy can now proceed with their construction plans without restraint. And they aren’t wasting any time. A new website documenting the daily destruction of the Ocotillo desert has just been launched: www.SaveOcotillo.picturepush.com.

If the construction is completed, the wind turbines will spin for no more than 30 years.

From Intercontinental Cry: http://intercontinentalcry.org/judge-denies-quechan-injunction-controversial-wind-project/