Utah’s coal ash legacy

Coal ash is the nation’s largest waste stream of hazardous substances, totaling 121 million tons last year, most of it generated an electrical generating power stations. Although ash, laded with toxic heavy metals, poses a threat to the environment, this wast is not well regulated and exempt from many rules that apply to most dangerous waste.

Ash long stored near Utah power plants is contaminating nearby water resources, environmental groups allege. According to a letter HEAL Utah sent to PacifiCorp, Utah’s largest utility, its Huntington Power Plant is illegally impounding water that flows from two canyons and picks up dangerous pollutants found in coal ash and other combustion residues.Huntington


Photo by Brian Maffly.
PacifiCorp’s Huntingon Power Plant in central Utah landfills millions of tons of coal ash on site. Runoff from these landfills is used to irrigate the “research” fields pictured here on the banks of Huntington Creek, according to report by HEAL Utah.

“They botched the disposal operation from the start. They throw the waste into unlined landfills that have leaked all over the place,” says attorney Richard Webster of the nonprofit law firm Public Justice. “They have a number of [state] permits in place that should have addressed this issue. Instead of enforcing these conditions, the state allowed them to move the contamination around.”

The utility contends the HEAL allegations are the based on incorrect assumptions.

Brian Maffly reports in the Salt Lake Tribune


Saving Monroe Mountain’s aspen

For one of Utah’s largest aspen communities to rebound and thrive, the U.S. Forest Service says, parts of Monroe Mountain must burn.

Forest Service officials hope to restore aspen in this 175,000-acre patch of Fishlake National Forest through prescribed burning, logging conifers and improved management of the livestock and big game that eat aspen shoots before they can become trees. Flames could be the cheapest and most effective means for clearing out fir-choked stands and triggering the rebirth of aspen, according to Richfield District Ranger Jason Kling.

His plan was finalized Monday after years of analysis and collaborative planning. But it’s not sitting well with ranchers who fear it could lead to grazing restrictions, and some environmentalists, who say it promotes logging on thousands of roadless acres, including areas proposed for protection as wilderness.


DSC_0250Photo by Brian Maffly

Still, the Monroe Mountain Aspen Ecosystems Restoration Project has broad support from state and federal agencies, surrounding municipalities and some conservation groups. Officials hope the 10-year program will reverse aspen forests’ decline without displacing livestock or the elk and mule deer herds that are prized by sportsmen.

Aspen forests are among the West’s signature ecosystems, yet they have been in steep decline thanks to decades of fire suppression and browsing by hungry hooved munchers, both wild and domestic, and more recently from drought and climate change. –Brian Maffly, Salt Lake Tribune

Will gelding help BLM’s wild horse woes?

Federal land managers, struggling to keep wild horse populations in check on Western rangelands, hope contraception will serve as an alternative to the costly and ultimately ineffective practice of warehousing horses for life on private pastures.


Horse advocates generally support fertility control, but they say a new research proposal targeting a Utah herd for castration goes too far.

The Bureau of Land Management wants to explore what happens when most of a herd’s adult males are gelded and is now reviewing a proposed five-year study that would be conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and Colorado State University. Researchers would neuter wild stallions in the Conger Herd Management Area 70 miles west of Delta.

Critics say returning neutered males to the range is inhumane and a violation of federal law protecting free-roaming wild horses; a castrated horse no longer behaves like a wild horse and could get sick and lazy, or even die from the procedure. Nor will this research generate useful findings, according to Deniz Bolbol of the American Wild Horse Preservation Campaign.

–Brian Maffly

Utah’s first ‘utility-scale’ solar

Utah’s first large utility-scale solar has gone on-line on private land west of Parowan. The 80-megawatt Utah Red Hills Renewable Park, part of a solar-energy construction boom expected to increase the state’s generating capacity by 915 megawatts.Red Hills

Photo by Brian Maffly

The Norwegian firm Scatec Solar built and operates the project’s 340,700 photovoltaic panels on 632 private acres. The $188 million project is capable of generating 210 million kilowatt hours a year, enough to power 18,500 homes, but it will soon be eclipsed by larger solar farms slated for Utah’s sunbathed southwest corner.

Under a 20-year agreement, Rocky Mountain Power will purchase this power. Utah’s largest utility will also purchase power from about 20 other projects under development in Iron, Beaver and Millard counties.

Brian Maffly reports in The Salt Lake Tribune.

Los lobos in Utah? No way, Jose, states say.

Four Western states are attacking the credibility of key scientists helping the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s revise a long out-dated recovery plan for seriously imperiled Mexican gray wolf.

Mexican-Wolf-AGFDUtah Wildlife Board Chairman John Bair says that no evidence will ever convince him that Mexican wolves should be allowed in Utah, even though top wolf biologists believe the Canis lupus subspecies can’t be saved unless its recovery zone extend north of Interstate 40.

“People want to use the wolf as the silver bullet to kill the culture of the West,” Bair, a gifted auctioneer and self-proclaimed “Mormon redneck,” told the board Wednesday. “There is no need to have them here other than those political reasons.”

Utah might be harbor unoccupied wolf habitat, rich with prey animals, but the states claim 90 percent of the the Mexican wolf’s historic range is in Mexico. Officials here say the FWS’s science panel is driven by personal agendas to expand the scope of Mexican wolf recovery.

Critics say the state is driving its own agenda that puts politics and emotion above science and the law, Brian Maffly reports in the Salt Lake Tribune.