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Conservation groups seek federal probe of Virgin River reservoir proposal

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Critics claim depiction as an agriculture project is a subterfuge to secure federal subsidies.

(Courtesy photo by Natural Resources Conservation Service) This basin in Utah’s Long Valley near Orderville would be inundated by a proposed dam impounding the Virgin River’s water. The project is supposed to benefit alfalfa growers, but critics contend that is a subterfuge to win big federal subsidies and that its real aim is store water to feed growth in the St. George area.

A coalition of environmental groups is calling for an investigation into the proposed Cove Reservoir, alleging the southern Utah project’s environmental review brazenly mischaracterized the dam’s purpose to win federal subsidies intended to support rural communities and agriculture.
Designed to impound 6,000 acre-feet of water on the Virgin River’s East Fork, this reservoir proposed by the Kane County Water Conservancy District is supposed to irrigate nearly 5,000 acres of alfalfa far downstream in St. George. The group’s analysis of the lands to be irrigated, however, found most of this land is or will soon be blanketed in asphalt, subdivisions, churches and a school.
“The gamesmanship behind this use of taxpayer money is outrageous and merits a robust investigation as to the role Trump Administration staff and others inside Utah have played,” said Zachary Frankel, executive director of the Utah Rivers Council, one of seven groups demanding a probe. “It’s not OK to trick taxpayers into paying for things that government agencies have no intention of doing.”
Their letter, sent Tuesday to the U.S. Agriculture Department’s inspector general, asks the agency watchdog to determine whether Trump administration officials or the two Utah water districts behind the dam pressured the Natural Resources Conservation Service, or NRCS, to falsely portray the reservoir as an agricultural project as part of a scheme to improperly tap federal subsidies under the Watershed Protection and Flood Prevention Act. The NRCS is to cover 75% of the project’s $30 million costs.

Norm Evenstad, the NRCS’s Utah water resources coordinator, denied his agency rigged the draft environmental assessment it released in November, or was pressured to do so.

“It’s a project that could really bring some benefit to that part of the state and build some community resiliency out there for storage,” he said. The dam would be located west of Orderville just off the Virgin’s main stem and would be filled via an existing diversion structure and pipeline.

During the public comment period for the project, which closed Dec. 31, the agency was flooded with criticisms rebutting the claim that it would help agriculture. Even state officials saw holes in the conclusions that the Cove Reservoir would benefit endangered native fish species that inhabit the Virgin downstream.

NRCS and its contractor will weigh these comments and may incorporate the groups’ criticisms into the environmental assessment’s final draft and decision document, according to Evenstad.

“We’re working through all of those comments right now,” he said. “As a team, we’ll look at that and look at that verbiage and respond accordingly. We’re very early and we want to be factual with any response that we give.”

The project’s primary purpose is to support alfalfa growers by storing water during the spring for use in irrigation by late summer when river flows are low, according to the assessment. It identifies hydropower generation, water recreation and improved fish habitat as ancillary benefits.

Evenstad said the final draft will likely add fire protection as a benefit since the Cove Reservoir would create a reliable water source for fighting wildfires that are liable to ignite on nearby land in Kane, Garfield and Iron counties

But critics contend the assessment fails to mention how the water would most likely be used and who would really benefit by its diversion. Frankel and his allies argue the real beneficiaries would be neither fish nor farmers, but rather the water rights holders who could convert the water, diverted at a huge cost to taxpayers, from agricultural to municipal uses and then sell their rights to St. George developers at a tidy profit.

“Federal officials must not be hoodwinked. This proposal pays homage to water waste and slaps taxpayers, the Virgin River, and the agricultural community in the face,” said Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network. “It’s flabbergasting that applicants will go to such extremes to get money when the easy and admirable solution of water conservation is readily available.”
At the heart of the groups’ allegation is a map of the project lands provided by the NRCS’ contractor Transcon Environmental. The footprint of land to be irrigated — an area called Washington Fields straddling St. George and Washington City — is far less than the 4,852 acres that the environmental review said would be irrigated.

“Our analysis indicates that more than half of this region has already been developed into new roads, subdivisions, churches, schools and strip malls,” the groups’ letter states. “We calculate that there are roughly 900 acres of open land remaining in this Washington County region, which at most represents just 18% of the agricultural acreage claim made in the [environmental assessment] for this area.”

The groups contend this apparent failure to accurately describe the lands to be watered “raises troubling questions” about the integrity of the proposal.

“Not only does this proposal violate a series of federal statutes, it robs precious funding from other worthy applications seeking to protect America’s agricultural heritage by draining funds from [Department of Agriculture] coffers,” their letter states.

Other groups asking for the investigation include Living Rivers, Center for Biological Diversity, Glen Canyon Institute, WildEarth Guardians and Save the Colorado.

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SLC mayor focuses on tech, environment, inequity, homelessness in ‘State of the City’ address

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SALT LAKE CITY — Mayor Erin Mendenhall in her second “State of the City” address Tuesday night looked back on the tumultuous year of 2020 laid out plans for 2021 in Salt Lake City — including some new technology initiatives and a few always difficult and often political issues such as the environment, inequality, police reform and homelessness.

WATCH: SLC mayor gives ‘State of the City’ address

She began with a moment of silence for those lost to COVID-19, of which there have now been 1,613 in the state of Utah. Salt Lake County accounts for 659 of those; the number of deaths in SLC itself was not available.

Tech
Mendenhall’s first announcement was introducing the city’s first “Innovation Department,” which she said will make the city’s government “more nimble, efficient and cohesive.” This will include implementing an integrated software system for internal government functions, as well as building “digital equity infrastructure” and policy throughout the city. The goal is to roll this department out by the end of February, Mendenhall said.

“Tech Lake City,” as she referred to it, will continue to both attract new companies to come to SLC as well as helping local entrepreneurs set up businesses. There will also be an effort to help youth looking to shape their career paths and help adults who are seeking a new professional direction.

Housing/development
Mendenhall also announced that the city will continue its rental assistance fund — for which she said they have already received $6 million for and they plan to continue pressing the federal government for such assistance to keep people in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

She introduced a “Renter’s Choice” ordinance that she’ll present to the City Council. It aims to lower the barrier that security deposits create for some renters. It will also improve the ability of residents from all income brackets to access housing.

She also committed to fighting gentrification in the city, as well as continuing to grow and improve parks and recreation, including bike lanes.

READ: SLC mayor releases city’s first progress report card

Environment/air quality
Mendenhall said she will work to change the way city employees commute and work as the 2020 shift to more people working from home resulted in a nearly 1-percent reduction in energy usage. She also applauded the city’s urban forestry team for planting 1,000 new trees last year — in addition to the usual 1,274 trees planted to replace dead or hazardous ones.

Mendenhall will propose an ordinance to the City Council to require all new city-funded buildings to be emission-free by 2023. She will also convene a “cross-departmental Sustainable Infrastructure Steering Committee” with the goal of “removing barriers to green infrastructure and capitalizing on new opportunities for sustainable progress.” She committed to backing the city’s redevelopment agency’s “sustainability loan interest rate reduction criteria,” which will incentivize environmentally sustainable development.

Economic inequality
Mendenhall said working to fix inequities — including racial, economic and geographical — has always been a priority, but the events of 2020 have heightened the urgency of these efforts.

“I will instruct the leadership of every City department to intentionally consider equity when writing their annual budgets. We’re going to put our money where our mouth is, and I challenge the City Council to do the same,” she said, adding that ensuring economic opportunity for all will be a major priority.

The city has launched a new apprenticeship program, Mendenhall said. She also committed to focusing on representation in government jobs and “equitable recruitment and hiring practices.”

Food insecurity is an area the mayor said she hopes to improve upon this year. Part of that will be the Resident Food Equity Advisors Project, which she said recruits SLC residents who have experienced “food hardship” to have a dialogue with program advisors about their interactions with the city’s food systems, which will then help create recommendations to improve assistance programs.

Criminal justice/racial inequality
Mendenhall said that after last summer’s protests for police reform and racial justice, the city has been “reviewing every aspect of the Salt Lake City Police Department’s policies, budget, and culture.” The Commission on Racial Equity in Policing has been instrumental in that effort, she said.

The mayor said she looks forward to working with the commission and with SLCPD Chief Mike Brown to “bring their recommendations to life” this year.

She added that these reform efforts do not contradict with the city’s dedication to combat rising crime rates.

“I will not let our work toward either be derailed by simplistic political rhetoric,” she said. “Every city’s fundamental job is to ensure that residents, businesses, and visitors are safe, and that those goals are not incompatible with our core values of equity and access to opportunity for every resident.”

Homelessness
An issue with no easy solution, Mendenhall finished her address by speaking on homelessness in Salt Lake City.

“Criminally citing every camper is no more the solution than allowing people to camp freely in neighborhood parks. We cannot force people into available beds in the homeless resource centers, any more than we can allow criminals to take cover in homeless encampments,” she said.

Mendenhall said that this year, the city will turn the “Community Commitment Program” outreach effort into a permanent, multi-agency approach. Since its inception in October, Mendenhall says the program has connected 40 people experiencing homelessness with housing and resources, and more than 120 given temporary shelter.

In addition to applauding the city’s recent and future efforts to help the unsheltered, she called out those who — in her view — aren’t doing enough to combat the “statewide humanitarian crisis” of homelessness.

“It is time for the state government to step up. It is time for other cities and towns in Utah to step up,” she said. “It is long-past time for our partners to come together and shift from short-term crisis management of space into planning for long-term, sustainable solutions for homelessness.”

Specifically, Mendenhall said the state needs to appoint a “homeless services officer” to work with cities throughout the state. She also said Utahns need better access to healthcare, mental health treatment and substance abuse services. She pointed out the need for more affordable housing in SLC “and beyond.” She suggested expanding the idea of what housing looks like — specifically citing “tiny home” communities that other cities have implemented in their homelessness prevention efforts.

She added that those in the city, the county, and nonprofits that are involved in these efforts care deeply about this issue.

“The assumption that we are indifferent — or worse, ill-intentioned — toward people who don’t have a home is the furthest thing from the truth,” she said. She did not specify any specific examples of this. However, the city and county have recently faced scrutiny for homeless camp “clean-ups,” which the administrations say is in the name of public health, but critics accuse them of being unnecessary, degrading and ill-timed when occurring in winter months.

“It’s easy to see an 8-second clip on Tik-Tok or a photo on Instagram and come to the worst possible conclusion,” Mendenhall said. “But assumption is corrosive, and oversimplifying the most complex issue in our city is not constructive.”

Mendenhall concluded by again reiterating what a tumultuous past year it has been and how she looks forward to the future.

“Until we can gather together again, please, take care of yourselves, your families and your neighbors. Stay healthy, stay safe, and know that Salt Lake City is hard at work, for you,” she said.



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NESHAP/Clean Air Act: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Proposes Refractory Products Manufacturing Residual Risk/Technology Review | Mitchell, Williams, Selig, Gates & Woodyard, P.L.L.C.

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The United States Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) issued a January 14th Federal Register Notice proposing a rule addressing Clean Air Act National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (“NESHAP”) for refractory products manufacturing. See 86 Fed. Reg. 3079.

The proposal constitutes the residual risk and technology review (“RTR”) for the Refractory Products Manufacturing NESHAP source category.

Section 112 of the Clean Air Act establishes a two-stage regulatory process to address emissions of hazardous air pollutants (“HAPs”) from stationary sources.

The first stage is required to identify categories of sources emitting one or more of the HAPs listed in Section 112(b) of the Clean Air Act. A technology-based NESHAP (i.e., a “MACT” standard) is then issued for those sources.

Within eight years of setting the MACT standard the second stage is required to be undertaken. Two different analyses must be conducted. They include:

  1. Technology Review
  2. Residual Risk Review

The technology review requires that EPA review the technology-based MACT standards and revise them as necessary (taking into account developments and practices, processes, and control technologies) but no less frequently than every eight years, pursuant to Section 112(d)(6) of the Clean Air Act.

As to the residual risk review, EPA is required to evaluate the risk to public health remaining after application of the technology-based standards and revise the standards, if necessary, to provide an ample margin of safety to protect public health or to prevent, taking into consideration costs, energy, safety, and other relevant factors, an adverse environmental effect.

EPA’s proposal determines that the Refractory Products Manufacturing category risks from related emissions of air toxics under the current standards are acceptable. Further, the agency finds that the standards provide an ample margin of safety to protect public health.

EPA is also proposing no revisions to the existing numerical emission limits. However, the agency is proposing new provisions for certain HAPs.

The proposal also would:

  • Amend provisions addressing emissions during periods of startup, shutdown, and malfunction
  • Address emissions during periods of scheduled maintenance
  • Amend provisions regarding electronic reporting of performance test results
  • Make clarifying and technical corrections

A copy of the Federal Register Notice can be downloaded here.

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Government to Impose ‘Green Tax’ on Old Vehicles that Pollute Environment | The Weather Channel – Articles from The Weather Channel

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File photo: smog envelops near Bhalsava landfill ring road in Delhi.

(Rajesh Mehta/TOI, BCCL/Delhi)

The Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways Nitin Gadkari on Monday said his department has approved a proposal to levy “Green Tax” on old vehicles that are polluting the environment. He said that the proposal will now go to the states for consultation before it is formally notified.

According to the proposal, transport vehicles older than eight years could be charged Green Tax at the time of renewal of fitness certificate, at the rate of 10 to 25 per cent of road tax, while personal vehicles will be charged Green Tax at the time of renewal of registration certification after 15 years.

The new proposal also said that public transport vehicles, such as city buses, will be charged less Green Tax. It further said that the vehicles being registered in highly-polluted cities will have to pay higher green tax (50 per cent of road tax) depending upon the fuel type (petrol or diesel) and the type of vehicle.

The proposal further said that vehicles such as strong hybrids, electric vehicles and alternate fuels such as CNG, ethanol, LPG etc and vehicles used in farming, such as tractor, tiller etc, must be exempt from Green Tax.

The proposal further said that revenue collected from Green Tax will be kept in a separate account and used for tackling pollution, and for states to set up facilities for emission monitoring.

The ministry said that the aim of the new proposal is to dissuade people from using vehicles which damage the environment, to motivate people to switch to newer, less-polluting vehicles and reduce pollution levels by making the polluter pay for pollution.

The minister also approved the policy of deregistration and scrapping of vehicles owned by government department and PSUs, which are more than 15 years in age.

It will be notified and come into effect from April 1 next year. The ministry said that it is estimated that commercial vehicles, which constitute about 5 per cent of the total vehicle fleet, contribute about 65-70 per cent to total vehicular pollution. It also said that the older fleet, typically manufactured before the year 2000, constitutes less than 1 per cent of the total fleet but contributes around 15 per cent of total vehicular pollution.

“These older vehicles pollute 10-25 times more than modern vehicles,” the statement added.

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The above article has been published from a wire agency with minimal modifications to the headline and text.

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