The March 26-April 1 “The View” (In defense of development) in the Moab Sun News, submitted by Curtis Wells, certainly captures the polarity of views held in this community, as it struggles to determine its future in light of multiple development opportunities – or threats, depending on your viewpoint. Clearly, the seriousness of these issues and the direction in which we move as a community will affect the future of everyone who lives in Grand County for generations to come.
My first reaction to Mr. Wells’ article was to note the many historical errors and misstatements in it, but for the purposes of this response, I’ll only address Mr. Wells’ misconceptions regarding monument designation, climate change and energy alternatives.
With regard to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, I refer you to the Headwaters Economics study on the economic effects of the monument designation. The data indicate that from 1996-2008, population grew by 8 percent, real personal income grew by 40 percent, real per-capita income grew by 30 percent and jobs grew by 38 percent.
The Headwaters Economics study concludes that “conserving public lands like the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument helps to safeguard and highlight amenities that draw new residents, tourists, and businesses to surrounding communities … In addition, protected natural amenities … also help sustain property values and attract new investment.”
Also according to Headwaters Economics, less than 4 percent of the federal lands in Grand County is protected, I.e., permanently set aside for conservation and recreation (principally Arches National Park) rather than commodity production. These findings would make designating a nearby Greater Canyonlands National Monument seem like a highly forward-thinking decision.
On the weather front, climate scientists are in accord that climate change is happening here and now, that we are at risk of pushing our climate system toward sudden, unpredictable, and potentially non-reversible impacts, and that the sooner we act to curb carbon dioxide emissions and stop extracting fossil fuel reserves, the lower the risk and cost. Of the 9,100 authors who submitted peer-reviewed climate articles from November, 2012, to December, 2013, only one rejected the idea that global warming was linked to environmental pollution resulting from human activity.
The “Energy Infrastructure Update” for 2013 from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects reports that “renewable energy sources now account for 15.9 percent of total installed U.S. operating generating capacity.” Fossil fuels will not last forever; the trend (and hope for the future) is clearly with renewables.
As to the bold statement that “mineral extraction doesn’t harm the environment and is great for the economy, end of story,” all I can say is…seriously? Is there not a huge uranium tailings site just outside of Moab that will take 15 years and cost over $720 million to remedy?
Grand County has arrived at a tipping point. The decision we need to make quickly, if it hasn’t already been made, is what future is best for Grand County, and more importantly, what’s best for the incredible—and extremely fragile—desert landscapes we all love.
Make no mistake, public access to and preservation of these irreplaceable landscapes are what make Moab a totally unique world-class tourist and adventure destination. Our special places are what we use to market Moab to the world, what brings people and investment dollars to this community, and what makes it a great place to live. Not oil and gas wells, and not potash and uranium mines. Unfortunately, one of our most sacred landscapes has already been forever altered. The gateway to Dead Horse Point and Island in the Sky will never be the same as new oil fields proliferate and an above ground pipeline divides the terrain in two. What a shame that Big Flat has been sacrificed.
As a world-renowned tourist destination, why can’t Moab take a stand on behalf of nature, of clean air and water, public health, incredible vistas, and a future that reduces the footprint of dirty energy? By so doing, we’ll make this place even more special than it already is. Oil and gas wells in our backyard are not going to enhance our image in the eyes of the world. But they might make us another Uintah County, which with only 35,000 residents now has the distinction of having worse air pollution in the winter than metropolitan Los Angeles has in the hot, hazy days of summer.
And, finally, I want to say that while Mr. Wells may be proud of being a “sixth-generation Moab resident,” that lucky fact of birth shouldn’t give him any more of a say in the future of this community than those of us who moved here. Can we at least agree that each of us has a stake in this outcome, regardless of how we got here?