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Know the West

Tesla powerplay, Sacramento Delta protections, Recapture Canyon protesters found guilty and more.

Hcn.org news in brief.


California Gov. Jerry Brown in April announced that a plan to transport Northern California water south, via twin tunnels, would be accompanied by just a third of the originally planned habitat protection. In doing so, he reignited a debate over how to allocate the water of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, which harbors one of the largest swaths of the state’s remaining wetlands and is home to the federally endangered Delta smelt. The Delta also supports a $500 million agricultural industry and supplies drinking water for two-thirds of the state. The conflict pits Central Valley farmers and southern cities against Delta farmers, cities and environmentalists. The plan for the two Delta tunnels, first put forward almost nine years ago, originally included $8 billion dollars of state and federal funds for 100,000 acres of fish and wildlife habitat restoration and protection. Brown’s new plan includes 30,000 acres of habitat to be restored or protected over five years.
-Kate Schimel  

Sandhill cranes in the Stone Lakes refuge in the northern reaches of the Delta.
Justine Belson/USFWS

7.5 MILLION Number of acres stripped of vegetation between 2000 and 2012 due to oil and gas development (the equivalent of three Yellowstone National Parks).

13% The fraction of 2013 wheat exports that 7.5 million acres could have produced.

A study recently published in the journal Science sought to quantify ecosystem services lost to oil and gas development. The study combined a large dataset on new wells drilled throughout the study region — the central U.S., including the Intermountain West — between 2000 and 2012 with annual satellite measurements of plant growth. Big as the above numbers seem, they’re relatively small, compared to the total landmass studied. But if current trends continue for another 10 or 15 years, the loss of vegetation could be more consequential.
-Cally Carswell

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, announced May 1 his company will soon begin mass production of the Powerwall, a hip, sleek home battery. Individually, the solar-charged battery could cut homeowners’ bills. But its bigger impact would be at scale, or if its giant cousin, the Powerpack, gets used by utilities. That would help them overcome the challenges of potential over-generation of power during the early afternoon, when demand is relatively low, and a subsequent spiking of demand, in the late afternoon and evening, which requires firing up natural gas plants.
-Jonathan Thompson

Number of chemicals the EPA has regulated in the 40 years since the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed. Number since 1990, when it lost a court case to regulate asbestos: zero.
-Elizabeth Shogren

The Lummi and Crow Nations, 1,000 miles apart, have opposite stakes in whether a coal terminal is built off the Washington coast. The Crow, who sit atop a thick coal seam in Montana, have much to gain. The Lummi, who live along Puget Sound, where the Gateway Pacific Terminal would be built, fear for their fishing grounds and ancestral sites. 

Young football players walk down the street in Lodge Grass, a small town on the Crow Reservation in southeast Montana.
Daniel Kukla

A federal court has found Phil Lyman, a San Juan County commissioner, and Monte Wells, a local blogger, guilty of conspiring to operate off-road vehicles on public lands closed to motorized vehicles, and of operating vehicles on said lands. Two other defendants were found not guilty. The charges stem from a 2014 protest organized by Lyman in southeastern Utah’s Recapture Canyon.
-Jonathan Thompson

You say

Gary Harmon: “Every time I hear a conservative complain about ‘private property rights,’ they immediately start talking about their rights to “public land.” As if the two were the same thing. I am part owner of the Sierra Nevada even though I live in New Mexico, just as someone from California is part owner of the Rockies. The wilderness I live next to does not belong to the county I live in, even though the county commission thinks so.”

Suzi Lewis: “Transferring public lands would be one of the worst decisions in history. ”

Charley Wrather: “They are not above the law.”