Friday, October 28, 2011

Dogs Go to School. See Them Learn.

Story and video by Michael Orton
©2011 ImageProviders – All Rights Reserved
filed elsewhere and used by permission

Salt Lake City – 

Like lots of kids, George and Jack went to school today, but they had to have prior, special permission to do it. They are dogs with Intermountain Therapy Animals whose mission is to provide companionship to young readers, to build reader confidence and provide incentives for specific and individualized learning. Today that was as easy as "A...B...C..." In their service, they are called-upon to offer interaction, activity or specific therapies with screened and trained handlers, all free of charge to clients and other program providers who enlist their help.

ITA dog handlers are trained to recognize situations where a dog works better than a person. Both George and Jack are Reading Education Assistance Dogs® who use their trained, kind and gentle nature, coupled with books including canine themes, to assist other learners acquiring fundamental skills. They are frequent visitors at area homes, hospitals and of course, schools. Working for the Utah-based ITA, they also have chapters in Montana, Idaho, Nevada and as far east as Kentucky.

Though participating dogs like George and Jack cannot read themselves, their handlers admit that they certainly understand language, because the handlers must routinely spell words that they don't want them to recognize immediately. Words like "Walk," or "Treat" or the name of a special and favorite friend. In this way, they are quite similar to other learners acquiring literacy skills. 

Wednesday's "Reading Buddies" effort included a visit by Utah's first lady, Jeanette Herbert, who is a dedicated booster of reading and learning. She came to visit the children and the dogs, with some experience and books to share. VIDEO:

©2011 ImageProviders – All Rights Reserved; Used by Pernission

Recent research indicates that "lap reading" is the most significant predictor of future literacy in children, and new evidence also suggests that it even works well when the roles are reversed: If you were reading to a special friend like George or Jack... or even to the governor's wife, you learned that today you were as important as anyone else in the state. 


For more information about Intermountain Therapy Animals, their numerous programs for adults and children, they can be reached at:  Area 801 - 272- threefourthreenine

Thursday, October 20, 2011

SLCPD Chief on Civil Liberties

video by MICHAEL ORTON for ImageProviders 
©2011 – All Rights Reserved


Earlier this year, Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank was asked about the training his officers receive to handle civil demonstrations organized on the streets by groups like PrideInUtah, PeacefulUprising and OccupySLC. Owing to the fact that these protests and rallies have happened with little, if any, incident or mishap and no violent clashes with law enforcement authorities, Salt Lake City's police department can come under some scrutiny for effectively doing things right. In recent days, authorities in Boston and Detroit have had far less success in keeping public protests in their cities calm.

During the July 26, 2011 sentencing of environmental activist Tim DeChristopher, Chief Burbank was asked how his department maintains a professional demeanor so that Salt Lake City can be a safe showplace for conventions and tourists, including the worldwide conference from the headquarters of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, (the mainstream Mormons). His response about ensuring citizens' civil liberties likely brands Utah's capitol city as most respectful to those who have something to say in a large, public forum. Burbank explained that "[My officers] go out and approach things from: 'what is a fair and balanced approach for everybody?'" VIDEO:

Police Chief CHRIS BURBANK on July 26, 2011 on civil liberties in Salt Lake City 
Camera and interview by MICHAEL ORTON for ImageProviders ©2011 - All Rights Reserved

In July, when DeChristopher's sympathizers blocked traffic and commuter rail with a peaceful but disruptive sit-in mid-street, observers witnessed arrests being made in a careful, deliberate and compassionate manner where the use of force mirrored the cooperation of the violators. Those wanting to be arrested as a sign of their commitment to civil disobedience protest were informed by the Chief himself that their failure to disperse from the street would indeed result in their arrest. They were then told what they could expect during their booking and eventual release, absent any other outstanding wants and warrants. In contrast, uniformed Homeland Security agents at the Moss Federal Courthouse that evening were visibly offended and angered by the protestors' tactics, but they were not involved as order in the streets was the responsibility of municipal, not federal, law enforcement officers. Cooler heads prevailed all around, even though many rail commuters were verbally upset about being late for dinner and responsibilities at home.

During the local OccupyWallStreet protests in October, a continuing presence of dissident gatherings in Pioneer Park was accommodated, and protestors enjoyed cordial relations with uniformed SLCPD officers who were present again to preserve order and public safety for all. An increasingly effective tactic used across the nation is the simple yet effective deployment of able female officers and during last Friday's meeting between protestors and local public officials, SLCPD Sergeant Jenn Diederich was the personal and congenial face supervising public safety in Pioneer Park. "We haven't really needed any additional resources here, and we attempt to be both visible and accessible to respond appropriately and in a professional manner," Diederich said. Designated smoking area signs made by the protestors were clearly visible and no illicit drug usage was apparent to those who came to the historic park to witness the Occupy movement firsthand. As of Day 11, OccupySLC showed little signs of abating, though relocation is planned by organizers and city authorities in an attempt to maintain the peace amongst dissidents and an ongoing census of the city's homeless.


October 20, 2011 – 1600 local time

The OccupySLC people received word that their permits would continue to be renewed on a daily basis, allowing them to remain at Pioneer Park as before. The Farmer's Market, organized by Salt Lake City's Downtown Alliance, has been a favorite of inner city residents on Saturdays at the same location. It will also continue to operate through the end of October, as planned.

OccupySLC's Facebook page has grown to over 8700 followers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Overwhelming Congressional Redistricting

story and video by Michael Orton
licensed through ImageProviders
©2011 – All Rights Reserved


More than a million dollars and several weeks worth of deliberation were left behind when Utah's Republicans decided to allow their state leadership to finalize Utah's congressional redistricting. The new census tracts were analyzed, according to House redistricting committee chairman Ken Sumsion (R-56) and Salt Lake County, traditionally democratic, was divided into three of the four new congressional districts. The state's democrats would have preferred to keep that county intact within a larger federal district but the majority diluted or eliminated the Democrats' influence on the process entirely. VIDEO:

Utah House Representative JOEL BRISCOE (D-25) 
video and interview by MICHAEL ORTON for ImageProviders ©2011– All Rights Reserved

House Representative Joel Briscoe (D-25) has a state district that presently includes Salt Lake and Summit counties, where many of the state's democratic and most affluent voters reside. During a break during Monday night's deliberations before the final congressional map was adopted, Briscoe said, "You'd be hard-pressed to say that what's gone on the past two weeks has been good [public policymaking] process on drawing congressional maps." His democratic colleagues denounced the last-minute republican steamrolling as a way to ensure that many Utah voters would not have any influence or representation in congress at all. Because diversity is not valued in Utah, the reddest state just got even more red.

It was generally accepted and reported that the Republican caucus substituted a new, last-minute definition on a map that came from state Republican party headquarters after all of the public deliberations and input had been shoved aside. The Utah Republican caucus has traditionally been closed to both the media and the public, prompting many to wonder why and if the public process had been only lip service. The Utah democrats traditionally and always have opened their caucus proceedings and plan to continue to do so, said minority House leader David Litvack (D-26). When the redistricting work was finished close to 11pm on Monday night, many state democrats left Arsenal Hill demoralized and disillusioned while more than one Republican thought that they might have a chance to go to a new seat in Washington, and to represent a state that some say is overwhelmingly conservative by brute force.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

OccupySLC Day 6

by Michael Orton
©2011 ImageProviders–All Rights Reserved


Today's "General Assembly" near 3pm was attended by approximately three dozen people and four or five dogs on a balmy and bright October day. The agenda covered committee reports and assignments for their upcoming meetings with public policy makers, some of whom would have been called "the establishment" a generation before.

"We've got 'burners' and 'punks' and the homeless here, and I'll tell you, those 'burners' [regular attenders of the Burning Man festival] know how to get things done without a lot of money," said Alex Roseman, one of Occupy Salt Lake's spokesmen. A stop by the medical tent revealed four young men sorting through supplies, including a newly donated box of rubber gloves for "body substance isolation," which protects first responders from blood borne pathogens. The meals tent showed adequate precautions for sanitation, including a bleach rinse for dishes. Volunteers indicated that the county health inspectors had been by.

Amber, a woman in her mid-twenties, is a part time employee of Salt Lake City's public library. She was soon to leave OccupySLC for work and then to care for her three year old daughter at home. "I'd say that for every person you see here right now, there are two others at their jobs. Many go to their homes at night, and are not here at Pioneer Park full time." When asked about her general financial situation, she said that every pair of shoes she owns has holes in the soles. Amber admitted to be one of the "working poor." Competent and articulate, she works more than one part time job.

William Rutledge, a principle organizer of Occupy SLC indicated that he and his family run a small food processing plant in Sarasota, but that he's been a Salt Lake City resident for the past two years. While speaking to a reporter, Rutledge recognised Salt Lake City PD Deputy Chief Michael Brown strolling through the tent village. "This man is awesome. We're in touch with him and his people every day, sometimes more than once a day."

Kaylee, another twenty-something member of the movement, dressed stylishly and staffing the information tent, said that she feels completely safe in the park. When Brown was asked about upcoming events on Friday, where some dignitaries and public officials will be present to listen to the group, he said that no real plans have been made for additional police presence or deployment. "They [the public officials] already know how to respond to this kind of thing. We won't really have more than our normal bicycle patrols scheduled." Brown's office is less than eight city blocks away from this venue. The occupiers have had a valid city special event permit since Day 1.

Pioneer Park has been the summertime site of the Downtown Farmer's market, held in summer and early fall each Saturday. Brutledge says there's a waiting list of about a year to participate. Looking out over the tent city presently occupying the same space the market does, he says, "This will all be gone on Friday nite, to return on Sunday." This is an indication of Occupy Salt Lake's organization and its non-violent cooperation with the police department. "We're not a mob," he smiles, "We're a movement." Whether he understood it or not, it was an indirect reference to recent comments by congressional leaders and others around the nation who have called the OccupyWallStreet participants an unwashed "mob." Policy makers like Eric Cantor have been walking comments like these back, perhaps because they're hearing from sympathetic constituents.

OccupySLC is presently making plans to remain in Pioneer Park into winter.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Dabakis Addresses the Power

by Michael Orton
Video licensed through ImageProviders
©2011 All Rights Reserved


It became a rhetorical contest by two smiling cobras determined to advance the interests of the people of Utah. One was the president of the Utah state senate, the other the chairman of the state's democratic party. At the end of the day, most declared it all a stalemate.

During the most recent meeting of the Utah redistricting committee, state democratic party chairman Jim Dabakis charged republicans with doing the public's business behind closed doors and said that when this has occured in other states, "democrats have walked out, stopping the process." He added, "That can't happen here." While democrats on the redistricting committee were quick to acknowledge the cooperative efforts of their republican colleagues, Dabakis asked that there be "no more closed meetings where maps are bickered over and fought over internally. It doesn't do the state any good; it doesn't do the citizens any good." He said that to have the entire redistricting process reduced to backroom negotiations in one night by a dominant political party, "is 'sausage making,' but it's the public's sausage," referring to the often distasteful and divisive aspects of public policy efforts by various party leaders.

Because of additional and shifting census information, every ten years the nation's representation in congress must be reconsidered. This year Utah gains a seat in congress and it is the congressional boundaries that are now in play, largely determining where and how the parties will be able to advance their influence at the federal level. Democrats are charging Utah republicans with steamrolling the process and excluding the interests of democratic and progressive voters. They say this keeps people from the polls when people feel that their votes don't matter. VIDEO:

Testimony of JIM DABAKIS, democratic party chairman for the state of Utah
video by Michael Orton for ImageProviders - ©2011 All Rights Reserved

Dabakis said that it has come down to "raw, political, brute force" on the part of a dominant party that is now operating behind closed doors and attempting to convince the public that they are all being served by this partisan effort. This prompted a response from Waddoups who said that since the chairs in the statehouse and in congress were determined by all of the people of Utah, that the seats went to the best candidates.

But the debate about congressional redistricting has recently become a controversy even internally amongst the republicans, many who are now reassessing their candidates running, or about to run, for the new congressional district that is being defined by these very legislators. Utah Representative Gibson said that the doors were closed because there were republicans fighting with other republicans over how the boundaries should be drawn and presumably, for whom. "If I have a fight in my house, I'm sorry but all of the visitors are going to have to leave."

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Utah Is More China Than You Know

No, this great salt lake is NOT in Utah

story and video by MICHAEL ORTON
©2011 ImageProviders – All Rights Reserved
This report originally appeared elsewhere

Richfield, Utah -

From the way they queued up with the garrison-style seating amidst the scenic rural locale (if not with the earnestly prepared, American-style menu) to the way they honored their leaders, the luncheon hosted by Zions Bank and organized by the Greater Richfield Chamber of Commerce could have easily been set in rural China. Joining them on Wednesday, August 24th, their provincial governor, Gary Herbert, addressed approximately 120 of his state's business people in a wide-ranging address with a question and answer session at Snow College's Richfield campus. As the seat of Sevier County government, Richfield has a population of 7200, and is located toward the western end of America's east-to-west Interstate 70 where it intercepts north-to-south Interstate-15. 

An ample amount of pride was on display not only in Governor Herbert's remarks, but with those from the local residents as well. Spencer Cox, an attorney and politician from the smaller town of Fairview in neighboring Sanpete County, elicited some agreeable laughter when he told Herbert that "One of the reasons why the quality of life in Salt Lake City is so great is that you can drive an hour and not be in Salt Lake City anymore." Interestingly, many Utahns might feel just as comfortable in the Qinghai provence of China, where an international bicycle race from the provincial seat of Xining offers the vistas and terrain en route to the saline Qinghai Lake much like the Tour of Utah race does each summer throughout Governor Herbert's state in America. The parallels between the Chinese province and the America's 45th state don't stop at the shores of two great salt lakes.

Early in May of this year, Herbert led a trade delegation to China comprised of two dozen business leaders. His recent remarks in Richfield included some personal observations on how the leaders of China have become so interested in the Beehive State, with its one-word state motto ("Industry"), a state that seems to reflect the work ethic and many of the interests of the Chinese people. Widely known as both a former missionary and a former Utah governor, Jon Huntsman most recently served as the U.S. Ambassador to China, so it is not surprising that the Chinese find Utah so fascinating. Or, that on the day of this writing, a plane full of young missionaries were en route from Utah to donate two years of their lives (and perhaps their subsequent professional careers) to increase and improve Sino-American relations. They will do that by living and working in the People's Republic, assigned by the mainstream LDS Church to promote humanitarian efforts, goodwill and understanding among the two regions and ultimately, the two nations. For many it will become a lifelong, and potentially lucrative, endeavor. After their full-time, voluntary missionary service, they may use their considerable experience to establish and promote commercial enterprise within a global economy.

Utah Governor GARY HERBERT on his May, 2011 trip to China
Video ©2011 by RUNNING TIME: 3:53

The Utah governor spoke of the Chinese and their intricate interest in America's National Basketball Association, (thank you, Yao Ming) in addition to observing that Utah's form of rigorous and disciplined capitalism intrigues them because of "how great [Utah's] quality of life is." "We want to be like Utah," said Herbert, quoting an unnamed, "high-ranking" Chinese party official. 

Concluding this portion of his Richfield remarks by observing that from his recent experience, Herbert views the Chinese people and leaders as exploring and learning about concepts of competition and free market economics. He acknowledged that China has some "social problems" (perhaps including environmental pollution and socio-political dissent, which some would cite as additional similarities to Utah). The Chinese learning curve might also include some obstacles involved with the nation's deep roots in communist ideology, which could be said to parallel (Utah's first governor) Brigham Young's collectivist social concept called "the United Order of Enoch." Like polygamy, this form of "Christian Communism" was formally abandoned and is not practiced in the mainstream, worldwide LDS Church today. 

Because of China's interest in how Utah leads many national economic indicators and is growing at the expense of states like California and others in America which, unlike Utah, are facing economic hardship, Utah's current and 17th governor observed that the Chinese "...are starting to have an awakening." 

And like Herbert, many in the West would like to pull back the curtains on that new day.

Next: Utah, the Sino Sister State

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Film Review: The Help (Aug 10 in US and UK)

Viola Davis in "The Help" photo courtesy of Dreamworks ©2011

review by Michael Orton
copyright 2011 ImageProviders
All Rights Reserved

At the Sundance Film Festival this past January, a memorable appearance by Harry Belafonte offered the young filmmakers in attendance a personal understanding of his involvement in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and of his fervent desire that above anything else, they be society's radicals (his emphasis). Citing the Works Progress Administration and the work of Dorthea Lange and Ben Shahn, he described artists as "the caretakers of truth," and perhaps even guardians of our culture and that "radical thought is the energy of the Universe."

Harry Belafonte (right) "sitting"

Belafonte told those assembled that day that he felt he had been "fortunate to interface with the harbingers of radical thinking," people like Eleanor Roosevelt and Paul Robeson. "The power of art is not to portray life as it is, but life as it should be..." but he also warned, "To be a radical is to be an outcast. We definitely paid a price."

These themes multiply the force and effect of the Tate Taylor film version of Kathryn Stockett's 2009 debut novel, "The Help," a story set in and about Jackson, Mississippi and the Jim Crow south. With breakout performances by Octavia Spencer and Viola Davis (note that several Oscar nominations are predicted, here), and with Stockett's author adequately played by ingenue Emma Stone, the film also contains a stunningly appropriate cameo by none other than Cicely Tyson herself. When Ms. Tyson takes the screen, one feels as though history has indeed come alive. Allison Janney offers a welcome presence as part of Jackson Mississippi's plantation establishment and Sissy Spacek's unabashed comic relief allows the overarching social tension to be almost welcome.

(l to r) Bryce Dallas Howard, Sissy Spacek and Octavia Spencer in "The Help"

America in the sixties included television's "Andy Griffith Show" for those privileged enough to have "Ozzie and Harriet" and "Leave It to Beaver" memories of their childhood. Memorable for some but not for all during that convulsive time of our nation's history. Ironically, one of the most caustic characters in the story is very well delivered by Bryce Dallas Howard a generation after her father (director Ron Howard) was Andy Griffiths' cherubic "Opie" in the Mayberry series of the sixties. 

In "The Help," white hot performances including a revelatory soliloquy, delivered with piercing effect by Ms. Davis, help us truly understand that those famous years were not idyllic for everyone who lived through them. This is the transcendent effect of "The Help," and one that will definitely be recognized during Oscar's upcoming "For Your Consideration" season beginning in just six months. (Perhaps it is significant to note here that the nation's general election will occur only eight months after the Oscars are awarded this coming March).

And after viewing and feeling this story, which forcefully reminds us of how far we've come as a nation, one might conclude that as strenuous and painful as it was, the effort of Harry Belafonte, Martin Luther King and those other harbingers of radical thinking, was just The Help we needed.

"The Help" a DreamWorks release of a Reliance Big Entertainment feature

from the novel by Kathryn Stockett
screenplay by Tate Taylor
directed by Tate Taylor

The film is better than this trailer portrays it to be...

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

GRAMA Sub-Committee Commentary

by Michael Orton
licensed through ImageProviders
all rights reserved

Salt Lake City --

During the 45 days that the Utah legislature met in its normal session this year, a legal caldera erupted when lawmakers rushed through revisions to Utah's Government Records Access and Management Act, known simply as GRAMA. It was widely believed by the public and by media interests that lawmakers were attempting to exempt their instant messages, text messages and e-mails from public access and accountability. Due to journalistic diligence and an immediate public outcry amplified by social media, HB477 was subsequently repealed earlier in the year, but only after the regular lawmaking session had adjourned and with significant procedural juggling between the executive and legislative branches of Utah's state government.

What followed was an agreement by all parties to meet during the legislative interim to study the aspects of GRAMA that needed to be updated, since some communications technologies hadn't been anticipated ten years prior when the first GRAMA rules were adopted and enrolled. The "Working Group," consisting of Utah's media interests, lobbyists such as the state's Tea Party and media coalitions, technology experts and public interest organizations, all joined with Utah's senators and representatives to determine necessary and appropriate recommendations.

On Thursday, June 16, 2011, the Working Group's sub-committee responsible for drafting the legal text met to discuss and finalize new statutory recommendations. Those attending were Jeff Hunt, an attorney representing media interests and who was responsible for the original statute; Laura Lockhart, assistant attorney general for the State of Utah; Michael Wilkins, a former Justice of the state's supreme court; State Senator Stuart Adams (r) Davis County; and State Senator Curt Bramble (r) Utah County, who was the original bill's sponsor. Observing the proceedings were archivists, reporters and public interest group representatives.

After the session, which met for more than two and a half hours, the following comments were made by Sherilyn Bennion of the League of Women Voters and Jeff Salt, an activist with Great Salt Lake Keepers (see video).

 FLASH VIDEO - Commentary on Utah's GRAMA Statutory Sub-Committee - June 16
copyright 2011 ImageProviders - all rights reserved

Ms. Bennion expressed her concern that the legislators would still attempt to exempt correspondence from being subject to retention and revue. Mr. Salt indicated that while emerging technologies were being adopted that would allow for printing and archiving of mobile phone text messages, the lawmakers needed to consider the public's right to know and to understand how elected officials were conducting the public's business. Lawmakers continued to express concerns about constituent privacy, a provision which was also included in the ten-year-old statute. At issue during the public outcry when HB477 was rushed through the process last spring was communications with lobbyists who were attempting to privately influence legislation and appropriations. During the 2011 session, the Salt Lake Tribune uncovered lawmakers' ability to communicate with lobbyists using PIN identities which do not go through computer server hubs and therefore are not able to be recorded, requested or recovered. PIN addressing is available with Blackberry mobile phones, many of which are seen in use on the chamber floors.

The entire Working Group will meet tomorrow morning at 9am, June 22, 2011 in the Senate Rules Room of the Utah capitol and will discuss and adopt final recommendations to forward to the entire legislature.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Governor Herbert to Announce 10 Year Energy Initiative

photo courtesy of the DEWEYSQUAREGROUP


Utah Governor Gary Herbert's office recently issued some graphic heraldry describing the place and time of his announcement of "Utah's 10-Year Strategic Energy Plan." The Governor's "Energy Initiatives and Imperatives" will be "unveiled" this Friday at the University of Utah, attended by the Governor's supporters, Utah's policymakers and its special interests alike. Most observe Herbert's plan as a tightly-knit collaboration with his state's legislature including input only from the GOP and the special interests which funded his election last November. Some thought that the backdrop and locale for the announcement lent more credibility to the orchestrations than should be deserved since the design of the initiative had been accomplished in private caucuses and behind closed doors.

During the 45-day legislative calendar earlier this year, Utah lawmakers authorized a newly-formed "Department of Energy Development," presently led by Utah Department of Environmental Quality director, Amanda Smith. Prior to these expanded duties which some see as temporary, Ms. Smith, a Jon Huntsman, Jr. appointee, has overseen the efforts of a sizable staff including Utah's Department of Air Quality. Herbert critics say the efforts of Smith's department have always been hampered by a lack of sufficient funding as well as conflicts inherent in an agency charged with regulating air quality while permitting refinery operations and power plant construction. Smith admitted to funding problems at the conclusion of a 2010 public hearing held in Cedar City. It is widely believed that Friday's announcement could also include the appointment of a new chief of energy development in Utah.

Members of the state Senate and its House of Representatives were quick to point out in session that Forbes magazine had recently acknowledged the Beehive State as having the highest economic recovery scores in the nation. Others were just as fast to emphasize that the magazine simultaneously awarded Utah a designation as the most toxic state to do business, citing urban air quality among the poorest in the nation and a recent record of toxic spills evidenced near the capitol city and elsewhere.

Still stinging from the December announcement of Ken Salazar's Secretarial Order 3310 and the authority of the Obama administration that its constituents had rejected at the polls in 2008, the state's legislative and executive branches have maneuvered to allow for Utah's preemption of federal control over public lands, most of which are administered by Interior's Bureau of Land Management. In Salazar's order, the Interior Department described its intent to list and potentially designate as "wild lands" some areas in the western United States but also acknowledged the need for jobs and revenues available from the nation's public lands. Utah's governor and lawmakers certainly weren't buying that, recalling the Clinton administration's designation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument many years before when significant mineral reserves were placed out of reach. Some decried the recent Secretarial Order as robbery from the state's schoolchildren (See related story).

In its 2011 session, the Utah legislature has woven what some perceive as their best efforts to preempt federal authority through a variety of bills asserting their "state's rights." While lawmakers were busy getting these bills advanced in Utah, Herbert appeared before a newly-elected and friendly congress to assail federal dominion and claim the same "sovereignty" that is the hallmark of ultra-conservatives nationwide. To that end, the initiative to be announced on Friday may be less his own, and more the evidence of public policy machinations of a state dominated by its rabidly conservative GOP.

Sources with an intimate understanding of the governor's initiative indicate that it will attempt to appease those supporting the development of alternative energy but will mostly hand the reins over to traditional energy producers for the development of mineral resources and natural gas within Utah. What remains to be seen is the potential for "Utah's 10-Year Strategic Energy Plan" to produce litigation on local and national levels, all of which could tie up permitting for as many years to come.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

"5% of SQUAT!"

by Michael Orton
Licensed through ImageProviders


On the Utah Senate floor just before that body adjourned for lunch, Senator Stephen Urquhart (R-29, Washington County) rose in support of Senator Ralph Okerland (R-24 central Utah), House Representative Mike Noel (R-73, Kane County) and their SB221. Urquhart passionately denounced the federal government and its recent decision to "re-inventory" public lands throughout the western U.S. using Secretarial Order 3310. Without much reference or amplification, Senator Urquhart boldly asserted that the constitution did not give Utah acreage to the federal government for administration, because the federal government "breeched its [transfer] agreement in 1976." At critical issue here, and likely the reason why the second substitute bill was fast-tracked on suspension of the rules (28Y, 0N), is the participation of resource revenue sharing with the state's School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, SITLA. Complete bi-partisanship on this matter is deeply rooted in the democratic minority's overwhelming support of the state's school system and its funding in an era of austerity.

In the widely held anticipation of federal designation of Utah's wild lands as wilderness, "the federal government has stolen what is rightfully ours," declared Utah Sen. Urquhart, "and if they continue, we will receive five percent of SQUAT." He went on to vigorously complain that "these lands are not the little playthings of theirs. They are STEALING from [Utah's] public education system." Though the secretarial order sets up a public process, the fear that the Department of the Interior will designate as "wild lands" some of Utah's 20 million BLM acres has fueled empassioned debate and significant work on SB221. The bill attempts to establish and codify bottom-up management plan methodology through the cooperation of counties and state agencies like the Utah Department of Natural Resources and now the newly-formed Utah Department of Energy Development.

A quick look at program funding reports from Utah's School Land Trust indicates that through the time of the secretarial order issued by Interior Secretary and Colorado native Ken Salazar, Utah schools had enjoyed increased revenues from this source with trending established before the national election in 2008. Even past that time, schools in Utah received considerably more funds than in earlier years. The conservationists say this lends some credence to the charge that energy company profits fueled a "wholesale auction of extraction leases on public lands" and attempts to promote coal-fired power plant applications in the final months of the Bush administration.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Utah's Concurrent Resolution Opposing Salazar's "Reinventory"

by Michael Orton
this report licensed via Creative Commons


Late this afternoon, Rep. Mike Noel (R-Kanab) will introduce a concurrent resolution to the House standing committee on natural resources, agriculture and the environment. This "message to Washington" is expected to receive swift approval and opposes Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's "re-inventory" of acreage which may eventually designate some within the state of Utah as "wild lands." Such a re-inventory classification could affect the commercial or recreational uses normally associated with vacant BLM land, which includes 20 million acres in the Beehive State where much of that acreage is already under use plans which receive public scrutiny. Supporters of the resolution say that a significant amount is still undesignated as to use that might involve mineral and energy-related resources. Utah's Governor Gary Herbert was scheduled to testify to congress today on this very contentious issue. (See related story)

Mike Noel, right, with executive from Reagan Outdoor Advertising
in committee testimony on unrelated bill   Photo: Michael Orton

Utah legislators and extraction industries representatives term the re-inventory a "land grab" on the part of the federal government but many of Utah's continuous residents own properties originally homesteaded during the Cleveland administration in the latter part of the 19th century. Currently, lawmakers are reacting as strongly as did the conservation and environmental supporters during the end of the Bush administration when several hundred of Utah's public lands acres were put up for auction in oil and gas leases. That action led to the arrest and trial of environmental activist Tim DeChristopher which began yesterday in federal court. DeChristopher is accused of fraudulently bidding on leases he had no intention of buying, primarily doing so as a disruption tactic which he has termed an act of "civil disobedience."

The resolution is expected to leave committee with a favorable recommendation later this afternoon. Text of the resolution here.

Video of the discussion is available via ImageProviders