Monday, 21 November 2011

Surprise: When State Senator Margaret Dayton Says "Utah Values" It Means "Destroy The Earth"

Photo by Laimis Urbonas

If you were to ask a group of ten long-time Utahns why they love this state, I'm willing to bet that at least eight of them would say "the natural beauty" or some variant thereof.

It's a gorgeous place to live - the mountains, the canyons, the red rock, all of it. We have a diverse and amazing assortment of natural goodies, valuable both for their own sake and for the tourism and recreation revenues they haul in.

Photo by Robert Riberia
Unfortunately, Utah is also a state dominated by extremely right-wing politics. One of the longest-standing divides in the state is between outdoorsy types (environmentalists, recreation enthusiasts and hunters/fishers) and developers.

The belittling shorthand used to dismiss people who kick up a fuss when corporations lay waste to natural landscapes used to be NIMBY - an acronym for "Not In My Back Yard" - as though opposing the destruction of your own back yard were somehow unusual or unreasonable.

The newer, snappier belittling shorthand is now BANANAs - an acronym for "Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything." I think that's a bit unfair. I'm in favor of building upwards and consolidating living spaces, which actually would provide plentiful work and revenue for developers if they weren't greedy bastards whose only thought regarding wild landscapes is how cheap and easy they are to ruin and how much cash they squeeze out of them in the process.

This is not a good time for NIMBY BANANAs. Last week, Judy Fahys wrote the following for the Salt Lake Tribune:

Lawmakers this week fast-tracked plans to revamp the state's environmental oversight boards, shrinking the five panels along with their powers. ... 
Contents of the 186-page bill were a secret to [environmental nonprofits] and other members of the public until Wednesday's first hearing on it, when it won overwhelming support of the Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Interim Committee.

What the bill does, in essence, is make the citizen panels that have until now had a say in appealed permits and the like much smaller. It also shifts their original powers over to the executive director of the Division of Environmental Quality, which is an awful regulatory apparatus long captured by the industries it supposedly oversees.

Shepherding the desires of amoral corporations and their loyal servants into law was State Senator Margaret Dayton, R-Orem. On the off chance that anyone thought she was doing the Earth a favor, she made sure to attach a caveat:

Dayton began her presentation on the bill with a kind of disclaimer by saying that, although she believes the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is unconstitutional, it is important to ensure Utah equips its own agency to carry out environmental mandates with Utah values in mind.

Senator Margaret Dayton, R-Orem (photo by Trent Nelson)

Which "Utah values" would those be? Good question.

Usually when a Utah politician uses that phrase, it's code for "I'm LDS, and will vote the way the Church tells me to." In rare and special instances, however, "Utah values" apparently means "complete and total submission to big-money interests at the expense of Utahns." Let's see who Margaret "values" Dayton was representing and working with:

The stakeholder group, which met on Oct. 13 and 14, had four industry attorneys, two current environmental board members, one past member, a representative from the radioactive waste company EnergySolutions and HEAL director Christopher Thomas, who was only able to attend a half-day of the meetings. Other environmental community members were invited but did not attend.

Other than the obvious (a complete domination of the group by industry-friendly flacks), two things stand out about this to me. First: you have to have a truly impressive poker face to call that group a collection of "stakeholders" without busting a gut. Second: what the hell is an "environmental community member?" I would think every member of a community would qualify, but that's probably just my NIMBY-ism showing.

It's no surprise that Dayton is so eager to strip the last few rotting fangs from environmental protections in Utah. In her last campaign, she raised $4,500 from the real estate industry, the largest contribution from a coded industry source. She also raised $1,750 from the nuclear industry, $1,100 from "lawyers and lobbyists," and $1,050 from oil and gas (  source  ).

Predictable? Sure. Acceptable? Absolutely not.

According to Dayton, she plans to hold at least one public hearing on the bill before it goes out for a vote (but she isn't required to do so, as the bill is a committee bill). So far, such a hearing hasn't been scheduled yet. Once it is, I plan on attending and encouraging activists from any and all organizations interested in environmental issues to attend as well.

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