On Sloan’s List
On some days at the Grand Canyon you cannot see across to the other rim because of air pollution from coal-fired power plants. Imagine standing at Maroon Lake and squinting through a carbon haze trying to make out the Maroon Bells!Imagine hiking any of our stellar wilderness trails and hearing the drone of chain saws as a forest of beetle-killed spruce trees falls around you. Imagine a clearance sale on national forest lands as a desperate effort to pay off a crushing national debt. Imagine our lakes and rivers polluted with acid fallout, tapped by transmountain pipelines, diverted and perverted into swimming pools in L.A. and golf courses in Las Vegas.Imagine any of this and you will feel the way I did when I read Sloan’s List, a catalog of long-term potential threats to the wild lands surrounding us compiled by Sloan Shoemaker, director of the Wilderness Workshop.Shell Petroleum’s far-fetched plan for oil shale in Colorado and Utah is near the top of Sloan’s List because it could pollute our air and water with sulfur-laden coal smoke while literally parboiling the earth 10 acres at a time.Shell proposes to electrically heat with deep well probes a 1,000-foot-thick section of the Green River Formation to 700 degrees, keep it hot for three years, then pump out up to 1 million barrels of liquefied oil per acre – $60 million worth at today’s prices.To power this madness would require the largest coal-fired power plant in Colorado, which would burn 5 million tons of coal per year, spewing 10 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. All of this would occur upwind of the Roaring Fork Valley.Board members of the Wilderness Workshop spent last Saturday at our annual retreat trying to prioritize the items on Sloan’s List as part of our five-year plan. Disaster triage of this magnitude made me feel like the little Dutch boy trying to plug the levee against Hurricane Katrina with a No. 2 pencil.The Wilderness Workshop started more than 40 years ago with volunteers hunched over a kitchen table drawing lines on maps to expand wilderness boundaries. Today WW has a paid staff of two struggling to weigh the impacts of global warming, species extinctions, air and water degradation, energy production, pipeline corridors, population pressures and a host of crises that threaten the quality of surrounding wild lands.Organizations like ours could once appeal to the federal government for help, but today it is the federal government that is enabling and encouraging the carnage. Washington sanctions incursions in roadless areas, gutting of environmental protection, privatization of natural resources, and giveaways to extractive industries – all at the public expense.What’s even more shocking is how ill-prepared the public is to deal with it. Methane bubbling out of domestic wells from oil and gas drilling will seem insignificant in light of air pollution from coal-burning power plants … invasive road building and logging in an effort to control spruce beetles … climate change decimating the ski industry … water wars for the sake of sprawling suburbs … and the commercialization and privatization of public lands to benefit the recreation industry.Wilderness Workshop and a smattering of like-minded organizations across the state form a loose coalition called the Southern Rockies Conservation Alliance that is our last stand for environmental integrity. Sloan’s List represents a tipping point where the collective decisions of the industrialized world have set into motion a juggernaut of consequences that are about to visit upon us very real, very long-term, and very ugly results.This is Hurricane Katrina writ large on the American landscape, a rising swell of cumulative neglect and denial that could overwhelm an unsuspecting public. The flood is approaching. The question is whether we will simply let it sweep over us as they did in New Orleans.If we choose to act, then Wilderness Workshop needs your help, your support, your involvement. Call our offices – 963-3977 – and ask about Sloan’s List and what you can do about it. Paul Andersen’s column appears on Mondays.
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