Ted Zukoski's Blog Posts

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Ted Zukoski's blog

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders.

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Ted Zukoski is a Staff Attorney in Earthjustice's Rocky Mountain office who works to protect wilderness, roadless areas and the planet's climate on behalf of conservation groups in the Four Corners' states. Ted grew up in a suburb of Los Angeles at its smoggiest, but found a love of the outdoors amid the volcanoes, granite peaks and high mountain lakes of the Eastern Sierra. Firmly rooted in Colorado after almost 15 years on the East Coast, Ted heads to Utah's desert in the spring and to Rocky Mountain forests in the summer with his wife and two kids. When he's not writing Freedom of Information Act requests, he's reading too many books about World War II.

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17 August 2012, 8:33 AM
Forest Service prefers protecting wildlands, chooses bulldozers anyway
The Sunset roadless area. Ted Zukoski photo (c).

The Forest Service finally admitted it.

It took the agency two environmental assessment drafts and a draft and final environmental impact statement, but they admitted it.

The agency finally admitted that it would be “environmentally preferred” to protect the wildest, most pristine part of the Sunset roadless area in western Colorado from bulldozing for road construction and for scraping well pads to benefit Arch Coal, the nation’s second largest coal company.

The construction of a spider-web of industrial facilities that will take decades to heal will devastate that part of the roadless area the Forest Service itself concluded meets all of the criteria for designation as wilderness—the most protective designation on public lands.

But while the Forest Service concluded it was “environmentally preferred” to protect this remote natural area of ponds and streams, elk and black bear habitat, with its huge spruce and large stands of aspen, the agency also decided on August 10 to approve the most aggressive coal mine expansion for Arch Coal’s West Elk Mine, paving the way for the roadless area’s destruction.

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15 June 2012, 3:54 AM
Agency pushes lose-lose-lose-lose coal mine expansion
The Sunset Roadless Area.
(Photo: Ted Zukoski)

Coal is dirty.

It’s the dirty fuel that gives us mercury in our lakes, acid rain in our skies, carbon pollution, leaky ash ponds, and scraped-off mountains and buried streams in Appalachia.

And just like the coal itself, Arch Coal’s proposed West Elk mine expansion into the Sunset Roadless Area in western Colorado will be a lose-lose-lose-lose proposition. Sadly, that doesn’t mean it’s going away.

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20 April 2012, 3:44 PM
Court lets Earthjustice argue for wildlife and waters near iconic park
The Grand Canyon.

We’re in!

Judge Martone of the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona today granted our motion to intervene to defend the Department of the Interior’s decision to ban new uranium mining claims for 20 years across 1 million acres of public lands adjacent to the Grand Canyon.

Today’s order – read it here – means we’ll have a seat in the courtroom to protect the life-giving waters and deer, elk, condors and other wildlife found adjacent to America’s iconic National Park from an ill-considered legal attack by a uranium prospector.

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13 April 2012, 4:12 PM
State prepares assault on national icons
Salt Creek Canyon, Canyonlands National Park, claimed as a "constructed highway" by the State of Utah. Ted Zukoski photo.

Go to the website for the State of Utah and you’ll find a list of 12 “Popular Utah Destinations.” Five of the 12 are national parks.

And rightly so. Utah has some of the most jaw-dropping scenery in the world protected by the National Park Service. The term “Red Rock” can't capture the beauty and majesty of the many-hued spires, arches, hoodoos, petrified dues, cliffs, slot canyons and towers that are found in places like ZionCanyonlands, and Capitol Reef national parks.

So you might expect that Utah would bend over backwards to protect this bounty for future generations of (paying) tourists to enjoy.

You’d be wrong.

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17 March 2012, 8:23 AM
Yet another toxic mining threat
A uranium mine near the Grand Canyon's North Rim. Photo: Don Bills, USGS.

At the beginning of the last century, Ralph H. Cameron was a booster of the Grand Canyon. He wanted to promote – and cash in on - the Canyon as a tourist destination. He helped expand Bright Angel Trail, now one of the most popular trails into the Canyon from the South Rim.  But at a price; he charged a toll to visitors.

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22 February 2012, 9:54 AM
Speculative energy source won't fund highways
A chunk of oil shale-bearing rock. Try burning this in your gas tank. (Dept. of Interior photo.)

Getting energy from oil shale is a half-baked idea.  Literally.

Oil shale, also known as kerogen, is a waxy pre-petroleum substance found in rock layers in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.  Unlike pools of oil in the ground, it can't be turned into liquid fuel for transportation unless it's baked to 700 degrees.  And no company in the U.S. has been able to develop a process that turns it into oil in a way that actually makes money, despite a century of trying.  No wonder oil shale has been mocked as the "fuel of the future - because it always has been, and always will be."

Because of the technological and economic challenges, oil shale is putting as much liquid fuel into U.S. markets as it did in the early 1900s.  Which is to say:  zero.

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13 January 2012, 12:29 PM
Finally, something to cheer about for the West's public lands
Grand Canyon National Park. As compared to doing nothing, the 20-year withdrawal will reduce impacts to wildlife habitat by two-thirds.

About a century ago, a Republican president said:

In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.

Teddy Roosevelt was right then. And President Obama was right last Monday to take action to prevent uncontrolled uranium mining from marring streams, wildlife habitat and archeological sites across a million acres of public land next to the Grand Canyon.

Obama’s Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, signed an order withdrawing the million acres from hard rock mining claims for 20 years. Numerous editorials, including in the LA Times and Arizona Republic, applauded the move, as did long-time supporters of the ban, including local and national conservation groups and Indian tribes whose ancestral lands have now been protected for two decades.

It was the type of bold action we’d love to see more of from this administration.

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11 December 2011, 10:44 PM
But there’s still a chance for one big present under the tree
Aerial view of the Alton coal strip mine near Bryce Canyon. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

As fall turns to winter, President Obama has continued his virtually unbroken streak of bending over backwards for the coal industry in the West.  For those who love Western public lands and could do without more subsidies to Big Coal, Mr. Obama has been more Grinch than Santa.

For example, the Forest Service recently consented to a coal lease in western Colorado that will result in more than two square miles of the beautiful Sunset Trail Roadless Area being chewed up with 48 well pads and 6.5 miles of road.  It’s a Christmas present to corporate goliath Arch Coal, and coal in the public’s stocking.

But wait, there’s more! BLM is moving ahead with plans to approve a strip mine on the doorstep of Bryce Canyon National Park.  Denuded habitat, truck trips that will disrupt tourism and the lives of local residents, and dust will all result.  Not everyone is wild about the idea - including the Salt Lake Tribune, which editorialized against the project.  (And if you're not wild about the strip mine either, go here to tell the BLM.) 

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18 October 2011, 9:29 AM
Give Oil/Gas Industry 90% of Public Lands And They Want More
Vermillion Basin, Colorado. One of the few places off-limits to drilling. Photo © Mark Pearson

Let’s say you have three kids, and one big piece of cake to divide amongst them. One kicks and cries and whines. "I want it ALL," the baby screams. "I want it all NOW!" The other two say, "We want our fair share."

To keep the decibel level in the house at acceptable levels, and because you’re a whimp, you give the crybaby 90 percent of the cake. But even that doesn’t work. The baby still whines and cries and kicks and screams, "I want it ALL. I don’t care what brother and sister get."

Meet the oil and gas industry in Colorado, the crybaby of the West's public lands debate.

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13 October 2011, 10:24 AM
Before Colorado Gov. Cheerleads Coal Mines, He Should Help Clean Them
A hillside bulldozed for a coal mine methane drainage well, western Colorado. Photo By Ted Zukoski

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper took a feel-good tour of a Colorado coal mine this week, bolstering his corporate-friendly cred in the southern part of the state.

He talked about how great it was that the mine could co-exist with wildlife, and joked about the high-paying jobs. And for all of you self-serving Prius owners who call coal by its other name—One Of The Dirtiest Fuels On The Planet ™—Hickenlooper wanted to remind you:

"We all use electricity, we all drive vehicles so we have to play our role in getting the energy, whether it's coal or natural gas. We all have to figure out how to get it safely and efficiently and in a way that it benefits the community around it. That's what they are trying to do here."

Music to the ears of those running the New Elk Mine, the subject of the tour, which is digging out metallurgic coal in an area that has seen mining for decades. And you have to appreciate job creation in tough economic times. But Hickenlooper omitted some interesting facts about the New Elk Mine. For example:

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