Sierra Club boss in Utah to discuss bigger Canyonlands, clean energy

Jun 18, 2013

The Sierra Club, one of the oldest, largest and most influential environmental organizations in the US, has entered Utah politics in a big way. They started a national campaign that supports a proposed Greater Canyonlands. UPR's Jon Kovash reports.

Michael Brune, the new director of the Sierra Club, is on a two-week Western tour, part of a new push called “Wild America,” to persuade President Obama to create new national monuments. Last week Brune camped at Dead Horse Point, blogged about nearby oil and gas operations, and in a talk at Moab’s Star Hall, boldly predicted that a Greater Canyonlands, expanded by 1.4 million acres, would come to pass.

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune addresses a crowd in Moab.
Credit Jon Kovash

“Our chances of success – I would throw out 100 percent, and it’s a question of not whether we’ll achieve that, but when,” Brune said.

Brune was flanked by representatives of other green groups supporting Greater Canyonlands, including Rose Chilcoat, from Great Old Broads for Wilderness.

“Some places should just be protected as best we can, for their own sake, and that we can be visitors there and have a few basic rules and courtesy on how we behave,” she said.

Chilcoat said previous national monuments, like Canyons of the Ancients and the Grand Staircase, have ended up having the same rules for motorized access as other federal lands.

“There’s a lot of fears, there were fears that people would be shut out of the landscape, that access would disappear,” said Chilcoat. “And as with all federal lands, Forest Service, BLM, in monuments and outside of monuments, our agencies are getting a handle on motorized recreation and motorized use and abuse, has happened regardless of land status.”

Michael Brune also announced that the Sierra Club is opposing the proposed nuclear power plant at Green River, and in general is now opposed to nuclear power.

“What’s the cleanest? What’s the safest? What’s the cheapest?” Brune said. “And what can come online quickly enough to solve the energy and climate crisis that we face as a country? And when you rank nuclear power up against each of those questions, it’s either last or almost last in every category.”

Brune said the Sierra Club intends to use economic, as well as moral arguments to oppose all non-renewable and "dirty" energy sources.

“It’s interesting, because there are some folks who come from an environmental background who are arguing for nuclear power,” Brune said. “And it’s a little baffling now, when you see solar and wind, when the last new nuclear plant came online, a couple of decades ago, solar and wind were not viable, they were in the margins, you didn’t find any state that had more than  three percent penetration of clean energy. Now that we have states at 25 percent, heading for 30 percent, soon to be 40 percent, solar being cheaper than nuclear, and coal and gas, why we would go back a couple of decades and take such a risky form of energy, we just don’t think it makes sense.”

In February, Brune and two Sierra Club board members got arrested at the White House while protesting the Keystone pipeline. The board had approved a one-time act of civil disobedience. Brune said it could soon become a permanent policy.

“Now the board is doing a full review of the idea of engaging in civil disobedience, and trying to determine whether there’s a way for a large organization such as ourselves, to respectfully, strategically employ civil disobedience as one way of effecting positive change,” Brune said.

In recent months Moab has also become a center for Utah anti-tar sands activists, who have staged several media events. This is Jon Kovash, reporting from Moab for UPR News.