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Finding Our Voices

Insights + Opinion
Finding Our Voices

Michael Brune

Have you ever been to Bryce Canyon National Park? I still remember standing at Sunset Point on my first visit as a teenager, hoping to sneak away to climb the hoodoos in the valley below. It's one of the most beautiful, inspiring places in the country, which is why when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced a public meeting for Dec. 7 in Salt Lake City to gather public comments on its proposal to approve a giant coal strip-mine next to Bryce Canyon National Park, it wasn't hard to find citizens ready to object. More than 200 showed up at the Salt Lake City Library to speak their minds.

What they found when they got there, though, was that this particular "hearing" would be like a silent film—only written comments allowed.

When asked why there would be no opportunity for public testimony, BLM officials said they were required to hold only one public meeting and it had already happened the week before in Cedar City, where testimony was gathered from mine employees and other mine boosters.

That answer didn't sit well with disgruntled participants who had come to voice their objections to the strip mine. What happened next was citizen democracy at its most inspired.

Borrowing a tactic from Occupy Salt Lake City (where some of the participants had come from) a group of protesters started a "human microphone" and began reading their testimony in short tight phrases that were then repeated by the crowd around the room. The stunned BLM officials watched nervously as the actual public took over their “public” meeting.

The message the public had for the BLM was that it should reject the strip-mine proposal, protect the park and wildlife, and promote clean-energy alternatives—not more dirty coal.

Eventually, former national BLM director Patrick Shea, who is now a private citizen, offered to serve as an informal hearing officer and take oral testimony from anyone in the room. He apologized to his former agency colleagues for usurping their meeting, but said he felt it was important that citizens be allowed to voice their concerns in a public space. He asked for volunteers to record the testimony in writing and to then submit it to the BLM.

If the BLM's plan was to quietly slip in and out of town and avoid a public confrontation, then it seriously miscalculated—and underestimated both the outrage and the ingenuity that a proposal to strip-mine next to one of our most treasured national parks could generate. When the people needed it, they found their voice.

How about you? You may have missed the human microphone, but you can still help stop the strip mine before it's too late.

A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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