Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. killed plans for a hydroelectric dam on Bear Lake recently by instructing Utah’s Division of State Parks to stop negotiating with the damn dam company. Biologists and lake lovers argued the project would stir up the lake, clouding the water and killing eggs of four fish species found only in Bear Lake. The project also would prevent the lake from freezing over, creating permanent area fog. The governor seems to have reasoned that Bear Lake’s pristine water and fish were more valuable to Utah, in terms of tourism dollars and cents, than the electricity a dam might produce. If only the same calculation would be applied to drilling in Utah’s wilderness and planned residential development outside the gates of Zion National Park.
A recent congressional investigation of abuse in so-called “wilderness therapy” programs for troubled teens found problems continue years after five young people died at the hands of their Utah therapists. Investigators found Utah is home to one-fourth of all such programs. It’s not just because of the abundance of wilderness here. Utah’s historically lax regulations and permissive ideas about what techniques are OK for “behavior modification” also contribute. (Note the recent report about a Utah sales manager whom an employee alleged used Cheney-style waterboarding as a motivational exercise.) Even without considering what’s best for kids, Utah doesn’t need this tar and feathering given to the state’s image when it’s trying to sell its natural beauty to tourists. It’s long past time to institute tough state oversight.
Utah County Republicans have tired of the GOP lockstep. This year’s party caucuses featured smackdown contests for legislative seats instead of the traditional sustaining of candidates. In one tight race, party leaders resorted to installing a 17-year-old child relative as a delegate in order to keep moderate Republicans at bay. It’s been fun to watch. Better, it’s been healthy for Utah’s GOP. Moderates upset by their leaders’ blind pursuit of school vouchers turned out to fight. Two-term House member and would-be nuclear power-plant builder Aaron Tilton lost his seat. Many other races were close. If moderates can continue the momentum, Utah might eventually get something like two-party democracy—even if everyone still has an “R” after his or her name.