BLM approves lease of 2,114 acres near Bryce Canyon for coal mine expansion

Stock image shows a miner's helmet on top of coal | Photo by Adam88xx/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Bureau of Land Management has approved a lease of sale for more than 2,000 acres of land for a massive coal mine expansion near the town of Alton. The plan has been criticized by conservation groups who say the mining operation will negatively impact wildlife and visitors at nearby Bryce Canyon National Park.

This 2016 file photo shows Bryce Canyon National Park, which is about 10 miles away from an area of land being leased for coal mine development, Utah, July 15, 2016 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

The BLM released its “record of decision” Thursday approving the competitive lease sale of approximately 2,114 acres, which the agency says could produce an estimated 30.8 million tons of coal for lease applicant Alton Coal.

According to the BLM, the expansion has the potential to create over 100 new jobs at the mine and indirectly increase employment by 240 to 480 jobs in rural Southern Utah counties, including fuel providers and positions in maintenance, grocery stores and retail stores.

In a news release from the BLM, Utah Republican Sens. Mike Lee and Orrin Hatch both praised the decision.

“This action not only advances the Trump administration’s energy dominance agenda, it will also provide stability to local economies in Kane and Garfield Counties,” Lee said.

Hatch said the decision comes after “more than a decade of rigorous environmental studies” and commended Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

“Alton Coal has proven that responsible development and environmental stewardship can meaningfully coincide,” Hatch said in the release. “Secretary Zinke inherited a challenge, and I applaud him for finding a way to strike a balance that will bring much-needed jobs to Utah’s rural counties.”

The BLM says protective stipulations will be incorporated in the lease in order to minimize or eliminate the coal mine’s effects on wildlife, air, water, recreation and other issues of concern.

Alton Coal Mine, Utah, April 9, 2014 | File photo by Slashvee on Flickr, St. George News

However, the premise that the mine expansion can go forward without heavily impacting the environment and recreation is disputed by multiple conservation groups.

The area of the mine expansion is only 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, which will likely negatively impact the experiences of visitors at the park, Dave Nimkin, director of the southwest region of the National Parks Conservation Association, said in a previous St. George News report.

“A lot of the values of Bryce that include the night skies, air quality, visibility, the sounds and the sense of being in a special place where there are not huge numbers of coal trucks and industrialization nearby are very important,” Nimkin said.

According to the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, mining operations could destroy breeding grounds relied on by Greater Sage Grouse populations. The group says the Trump Administration didn’t consider the impact on wildlife or recreation and ignored over 280,000 public comments filed in opposition of the lease expansion.

A joint statement released by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, Natural Resources Defense Council and Sierra Club reads as follows:

The Trump Administration has repeatedly put corporate interests ahead of the American people in issues of public land management, so this is a disappointment but certainly not a surprise. Our organizations remain strongly committed to protecting the climate and the landscape, environment and cultural resources in southern Utah. Some places are simply too special to mine—this is one of them.  The doorstep to Bryce Canyon National Park should be preserved for the benefit of all visitors, rather than turned over to the highest corporate bidder.

In the BLM’s news release, Brian Steed, the agency’s deputy director for policy and programs, said the public’s concerns were addressed, and the ultimate decision to offer up the land for lease was achieved “cooperatively.”

“This responsible energy project achieves the Secretary’s goal of being a good neighbor to local communities,” Steed said. “The BLM has worked diligently to address public comments while collaborating closely with the state of Utah and other federal agencies to complete the analysis and review.”

The BLM’s record of decision on the lease sale can be viewed at the BLM website or at the Kanab Field Office, 669 S. Highway 89A, Kanab.

St. George News reporter Spencer Ricks contributed to this report.

Email: jwitham@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2018, all rights reserved.

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13 Comments

  • mercman September 3, 2018 at 9:27 am

    The only way you can even see this area is to drive through private gates and to be at this operation. Why don’t the people that write these articles do a little research. There is no road you can drive on the Paunsaugunt plateau to look down on this open pit mine. Other than a few more trucks on hwy 89, which trucks use this route beween I40 and S.L.C., so you would not notice the coal trucks. No way this will negatively impact visitors at nearby Bryce Canyon National Park.

    • Utahguns September 3, 2018 at 10:11 am

      You’re absolutely correct.

      The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance does not take into consideration the economic advantages: jobs, commerce, and larger tax base when determining their position. By the way SUWA, smart economic strategies will help our planet….
      As far as “destroying the breeding grounds of the grouse” ? In reality, there’s millions upon millions of available acres in the West for this bird to thrive.
      This type of one-sided tree-hugging thinking is the is the same motivation that completely shut down or severely reduced numerous highly productive agricultural crop producing farms in the Central Valley in California when the state’s government decided to protect the Delta Minnow, a three inch miniscule fish species.
      Water to irrigate these highly needed crop producing farms was eliminated by the supposedly”ever clear headed” politicians of California.

      The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has also been a strong opponent in working with the BLM and Department of the Interior in utilizing methods to reduce the damage intensity of wildfires in our state.

      • tazzman September 3, 2018 at 1:34 pm

        As a onetime member of the National Parks and Conservation Association, I applaud the decision by the BLM and the coal miners working together to reach an agreement.

        And the article and accompanying photo gives the impression that the coal mine is on the “canyon” side of Bryce. It’s on the west side of the plateau. And it isn’t even visible by visitors looking down into the canyon area of Bryce.

        There’s a reason I am a former member of the NPCA, Wilderness Society, and was never a member of SUWA(or Sue-Ya as a more accurate moniker). These groups are preservation extremists and there is nothing conservation(re: balanced use) about them.

  • PogoStik September 3, 2018 at 9:49 am

    Why not 2,114 acres of solar panel farms? Nothing like raising dinosaurs in the 21st century. Utah will be stuck in the coal mines while the rest of the country moves on into the future.

    • tazzman September 3, 2018 at 1:30 pm

      Why do you assume a solar farm is ideal in the Alton area? You can’t just plop a farm down anywhere. You pick spots where you can maximize solar energy generation.

      The same goes for wind farms. The same goes for hydroelectric. The same goes for coal. You go where the deposits are.

  • Striker4 September 3, 2018 at 10:13 am

    It seems having to research the facts before commenting is not the order of the day

    • Happy Commenter September 3, 2018 at 11:03 am

      The mine has been there for years, no news here, just another tactic to get the tree hugger’s panties in a pucker!

      • Redbud September 3, 2018 at 4:45 pm

        Agreed. This is another story that makes me happy to read. More jobs! Thank you President Trump for making these employment opportunities available to Utah! Another loss for the tree huggers!!!

  • Red2Blue310 September 3, 2018 at 8:41 pm

    No jobs for you retired. And…hope you are down stream when the drinking water is so polluted, you lose hair and break out in rashes. Alton Coal Development’s current operation on state land has been cited for numerous environmental violations, including allowing polluted wastewater to leak into local streams, and for failure to adequately reclaim lands they’ve already disturbed. The company is private and its ownership is hidden behind legal walls.

    • Redbud September 4, 2018 at 3:49 am

      For better or worse, the coal mining will happen. You can complain all you want, and even pull up dirty laundry about the company until you’re blue in the face, but it’s happening.

  • Red2Blue310 September 3, 2018 at 8:42 pm

    This is just another payoff for Hatch up there in Panguitch

    • Happy Commenter September 4, 2018 at 3:09 pm

      Yawn, typical liberal hogwash! Got some proof of that?

  • commonsense September 4, 2018 at 6:03 pm

    Balancing the human need for jobs and affordable energy against recreation is tough but this coal operation is ten miles away from the national park. Tha’s plenty of buffer. Liberals would have everything in the West protecteded and everyone dependent on government support. There is virtually no protected lands in the northeast where liberalism abounds.

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