Proposed coal mine expansion near Bryce Canyon could bring jobs, but at what cost?

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

ST. GEORGE — Thousands of acres of land near Bryce Canyon National Park could soon be part of a massive coal mine expansion, but environmental groups are continuing to fight against it.

An undated photo shows a dirt road winding through the Alton Coal tract near Alton, Utah | Photo courtesy of Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

Alton Coal Development’s plan to expand its tract in Kane County could increase the coal mine by 3,581 acres, which includes 2,305 acres of land administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

The expansion also supports the Trump administration’s “priorities of energy independence and being a good neighbor to local communities,” according to a press release from the BLM.

“Alton Coal is an economic engine that provides good paying jobs that benefit the entire region,” U.S. Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said. “I’m grateful for Secretary (of the Interior Ryan) Zinke’s leadership and vision for making domestic energy production a priority again.”

In the BLM’s final environmental impact statement for the Alton Coal tract expansion, which was released earlier this month, the agency pointed to job growth and economic improvement as positive impacts of the possible expansion. It could add 100 new jobs for mine workers, as well as 240-480 jobs that could be created indirectly at grocery stores, retail stores and fuel providers in the area.

“Alton Coal provides family sustaining wage jobs that are needed in our county and has provided some 30 jobs to date with the ability to expand as well as the additional indirect trucking jobs,” Kane County Commissioner Dirk Clayson said. “This plays a vital role in our economy.”

If the coal mine is expanded to the size requested by Alton Coal, nearly 45 million tons of coal could be extracted from the land. However, the BLM’s preferred alternative would reduce the amount of extractable coal to just over 30 million tons.


While expanding the mine may add jobs to the region, environmentalists argue expanding the mine would negatively impact the experience for visitors at Bryce Canyon National Park, which lies less than ten miles away from the mine expansion proposal.

A stock image shows the Milky Way over Bryce Canyon National Park | Photo by Nicholas Krotki/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

“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,” said Dave Nimkin, director of the southwest region of the National Parks Conservation Association.

The BLM’s environmental impact study concluded that the amount of light from the expanded coal mine at night would be nearly negligible, but Nimkin said any light at night would impact the night sky over Bryce Canyon. The famous dark skies over Bryce Canyon allow visitors to see 7,500 stars on a moonless night, according to the National Park Service.

“Every effort needs to be made to reduce light pollution over Bryce Canyon,” Nimkin said.

He said the large number of jobs that could come from the mine shouldn’t be minimized, but if the coal mine impacts Bryce Canyon National Park, it could hurt the “expansive number of jobs” that is currently provided through the National Park Service or through the tourism industry.

Another concern Nimkin has about the coal mine expansion is whether there will be enough demand in Utah or the United States for the coal produced from the mine as renewable energy sources continue to decrease the need for coal.

“I’m not an economist, so we can’t speculate about what the future market is for the amount of coal that will be mined out of this site, but I’m really wondering if the local or domestic market for coal can absorb all of that and if it can be profitable to export it to Asia. Do we really need to be impacting one of these incredible natural resources for not domestic use of coal but for export to international markets?”

What’s next?

The decision to expand the coal mine now rests with officials from the BLM, who will issue a decision in no less then 30 days from Friday. There are several alternatives listed within the environmental impact study, including not accepting the mine expansion application or reducing the size of the mine expansion.

Meanwhile, environmental groups like the National Parks Conservation Association and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance will continue to express their concerns about the expansion.

“We have about a million-and-a-half supporters and members from across the country who regard Bryce Canyon as a natural wonder and they entrust us to work with them and work on their behalf to protect these places and these basic intrinsic values that are so important,” Nimkin said. “We take that responsibility very seriously.”

Email: [email protected]

Twitter:  @STGnews | @SpencerRicks

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

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  • statusquo July 21, 2018 at 7:52 am

    Bryce like many parks is already at peak capacity. No need to be concerned about impacting the park with a coal mine ten miles away. The two will coexist.

  • LocalTourist July 21, 2018 at 8:18 am

    How about putting the cost of developing a coal mine into cleaner, ore modern technology?
    Although it’s about 40% of world wide energy today, coal is a dying energy source…it’s being replaced by cleaner technology.
    We can change gears and modernize our industrial base…we’ve done it before. Notice how we build jets, rather than biplanes?

    • John July 21, 2018 at 9:16 am

      Oh, next you will be telling cows how to deliver milk, low information tourist. You are really annoying and clueless . What gives you the right to demand what business a company goes into when you have nothing to do with it. Go back to California where you came from!

      • LocalTourist July 21, 2018 at 10:35 am

        Grow up, John. You’re great at calling people names but you havent brought anything worthwhile to the conversation. Stop being such a whiney snowflake and do something right, for once in your life. Or would you rather leave scorched as a legacy for your children?
        You LIKE smog? It’s coming to St George. Its a result of fossil fuels, and you cant blame the refineries like SLC does (although its actually the cars).
        What gives me the right? IT’S MY STATE TOO. Thats what gives me the right. Don’t like it? Tough.

        • John July 21, 2018 at 11:28 am

          Neither have you, low information tourist! Go back to California!

        • John July 21, 2018 at 11:36 am

          BTW, Your’e the snowflake, your sorry clueless butt melts everytime somebody calls you out with facts, you low information tourist! You have no right whatsoever to tell anyone how to run their business, so bite it blowhard!

          • LocalTourist July 21, 2018 at 12:09 pm

            Crybaby John,
            You havent provided a single fact, all you have done is spout insults, typical snowflake keyboard warrior.
            Solar jobs are growing in Utah twice as fast as the rest of the country, and YOU want to dig a hole.

          • John July 21, 2018 at 1:25 pm

            One fact is you are not a republican because a republican would not tell a business owner how to run their business. #2 You never answered the first question.. What gives you the right to tell a business owner how to run his business? your’e the one doing all the crying mr low information rino! I’ll be waiting for a legitimate answer and not your crybaby “because i don’t like it” line! Do you also tell your neighbors how they should landscape their property, are you really that much of a no-life control freak? And please remember you’re the only one doing any crying around here you triggered californian fool!

          • comments July 21, 2018 at 2:56 pm

            John needs to crawl back into his sewer for a nice long nap. He gets too riled up when he’s out in the open air. Yes, John likes smog. It’s not a surprise–this is a guy that lives in the sewer. LOL 😉

  • DRT July 21, 2018 at 8:53 am

    The environmentalists will fight all and any mining expansions, no matter where or what they are. It’s not about the environment, it’s about control. It’s about power, and their ability to raise donations.
    In the end, this is about dollars.

    • comments July 21, 2018 at 10:18 am

      complete nonsense.

      • LocalTourist July 21, 2018 at 10:38 am

        No, DRT, he’s right…it’s about dollars. It’s about money changing hands, and business being able to steamroll over citizens. And he’s right, its about control…and Guv Herbie LOVES that control. We keep giving business all these tax breaks, and the businesses stick around just until the tax break expires…then they move on. WalMart has done that for decades, build by a city border, get a tax break, then move to the other city when the current tax break expires.
        These mines will be no different– they’ll mine, promise to clean up after themselves, and go bankrupt just as the coal runs out.

        • John July 21, 2018 at 11:38 am

          low information tourist… go back to california! Take your liberal BS with you!

          • LocalTourist July 21, 2018 at 12:07 pm

            Try again, John. I’m a native Utahn.
            And I’m a card-carrying Republican. So you’re wrong on all accounts. How about you go back to kindergarten?

          • John July 21, 2018 at 12:34 pm

            low information tourist.. you are a liar and a fraud..If you are a republican you are a RINO just like collins and mccain.. get lost are a clueless fool and that’s not my fault. Take your liberal BS and go back to california with all the other fruits and nuts!

        • John July 21, 2018 at 1:46 pm

          And just so you get it straight, I don’t need to provide any facts, dippy! I asked you to tell us where you get the right to tell people what to do with their businesses? Show me the law that gives you the right! Put up or shut up, crybaby!

  • beacon July 21, 2018 at 2:38 pm

    Too bad that some have to call names rather than dealing in facts. Coal has been struggling for some time. This info from a Federal Reserve website provides some details.

    “In its 2017 Annual Energy Outlook, the U.S Energy Information Administration (EIA) noted that the move away from coal-fired electricity production will likely continue.

    The authors pointed out that, according to EIA’s base scenario, electricity production from renewable resources will surpass that of coal by 2030. In addition, labor productivity gains in coal production will further reduce employment in the industry.

    However, Gascon and Crews noted there are two areas worthy of optimism:

    The demand for coal used in steel production
    The demand for rare earth elements that can be extracted from coal”

    The coal required for steel production and rare earth elements is very specific. Will the Bryce Canyon area coal be useful or just contribute to our increasing global warming and climate change problems? With the climate change problems seen in the world today, it’s a dicey thing to think that pursuing more coal in Utah is a good thing, but it’s certainly a good way of keeping kids attached to mom’s apron strings.

    • mesaman July 21, 2018 at 10:00 pm

      Suddenly a “beacon” of sane, rational, and reasonable thinking is presented. Coal is not the enemy, it is the corps of naysayers who simply do not connect to the problem but love the attention it gives them. Maybe a new description; “ego huggers” is needed.

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