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November 02, 2012

Coal Strip Mine Near Bryce Canyon National Park Would Have Devastating Effects on Southern Utah

Groups Continue Efforts to Protect People, a National Park, and Wildlife

Bryce Canyon National Park_NPSBryce Canyon National Park, courtesy National Park Service

In a disappointing decision that underscores the historic hold that the dirty fossil fuel industry has had on Utah, the Utah Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a state permit that allows the Alton Coal Mine to strip mine coal from 600 acres of state and private lands near Bryce Canyon National Park.

The Sierra Club and its partners – the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, National Parks Conservation Association, and Natural Resources Defense Council – had filed an appeal of the state permit last year because the state agency in charge failed to adequately consider the immediate and long-term harm a strip mine will cause in this beautiful region of Utah.

Fortunately, the permit does notgive the mining company approval to mine on an adjacent 3,500-acre section of Bureau of Land Management (BLM) public lands managed in trust for all Americans. Because the harm that this proposed expansion of the Alton strip mine will cause, the BLM conducted an environmental review of the proposal last year. In the ensuing public comment period, more than 260,000 public comments were submitted to the federal government in opposition to the mine expansion.

Together with our coalition partners we submitted detailed comments to the BLM highlighting the Bureau's inadequate review of how an expansion of the Alton mine onto federal lands will harm water quality, kill wildlife and diminish hunting opportunities, and pollute Bryce Canyon National Park. Both the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service submitted letters firmly opposing the mine’s expansion due to concerns over these devastating threats.

If the federal government allowed the mine to expand, increased coal dust and other pollutants would threaten public health. Lights from the 24-hour mining operation would ruin Bryce Canyon National Park's renowned night skies. The southernmost population of sage grouse, a bird that is a candidate for listing under the Endangered Species Act, would have its habitat stripped away. Roads through rural communities would be clogged by up to 300 coal trucks leaving and returning to the mine each day.

"This is simply the wrong place and the wrong time for acoal mine," said Tim Wagner, with the Sierra Club in Salt Lake City. "We should be investing in clean, responsible energy resources instead of doubling down on old, dirty, fossil fuels. The Bureau of Land Management should protect the natural resources of this irreplaceable land for future generations rather than ruining public land for dirty coal we don’t need."

In response to the outpouring of opposition and public comments, the Bureau of Land Management is now in the process of preparing a supplement to their environmental review of the proposal. We expect that document to be available for public review in 2013. And we hope that the agency will see that the threats clearly make the case against expanding the Alton Coal Mine. They should listen to their sister natural resource agencies and deny the mine's proposal to expand.

-- by Tim Wagner, Utah Representative for Sierra Club


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