Obama Administration Considers Dangerous Expansion Of Strip Coal Mine Just Steps From Bryce Canyon National Park

By Jessica Goad, Manager of Research and Outreach, Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Last week the Bureau of Land Management took an initial action towards approving the dramatic expansion of Utah’s only strip coal mine located in the Alton Coal Tract in southwest Utah by releasing a draft environmental impact statement for the project. The Coal Hollow Mine is currently located on 635 acres of private land, but the Alton Coal Development company has applied to expand it onto 2,280 surface acres of public lands and 1,296 acres of private lands for a total of 3,576 acres—a more than 500% increase.

The enlarged mine would be located merely 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park. The draft environmental analysis of the coal mine released by BLM last week found that there would be major impacts on both the environment and the community surrounding it. In addition to the release of criteria air pollutants, the increased risk of solid waste spills, and impacts to Bryce Canyon’s famous night skies, the BLM’s draft environmental analysis found that:

There would be an adverse impact to recreation, and adverse impacts to sense of community, social well-being, and tourism-related businesses.

In the press, a BLM official did not play down the adverse impacts of the mine—district planner Keith Rigtrup said “It’s a project with significant impacts.”

Of note is the fact that the BLM did not analyze the effects of mining and burning this coal on global climate change because, it claimed, “existing climate prediction models are not at a scale sufficient to estimate potential impacts of climate change within the analysis area.” In essence, BLM officials declared that the amount of recoverable coal generated by the mine (46 million tons) is insignificant on a global scale, and therefore the agency should not be bothered to analyze its “possible” effects on the climate. The analysis also assumes that “United States demand for coal is expected to increase by approximately 0.4% per year through 2035,” a catastrophic scenario.

A report from the Department of Energy released last week found that global output of carbon dioxide increased by the biggest margin ever recorded last year. As the Associated Press explained, “levels of greenhouse gases are higher than the worst case scenario outlined by climate experts just four years ago.”

This step in the wrong direction with regard to the Alton coal project is not the Secretary’s first miscalculation with regard to coal development on public lands. In March the Interior Department announced plans to auction off more than 2 billion tons of coal. As ClimateProgress’ Joe Romm said at the time, “This decision certainly eviscerates Salazar’s green street cred.”

The Salt Lake Tribune framed the decision as one that forces Utahns to “debate which kind of economic development is best: heavy industry or tourism.” Bryce Canyon National Park is an economic generator for southwestern Utah, creating 1,628 jobs and $101 million in visitor spending in 2009. Because of the effects of this dirty coal mine on recreation and the national park, the Salt Lake Tribune called the development of the mine “unconscionable” and noted that residents are “right to worry.”

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