By Tom Kenworthy, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Hundreds of thousands of people have stated their opposition to a proposed big expansion of a coal strip mine in Utah that would harm Bryce Canyon National Park and the recreation economy associated with the southern Utah attraction that has enjoyed federal protection for nearly 90 years.
Known for its slot canyons and ghostly red rock spires called hoodoos, Bryce is threatened by a plan to greatly expand the nearby existing Coal Hollow Mine from 635 acres to 3,576 acres, with a majority of the expansion taking place on public lands. If completed, the mine would then include areas just 10 miles from Bryce.
The National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service have all weighed in with serious concerns about the mine proposal, as has the Hopi Tribe, which estimates up to 74 archaeological sites could be harmed or ruined. Park Service objections are particularly strong, and that agency has recommended the project not go forward, saying:
The park has determined that [the mine expansion would have] adverse effects on surrounding comunities, the tourism industry of southern Utah, air quality standards, dark skies conservation, and regional wildlife
In a letter last week, Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, urged Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to “consider the signal this decision sends regarding the future of our parks, forests, monuments, and wildlife areas and reject the call for expanding coal mining.”
Repeating concerns raised by other federal agencies about air quality, the park’s well-known night skies, natural quiet and wetlands and wildlife, Markey also reminded Salazar of the Obama administration’s commitment to clean energy development on public lands:
Proceeding with the expansion of coal mining in a sensitive area so close to a national park calls in question our dedication to promoting renewable energy development both on and off public lands
More than 210,000 comments have been been submitted to public land managers in opposition to the strip mine expansion.
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management has issued a draft environmental analysis of the coal mine, with a proposed action that would allow the expansion to go forward.
As it has in regard to several new coal mining leases in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, the BLM has closed its eyes to the Utah mine’s impact on climate change, contending that existing climate prediction models cannot estimate potential climate change impacts from one mine.
In November, two climate scientists called that dodge flawed and scientifically indefensible.