Monday, December 07, 2009

First Coal Strip Mine in Utah Threatens Air, Water, Tourism and Bryce Canyon National Park— Environmental Organizations Challenge Permit

Salt Lake City, Utah - Local and national environmental organizations filed
a petition yesterday afternoon to halt the proposed Coal Hollow coal strip mine, which would sit just west of Bryce Canyon National Park. They argue that plans for the strip mine fail to adequately account for the potential for harmful impacts on the area’s water, air, wildlife and cultural resources.

The petition was filed with the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining by the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association.

On October 19, 2009, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining of Natural Resources approved the permit for the Coal Hollow strip mine, which would be the first coal strip mine in Utah. The permit allows for mining of 2 million tons of coal per year for approximately three years. The permit was approved shortly after a meeting between the mine developer—Alton Coal Development—and Utah Governor Gary Herbert.

"We are taking this action in response to concern from local residents and others that this mine will damage the pristine air and water quality and wildlife of the area, increase dangerous truck traffic and have negative impacts on tourism and the visitor experience at Bryce Canyon National Park," said Clair Jones, of the Utah Sierra Club.

Hatch resident Tom Stechschulte also opposes the mine. "If this mine opens it will affect all of the surrounding communities, and will result in the irreversible transformation of our pastoral, peaceful environment to one that is dominated by coal dust, diesel fumes and noisy trucks," he said.

Mining operations will require up to 300 coal truck trips per day traveling 110 miles one-way from Alton to Cedar City, which could result in one truck leaving the site every seven minutes. The coal-haul route would run through several small towns along State Highway 89, including Panguitch, a town recently placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

"It is a documented fact that when coal mines come into communities, there is a negative impact on "Mom and Pop" retail businesses,” said Bobbi Bryant, a small business owner in Panguitch. "I own a shop that is right next to the haul route, and the noise and fumes from the trucks will make traveling to Bryce Canyon less pleasurable and much more dangerous. Most shop, restaurant and motels owners, myself included, will not get as many customers, and we could be faced with closing our business."

David Nimkin, Southwest regional director for the National Parks Conservation Association also opposes the permit because of the impact it will have on the park. "Bryce Canyon National Park is one of Utah’s greatest assets. Its pristine night skies, clean air and magnificent views are threatened by the dust and light pollution generated from this proposed mine only 10 miles from the park boundary. These mining activities will most certainly impact the quality experiences of over 1.5 million visitors to Bryce each year."

"Because I have asthma, my husband and I spent years looking for the perfect place to spend our retirement before finding our home in Panguitch. This mine will essentially shatter our dreams of living in a pristine and beautiful place with good air and water quality, and if the strip mine ever opens, we will be forced to leave the town that we thought we would grow old in. I never would have thought we would face this kind of threat living so close to so many public lands," said Panguitch local Luella McMahan.

"This initial approval by the Division of Oil, Gas, and Mining is just the camel's nose under the tent," said Stephen Bloch, Conservation Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "The Bureau of Land Management is currently analyzing a proposal by Alton Coal Development to lease a larger tract of public land immediately adjacent to the just-approved mine, one that would vastly expand the size of the project to the tune of 46 million tons of coal that would be strip mined over the next 15 years."

"This strip mine would be huge step backwards," said Sharon Buccino, Director of the Land and Wildlife Program for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "There's no need to threaten the environment and economy around Bryce Canyon with one of the dirtiest, damaging, and out-dated fuels out there. The region is blessed with incredible renewable energy potential to take advantage of that would be far preferable and safer for the surrounding communities."

More information, and to see the petition, look here.

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