We think approving the expansion of a massive new open pit strip mine in Utah, wedged between Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, is a bad idea. You can read the details on why here.
The point of this blog is lay out the history and timeline of this fight as a resource for those looking to dive deeper. But first, a thumbnail sketch of the story.
The mine in question sits near the Southern Utah town of Alton, a short distance from Bryce Canyon and Zion—two of the nation’s most visited national parks. There’s an existing operation on state land, which was approved in 2009 over the objection of the National Park Service and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The operator, Alton Coal Development Co. (ACD), has applied for a lease to expand the mine onto 3,600 acres of adjacent federal land to access 45 million tons of coal. If approved, the expansion would more than triple the so called Coal Hollow Mine’s existing footprint, and quadruple its output to 2 million tons of coal a year.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service both called for rejection of the expansion onto federal land, as did nearby Indian Tribes, cultural and conservation groups and more than 175,000 concerned citizens. Alton Coal Development's current operation on state land has been cited for numerous environmental violations, including allowing polluted wastewater to leak into local streams, and for failure to adequately reclaim lands they’ve already disturbed. The company is private and its ownership is hidden behind legal walls.
The move onto federal land became possible when the Trump Administration nixed an Obama-era stop and reset of the deeply flawed federal coal leasing program.
Here’s what happens next: The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management completes a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), and if they decide to move forward will hold an “auction” of the land Alton Coal has proposed for lease. The FEIS is expected in the second half of the summer or in early fall.
Please Note: Some links below may no longer be active as BLM has removed all information regarding the Alton mine from its Utah site. We have requested that the information be restored, but it has not as of publication of this blog.
(The schedule directly below and the first four dated entries were produced as a result of a Freedom of Information Act petition submitted by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance to the Utah office of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Over the past several months state and federal officials have been meeting regularly with company representatives to produce the required Final Environmental Impact Statement for the expansion onto federal land).
Complete Administrative FEIS (full) for BLM review
5/1/15 – 6/30/17
Internal BLM Review of Administrative FEIS
7/5/17 – 7/28/17
Revise Administrative FEIS and develop Print Ready Document
7/28/17 – 9/15/17
Still Awaiting Release As of 5/21/18
April 12, 2017 Regular weekly/biweekly Alton lease proposal meeting attendees include Keith Rigtrup, Jeff McKenzie, Steve Rigby and Harry Barer, Bureau of Land Management (BLM); Mike Asch, US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS); Jake Garfield of the Utah Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office (PLPCO); Larry Johson and Kirk Nichols from Alton Coal Development Co. (ACD); Megan Houdeshel of law firm Parr Brown Gee & Loveless, representing ACD; Denise Dragoo of law firm Snell & Wilmer representing ACD; Gretchen Pinkham and Nicole Caveny of US Interior Department Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE); Byard Kershaw (Kane County, UT); Ben Gaddis, Gaddis Consulting (GCLLC); and Jeremy Eyre SWCA Environmental Consultants (SWCA).
FEIS Schedule produced (see above). BLM representative Keith Rigtrup stated that no public comment period is needed for FEIS. He added that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UT DWR) is ok with the sage grouse mitigation plan.
BLM says they will have to do a new Fair Market Value review for the FEIS since market conditions have changed so much since the last one was done. They add they don’t think the overall document will need to be reviewed by the federal Office of Management and Budget.
Some sections of the EIS that will likely need to be updated include the sage-grouse discussion, the air quality section, and the socioeconomics section. BLM staff noted that the SDEIS (previous version of EIS) received an excellent grade from the EPA, so they are not expecting there to be a lot of major gaps to fill in the Final Environmental Impact Statement.
April 5, 2017 BLM states that it will turn biweekly meetings on the Alton Coal Tract FEIS into weekly meetings.
April 5, 2017 BLM states it has received a letter from Alton Coal Development asking that BLM move forward with the FEIS on their Lease By Application (LBA) for a strip mine in Kane County. BLM states surface owner consent is required before leasing, and it would be preferable to have prior to publication of a Record of Decision (ROD), so consent can be stated in the ROD. ACD asks if they need surface owner consent for the acreage of preferred alternative, BLM responds it would be best to have consent for the entire LBA acreage.
BLM says next step in FEIS process will be to conduct a data adequacy review of the EIS to identify gaps and elements to update—BLM will coordinate with SWCA.
March 29, 2017 Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke issues Secretarial Order 3348 officially ending the moratorium of new coal leasing on federal lands, as well as the accompanying comprehensive review of the federal coal leasing program.
March 28, 2017 The Trump Administration announces a repeal of the coal moratorium, clearing the way for a lease auction and sale.
September 9, 2016 Alton Coal Development Company files Application for Modification of Lease By Application UTU 01895 in an attempt to address concerns raised BLM’s August 17th letter.
August 17, 2016 BLM rejects ACD Emergency Lease Application (Jenna Whitlock, Acting State Director—UT), claiming Alton Coal Development CO. does not meet the relevant criteria set out in Secretarial Order 3338 of January 15, 2016.
May 19, 2016 Alton Coal Development Co. submits application to BLM entitled “Modification of Alton Coal Tract Lease by Application, UTU 081895, withdrawing emergency lease application and replacing it with a modification. Alton Coal said their application meets the criteria for an exemption to the pause because:
- Based on Alton Coal’s current average annual production rate, the Federal coal lease is needed within 3 years to “maintain the existing Coal Hollow Mine operation as its current average annual level of production needed to meet existing coal supply contracts”
March 14, 2016, Alton Coal Development Co. submits application to BLM for an exception to the Moratorium through an emergency lease application to mine a 640-acre federal coal tract.
January 15, 2016, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell releases Secretarial Order 3338, pausing all further federal coal leasing until a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement can be completed. (There were exceptions to the S.O., including criteria to allow “emergency leases.”)
June 18, 2015, BLM publishes a Notice of Availability (NOA) for a Supplemental DEIS.
November 4, 2011, a notice of availability (NOA) was published for Alton Coal Tract LBA Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), 76 Fed. Reg. 68,501-02.
- After Reviewing 177,000 comments on the DEIS expressing concerns about potential impacts on sensitive species (sage-grouse), proximity to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, air quality, wetlands and night-sky impacts, BLM determined that a Supplemental EIS was necessary
November 28, 2006, a notice of intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for Alton tract published in Federal Register. 71 Fed Reg. 68.834-35.
- 90-day scoping period closed on February 27, 2007.
November 2004 Alton Coal Development Co files LBA to mine coal near Alton, Kane County, UT (Case Number UTU-081895)
- Application included 2,683 surface acres and an estimated 38 million tons of technically recoverable federal coal.
- Based on the identification of additional recoverable coal reserves not include in the original LBA and on additional surface acreage deemed necessary for mine operation, BLM reconfigured the tract applied for so as to include 3,581 surface acres and 44.9 million tons of recoverable coal reserves.