After a Decade, Court Ruling Finally Opens Door for Biden Administration to Halt Alton Coal Mine Expansion
SALT LAKE CITY, UT – Today, a Utah federal District Court ruled in favor of a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) challenge to protect iconic Utah public lands from the Alton mining expansion. Filed by Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Grand Canyon Trust, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and WildEarth Guardians, the groups have been seeking to protect Bryce Canyon National Park and the local environment from the coal mining expansion for the last ten years.
The conservation groups have opposed the expansion since it was first proposed in 2011. Given the climate, lands, and wildlife impacts, more than 200,000 members of the public submitted comments urging BLM to reject the proposed expansion. In August of 2018, the Trump Administration Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved a plan to allow Alton to expand its mine onto 2,114 acres of public land and mineral rights to extract more than 30 million tons of coal. The lawsuit challenged the approval on the ground that BLM had failed to fully disclose and analyze the mine’s impact on climate change and mercury pollution as required by NEPA.
In today’s ruling, the court held that BLM erred in touting the supposed economic benefits of the mine without including a discussion of the economic costs associated with climate change in the same discussion. The court also agreed with plaintiffs that BLM had not adequately addressed the cumulative climate impact of the mine when considered together with other fossil fuel projects that contribute to climate change, including pollution from transporting and burning the coal at the Intermountain Power coal plant. The Trump Administration didn’t consider these factors or the unprecedented amount of comments filed in opposition of the proposal to expand the mine. Moving forward, the Biden Administration has an opportunity to conduct a well-rounded review of all the impacts of the coal mine.
The proposed strip mine would be located a short distance from Bryce Canyon National Park. In addition to its air pollution and climate impacts, the coal mine expansion threatens wildlife, including North America’s southernmost population of Greater Sage Grouse, and would negatively impact the famously dark night skies in the park.
“In addition to the damage it would cause for our climate, expanding the Alton coal mine so close to Bryce Canyon National Park risks the very things that are integral to the park experience such as expansive views across the colorful hoodoos, clean air, natural quiet and dark, starry night skies,” said Cory MacNulty, southwest associate director at the National Parks Conservation Association. “After this victory in court, we hope that the Biden administration takes a fresh look at this coal mine expansion, protects Bryce Canyon and follows their commitment to move away from harmful fossil fuel projects, especially next to our national parks.”
“We applaud the court’s decision to halt the Alton mine expansion to give the Biden Administration a chance to assess the full scale of impacts from a dangerous mining project. We are very concerned with the potential negative impacts of an expanded Alton mine on air quality in and near Bryce Canyon. Industrial impacts such as air pollution are not only detrimental to people’s health, but a blight on the beautiful scenery of Southern Utah and the last thing we want to see and experience when visiting a national park,” said Jonny Vasic, Executive Director Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.
“The federal government has long sold off the American public’s coal reserves by telling a one-sided story about making money while ignoring the severe climate-change costs,” said Aaron Paul, Staff Attorney with the Grand Canyon Trust. “We’re grateful the court reminded the government that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.”
“With this latest court win, it’s so clear that the continued federal bailouts for the coal industry is completely contrary to the need to confront the climate crisis and address our communities’ concerns around toxic air pollutants,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “It’s time for the Biden administration to stop the trend of leasing more land to coal mining and to chart a just and equitable transition from fossil fuels.”
“The court brought down the hammer over what should have been obvious to BLM from the get-go -- you can’t trumpet this mine’s supposed economic benefits without also talking about its colossal climate costs,” said Ann Alexander, a senior attorney at NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “We hope the Biden administration takes this opportunity for a fresh look at this truly awful project.”
“After a decade-long legal battle, the Biden Administration has an opportunity to supersede past federal Administration’s disregard for our public lands and climate impacts at the Alton mine in southern Utah. Our organizations remain strongly committed to protecting the climate, environment, and cultural resources and we hope the Biden Administration will recognize just how dangerous the Alton mine expansion is for our environment,” said Nathaniel Shoaff, Senior Attorney with the Sierra Club’s Environmental Law Program.
NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3.5 million members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.
Since 1919, the nonpartisan National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been the leading voice in safeguarding our national parks. NPCA and its nearly 1.4 million members and supporters work together to protect and preserve our nation’s most iconic and inspirational places for future generations. For more information, visit www.npca.org.