Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining Ruling Threatens Air, Water, Tourism Economy and Bryce Canyon National Park

Large-scale Coal Strip Mine Would Have Devastating Effects on Southern Utah

Salt Lake City, UT (December 9, 2010) -- The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association asked the Utah Supreme Court yesterday to stand up for air and water quality and essential tourism revenue after the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining (Board) jeopardized quality of life in Utah by approving the approximately 600-acre coal strip mine. The Board issued its final ruling to approve Alton Coal Development’s “Coal Hollow” strip mine in the end of November, ignoring the damage the proposed mine will have on local economies, cultural resources and the environment. Alton has already begun preparing the site at the strip mine located near Bryce Canyon National Park.

"A strip mine is not the sort of canyon tourists are flocking to see," said Natural Resources Defense Council Lands Program Director Sharon Buccino. "This project threatens the area's tourism economy. And when our nation is moving towards a clean energy economy to deliver jobs and prosperity, a new coal mine is about the last thing we need."

In addition to the devastating effects Alton Coal’s mine would have on local economies, the mine threatens Bryce Canyon National Park.

"The Board's ruling needlessly puts one of Utah's treasured landscapes, Bryce National Park, at risk,” said Karen Hevel-Mingo, Program Coordinator for the National Parks Conservation Association. “Thousands of visitors come to Bryce each year to marvel at the pristine night skies and beautiful vistas. Bryce National Park is also an important contributor to local economies."

The damage the strip mine would do to local economies is of particular concern to area residents such as Bobbi Bryant, who owns a small business in Panguitch.

“This is much bigger than one mine; it is a decision for Utah to allow coal strip mining to take place near our beautiful national parks and monuments, and we would like the Utah Supreme Court to consider and agree that there are better choices for our environment and economy,” said Bryant. “Our hope is that the Utah Supreme Court will realize the negative impacts of this coal strip mine on the fragile lands and air around Bryce Canyon National Park and the surrounding communities and see what Utah Division of Oil Gas and Mining did not.”

On October 19, 2009, the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved a surface mining permit for the Alton strip mine. The permit allows for mining of 2 million tons of coal per year for approximately three years.  Mining operations would require up to 300 coal truck trips per day traveling 110 miles one-way from Alton to Cedar City, which would result in one truck leaving the site every seven minutes.  

The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association all appealed the Division’s decision, arguing that plans for the strip mine fail to adequately account for potential harmful impacts on the area’s water, air, wildlife and cultural resources. The Board affirmed the mining permit after ruling against the groups on every issue and uniformly rejecting -- without explanation or analysis -- the detailed testimony of the accomplished scientists who identified serious defects in the plans for the Alton mine.

“It is disappointingly clear that the Board refused to consider how this mine will irreparably damage Southern Utah,” said Sierra Club organizer Clair Jones. “There is no way the Board should have allowed this mine to go forward if they considered the ways it would devastate small business owners and the air and water quality in Southern Utah. Unless the Utah Supreme Court does what is best for Southern Utah, we are going to see untold damage done so a company can strip mine a dirty, dangerous and outdated fossil fuel.”