for Biological Diversity
SALT LAKE CITY— Plans by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Ark Land Company to expand mining at the Southern Utah Fuel Company Coal Mine have been halted following an appeal by Utah Environmental Congress, the Center for Biological Diversity and Grand Canyon Trust. The groups challenged the agencies’ final environmental impact statement and record of decision.
The mine – which straddles the Manti-La Sal and Fishlake national forests north of Interstate 70 between the towns of Emery and Salina – is consistently the largest producer in Utah. The expansion would allow the extraction of 55.7 million tons of greenhouse gas emitting coal destined for Japan via the port of Los Angeles.
“This is great news for south Manti’s sage grouse population that would have been lost,” said Utah Environmental Congress’s Kevin Mueller. “The new power lines, traffic and huge ventilation facilities would have been so harmful that the decision we challenged admittedly would have contributed to formal Endangered Species Act listing.”
In light of the challenge, the Forest Service withdrew its consent to the Bureau of Land Management’s request to sell coal located underneath the two national forests. This “split estate” situation is common in the western United States: The BLM owns the coal and is charged with selling it for “maximum economic recovery,” according to Mueller; the U.S. Forest Service, in turn, owns the surface and is charged with protecting resources like fish and wildlife and clean water. The Forest Service’s sensitive species policy, which prohibits actions with adverse impacts likely to contribute to the need to list a species endangered under the Endangered Species Act, was an important consideration in the appeal.
“This longwall coal mine recently caused a permanent loss of already-scarce surface water in North Fork Box creek. Wildlife relied on that water up on the plateau,” said Grand Canyon Trust’s Mary O’Brien. “The mine must not continue to degrade the forest and risk dewatering our high country; the coal will be shipped abroad in under 10 years, but we’ll need the water forever.”
The impact of coal on air quality and global climate change is also an important consideration. “The impacts of climate change are here now — we see them in increased weather extremes, melting ice fields and ocean acidification,” said the Center for Biological Diversity’s Rob Mrowka. “Coal is the dirtiest energy source around, and if changes in climate are to be slowed and stabilized, coal-fired plants such as those that would have been fed from this mine have to be phased out.”
Appellants have received letters and word from the national forests that prior to any new decisions there will be a supplemental analysis and opportunity for cooperation and formal public input. The groups look forward to future cooperation.