Utah high court turns back coal mine challenge

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 3:55 PM

Paul Foy

SALT LAKE CITY— State regulators acted properly in issuing a permit for a coal mine outside Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah’s high court ruled Tuesday.

The Utah Supreme Court turned back a challenge brought by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups that asserted the state failed to assess the full environmental impacts of a strip mine operating a dozen miles from a corner of the national park.

Regulators satisfied state law with a plan to monitor the coal mine for any water pollution that gets into local creeks, justices said in their 22-page decision.

The Sierra Club and other groups took an appeal first to the Utah Board of Oil, Gas & Mining, which upheld the operating permit issued by state regulators. The high court Tuesday affirmed the board’s decision.

Alton Coal Development LLC has been operating the mine on 440 acres of private land for more than a year and is seeking permission to expand on surrounding federal range lands.

The company, a group of investors from Florida and Colorado, received tentative lease approval a year ago from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management over the objection of other federal agencies. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Park Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency oppose the mine’s expansion.

Federal biologists say the larger mine will wipe out the southernmost population of sage grouse. The National Park Service objects to the dust, nighttime lights and machinery noise of around-the-clock mining in an area so quiet that measuring devices fail to register natural sounds.

The EPA also filed objections, saying the coal mining would muddy local creeks and release methane, a greenhouse gas the EPA says is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

The Utah Supreme Court didn’t rule on the larger mine, saying only that regulators were justified in approving mining on the smaller private parcel.

Utah officials favor a larger strip mine. Local officials say it will create at least 240 jobs and provide $1.5 billion in economic benefits to Garfield and Kane counties over 30 years.

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