Climate + Energy

Guardians Thwarts Mine Expansion in Utah National Forest

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 11.12.55 AMAbout 150 miles south of Salt Lake City Utah, right in the middle of the Manti-La Sal National Forest and Fishlake National Forest is the Sufco coal mine. In operation since 1941, the mine is located in the southern Wasatch Plateau near the small town of Castle Dale and U.S. Interstate 70. The mine is just north of the beautiful Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Capitol Reef National Park.

The mine’s owner, Bowie, has recently proposed to expand two leases at the mine, opening up about 8.55 million tons of additional coal and extending the life of the mine by 1.5 years. At the same time, the generating stations that normally purchase coal from Sufco mine are shutting down (or already have).

The proposed expansion is wasteful and what’s worse, the coal from the expansion would likely be shipped overseas and wouldn’t benefit American citizens in the least. Even more troubling, Bowie was just granted a royalty reduction, which means that due to “difficulties” in mining at Sufco, the coal company does not have to pay as much to the state. Essentially, Sufco just got a big subsidy so it can extract unnecessary, expensive coal that no one wants, and left the surrounding rural communities out to dry.

We challenged this unnecessary proposal last week on the grounds that both leases were technically invalid and couldn’t be modified, and that the agency failed to properly analyze the environmental impacts of the expansion. In a comment letter to the BLM, we called out the agency for their woefully inefficient analysis and total disregard for climate change and air pollution resulting from expanded mining.

The proposed expansion is especially deplorable because of the natural beauty in the Manti-La Sal and Fishlake National Forests,  which, due to the expanding mining, are at risk.

The Manti-La Sal National Forest covers more than 1.2 million acres and is located in the central and southeastern parts of Utah. The La Sal Mountains are the second highest mountain range in Utah after the Uintas and parts of the forest are included in the Bears Ears National Monument. The area is home to numerous native species such as the American Pika, Colorado Cutthroat Trout, and the imperiled Greater Sage-grouse.

To the west of the mine is the Fishlake National Forest, which is home to the Pando Clone, the biggest aspen unified root system ever identified, the single most massive living organism known on Earth.

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A photo of Pando in the fall at Fish Lake National Forest. Pando is Latin for “I Spread”. 
Credit: John Zapell/US Forest Service.

Not only are these beautiful landscapes and incredible natural wonders at risk, but our own human health is also risked when companies like Bowie unleash more coal.

Mining and burning coal release harmful pollutants into the air. These include mercury, fine pollution particles, and chemicals that form smog, which all damaging to our health. Coal mining also releases methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is making our dire climate change problem even worse.

We know that coal mining is a dying industry, but industry big-wigs like Bowie are attempting to squeeze every last penny out before the inevitable collapse, harming our health and right to clean air and water in the process.

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We’ve challenged these issues before – in a brief filed with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, we challenged the legality of the Interior Department’s decision to approve the Greens Hollow Lease, a lease that Bowie currently wants to expand. In our challenge, we cited the agency’s failure to protect sage grouse, the climate, and endangered fish in the region.

This latest proposal to expand the Greens Hollow and Quitchupah leases is more of the same – Bowie wants to increase its profits regardless of where the coal is going to go, and regardless of the climate impacts. BLM’s job is to analyze and explain the impacts, but it continues to fall short.

While Trump and Zinke are moving to sacrifice our public lands for fossil fuels, we’re not backing down from challenging the expanding these leases, thwarting Bowie’s plans, and defending our climate and landscapes.

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