Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

Utah Supreme Court Issues Decision on Large-Scale Coal Strip Mine

8:42 am


October 30, 2012

Tim Wagner, Sierra Club, 801.467.9294
Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.859.1552 (cell)
Josh Mogerman, Natural Resources Defense Council, 312.651.7909

Utah Supreme Court Issues Decision on Large-Scale Coal Strip Mine that Would Have Devastating Effects on Southern Utah

Coal Mine Threatens Sage Grouse, Tourism Economy and Bryce Canyon National Park

Salt Lake City, UT – In a decision issued earlier this morning, the Utah Supreme Court upheld a state mining permit that allows Alton Coal Development to strip mine roughly 600 acres of private lands – the Coal Hollow Mine. The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association reaffirmed their commitment to protect the local environment key to southern Utah’s tourism-oriented economy. The Utah Supreme Court’s ruling sets the stage for a broader fight over the proposed expansion of the private mine onto 3,500 acres of publicly owned land within a dozen miles of Bryce Canyon National Park.

In addition to impacting local air and water quality, threatening Bryce Canyon National Park’s renown night skies, and decimating North America’s southern-most population of sage grouse, the proposed around the clock 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.

“Today’s decision is disappointing,” said Steve Bloch with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “However, this is too important. We will continue to fight to preserve the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the night skies at Bryce Canyon National Park enjoyed by thousands of tourists each year.”

After receiving nearly 200,000 comments from federal agencies, the Hopi Tribe, and concerned citizens – including small business owners, doctors, and environmentalists – the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) committed to taking another look at the health and environmental impacts of the proposed expansion onto federal lands, with further environmental review expected in 2013. Earlier this year, both the National Park Service and Fish & Wildlife Service criticized the proposed expansion and urged BLM to reject the project.

“This is simply the wrong place and the wrong time for another coal mine” added Tim Wagner, with the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. “We should be investing in clean, responsible energies instead of doubling down on old, dirty, fossil fuels. BLM should do what is best for Southern Utah rather than what is best for one private company.”

“A strip mine is not the sort of canyon tourists are flocking to see,” said Natural Resources Defense Council Deputy Media Director Josh Mogerman. “This project needlessly threatens the area’s tourism economy. Those jobs are on the line, when a project robs the area of the pristine night skies and beautiful vistas at Bryce Canyon National Park that draws visitors from around the country. They don’t come here to see a strip mine. And when our nation is moving towards a clean energy economy to deliver jobs and prosperity, this new coal mine would be a big step backwards.”

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Steve Bloch

An Unbalanced, Lose-Lose Proposition

10:30 am

We wrote on Wednesday about attempts by the Herbert administration to “soft sell” their radical, two front war on federal public lands. And sure enough, as if on cue, Lt. Governor Greg Bell appears today with an opinion piece at Utah Policy Daily that tries to paint Gov. Herbert’s radical agenda as a “balanced, win-win approach”:

We believe the effort launched earlier this year in Utah represents a balanced approach. Our approach is based on the conviction that development and environmental stewardship are synergistic and not mutually exclusive. Governor Herbert signed HB148, the Public Lands Transfer Act, in an earnest and timely effort to generate cooperative, constructive dialogue with the federal government about gaining more say in how Utah’s public lands are managed.

Utah’s public lands effort is based on a commitment to facilitating a balanced, federal-state win-win situation. Despite the media myths to the contrary, there is no multi-million-dollar lawsuit to take over all federal lands in Utah. Rather, Utah is investing the time, resources and effort required by the scope of such a Legislative decision surrounding State control of public lands within its borders.

Lt. Gov. Bell writes that “there is no multi-million-dollar lawsuit to take over all federal lands in Utah.” The fact is, the state of Utah, at Governor Herbert’s direction, filed 22 lawsuits this spring against the United States Government seeking to gain control of tens of thousands of RS2477 claims, including those in National Parks, National Monuments, and Wilderness Study Areas. If a court were to accept Utah’s argument that these R.S. 2477 claims –many of which are no more than cow paths, old seismic lines, dry stream beds, ORV tracks and hiking trails – are actually “highways” under this antiquated law, it would nullify or diminish longstanding protection for national parks, wilderness areas and other scenic landscapes, and seriously disrupt the ability of professional land managers to manage federal lands in Utah.

And the cost of these lawsuits? Surely they will be in the “multi-millions” of dollars, as San Juan County and the state of Utah have already spent more than a million dollars losing their battle to disrupt the ability of the National Park Service to manage off road vehicle use in Salt Creek in Canyonlands National Park. The Herbert administration is willing to argue their intention of opening up these federal lands to off-road vehicle use in front of a judge in federal court; the question is, why do they feel the need to obfuscate that same intention in the court of public opinion?

Mathew Gross

The Pressure’s On

12:27 pm

We’re keeping the pressure on — and we’ve just released a new radio ad here in Utah.

Featuring Black Diamond Equipment founder and CEO Peter Metcalf, the ad reminds Utahns about the high cost of Governor Gary Herbert’s radical plan to take over 30 million acres of public land in our state.

Listen to the ad below:
(Click here if you have trouble playing the ad.)

Recently, Governor Herbert and his advisors have tried to soft-sell their support of the Transfer of Public Lands Act — the law that Governor Herbert signed in March that demands the federal government relinquish control of 30 million acres of public land in Utah, including Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument and prized wilderness areas. And they’ve kept largely mum about their 22 lawsuits against the United States, which seek to gain control over tens of thousands of miles of so-called “roads” — many of which are stream bottoms and cattle trails.

They’ve argued that these radical acts are a “balanced approach” — when in fact nothing could be further from the truth.

Though Governor Herbert and his advisors are toning down their rhetoric — in large part because of feedback they’ve heard from people like you — they aren’t changing course. They’re still dead-set on upending a century of public lands management, and getting their hands on the federal public lands in Utah that rightfully belong to all Americans.

And as long as they’re pursuing their radical vision, we’ll be keeping the pressure on them. Please, consider making a contribution today to help fund our radio campaign and other ads in the state of Utah:

Yes! I want to keep the pressure on Utah Governor Gary Herbert — and end his radical land grab.

Please also take a moment to share this post with others who care our public lands and wilderness areas in Utah. The more pressure we’re able to put on Governor Herbert, the harder it will be for him to succeed in his land grab.

Thank you for everything you do.

Mathew Gross

Don’t miss your chance

10:49 am

In the past month, President Obama has demonstrated his willingness to use his authority under the Antiquities Act by designating two new national monuments, including Chimney Rock in southwestern Colorado.

Don’t miss your chance to tell President Obama that Greater Canyonlands is worthy of protection too.

Already, hundreds of activists throughout the country have created photo messages to the president like the ones shown below.  These, combined with with thousands of postcards, email messages, and petition signatures, are getting noticed by the Obama administration.


Make a photo message
to President Obama
, and be entered to win a
custom backpack!

Click here to see more photos
and be inspired.

Protect Greater Canyonlands 8027831889_9c3052b89a.jpg 7930314500_f06b3c6b7c.jpg

Add your voice (and your photo) to those calling for a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.

As a bonus, if you upload your photo before the end of this week, you’ll be entered to win a custom backpack from Ultralight Adventure Equipment or bike accessories courtesy of Wasatch Touring.

Let’s Protect Greater Canyonlands!

P.S. Remember to “like” Protect Greater Canyonlands on Facebook by clicking here.

Jackie Feinberg

Say no to vegetation manipulation in Greater Canyonlands!

6:27 am

Showing no signs of slowing its pursuit of widespread landscape manipulation, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Monticello field office recently proposed to “restore” the sagebrush ecosystem in part of Greater Canyonlands over the next 5 years.  They plan to do this through a mix of prescribed fire, cutting and removing pinyon pine and juniper, mechanically ripping up sagebrush on 9,200 acres and following it all with a long-term “maintenance” plan that includes the use of herbicides in conjunction with all of the above.

Site of the BLM’s proposed “landscape gardening”
project in Beef Basin.  Copyright Neal Clark/SUWA.

Tell the BLM to say no to this vegetation manipulation in the Beef Basin and Dark Canyon proposed wilderness.

The areas affected by this proposed project contain some of the most remote and stunning landscapes in Greater Canyonlands.  Sagebrush and pinyon-juniper dominate the vast views along these magnificent plateaus, which drop off into some of the wildest canyon country around.  The area is known for its abundance of prehistoric artifacts, including free-standing stone fortresses, structures tucked discreetly into sandstone alcoves, and smaller artifacts scattered throughout the area.  It also provides habitat for big game such as mule deer and elk, as well as several species considered “sensitive” by the BLM, including a variety of raptor species – eagles, falcons, hawks and owls.

The BLM continues to promote this “landscape gardening” project based on the assertion that it will have a long-term positive impact on Beef Basin and the Dark Canyon Plateau.  Unfortunately, many of the scientific studies relied upon by the BLM did not occur within the unique ecosystem of the Colorado Plateau and therefore do not support the scientific claims made by the BLM regarding the long and short-term impacts of these projects.  What numerous studies do show is that removing pinyon pine and juniper, tearing up sagebrush and disturbing biological soil crusts actually results in increased erosion, increased spread of invasive species and an increase in carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere.

Please tell the BLM to keep this project out of proposed wilderness in the Beef Basin and Dark Canyon Plateau areas.

Neal Clark