Residents of southwest Utah who rely on tourism and its steady, sustainable economic engine are worried about expansion plans for the Coal Hollow Mine near Alton, Utah's only coal strip mine.
And they're right to worry.
While the Bureau of Land Management estimates the expanded mine near Bryce Canyon National Park would employ 160 people, it would threaten the livelihoods of many more, like Panguitch shop owner Bobbi Bryant, who told The Tribune that the region depends on "the local hunting, fishing and many other outdoor opportunities."
The BLM seems to be leaning toward approving mining leases on 3,500 acres of federal land so the above-ground mine on 635 acres of private land can be expanded. Such an action would be unconscionable.
The mine is only 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, which attracts millions of visitors from all over the world every year, bringing a steady source of income to the outdoor guides, restaurant and hotel owners and all the people they employ.
The Alton mine creates horrendous truck traffic on U.S. Highway 89 already, and such an expansion would ruin the quality of life for residents and discourage the wealth of tourists. Dozens of coal trucks grind down Panguitch's Main Street every day on their way to I-15 and a railhead at Cedar City. The mine expansion would add 153 more per day, 24 hours a day, six days a week, according to the BLM's own report.
The added traffic and open pits would bring more noise and air pollution. The BLM's own environmental impact study described the effect as "increased ambient noise ... and perceptible increase in nighttime glow" and said the larger mine would lead to "federal air quality standards for ozone precursors (NOx) and particulate matter (pm10)" that exceed federal standards.
How do you put that on a promotional brochure?
The draft EIS also refers to the potential destruction of archaeological sites and fossils and to wildlife "habitat fragmentation, alteration, loss and displacement due to surface disturbance, noise, ground vibration, night lighting, and increased risk of vehicle mortality associated with coal-haul trucks."
The possibility of 160 jobs for a limited number of years hardly seems worth the risks. The Dugout Canyon coal mine in Carbon County laid off half its workforce just last week, demonstrating the transitory nature of mining. The BLM should reject this proposal.