The Utah Supreme Court has upheld a state permit that allowed Utah's first coal strip mine to operate just 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park. Now it is up to the federal Bureau of Land Management to put a stop to an expansion of the mine on 3,500 acres of federal land that would do even more serious damage to archaeological sites, wildlife habitat, air quality and scenery.
Residents of southwest Utah who rely on tourism and its steady, sustainable economic engine are worried about the Alton Coal Development expansion plan, as are the National Park Service, Environmental Protection Agency and environmental groups.
While the BLM estimates the expanded mine near Bryce Canyon would employ 160 people, it would threaten the livelihoods of many more, who depend on local hunting, fishing and a host of other outdoor opportunities.
The existing mine is on private land, and the Utah Supreme Court ruled that the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining is not required to "consider any and every cultural and historic resource outside the permit area."
But the BLM must consider those very resources. Nonetheless, the BLM seemed to be leaning toward approving the expansion before agency managers heard complaints from the EPA and NPS. To approve the expansion would be unconscionable.
The mine is just too close to Bryce, 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 people they employ.
The Alton mine already has created horrendous truck traffic on U.S. Highway 89, and expansion would ruin the quality of life for residents and discourage tourists from visiting. 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 trucks per day, 24 hours a day, six days a week, according to the BLM's own report.
The added traffic and open mining operations would bring more noise and air pollution. The BLM's environmental impact study said the larger mine would lead to pollution that exceeds federal air quality standards for ozone precursors and particulate matter. The dust and night lights from the mine could harm the views and stargazing experiences of the 1.3 million people visiting Bryce each year.
The possibility of 160 jobs for a limited number of years is not worth the risks.