A federal appeals officer has reversed a U.S. Forest Service decision that would have enabled the latest Sufco mine expansion proposed by Utah's largest coal producer.
Operator Ark Land Co., a subsidiary of Arch Coal, is seeking permission to expand its lease by 20 acres to extract up to 400,000 tons that would otherwise be inaccessible at its mine east of Salina.
But underground operations would have caused subsidence over a much wider area, according to the Utah Environmental Congress, the Salt Lake City group that challenged the January decision by Fishlake National Forest Supervisor Allen Rowley. The group contends the forest failed to study impacts beyond the 20 acres covered in the lease modification.
"That's taking the eye off the ball. The bigger impacts are the 400,000 tons that will result in subsidence under the streams that are not under the 20 acres," UEC Executive Director Jeff Parker said. "Once it subsides the streams go away. This preserves water for wildlife in a dry coniferous area."
Rowley's decision barred surface disturbance on the 20 acres and issued a finding of no significant impact, or FONSI. The appeals officer concluded that the national forest's failure to produce a "project record" effectively deprived the public of a "meaningful opportunity" to weigh in on the analysis.
Reached Tuesday, an Arch spokeswoman did not know enough about the proposed expansion to comment. The April 18 reversal is just the latest setback for the St. Louis-based firm, which reported losses of $70 million last quarter, at its most productive Utah mine.
Last year, the national forest withdrew its decision to lease 6,175 acres to accommodate another proposed Sufco expansion after UEC and other groups raised various objections. That expansion would allow for 57 million additional tons to be mined from the Sufco site, which yielded 5.6 million tons last year and employs 375.
Last week, however, the Utah Board of Oil, Gas and Mining selected Sufco for a 2013 Earth Day award for its "environmental improvement" after the mine developed gravity-fed pipelines to provide water to livestock and wildlife. It was the fifth time the mine won this award since 2000.