By Sharon St Joan
To send an email to help protect Kane County, Utah, from the harm of coal mine expansion, please see the email instructions at the end.
Does Kane County, Utah, need more coal?
Do we need for the Alton Coal Mine to expand to nearly four times its current size on to public lands?
A proposal to lease Bureau of Land Management public lands in Kane County to be used for the expansion of the Alton Coal Mine, has been under consideration for eight years and is now about to be finalized by the BLM. It will then be sent on to the Utah State BLM, and then to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior for approval.
A few reasons why we don’t need a bigger coal mine in Kane County:
One) The natural beauty of Kane County. Kane County, Utah, is – without any exaggeration – one of the most beautiful, unspoiled, magnificent places in the entire world. Millions of tourists come here each year. Three million just to see Zion National Park alone – with many more coming to visit Bryce Canyon or to stand in awe of the towering red cliffs that line the roadways, or gaze at the intricate, mysterious rock formations that appear magically at almost every turn. The Alton Coal Mine, just a few miles south of Bryce Canyon, does strip mining, which completely destroys all the surface of the land – eradicating rocks, trees, wildlife habitat, and every blade of grass. Nothing is left in the wake of these destructive machines. This is a destruction of the natural land, and it is the natural land that is the essence of the unsurpassed beauty of Kane County.
Two) An economy based on tourism. The economy of Kane County relies on tourism. Every motel, every restaurant, tour guide company, gas station, grocery store, and virtually every business is dependent directly or indirectly on tourism. Anything that impacts the natural beauty of Kane County will automatically undermine tourism and the local economy.
Three) Jobs. The number of jobs that would be created by the expansion of the Alton Coal Mine is miniscule compared to the number of jobs now being created by the tourism industry in Kane County. The revenue in the state of Utah generated by the coal industry is dwarfed by the state’s income from tourism, which is by far the largest source of revenue for the State of Utah. Our economy and our way of life are linked to the beauty of Utah lands and the numbers of visitors who flock to this state.
Four) Setting a precedent. An expansion of the Alton Coal Mine to nearly four times its current size would greatly magnify the harmful effects of the coal mine. Most alarmingly, it could set a precedent for the future. In the state of Utah and in surrounding states there is a current escalation of proposals and plans to industrialize Bureau of Land Management land – with, for example, special interest groups seeking to set up uranium mines around the Grand Canyon and others looking into oil, gas, and potash drilling and mining on around 785,000 acres in the Moab area. With new advances in technology, there may soon be greater and greater pressure to extract from every inch of public land every last remaining ounce of fossil fuels or minerals. Once these lands are destroyed, then they are gone – along with the wildlife, the trees, and the magnificent cliffs that once were there.
Five) Reclamation of the land? In the case of the Alton Coal Mine proposed expansion, plans allow for the reclaiming of the land. It is stated that the land will be mined for 25 years, then it will be reclaimed over the next 15 years, and some of this reclamation will happen concurrently. This means that we are to believe – given the current uncertainties and turmoil of the world we live in and the impossibility of predicting the future of the global economy – that twenty-five years from now, after the total and complete destruction of the land — that a for-profit coal company, which may or may not still be in business, will then spend the next fifteen years, with no additional revenue, putting back together again the land that it has destroyed. Even if this were likely, which it isn’t, forty years is a long time, and most of us would not live to see the reclamation of this land. The wildlife and the habitat that they lived on peacefully will long be gone. The unique crusty soil on some of this land, which nature has built up over hundreds of years, can never be restored – and this means the land would be forever vulnerable to increased impacts from drought because the soil would no longer retain water.
Six) The fate of the sage grouse. Sage grouse are spectacular, ground-dwelling birds, similar to quail, that once lived on the sage brush lands of the American West in the millions. Now 98 per cent of their population has gone; they are hanging on and at risk of extinction. The proposed coal mine development would expand on to land that is their southernmost habitat. Their population is already fragile; they have already been displaced by the current coal mine, and virtually everyone acknowledges that there is no certainty at all that they can survive further stress. They should, by right, have been placed on the Endangered Species List. They were not because of an agreement entered into by eleven western states, including Utah, to protect and preserve their habitat. However, expanding a coal mine on to fragile habitat definitely does not constitute protection and does not abide by the spirit of this agreement. Following public comments that expressed great concern about the fate of the sage grouse, some modifications in the original coal mine expansion plan have been made. With a little common sense, though, it is fairly easy to grasp the fact that – for a sensitive bird that lives on the ground and flies only short distances – the 24 hour a day deafening noise of coal machinery, along with flashing lights and occasional explosive charges, simply is not and cannot be a viable habitat. These already severely threatened birds will not survive the intrusive activity of a coal mine being built on their habitat. Destroying the home of what should, by any logic, be a federally-protected species violates the intent of American wildlife law.
Seven) Other wildlife. Other wildlife have already been displaced and disturbed by the existing coal mine, and this impact will be multiplied many times if there is further coal expansion. Right now, on the road that goes past the mine, huge coal trucks, even when they are empty, kick up great clouds of dust behind them, extending for a couple of miles and leaving a coating of dirt on roadside plants. This destroys the vegetation and the food for deer and birds. It has been estimated that 300 coal trucks a day could be on the roads, if this expansion goes ahead. This area is part of a wildlife corridor, that extends from Mexico through Arizona, Utah, and further north up to Canada. It is a wildlife corridor that should be reconnected, not further segmented, so that the wildlife which historically belong in this area can once again live and move in freedom.
Eight) Destruction of trees. Ironically, several miles of juniper and pinion trees are being systematically ground up on this site, leaving an unsightly graveyard of splintered trees. This is being done in order to create new sage grouse habitat, and, admittedly, there is some scientific reasoning behind this. However, what is ironic is that new habitat is being created for sage grouse because they are being deprived, by a coal mine, of their traditional habitat. If there were no threat of coal mine expansion, there would be no need to replace their current habitat or disrupt their lives. Instead of living trees, which were the habitat of deer, elk, rabbits, small creatures, and all the other living beings there, and which put oxygen into the air as all trees do, there is now a wasteland of decaying trees releasing toxic carbon emissions into the air. The argument that juniper/pinion trees have expanded their range over the last sixty years and therefore they should be trimmed back, seems a weak one, since, surely, the range of all plants may naturally vary over time. Cutting down every tree does not seem right, and there would be no reason to do this at all were it not for man-made destruction, across the prairie lands of the west, that has caused the loss of sage brush, which is the sage grouse habitat. Building and expanding coal plants simply exacerbates this loss of much-needed natural habitat.
Nine) Pollution. No one is in any doubt that coal mines produce pollution. Leaving aside all questions of climate change, coal dust in the air contaminates the air that we are breathing right now. It harms our health. It also harms the vegetation, the animals, and all the water nearby. There are countless small streams and creeks in this area, including Kanab Creek, from which the city of Kanab gets its water. Any level of coal dust is a contaminant and threatens the health of humans in nearby towns and downstream areas. It also undermines the health and well-being of every bird and animal in the area, as well as all the plants and wildflowers. The plants are food for animals as well as an essential part of the natural beauty of this area.
Ten) A need for coal? The coal from the Alton Mine currently goes to Delta, Utah, and then on to California. California will soon be ending the importation of coal products, and a new market will be needed. This market may be anywhere, perhaps in China, or perhaps, since there is no port in Utah, finding a new market may be unrealistically expensive. In any case, the coal does not, and will not in the future, benefit anyone in Kane County, and it should stay in the ground – preserving the magnificent natural beauty of this area.
Eleven) Our way of life. Those of us who are blessed to live here, who wake up every morning and look out to see the breathtaking views of red cliffs, birds, and natural wonders, are grateful to be here. Sometimes, we may assume that this abundance of nature will always be here, untouched and unthreatened. At moments when we may take our way of life for granted, we might recall other places in the U.S., which once, not so long ago, where also beautiful – for example, tribal lands in North Dakota, where there has been an oil boom – first welcomed as a promise of prosperity, now decried because the rivers have turned a toxic orange color, and if one puts one’s hand under a tree, one can feel that the leaves there are oily. The wildlife are gone. What was once a forest filled with life is now a desolate wasteland. This story is not unique, it is repeated in far too many states and counties, where industrialization that seemed to offer a bright future, has instead brought unexpected disaster.
12) A word to the Secretary of the Interior and to the BLM. As residents of Kane County, Utah, and American citizens, we are opposed to the desecration of public lands that the Alton Coal Mine Expansion would bring. We ask you to reject this proposed coal expansion in the interests of safeguarding our way of life, protecting the economy of Kane County, and preserving the scenic beauty of this area that draws visitors from all over the world – as well as permitting the sage grouse and all the wildlife who have their homes here to live out their natural lives in peace, unthreatened and undisturbed.
To send an email –
First pick one or two of the above issues. You may use the words here, if you wish, but it will be more effective if you put what you feel into your own words.
Write a brief, polite email – one or two hundred words. Send it to Secretary Jewel, Secretary of the Interior.
If you have time to do more, then send it to President Obama. Then send it to Neil Kornze, national Director of the BLM and cc all the others.
Sally Jewell, Secretary of the Interior, firstname.lastname@example.org
President Obama https://www.whitehouse.gov/contact
Neil Kornze, Director of the Bureau of Land Management, email@example.com
Jenna Whitlock, Acting State Director, Utah BLM, firstname.lastname@example.org
Heather Whitman, BLM District Manager, email@example.com
Harry Barber, Kanab Field Manager, firstname.lastname@example.org
Keith Rigtrup , Kanab Field Office, email@example.com
Photos: Sharon St Joan / Zion National Park