fossil fuels


A bobcat in California.


This is Part Two of a comment sent to the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management.


By Sharon St Joan


To read Part One first, click here.  


Destruction of wildlife corridors and wilderness


Furthermore, these public lands being considered for new coal expansion are right on a wildlife corridor that runs up through the Grand Canyon, through the Kaibab forest, through Kane County, Utah, and farther north on up to Canada. This is a key wildlife corridor for the annual mule deer migration, along with the animals that travel with them – including cougars and coyotes.


The western U.S. is one of the last remaining unspoiled areas on our planet. Even though in recent years, it has been heavily impacted and many areas have been damaged, destroyed and overrun by human activity, there do still remain some of the most extraordinarily beautiful natural lands anywhere on the planet.


Within a short drive of Kanab, Utah, there are several national parks, including Zion’s and Bryce Canyon. These giant towering red cliffs and amazing wilderness areas team with wildlife. They are places of wonder and great beauty, unmatched anywhere else on earth.



Red rock formations at Zion’s National Park.


Yet these unique, unparalleled wild places are being threatened by coal pollution and other fossil fuel extraction. The mysterious “hoodoo” rock formations of Bryce Canyon lie just ten miles from the site, near Alton, being proposed for more coal mining. Visitors to Bryce Canyon would no longer be able to look out over a clear vista of hills stretching all the way to the horizon, but instead would see heavy machinery at work destroying the lands below them.


 Effects on our economy


These wild areas are also the most important resource for our local economy. In the state of Utah, tourism brings in far more revenue and creates far more jobs that does the coal industry.


If we preserve the natural environment, these areas will continue to be places of beauty for tourists and visitors who are drawn here from all over the world, on into the future. If these areas are ruined and destroyed, as is now happening, this will simply lead us to a dead-end, with no future.


If we rely on a death-dealing industry, such as coal, instead of a life–sustaining industry such as tourism, then when the coal is gone, and when the coal companies have all gone bankrupt, as is already beginning to happen, we will be left with nothing. There will then be no jobs, no income, and no wild lands either.


The places of spectacular, unimaginable beauty will be gone, the wildlife, the trees, the lakes, and the streams will be gone – and nature, once it is demolished and eradicated, cannot truly be brought back – not for millions of years.


No fair return for nature’s destruction


I have read very carefully the entire text in the Federal Register of the requests for public comments, and I have understood that you are looking for specific kinds of comments. For example, you wish to know if we as taxpayers are receiving a fair return for the coal that is extracted from public lands.


I am not able to write the kind of comment you are looking for because, in my view, there can be no fair return for the destruction of the natural world. The earth, the forests, the rivers, the wildlife corridors, the canyon lands, and especially this incredibly magnificent area in southern Utah are priceless, invaluable treasures. No level of destruction of them should be allowed now or ever in the future, and no compensation could ever possibly be adequate.


We need clean energy


I would ask that you do whatever is in your power to make a just and speedy transition to clean energy. This will be possible by eliminating the hidden subsidies to the fossil fuel energy and by requiring existing coal and other fossil fuel companies to pay their fair share of taxes. With these hidden subsidies, estimated at around 19 billion dollars a year, eliminated, it will be possible to make significant investments in clean energy (also to bring about the technical innovations required for solar power to eliminate toxicity and, in the case of wind, to construct wind mills that do not cause bird deaths).


It will also be possible to provide programs and re-training for coal and other fossil fuel workers to join the new economy. These workers have worked hard to provide energy for us to heat and cool our homes and for us to have electricity, and they deserve a just transition. But coal is the energy of the past. Now it is time to move on.


If we wait and do nothing, the end of coal when it arrives will come with a jolt – like falling off a cliff. We will all — coal workers and all the rest of us — suffer greatly if we are caught off guard and are unprepared for this change. The time to move towards clean energy is now.


Other countries are already taking the lead in this. Saudi Arabia recently set aside two trillion dollars to move towards a new economy. Perhaps they are seeing something we haven’t yet looked at.


Clean energy is already, despite an uphill battle, making huge strides all over the world. It is now practical, feasible, and up and running in many countries.


It is time to value, protect, and care for the earth that we live on, to welcome new clean energy, and to move forward to a brighter, more stable and enduring, healthier future. That will be best for us as humans – and for all the innocent, amazing creatures with whom we share the planet.



Sage brush growing on BLM land near the Alton Coal Mine. Natural Sage Grouse habitat like this will be threatened if new coal leasing is allowed on public lands.


Thank you for accepting our comments and for considering the future of our western wild lands over the decades to come – for the well-being of our country, all people, the earth, and the animals.


Thank you.




Sharon St Joan

Kanab, Utah




Top photo: “No machine-readable author provided.” / Wikimedia Commons / “I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.” / A bobcat in California.


Second photo: Sharon St Joan / Red rock formations at Zion’s National Park.


Third photo: Sharon St Joan / Sage brush growing on BLM land near the Alton Coal Mine. Natural Sage Grouse habitat like this will be subject to destruction if new coal leasing is allowed on public lands.


To submit your own comment:




Or send in this message, which you may personalize, on the WildEarth Guardians website.


Thank you!








A stream that runs by the Alton Coal Mine.


The Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management are conducting a three-year Review of the Federal Coal Program. Around 40 percent of U.S. coal is produced on public lands. These are the same lands which are the homes of wildlife, magnificent trees, and beautiful wilderness. Coal and other industrialization pollute and harm these lands and the wild animals and plants that live there.


The DOI and the BLM are accepting comments on the future use of public lands to produce coal. For the email address where you may send your comment, please see below. The deadline for comments is July 28, 2016. The following has been sent in as a comment. It is published here in two parts.


Part One


By Sharon St Joan


Thank you to the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Land Management for the three-year moratorium on new coal mining on public lands, and for the opportunity to comment on the use of public lands for coal production.


The Alton Coal Mine – other impacts


About an hour north of where I live, in Kanab, Utah, is the Alton Coal Mine, built years ago on private land. For the past nine years, the BLM has been working on a proposal to lease 3,000 acres of adjacent public land to be used for open pit coal mining.


While there is nothing we can do about coal mining on private land, we who live in this area have watched for years the destruction that has already taken place to the surrounding eco-system, and we fear the threat of far greater and more devastating damage to nearby public lands if they were to be opened up to coal mining, as is being proposed.


When I drive up to the Alton area, I watch coal trucks that, even when they are empty, spew clouds of dust behind them destroying the roadside vegetation and the habitat of wild birds and animals.


A tributary of Kanab Creek has already been re-located by the mine and has been polluted with coal dust. Kanab Creek provides the drinking water for the city of Kanab. New expansion of coal on to public lands would further contaminate Kanab Creek, which is also the main source of water for wildlife.



The fate of sage grouse and native trees


A “lek,” or breeding ground, of the severely threatened sage grouse lies at the exact location of planned new coal expansion onto BLM land.



A male Greater Sage Grouse.


Although the sage grouse species should have been listed for protection under the Endangered Species Act, it was not. Instead, an impractical plan has been agreed to by eleven western states to “manage” sage grouse habitat. This plan involves allowing key, essential sage grouse habitat to be taken over by coal strip-mining and other industrialization, while at the same time attempting to design new habitat, which, it is hoped, any sage grouse that survive may move on to.


This new habitat is being created by having machines crunch up miles and miles of beautiful native pinion and juniper trees, leaving the dead remains of the trees littering the ground, so that it is impossible even for a human to walk over them. It is hard to imagine the sage grouse doing their beautiful mating dance on top of broken, splintered trees. In some cases, non-native grasses have been planted at these sites, which is ecologically inappropriate.



Juniper trees near the Alton Coal Mine, in an area just past where the trees have been destroyed.


There is no proof that the sage grouse will move onto these miles and miles of destroyed trees, which do not in any way resemble sage grouse habitat. In the meantime, the habitat of all the native species who used to live there – the coyotes, the deer, the elk, the rabbits, the beavers, foxes, cougars, bobcats, and the many small mammal and avian species — has been eradicated. And what is left behind is a land of desolation. This is wrong on many counts.


Climate impacts


Dead trees do not emit life-giving oxygen; instead, as they decay, they emit carbon dioxide. This pollution when added to the sum total of the pollution given off by the new coal mining itself is a significant addition to green house gases – which surely is not the direction we wish to go in.


Eradicating pristine natural habitat to make way for coal mining, which takes away the habitat of an already threatened species, the sage grouse, then trying to make up for this destruction by getting rid of even more habitat and displacing even more wildlife, does not make sense.




Top photo: Sharon St Joan /A stream running alongside the Alton Coal Mine.


Second photo: Pacific Southwest Region U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service / Wikimedia Commons / This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. / A male Greater Sage Grouse.


Third photo: Sharon St Joan / Juniper trees near the Alton Coal Mine, standing beyond the area of destroyed trees.



Continued in Part Two…



To submit your own comment:





Or send in this message, which you may personalize, on the WildEarth Guardians website:


Thank you!










Alan Gignoux / / A coal mine in the forest of Appalachia.

Alan Gignoux / / A coal mine in the forests of Appalachia.


Steve Hogseth, of Wild Kane County, gave the following as a three-minute comment during the hearing on May 19, 2016, in Salt Lake City, held by the Department of the Interior to encourage public comment on the future of coal in the U.S.


My name is Steve Hogseth. While I am representing myself, my children, and my grandchildren, more importantly I am representing all children and all grandchildren on the planet.

I clearly understand the concern over coal mining jobs. We all know we are facing a global dilemma, with two critical elements at stake … energy and a healthy environment. I’m confident that by incorporating astute management we can systematically wean ourselves from fossil fuels and this is very important … promote education to help train and transition our coal miners to greener jobs. The sooner the USA takes a leadership role, the sooner we can tap into countless job opportunities of the rapidly growing renewable energy industry.

Unless people understand the science, they can easily be fooled to deny climate change.  The incessant mantra is “the climate is always changing,” … along with an array of junk science, created by over 200 think tanks, funded by the fossil fuel industry, and echoed by politicians lacking scientific literacy.

Deniers often site scientific facts from millions of years ago. Such ancient facts are irrelevant since modern man did not walk the planet until 200,000 years ago. The fossil fuels we are burning today required 3-400 million years for Mother Nature to produce. We have burned half that in just 200 years, and the recent burn rate is exponential. In the 400,000 years prior to the Industrial Revolution, CO2 levels cycled between 180 and 290ppm, and in the two centuries since, we quickly crossed that threshold, now exceeding 400ppm. During those 400,000 years, the most rapid change in CO2 levels – EVER!! – was a 90ppm change that required 15,000 years. Since 1930, the CO2 level has increased 100ppm … like a skyrocket! … a rate 175 times FASTER than the FASTEST change in those previous 400,000 years! Again … what required 15,000 years THEN, took only 85 years NOW! These fuels have clearly been a monumental factor in this dilemma. The well-being of seven billion people is at risk.

Just one example of proof we can see and measure … The annual loss of Greenland’s ice today, is melting into the Atlantic Ocean at a rate three times faster than the water falling over Niagara Falls. The science is irrefutable! Leave the coal in the ground!


By Sharon St Joan


On Thursday, May 19, the Department of the Interior will hold a public hearing in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the Salt Palace, from 10 am to 4 pm – on the future of coal on public lands. This follows an announcement by the Obama administration in January, 2016, placing a moratorium on new coal extraction on public lands. The moratorium will be up in three years, and these federal hearings, being held in six cities, will help determine coal’s future. Forty percent of U.S. coal is mined on BLM land.


Coal is a dying industry, as is every other fossil fuel sector. Always a finite resource, fossil fuels are now fast nearing their end. We have only to look at the recent demise of the nation’s largest coal companies. Alpha Natural Resources filed for bankruptcy in August of 2015, and Arch Coal followed in January of this year. Just last month, in April, the largest U.S. coal company, Peabody, filed for bankruptcy.


According to a 2015 Blumberg news story, “The combined market value of U.S. coal company shares shrank to about $12 billion in late July (July of 2015) from $78 billion in 2011.” This is a decline of 83% in four years.


Continuing to rely on coal is not going to work. It is a mirage, shimmering in the distance, soon to vanish — for investors, for consumers, for coal workers, for our economy, and for all Americans.


This means that it is time for us as a society to undertake a full transition to clean energy. If we wait to do this or postpone the process, we will be risking nothing less than economic and social calamity.


All of us bear a responsibility for the use of fossil fuels. We drive our cars. We heat and cool our houses. We fly in airplanes. And we elect the leaders responsible for our current energy policies.


In other words, our energy policies are not the fault of coal miners, and plans for a clean energy future must include a just transition for coal workers.


By cutting out subsidies to the fossil fuel industry – estimated at $20 billion a year – we can invest instead in a just transition on two fronts.


We need to re-train coal and other fossil fuel workers, create new, cleaner, healthier, good-paying jobs, and assist them and their families in this transition.


And now is the right time to invest in clean, sustainable energy. This means putting our full intention behind creating programs that incentivize clean energy – that bring down the costs of solar energy and reduce toxicity in solar components, as well as planning solar plants so that they are placed on land already occupied by human activity, not on wild lands. It means re-designing wind mills so that they do not harm birds. Forty geo-thermal plants are already operating in California, and many more can be built all over the country.


As we also tackle much-needed rebuilding of America’s crumbling infrastructure of decaying bridges, roads, and substandard airports — while stopping the hidden subsidies and tax breaks to fossil fuel giants — and find safe, clean ways to move forward – these steps will create the conditions for an economic upswing.


On the other hand, if we procrastinate, blindly continuing down the road towards this deadend that is the coal industry, we risk upheaval in our economy, hardship for coal workers, and grave trouble for all of us – as coal finally shudders to a permanent halt.


Right now, as the earth runs out of fossil fuels, dying industries employ desperate measures to eke out some profitability – leveling hundreds of once-beautiful mountains and placing at risk all the unspoiled lands of the earth.


If coal is dying anyway, why not just let it grind its way onwards towards its inevitable end?


Two reasons – first, we need to transition now to clean energy to be ready for the future.


Secondly, nothing will be gained and everything will be lost by allowing coal, in its dying years, to continue to pollute our air and water, contaminate our rivers and steams, poison our wildlife, destroy trees and sensitive plants, and ruin our weather patterns – leaving a desolate wasteland behind them as coal companies fall into bankruptcy, dragging our health and our economy into the ground along with them.


Coal needs to stop, starting with permanently banning all new coal on American public lands.


A fundamental change is going to happen one way or another. Either precipitously – or, if we plan well, and begin now, in a way that is life-giving and life-sustaining.


Planning for this just transition can invigorate our economy, providing new hope, new jobs — and the possibility of a brighter future.


A just transition – benefitting workers, renewing our infrastructure, and re-aligning our economy to face inevitable change will – perhaps most importantly — go a long way towards saving the natural world – the trees, the rivers, the mountains, wild species, and our planet.


There are no guarantees. This will not solve every problem we face in a complicated world, and no one knows what the future holds.


But it will be a good step we can take towards protecting the earth we live on and laying the foundation for a kinder, more aware, more prosperous era for our children and grandchildren.


Photo: Valerius Tygart / Wikimedia Commons / “This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, 2.5 Generic, 2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.” / The Monongahela National Forest; photo taken from slopes of Back Allegheny Mountain looking east


What you can do

Written comments will be accepted until July 23. To send a comment on the future of coal on public lands to the Department of the Interior,



For more information on the BLM website, click here.