New coal mine approved in Utah

In a victory for the nation’s beleaguered resources industry, Utah officials have approved a permit for a coal strip mine in their state.

Rejecting a challenge from four environmental groups, the Utah Board of Oil, Gas & Mining August 2 gave the green light for the strip mine on 440 acres of private land, located near Bryce Canyon National Park.  The board upheld an October decision by the Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining, which approved the project after subjecting it to vigorous technical and legal review. In the years to come, the project could be expanded to include several thousand acres.

Alton Coal Development, LLC, the investment company behind the new Coal Hollow Mine, filed for the permit in 2005. Company officials were jubilant that the long-sought permit was finally in their hands. “Alton commends the state of Utah, the division, and the voluntary board for their diligence and evenhanded consideration,” Chris McCourt, Alton’s project manager, said in a statement (Yahoo News, Aug. 3).  “Approval of the permit is key to the Coal Hollow Project, which will provide new jobs and economic expansion to Utah.” The company must still secure a multimillion dollar reclamation bond before it can start mining.

The board’s decision was a bitter defeat for the four environmental groups challenging the permit: the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, and the National Park Conservation Association.

Alton is not out of the regulatory woods just yet. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has informed the company that it is conducting an analysis of the project’s impact on wetlands, and that a federal permit may be necessary. Alton has been instructed not to commence mining until the Corps has finished its analysis. The Corps of Engineers is notorious for the snail’s pace at which it moves

Alton can be thankful that the project is located on private land. Had the proposed Coal Hollow Mine been located on federal land, the permitting process would have lasted even longer than the five years it has already taken.

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About the Author: Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner Cohen, Ph. D.

Bonner R. Cohen, Ph. D., is a senior policy analyst with CFACT.