Utah high court hears appeal of Alton Coal mine permit

The Utah Supreme Court head oral arguments on March 5, but isn’t expected to rule for several months, in a case brought by environmental groups against the state Division of Oil, Gas & Mining over a permit it issued for the Coal Hollow strip mine in Kane County of Alton Coal Development LLC.

The plaintiffs include the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. The environmental groups said Utah regulators erred in approving this strip mine near Bryce Canyon National Park. Lawyers for the coal company and the Division of Oil, Gas & Mining argued that they satisfied every requirement of law.

The environmental groups claim that Alton Coal Development failed to properly address the environmental impacts of this strip mine, including the potential for groundwater pollution. They also accused the state of ignoring the coal trucks that will run through Panguitch, a town listed on the National Historic Registry, hundreds of times a day to transport coal to customers or a rail loadout.

U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows four employees at the Coal Hollow mine in 2011, but no recorded coal production as of the end of 2011. MSHA shows Alton Coal Development as controlled by James Wayland. Records show that other partners in the company include Charles and Thomas Ungurean, the founders of Ohio-based coal mining company Oxford Resource Partners LP. U.S. Office of Surface Mining data shows that the Ungureans own 49% of Alton Coal through a company called SH Coal Investment LLC.

A November 2011 report from the Utah Geological Survey said Alton Coal plans to produce 2 million tons of coal annually from a surface mine on 440 acres of private land and thousands of acres unleased federal land located south of the town of Alton. The Coal Hollow mine produces sub-bituminous Dakota Formation coal from the Smirl bed, which ranges from 9,500 to 10,000 Btu/lb, and averages about 1% sulfur and 9% ash. This coal would be bound for the steam coal market.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is working on a final environmental impact statement covering an Alton Coal application for unleased federal coal. A November 2011 draft EIS said the applied-for tract, as reconfigured by BLM, contains about 3,581 surface acres and 44.9 million–49.1 million tons of recoverable coal reserves.

“Under the Proposed Action, recoverable portions of in-place coal reserves would be mined over approximately 25 years using 1) surface-mining methods where the depth of overburden would be approximately 200 to 300 feet, and 2) underground methods (development mining, auger mining, highwall mining, longwall mining, and/or room and pillar mining) where the depth of overburden exceeds approximately 200 to 300 feet,” said the draft EIS. “The choice of mining method, however, can vary from the 200- to 300-foot overburden threshold depending on the coal thickness, overburden type, overburden (highwall) stability, underground mining techniques available, operating and capital costs, and coal market economics. The analysis considers surface disturbance for approximately 200 to 300 feet of overburden removal. These are generally referred to as overburden removal scenarios in the text. Approximately 2 million tons of coal per year would be mined once topsoil stockpiling and initial overburden removal has occurred. Reclamation would be concurrent with mining over the course of the estimated 25-year mine life and would be followed by a potential 10-year reclamation and revegetation monitoring period.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.