Enviro groups try to block leasing of new reserves for Utah’s biggest coal mine

The Center for Biological Diversity said April 21 that an Obama administration proposal to auction off millions of tons of coal underneath central Utah’s national forests as extra reserves for the SUFCO longwall mine has come under fire as a coalition of groups filed an administrative objection to block the proposal.

“Selling more coal portends disaster for our public lands, our climate and our clean energy future,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program director. “While President Obama is calling for action to combat climate change, his administration seems to be doing everything they can to appease the coal industry and open the door for more carbon pollution.”

The Greens Hollow coal lease would expand the SUFCO underground coal mine, the largest mine in the state. The mine’s owner, Kentucky-based Bowie Resource Partners LLC, exports coal internationally through ports in California’s San Francisco Bay Area. The center said that the company has even convinced local counties to invest taxpayer dollars in a new export facility in Oakland. The company also sells the coal to nearby power plants, including PacifiCorp‘s Hunter and Huntington plants.

“This coal lease is another example of the dangerous disconnect between Obama’s climate rhetoric and his policies that open public land to fossil fuel extraction,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “Adding more coal pollution to the world’s quickly dwindling carbon budget and more mercury to the West’s already-polluted rivers is bad public policy. The Forest Service should withdraw this plan now.”

The appeal, filed by WildEarth Guardians, Grand Canyon Trust, Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity, challenges the U.S. Forest Service’s proposal to allow the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to sell the Greens Hollow coal lease at auction. Without Forest Service approval, the lease cannot proceed. The Forest Service must respond to the coalition’s objection by June 1.

The Forest Service doesn’t allow surface mining of coal on its property, but does allow deep mining, like that planned by SUFCO, under it.

BLM on Feb. 27 released a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the Greens Hollow Federal Coal Lease Tract in Utah, which is being sought by Bowie’s Canyon Fuel Co. LLC. The Final SEIS for the Greens Hollow tract was prepared jointly by the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, specifically the Manti-La Sal National Forest (MLNF) and Fishlake National Forest (FLNF). 

The Forest Service proposes to consent to the BLM offering for lease the Forest Service lands in the Greens Hollow tract (approximately 6,175 acres) for production of federal coal reserves, with conditions for protecting nonmineral resources. The BLM proposes to offer the Greens Hollow tract for competitive bid and issue a lease with terms, conditions, and special stipulations. Under this alternative, about 56.6 million tons of recoverable coal reserves, representing some 8.8 years of mining, would be offered for lease. 

SUFCO is one of three Utah deep mines that Arch Coal (NYSE: ACI) sold in 2013 to Bowie. U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration data shows that the mine produced 6.5 million tons in 2014, up from 6 million tons in 2013.

Bowie and PacifiCorp announced in December 2014 that they have entered into a transaction for Bowie to supply all of the coal requirements of PacifiCorp’s Huntington plant located near Huntington, Utah, through 2029 (estimated at approximately 2.8 million tons per year). U.S. Energy Information Administration data shows that the primary coal suppliers to Huntington, a 909-MW plant, in 2014 were PacifiCorp’s own Deer Creek mine, with most of the shipments, and also Bowie’s SUFCO mine.

PacifiCorp said in December 2014 that following an unsuccessful 18-month attempt to sell Deer Creek, it will close the mine because it has become too costly to operate. PacifiCorp also said it has signed the long-term coal supply agreement with Bowie to supply coal for the Huntington plant.

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.