On Sept. 10, a coalition of 13 conservation and public health organizations called on U.S. Bureau of Land Management to reject Alton Coal Development’s proposal to create the first coal strip mine on public lands in Utah.
To date, more than 300,000 people have urged BLM and the Department of the Interior to deny the proposal, which would open roughly 2,200 acres of public land for mining, said the Sierra Club in a Sept. 14 statement.
Alton Coal Development’s proposal stakes the region’s future on an industry in irreversible decline by calling for the mining of approximately 49 million tons of publicly-owned coal over 25 years, the club contended. In less than five years, coal has fallen from providing one-half to just one-third of our nation’s electricity supply, and 200 coal-fired power plants are already scheduled for retirement, it added. Meanwhile, international coal prices have fallen so far that US companies are failing to compete in the export market.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said: “In March, Secretary Sally Jewell stated that there are places that are too special to drill, specifically those ‘at the doorstep of Utah’s National Parks.’ As of Friday, more than 300,000 Americans have echoed these sentiments by calling for the Bureau of Land Management to block the Alton Coal mine proposed expansion. The Sierra Club joins these voices in calling for rejection of the first federal coal strip mine in Utah, just several miles from Bryce Canyon National Park and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.”
The Sept. 10 comment was on the supplemental draft environmental impact statement (SDEIS) that BLM prepared for the proposed Alton coal mine expansion.
In November 2004, the BLM’s Utah State Office received a Lease by Application (LBA) from Alton Coal Development to mine 2,683 acres of federal coal on private and public land and recover approximately 49 million tons of federal coal in Kane County, Utah. Through tract delineation, the BLM increased the tract size to 3,581 acres to ensure conservation of the coal resources. The proponent is currently extracting coal by surface mining methods from a nearby tract on private land at the Coal Hollow Mine.
The BLM released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for public comment in November 2011. The BLM received 177,000 comments expressing concerns with sensitive species, proximity to Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks, air quality, wetlands, and night sky impacts. Based on comments provided by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Park Service and the public, the BLM determined that a supplemental EIS was needed to adequately address public concerns. That has lately been up for public comment.
There are two mines listed with the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration under Alton Coal, which MSHA says is controlled by James Wayland.
- The Coal Hollow surface mine was listed with MSHA in 2009, went into first production in 2013, and produced 555,268 tons in 2014 and 295,199 tons in the first quarter of this year.
- The Burton #1 deep mine was listed with MSHA in November 2014, is considered “active” by MSHA, with first production in the second quarter of this year, with 192 tons produced during that period.
Notable is that MSHA’s control attributions for companies is simplistic. The much more detailed ownership and control database at the U.S. Office of Surface Mining shows Alton Coal as 49% owned by SH Coal Investment LLC, 8% owned by Robert Nead Jr. and 26% owned by James Wayland. No other parties are shown holding ownership shares. OSM data says that SH Coal Investment is 50-50 owned by Thomas Ungurean and Charles Ungurean, who are Ohio-based coal operators that in the past had founded Oxford Resource Partners.