BLM selling Green Hollows coal tract lease to highest bidder
By Robert Stevens
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has announced a coal lease sale will be allowed for a 6,175-acre federal coal tract that runs beneath the Manti-La Sal and Fishlake National Forests and holds special importance in efforts to retain and increase coal-mining jobs in Central Utah.
Known as the Green Hollows Tract, the federally-owned coal repository contains roughly 50.1 million tons of recoverable coal and is a major component in the hotly-opposed plan to export Utah coal to Asian markets through a decommissioned U.S. Army port in Oakland, Calif.
The coal from the lease sale would be mined through underground methods, according to a BLM statement.
According to Kimberly Finch, BLM public affairs specialist, the coal lease sale is exempted from the moratorium on new coal leases because the sale is consistent with “Secretarial Order 3338”, which allows lease sale decisions made prior to the announcement of the moratorium to be grandfathered in as long as an environmental analysis has been completed.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) completed review of an environmental impact statement, after which the U.S. Forest Service issued a record of decision on the proposed lease. The record of decision was issued Oct. 5, 2015.
“All this was in the works before the coal pause,” Finch said. “It essentially gets grandfathered in because the environmental analysis and the record of decision we made public before the coal pause was announced.”
The Green Hollows Tract is adjacent to the Sufco Mine, operated by Canyon Fuels, a subsidiary of Bowie Resource Partners, which purchased Sufco Mine, Skyline Mine and several other mines across Utah as part of a plan to mine and export Utah coal. Bowie announced its intention last year to buy the Green Hollows Tract as part of that strategy.
Under a plan envisioned by Bowie, as well as county commissioners and economic development officials in Central Utah, a proposed new rail line in Central Utah would connect with the east-west Pacific Union Railroad. Coal taken from the Green Hall would be shipped by rail to the decommissioned port in Oakland, where it would be loaded on ships for export.
Sanpete, Sevier, Carbon and Emery counties asked for a $53 million loan from the Utah Community Impact Board (CIB) to invest in the plan, arguing that the project could bring more jobs to the area and allow the counties to export their coal and other goods, such as potash and hay, to foreign markets.
Questions were raised by some over the legality of investing CIB funding into an out-of-state facility but Gov. Herbert and the Utah Legislature gave the $53 million loan a green light.
When Oakland City’s mayor and a number of environmentalist groups, such the Sierra Club, caught wind of the deal, opposition grew quickly.
In late June, Oakland City Council announced to a crowd of anti-coal protestors that it would unanimously ban the transport and storage of fossil fuels within city limits, effectively denying Bowie of its first choice for a place of export for its coal. The 7-0 Oakland council vote is scheduled to be finalized tomorrow.
Finch told the Messenger that one of Bowie’s subsidiaries (the Ark Land Company) had initiated the coal lease sale by filing an application.
“They did get the ball rolling,” Finch said. “But that was a while ago, and it’s a competitive bid sale and the highest bidder is the one who will get the coal lease.”
The coal lease sale is scheduled Sept. 22 at 1 p.m. Unsealed bids may be sent by certified mail to the Utah State Office of the BLM. Sealed bids may be hand delivered to the office before 10 a.m. on the day of the sale.
Requirements for the lease sale winner include an annual rental payment of $3 per acre and 8 percent in royalty payments on any coal produced from the tract.
Contact the BLM-Utah State Office at (801) 539-4000 for more information about the sale.