Conservation groups stall coal lease

Conservation groups stall coal lease
Potential expansion of local coal mining but on hold

Robert Stevens

Managing editor



SALT LAKE CITY— A handful of conservation groups have stalled U.S. Bureau of Land Management plans to offer a lease on the huge Green Hollows coal tract, located in the far southeast corner of Sanpete County and spilling over into Sevier County.

According to a statement released by the BLM on Sept. 12, Wild Earth Guardians, the Center for Biological Diversity, the Grand Canyon Trust and the Sierra Club filed an appeal and petition for stay with the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA).

Their appeal is primarily based on concerns regarding sage-grouse habitat and leasing procedure.

The primary contender for a Green Hollows lease was Bowie Resources, operator of the nearby SUFCO Mine. If Bowie’s plan to develop Green Hollows were to be realized, coal mining in Sanpete and Sevier counties could increase significantly, creating scores of mining and mining-related jobs.

The objection document filed by the conservation groups says, “We are disappointed to see the U.S. Forest Service offer its consent to the Greens Hollow coal lease at a time when all indications are that our nation and our federal government should be doing everything possible to prevent additional carbon emissions in order to combat climate change. This includes exercising restraint in the approval of additional fossil fuel development on public lands, such as new coal mining.”

(Although the BLM is handling the potential lease of subsurface rights, the coal tract is below Manti-LaSal and Fishlake national forest lands. The Forest Service had to sign off before the BLM announced a lease sale.)

The objection goes on to say, among other things, that the U.S. Forest Service failed to comply with National Environmental Protection Act because it didn’t fully consider the environmental implications of the decision to allow the coal lease sale.

The Greens Hollow coal lease sale was scheduled for Sept. 22 in Salt Lake City. The tract, containing 6,175 acres, contains an estimated 55.7 million tons of recoverable coal.

Although there is currently a moratorium on new coal leases in Utah, the BLM decided to go ahead with the Green Hollows sale because the process of advertising the lease was already underway when the moratorium was announced. Thus, the Green Hollows site was considered “grandfathered” in.

“Leasing Utah’s national forests for coal mining is a terrible idea. It’s bad for our air, bad for the climate, and bad for endangered fish and imperiled birds,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“The Interior secretary has put most federal coal leasing on hold to review a badly broken program that’s completely inconsistent with this country’s climate goals. It makes no sense to make an exception to that leasing moratorium to enable a Utah mine that will hurt important sage grouse habitat and pollute our air and rivers.”

Now that the conservation groups have put a stop to the Sept. 22 coal lease sale, the grandfather exemption won’t help until the matter is settled.

Under BLM  regulations, when a decision is appealed to the IBLA and a stay is requested, the BLM’s decision is stayed for 45 days unless the IBLA rules first.

According to the BLM statement, no date has been set for a rescheduled sale.