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Alton Coal Mine Expansion Sparks Controversy
Nathaniel Shoaff of the Sierra Club said people are against the proposed mine expansion, shown in orange, partly because of its proximity to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Alton Coal Development is trying to expand its coal-mining tract by about 3,500 acres, where it will run for an additional 25 years.

In 2011, the Bureau of Land Management released a draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, to outline how the project would affect the environment, including air quality and noise pollution.

Nathaniel Shoaff, staff attorney for the Sierra Club, said after the statement was released, 170,000 people spoke out against the expansion. He attributed the large outcry to the mine’s proximity to Bryce Canyon National Park.

“If you put a coal mine, and you run it 24 hours a day, not only do you have lights and equipment running all that time, but you have particulate matter and other air pollution from blasting and from digging and from wind blowing off your coal pile that all contribute to worsening the views at an iconic national park,” Shoaff said.

In response to the comments, the BLM later did a supplemental EIS.

Shoaff said while agencies often recommend what alternative should be done, the BLM did not do that with the supplemental statement. However, he said the bureau is taking more public comments right now before making a final decision.

The original 2011 statement suggested the mine will conform to most of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Standards of air quality and noise level. In addition, it said there will be land reclamation projects throughout the time it will run followed by a 10-year reclamation period.

Regg Olsen, permitting branch manager of Utah’s Division of Air Quality, said while the division has not received an application for a permit from Alton Coal Development, the project will need approval in order to continue.

Olsen said the mine will have to show it complies with legal air quality standards in order to obtain the permit.

“The intention is that they would comply with it moving into the future,” Olsen said. “We obviously can’t guarantee that they would, but we have a compliance group that inspects and checks up on sources to make sure that they do, in fact, comply with the permit.”

One woman, who lives about 20 miles away from the mine on highway 89 and wished to remain anonymous, does not trust the way Alton Coal has handled things so far, including how wastewater and air quality is monitored and the way it has reclaimed the land.

“If they were doing that presently on the mine, and not reclaiming the land properly, not treating, respecting the wastewater, etcetera, what is going to happen when they’re in so many thousands of acres of land?” she said.

Alton resident, Gary Kalpakoff, pointed out that the Intermountain Power Plant, where the coal will be taken, is switching to natural gas soon.

“I don’t know what these guys are going to do with their coal,” Kalpakoff said. “To me, I read about coal every day, and it’s on its way out in this country. Maybe the rest of the world it’s not, but in this country, coal’s taken a hard hit.”

Jeffrey Barrett, deputy director of the Utah governor’s Office of Energy Development, said it’s fair to say coal production is declining. However, he said there still are markets for coal, and Utah should be focused on opportunities to take part in them.

“Just because we may anticipate regional declines in coal based generation doesn’t mean we should necessarily be ramping down coal mining in the state of Utah,” Barrett said.

The BLM is taking written comments until Aug. 11. This week, the bureau started holding open houses where members of its staff will answer questions about the expansion and about the supplemental EIS. A link to the time and place of these meetings can be found here.