By Justin Housman
September 6, 2018 - Highway 89, the two-lane scenic highway running between Utah’s Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park could soon be filled with the rumbling of hundreds of double-trailer big rigs every day. Their payload? Coal.
Last Thursday the BLM gave the go-ahead to lease some 2,114 acres of federal land just outside of Bryce to Utah-centered Alton Coal Development for a massive coal mining operation. The lease would effectively double in size the Coal Hollow Mine near Alton, Utah, and perhaps triple the amount of coal production.
The BLM and Alton Coal think there could be nearly 31 million tons of coal deposits at the expansion site, the removal of which might provide as many as 240 to 480 jobs.
Environmental groups, however, have been highly critical of the proposal.
“A lot of the values of Bryce that include the night skies, air quality, visibility, the sounds and the sense of being in a special place where there are not huge numbers of coal trucks and industrialization nearby are very important,” Dave Nimkin, the National Parks Conservation Association’s southwest regional director said in a local news report.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is alarmed that lights from the mining operation would jeopardize Bryce Canyon’s famous ink-black nighttime skies, when thousands of stars can be seen.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has expressed concern about the impact any coal mine expansion would have on an important Greater Sage Grouse population in the area of Alton.
More than 300 coal-bearing transport trucks would likely trundle down highway 89, mixing with thousands of tourist vehicles, according the National Park Service.
During the Obama administration, both the NPS and the US Fish and Wildlife Service considered the mine’s expansion, and expressed concern about potential negative impacts to visitors at Bryce Canyon. But under the current administration, the BLM was given the go-ahead to approve the lease, despite a reported 280,000 public comments critical of the planned expansion.
Before the expansion is carried out, state, local, and federal permits will still need to be attained by Alton Coal.