Groups sue over Alton Coal mine expansion in southern Utah

By Amy Joi O’Donoghue, KSL | Posted – Apr 16th, 2019 @ 4:09pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Multiple environmental groups teamed up Tuesday to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior, challenging its 2018 decision to allow a coal mine expansion 12 miles southwest of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court for Utah asserts the federal agency failed to take a “hard look” at the impacts that will come from the Alton Coal mine expansion, including pollution from trucks, possible impairment of night skies and noise.

Alton Coal wants to mine an estimated 31 million tons of recoverable coal in a federal lease involving 2,114 acres. The lease is for 16 years, according to the suit, with an additional 10 years of reclamation activity.

As Alton Coal Development sought the expansion, it touted the more than 100 new jobs it would bring, the generation of $6.5 million in wages and nearly $200 million in royalty revenue, of which Utah would get half.

The lawsuit brought by the environmental groups says the negative impacts of coal mining — such as dust, noise and pollution — were not adequately contemplated by the federal agency and thus in violation of federal environmental laws.

“The federal defendants’ failure to take a hard look at the indirect and cumulative impacts of emissions from coal combustion violates (the law). The Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the lease is therefore arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law,” the suit states.

In a statement released by the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, the group’s executive director, Jonny Vasic, said the BLM ignored health impacts.

“The medical research on air pollution is well-established – there is no safe level of air pollution exposure. Even levels far below the EPA’s national standards precipitate a long list of human diseases, acceleration of the aging process and premature death,” Vasic said.

The suit was brought by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association, Grand Canyon Trust and WildEarth Guardians.