Southern Utah, in close vicinity to Bryce Canyon National Park, is one of the prettiest places in the US, and a unique, world-class natural wonder. Hundreds of thousands of visitors every year witness this beauty when the come to enjoy the clean air, beautiful night skies, and breathtaking vistas and views.
I own a retail shop called Bronco Bobbi's, in the small town of Panguitch, Utah. Panguitch, known for its old brick buildings and homes, is listed on the National Historic Register. Tourism to Bryce Canyon brings millions of dollars of revenue to the state, county, and area towns -- including ours.
All of this is being threatened by a historic first for Utah: a strip coal mine within 10 miles of Bryce Canyon, in a small town called Alton. I have visited this quaint town many times, as it borders both Bryce Canyon and the Escalante Grand Staircase National Monument. Alton is known for the large and beautiful deer and elk that live our region of Utah, as the town is located in the Paunsaguant Plateau range. It is also the southernmost breeding ground of the threatened greater sage grouse.
This mine will be a threat to all wildlife in that area. It is in the middle of sage grouse breeding grounds, as well as winter habitat of bald eagles. The various migration routes for the deer and elk go right where the 300-plus tandem coal trucks will be traveling.
These diesel trucks will be using the National Mormon Heritage Highway, Highway 89, a narrow, two-lane highway through several small towns, including Panguitch. They will create high emissions of fine particulate pollution (called PM2.5), which is a health hazard for those that call this area home. The Bryce Canyon National Park superintendent and the District Ranger for Dixie National Forest have voiced worries about air quality, along with citizens and groups throughout Utah and the surrounding states.
Heavy coal trucks also take a huge toll on road maintenance, which the taxpayers end up paying for, not the coal companies. And because of our cold winters, these repairs will need to be made in the summer, when we have our heaviest tourism traffic.
When it comes to monitoring the air pollution from this mine, the fox will be guarding the henhouse. At a public hearing in October, Utah’s Division of Air Quality (DAQ) admitted that it does not have the funds or the expertise to monitor a coal strip mine. The DAQ won't even be installing air quality monitoring stations at the site.
Alton Coal “volunteered” (though this should have been a requirement from DAQ) to put in two air monitoring stations to monitor 200+ acres. However, DAQ admitted that the reading and reporting of findings from these monitors will be done by the owners of the mine.
As for water pollution, we’re on our own. The state's Division of Water Quality had no public meetings, nor have they published how they will monitor potential water contamination, slurry spills, etc. The high desert of this region are known for summer rain storms that create flooding. This mine has disrupted the natural vegetation on hundreds of acres, which will surely cause flooding that ends up in active creeks, streams and wetlands.
How did such devastation happen? Our governor requested that this mine permit be expedited, after receiving a $10,000 campaign contribution from the coal company, Alton Coal Development.
Even if this mine brings some much-needed local employment, the salaries paid will not come close to equaling the monetary loss from the drop in tourism because of poor road conditions, increased traffic, and worsened air quality.
The mining is happening currently on private land. But Alton Coal is trying to lease thousands of acres from the federal Bureau of Land Management, which will allow them to strip coal mine for 15 years. To stop this lease from happening -- to stop a dirty, primitive and antiquated way of mining coal, especially within short distance of a Class 1 National Park -- we need your help.
Please tell Utah Governor Gary Herbert to stop this mine by taking action here. We can protect the pristine area and air around Bryce Canyon.