News


  • September 16th, 2020

    Proposal will open 4,231 acres of public lands to coal mining and contribute millions of new greenhouse gas emissions—emissions that are driving the climate crisis, including the wildfires and droughts currently engulfing the western United States 

    For Immediate Release

    Contact: Stephen Bloch, Legal Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-428-3981, steve@suwa.org 

    Taylor McKinnon, Senior Public Lands Campaigner, Center for Biological Diversity, 801-300-2414, tmckinnon@biologicaldiversity.org

    Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director, WildEarth Guardians, 303-437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org

    Salt Lake City, Utah (Sept. 16, 2020) – Today, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management released its plan to lease public lands along eastern Utah’s Book Cliffs escarpment for coal mining. This plan, referred to as the “Williams Draw Lease by Application,” would authorize the mining of more than 32 million tons of coal.

    The Bureau’s proposal grants UtahAmerican Energy, Inc (UAE)—a wholly owned subsidiary of the bankrupt Murray Energy Corp.—the right to mine for coal on 4,231 acres at the edge of the Desolation Canyon Wilderness. This area is emblematic of the larger Book Cliffs region—an area that, according to the Bureau, is “an extremely steep and rugged area cut by canyons that are 1,000 to 3,000 feet deep.” According to the Bureau, the area contains “outstanding” opportunities for solitude and primitive and unconfined recreation such as hiking due to, among other factors, “the quality of the scenic, geologic, wildlife, and cultural features.”

    “The Williams Draw coal lease was a bad idea in 2002 when it was first floated and it has only gotten worse over time” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The vivid images unfolding in front of our eyes this year of wildfires, hurricanes, and rapidly melting ice sheets makes clear that the climate crisis and its devastating impacts are real and demand urgent action. Making more dirty fossil fuels available to be mined and burned flies in the face of everything we know to be happening and what’s necessary to stop it. Simply put, the world doesn’t need another coal mine.”

    This proposal comes on the heels of a separate proposal put forth by the Bureau of Land Management over the summer that would allow UAE to expand its existing Lila Canyon coal mine by an additional 1,272 acres of public lands. Taken together, these proposals will release millions of tons of new greenhouse gas emissions and consume millions of gallons of surface and groundwater, exacerbating the climate crisis and the decades-long draught in the southwestern United States. For example:

    • The Bureau estimates that coal mining activities in this area will contribute millions of tons per year of climate driving greenhouse gas emissions.

    • The Bureau estimates that 1 million tons of mined coal in this area consumes approximately 6,943,000 gallons of water. Thus, the Bureau’s proposal will consume more than 222,176,000 gallons of water over the life of the project.

    “Pushing more coal pollution as fossil-fueled fires scorch America’s West Coast epitomizes the climate insanity of this public lands policy,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “This dangerous plan should be shelved just as the federal fossil fuel leasing programs must end.”

    The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal is a handout to Bob Murray and Murray Energy Corp., one of Trump’s most loyal supporters, and comes at a time when coal mines across the country have begun to shut down due to unfavorable economic factors. This all but ensures that the public will not receive just compensation for the loss of its land, air, and water. In 2016, then-Secretary of the Department of the Interior Sally Jewell launched a comprehensive review of the federal coal program “to ensure that it is properly structured to provide a fair return to taxpayers and reflect its impacts on the environment.” The review included “a pause on issuing new coal leases while the review is underway”—a pause that encompassed the Williams Draw lease. However, that review process was never finalized and the necessary data and analysis never prepared. Instead, the Trump administration, upon assuming office, quickly reversed course and threw out the review in pursuit of its “energy dominance” agenda—an agenda that has opened up millions of acres of federal public lands to fossil fuel exploration and development.

    This has nothing to do with energy, it’s a corrupt attempt to bail out a bankrupt coal company at the expense of public lands, the climate, and clean air and water,” said Jeremy Nichols with WildEarth Guardians.  “The Trump administration wants to force Americans to pay for more costly coal. We’re saying enough, it’s time to keep it in the ground.”

    The Bureau of Land Management’s proposal also comes on the heels of the Trump administration’s attack on our nation’s bedrock environmental law—the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)—having taken effect. The new Trump-era NEPA regulations went into effect on Monday, September 14. Now, only two days later, the Bureau has formally proposed the Williams Draw lease—a proposal that will be scrutinized by the agency in light of these significantly watered-down (and likely unlawful) regulations.

    Additional Resources:

    Link to this press release on the web.

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  • September 10th, 2020

    After a long August recess, Congress is back in session for September. This is one of the best chances to get your members of Congress to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. Will you ask them today?

    America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act is the seminal legislation that would protect the amazing redrock country we all love. It would safeguard places like Desolation Canyon, the Dirty Devil region, and the east side of Labyrinth Canyon, as well as lands wrongly cleaved from Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments by President Trump.

    Please ask your members of Congress to cosponsor today!

    Protecting these lands as wilderness will help us in the fight against climate change, build connected habitat corridors for wildlife, and preserve places for Americans to enjoy quiet and solitude for generations to come. Utah has less protected wilderness than any other western state. As we work toward the goal of protecting 30 percent of America’s lands and waters by 2030, Utah must be a large part of the discussion.

    Ask your members of Congress to cosponsor America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act today!

    And if any of them have already cosponsored (check here), please thank them.

    Members of Congress will soon depart again to embark on the campaign trail in October, so September is the key time to get their endorsement. If you want to go the extra mile, after asking them to cosponsor via our action page, call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 and ask them by phone. They might ask for the bill number, which in the House is H.R. 5775, and in the Senate is S. 3056.

    Thank you!

  • August 24th, 2020

    San Rafael River Proposed Wilderness Area. Photo (c) Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; use with attribution permitted.

    For Immediate Release

    Contact: Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance 801-236-3762, laura@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (August 24, 2020) – On Friday, August 21, the Bureau of Land Management released the final motorized vehicle travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert in eastern Emery County, Utah. Left unchecked, this plan will forever change the area’s stunning and remote wild lands, turning it into a playground for off-road vehicles.

    The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the newly-designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness and wilderness-quality lands such as Sweetwater Reef and the San Rafael River. It features stunning redrock canyons, important cultural sites, and an outstanding diversity of native species, many found nowhere else but this corner of Utah. The Bureau’s plan inundates this remote area with off-road vehicle routes, more than doubling the miles open to motorized vehicles from 300 miles to more than 765 miles.

    “At this point in the Trump Administration, the Bureau of Land Management has abandoned even the pretense of seeking balance in public land management,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Instead of accommodating the diverse array of public land resources and user groups and developing a reasonable travel plan that ensures access to public lands while preserving the backcountry, the Bureau’s travel plan does the opposite. It designates virtually any cow path, wash bottom and line on a map as open to off-road vehicles.”

    Federal law requires the Bureau of Land Management to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. The agency must demonstrate that it has done so for both every route designated, and the travel plan as a whole. This includes minimizing damage to soils, watershed, vegetation, wildlife habitat, and cultural sites; minimizing the harassment of wildlife as well as conflicts between different public land user groups; and minimizing impacts of motorized vehicle routes on wilderness values like naturalness and solitude. The Bureau’s San Rafael Desert travel plan falls woefully short of meeting its legal obligation.

    “By doubling the miles of off-road vehicle trails, this short-sighted plan designates an unmanageable spiderweb of routes that will forever change the San Rafael Desert, one of Utah’s quietest places. This is public land management at its worst,” said Steve Bloch, Legal Director at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    The San Rafael Desert travel plan is the first of thirteen travel plans that the Bureau of Land Management will complete over the next six years as a part of a court-supervised settlement agreement. These thirteen travel plans will determine where motorized vehicles will be allowed across millions of acres of federal public lands in some of Utah’s wildest public lands, including the Dirty Devil, San Rafael Swell and Vermillion Cliffs.

    Additional Resources:

    Photos of areas affected by the plan.

    The BLM’s press release.

    The BLM’s e-planning page on the project.

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  • August 13th, 2020

    Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) and Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-CA) each recently sent separate letters to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt urging against the leasing of nearly 87,000 acres of redrock country near Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef National Parks, including significant landscapes that would be protected within America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

    Great news: it worked! The combined pressure from these members of Congress, conservation groups, and activists like you led the Bureau of Land Management this week to remove all parcels from the lease sale in San Juan and Grand Counties. The result is that no leases will be offered in the September sale that conflict with America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act!

    If your member(s) of Congress signed one of these letters, please click here to thank them.

    Joining Senator Durbin on his letter were 15 senators:

    Jeff Merkley (D-OR) Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
    Cory Booker (D-NJ) Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
    Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) Patty Murray (D-WA)
    Edward Markey (D-MA) Tom Udall (D-NM)
    Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) Martin Heinrich (D-NM)
    Ron Wyden (D-OR) Kamala Harris (D-CA)
    Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) Robert Menendez (D-NJ)
    Sherrod Brown (D-OH)

    Representative Lowenthal was joined by 32 colleagues, who in the letter wrote, “Development of these parcels would threaten to ruin the stunning scenic beauty and visitors’ use and enjoyment of these iconic national parks, redrock canyons, and mesas with drill rigs, pipelines, and natural gas flaring. Further, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to drive down demand for oil and gas leases on public lands while oil and gas wells are being shut-in or abandoned at unprecedented rates, providing little economic justification for this sale. We urge the Department of the Interior to cancel this lease sale.”

    Joining Rep. Lowenthal were the following representatives:

    Rep Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy (D-MA)
    Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD)
    Rep. Jared Huffman (D-CA) Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA)
    Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM) Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO)
    Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ) Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-FL)
    Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)
    Rep. Jesus G. “Chuy” Garcia (D-IL) Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ)
    Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) Rep. Grace Napolitano (D-CA)
    Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA) Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL)
    Rep. Nanette Barrigan (D-CA) Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN)
    Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT) Rep. Raul Ruiz (D-CA)
    Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA) Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA)
    Rep. Donald S. Beyer Jr. (D-VA) Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA)
    Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA)
    Rep. Sean Casten (D-IL) Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA)
    Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA) Rep. A Donald McEachin (D-VA)

    To read the Durbin letter, click here. To read the Lowenthal letter, click here.

    This kind of pressure from Congress helps us protect the redrock we all love! If any of these members represent you, please take time to thank them today!