Trump Administration Proposes New Coal Mine in Eastern Utah’s Book Cliffs

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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