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February 10, 2012

Club Mobilizes Public to Block Bryce Boondoggle

Salt-Lake-City-rally
Photo by Niles Urry, courtesy of EnviroNews

The last Friday in January, the Sierra Club held a rally and press conference outside the Bureau of Land Management's office in Salt Lake City and hand-delivered sample copies of 210,126 email comments to the BLM state director's office. That's Club organizer Tim Wagner, below, delivering the comments.

Tim-delivering-comments

The comments were in opposition to a proposal by Alton Coal Development to expand its operations by leasing and strip-mining more than 3,500 acres of federal land a mere 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, below, which many consider to be among the U.S. Park Service's crown jewels.

Bryce-Canyon-National-Park
Photo by Jean-Christophe Benoist

"The mine expansion would effectively turn this region—arguably the prettiest part of Utah—into an industrial zone," Wagner says. "Bryce Canyon is one of America's great beauty icons, and a strip mine right outside the park is not what Utahns or the rest of the nation wants to see."

Dan Mayhew, conservation chair for the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter, points to the heavy truck traffic the mine expansion would bring—more than 300 trucks a day when round-trips are factored in.

The Club's Resilient Habitats and Water Sentinels programs have trained local activists to test streams in the area to expose the coal industry's assertion that strip mining won't affect water quality.

"We want to see the U.S. move away from coal," Wagner says. "Allowing a 20-to-35-year strip mine to occur is a huge displacement of clean energy opportunities."

The BLM released a draft environmental impact statement on the mine expansion in early December that gave a preliminary thumbs-up to the project. That's when the Sierra Club and partner groups Credo Action and Care2 sprang into action, generating more than 210,000 email comments to the agency by the January 7 deadline.

210,126-public-comments

"It was a huge effort by our online organizing team that utilized the Sierra Club's vast membership and really drove home what the impacts of this project would be," Wagner says. "That's what drew people in—they don't want to see this national treasure become an industrial zone."

Also helping turn people out for the Salt Lake City rally were the National Parks & Conservation Association and local groups Peaceful Uprising and the Wild Utah Project.

Tim-Wagner-at-BLM-rally

The BLM must still evaluate all the comments on the Alton expansion, plus 70 pages of detailed analysis by the Sierra Club and its allies. Significantly, the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service have recommended that the project not go forward, citing negative impacts to the national park and to wildlife.

The two most southerly sage grouse breeding grounds in the U.S. are in the area—one in the proposed lease tract and the other on existing Alton land. "The birds on Alton land are already being affected, and if the lease area gets disturbed the birds will likely disappear," Wagner says.

For their involvement "since day one" against the Alton expansion, Wagner gives kudos to Lue & Bruce MacMahan and Bobbi Bryant, business owners in Panguitch, one of the gateway towns to Bryce; Utah Chapter volunteer leader Roger Hoverman of Kanab; and Dick Cumiskey, who in 2009 argued successfully before the Utah Supreme Court—with no law degree—to stop a proposed coal-burning power plant in nearby Sevier County.

All photos except Bryce Canyon photo by Ravell Call, courtesy of the Deseret News, except where otherwise noted.

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