During the past three decades, southern Utah's Kaiparowits plateau has witnessed numerous schemes for the development of its coal go unrealized as a consequence of supply and demand economics. This region, whose remoteness from transportation corridors and markets has conserved it as one of the last great wild areas remaining in the lower 48 states, is now threatened by Dutch-owned Andalex Resources' plans for a coal mine twice the size of Manhattan Island.
The Deseret News, in an April 15 editorial, came out in support of the Andalex coal mine proposal. The premise for that support was the age-old lure of jobs in a part of the state whose dependence on natural resource development has repeatedly proven incapable of sustaining local communities' economies.When the Southern California power consortium found Kaiparowits coal development economically infeasible in the 1970s, local residents responded by blaming environmentalists. When a collapse in the uranium market forced the Fredonia Energy Fuels nuclear facility to shut down, environmentalists were blamed again. When local mills all but exhausted the supply of merchantable timber through below-cost timber sales on our national forests and were then forced out by competition from Northwest mills for the remaining trees, environmentalists again became the scapegoats.
Time after time, supply and demand economics, despite the added bonus of costly public subsidies that have always accompanied natural resource development on our public lands, has rendered resource development uneconomic in southern Utah. Each time, local political leaders have sought scapegoats rather than solutions in sustainable industries based on something other than the development of public lands resource. The pattern is undeniable, and the Andalex proposal is primed to be its continuation.
The Andalex mine would be a public safety, fiscal and environmental nightmare. Government studies on the transportation impacts of Kaiparowits coal development have found that a project comparable in size to the Andalex proposal would generate thousands of additional accidents on southern Utah's roadways over the life of the mine. Residents in Hurricane and Cedar City have responded to this hazard by creating citizens groups to fight the routing of the 129,000-pound, 92-foot-long trucks through their communities as often as every three minutes continuously for 40 years.
The Andalex project would require a significant infusion of Utah tax dollars in the form of a 22-mile mine access road, upgrades and incremental maintenance costs for existing roads along the truck haul corridor, new bridges, passing lanes, safety pullouts, and bypasses around the towns of Hurricane and Cedar City. The tally for these road-related subsidies will easily exceed $100 million, or more than $330,000 for each of the 300 Utahns who might be directly employed by the mine, according to the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget.
Can Andalex guarantee a payback to Utah taxpayers? Can it turn a profit by trucking the coal 210 miles to railheads, railing it about 200 miles to Los Angeles and shipping it across the world's largest ocean to markets in Japan, Korea and Taiwan? If not, as has been documented in a mine feasibility study by the Grand Canyon Trust, Utah taxpayers get stuck with the tab. The Andalex project is likely to be another public subsidy fiasco, not unlike Syn-crete or the Great Salt Lake pumps, but with far larger tax consequences.
The mine itself would devastate the Kaiparowits wilderness. The Deseret News/Andalex assertion that only 40 acres would be disturbed ignores the profound impacts of this 25,000-acre mine, its power lines, roads, dust, noise, traffic and other consequences to this now quiet plateau. Pristine wildlife habitat would be fragmented by road construction, power lines and communications facilities. We can mine coal elsewhere, as we have in central Utah for the past century; there is, however, no substitute for the Kaiparowits' outstanding wilderness values.
Half of the areas proposed for wilderness conservation in the Kaiparowits region by the 110-member organizations of the Utah Wilderness Coalition would be adversely impacted by this mine. A May 18, 1995, Valley Research poll found that two-thirds of Utahns feel that wilderness protection is more important than economic development in southern Utah.
The more Utahns learn about this boondoggle, the more we will likely see it as just another bad idea. If those in southern Utah want to buy into this white elephant, they have no one to blame but themselves if it crushes more sensible solutions for sustainable development.