Associated Press
This image provided by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance shows a strip mine near Alton, near Utah's Bryce Canyon National Park.

PANGUITCH — The Utah Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that state regulators properly reviewed and issued a permit to Alton Coal Development for its existing mine on a combination of state and private land 30 miles south of Panguitch.

The Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club launched its challenge to the permit granted by Utah oil and gas regulators, arguing that they failed to properly consider impacts to cultural resources, nearby national parks, heavy truck traffic on an historic district and water resources in the area.

In its ruling, however, the Utah Supreme Court rejected the notion that regulators failed to do their homework, citing extensive cultural resource surveys done not only in the permit area but 3,000 acres adjacent to the mine site.

The Sierra Club had argued that the state Division of Oil, Gas and Mining failed to consider and protect the Panguitch Historic National District because a potential hauling route from the mine could include U.S. 89, or Main Street, as it runs through the community 30 miles away from the mine.

But the ruling noted that the historic district reasonably falls outside the legal definition of "adjacent" and fails to fall under Mining Act provisions because it is likely to be unaffected by mining operations.

Justices also noted that ample hydrologic studies had been done within the purview of state and federal regulations, meeting environmental requirements.

An expansion of the mine, under the review of the Bureau of Land Management, has stirred up controversy in the rural area, where a desire for new jobs is clashing with concerns over the impacts to Main Street in Panguitch and dust and light pollution to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Tim Wagner, a spokesman with the Sierra Club, said Tuesday the organization would have preferred a different decision.

"Of course we would have liked a different outcome," Wagner said. "But there are still a lot of steps Alton Coal has to go through before there is any expansion on BLM lands."

He added that the area is not compatible with a mining operation.

"This is simply the wrong place and the wrong time for another coal mine," Wagner said. "We should be investing in clean, responsible energies instead of doubling down on old, dirty fossil fuels. BLM should do what is best for southern Utah rather than what is best for one private company.”

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In July, the federal agency announced it was taking a second look at Alton Coal's proposal to lease a tract of coal reserves outside of Alton, Kane County, that would preserve the life of its operation by up to 25 years. The agency estimates the area holds at least 50 million tons of recoverable coal.

A review of the proposal has been on the table since 2006, but concerns persist over potential impacts to air quality and greater sage grouse habitat.

A decision by the BLM in that matter is not expected until next year.


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