Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah. (Photo credit: AFP/Getty Images)
Imagine: A massive open-pit coal mine next to a wilderness jewel. A scenario like that might have been routine in the past, but this is the 21st century, when many cleaner, more sustainable ways to power our economy abound. We no longer have to sacrifice an iconic landscape in order to burn some dirty rocks.
And yet a mining company got approval last month to open Utah’s first-ever strip mine for coal in the small community of Alton. Few new coal mines have opened in the West in the past decade since most developers focus on expanding existing mines, not reaching into untouched wilderness. And that’s what makes this mine so troubling: it will be located 10 miles from Bryce Canyon National Park.
The truth is we don’t need this coal. The developers claim they have a contract with a Utah utility, but they won’t disclose which one. It’s questionable whether local utilities even have the need for such sizeable quantities of coal. Instead, rumors indicate that a lot of the coal will be hauled to a West Coast port for shipping, possibly overseas. If the company is so confident there is a market for its product, it should name its buyers.
The West has a long history of outside companies extracting local resources, selling them elsewhere, and leaving nearby communities to clean up the mess often at taxpayer expense. No matter what they might tell you, there is no reclamation plan that can return an open pit mine to a natural, wild state. Once that untamed spirit is gone, it’s gone for good.
Some places are simply too special to industrialize. Bryce country is one of them.