Guest Column: The Keystone XL Pipelines And Coal Hollow Mines Of America

Is it appropriate to place a coal surface mine within 10 miles of Bryce Canyon National Park? Kurt Repanshek photo.

Editor's note: The U.S. Bureau of Land Management earlier this month released a draft Environmental Impact Statement examining expansion of the Coal Hollow Mine near Bryce Canyon National Park to more than 3,500 acres. In this guest column, RL Miller, a California-based attorney who keeps watch on public lands issues, questions the wisdom of such an expansion. We welcome other viewpoints on this issue.

The Keystone XL pipeline symbolizes our national debate: a governmental policy to be made that will set policy, for good or bad, for years to come: claimed energy security (access to friendly North American oil) and jobs vs environmental ruin and carbon bomb continuing our addiction to cheap-ish fossil fuels.

Keystone XL is a huge decision to be made at a Presidential level.

However, all across America, similar decisions are being made: fossil fuel production is being expanded with the blessing of the federal government.

Consider Alton Coal.

But first, consider Bryce Canyon National Park.

Bryce Canyon is best known for its hoodoos, but the park is also the last grand sanctuary of natural darkness.

High and dry on the edge of a huge plateau, Bryce has wide open skies; its isolation means no light pollution (light from human activity) and very little air pollution. The park’s Dark Rangers give over 100 astronomy programs each year. Arriving from the west via Las Vegas or Salt Lake City, a Bryce visitor probably passes through Panguitch, an Old West town of 1,600 heavily dependent on tourism - 70 percent of Garfield County’s economy is tourism-based.

What a great place for a coal mine!

Until now, Alton Coal Development, LLC has mined 635 acres of private land in Coal Hollow. It wants to expand on to 3,576 acres of federally owned land, administered by the Bureau of Land Management. The BLM’s draft environmental impact statement, released November 4, considered three alternatives: full-bore production of 2,000,000 tons/year, operating 24 hours a day, 6 days a week; a limited mine on less land with seasonal closures to protect sage grouse and other threatened animals; and no mine at all.

Anyone who thinks the BLM seriously considered all three alternatives needs a reality check. The BLM prefers to expand a strip mine near a national park.

What’s wrong with expanding one strip mine? Everything that’s wrong with Keystone XL, and fossil fuels policy in America, that’s what.

-- dangerous transport: coal trucks traveling 110 miles from mine to a railhead at Cedar City, along U.S. Highway 89, local roads, and currently unimproved dirt roads, through Panguitch, 24 hours a day, 6 days a week

-- puffed up jobs claims: the mine is said to generate 100 mining jobs and an additional 60 truckers’ jobs. I haven't seen any numbers to rebut this, but I'm skeptical given that strip mining is relatively automated compared to underground mining.

-- impact on federally protected land of great scenic value: the mine will affect Bryce’s clear dark skies, both in creating light pollution (lights will be on at the mine 24 hours a day - the EIS acknowledges a “perceptible increase in nighttime skyglow”) and air pollution

-- corruption of public officials: Alton Coal gave Governor Herbert $10,000 the same day its principals met with him to complain about slow approval of their permit - and the permit was immediately fast-tracked

-- fossil fuel regulatory capture: one alternative presented to the BLM was to develop wind, solar, and other renewable sources, but the BLM refused to consider it as outside the scope of Alton Coal’s request.

-- shipping fossil fuel far away: the coal will fuel the Intermountain Power Plant, which provides 75% of its electricity to the power grid fueling Los Angeles. Meanwhile, Southern Californians are demanding that the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power move beyond coal and phase out reliance on the Intermountain Power Plant by 2020.

-- economics that make no sense: while Alton Coal desires to open this mine, Arch Coal is reducing production at another Utah coal mine due to continuing weakness in coal demand in the region

-- increased carbon emissions: the BLM report estimates that the 2 million tons of coal/year emit 4.8 million tons (4.4 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide/year; for perspective, the United States in 2009 emitted 5,505 million tons of carbon dioxide. On the one hand, the EIS argues that Alton Coal mine is only 0.014% of the world’s 30,377 million tons of carbon dioxide/year. The relative size of any project compared to global emissions is the same argument being used by project proponents all across America, including Keystone XL itself.

Two key differences between Alton Coal and Keystone XL are the size of the project, and the amount of public scrutiny each has received.

Keystone is the XL-sized carbon bomb, while Alton Coal is more of an IED: sufficient to inflict collateral damage, but not enough to get extra-large public scrutiny. The pipeline has become a signature environmental issue of the Obama administration, and a decision whether to approve it will be made by the President. On the other hand, the expansion of Alton Coal is being made by lower-level bureaucrats, without much public comment, and without any national policy weighing renewable energy against the fossil fuels that are slowly poisoning the planet.

Public comments will be taken at various Utah locations, including Cedar City on December 6 and Salt Lake City on December 7.

This column was originally posted to Climate Hawks on Tue Nov 08, 2011, and also republished by Public Lands and Community Spotlight.


Ah, thank you NPT staff for including the "corruption of public officials" item here.

This article is definitely a partisan view of things, but unless partisans have the courage to make material like this available to the general public through all kinds of media, the public may lose out completely. There are simply not enough dollars available now to fight back against the literally billions of dollars the coal companies and other corporate interests can throw in to television propaganda campaigns. And thanks to the Citizens United decision, that is now being reflected in our political arena, too.

So where are the negatives? See nothing here but unsubstantiated accusations and meaningless triflings.

What kind of seeing eye dog do you have leading you?

I'm guessing ecbuck has a See Eye Wolf, grounded in reality, leading his way. Oddly we don't see more of them.

I would like to see the author substatiate his claims versus throwing hyprebole. He even admitts he cannot substantiate his claims. This is pathetic pandering. The article assumes several things:
1) Global warming garbage (junk science constantly being disproved). The sun and its cycles are the number one contributor to cliamte change, not man.
2) It's all or nothing. Why not compromise? Why not work with the coal company and governmetn to shut down the mine lights at night? Why not work towards transportation issue solutions? Instead, it is framed as all or nothing. Instead, all fossil fuel energy is labeled as bad and demonized.
3) Assumption is that alternative energy can match the energy production of coal. Most of the people I know are not anti-alternative energy, we simply understand that despite the billions wasted by government on researching alternative energy, those technologies are not sufficient yet. Solar panels are still way too costly and ineefective, for example. People who are honest know we are not even close to being at a place where we can transition away from coal.
Polarization has got to stop. most americans are not either for the parks and against business or heartless, greedy, capitalists. Most of us have the common sense to realize you have to strike a balance and reach compromise. This article, however, is typicial of far-left politics that paint everything in extremes with broad strokes, insist on everything going their way, and demonizing those who disagree. I love the parks.However, I realize there will be no funds left to support and maintain the parks if our economy continues to tank, that is unless one of you have discovered the elusive money tree growing in a remote corner of Capitol Reef National Park.

Keystone XL thought they were all approved here in Nebraska and now our State Legislature may reroute them and put them back a couple of years. This is thanks to many enviromental groups who put pressure on elected officials to think twice. I do not think the same can happen with the low level bureaucrats and a paid off Governor. Our Governor here in NE got behind the environmental veiw only after State wide polls turned against the pipeline route.

I don't know if any of you caught the image of an endangered Black Rhino being airlifted to a sanctuary because of poaching and the dollar value put on their body parts. I continue to get reminded of the repercussions of a distressed economy. It just might be the best path for all those in the extreme anti-capitalist camp to embrace a bit of it if saving the environment and wild things are at the top of their priorities. The Keystone decision is so obviously an election issue and not about doing right by the country. Selfish crap, I despise selfish c--p from anyone but especially those elected. Guess we're the dumb ones, really.

"Polarization has got to stop." Given the rest of See the Parks' post, the irony!

I read your post, Anon, then read this question from a CNN Reporter:
MULTIPLE CHOICE: CNN reporter asks Obama, are Republicans 'uninformed, out of touch or irresponsible?'
This is very troubling in so many ways. It's hard for me to find any credibility here and that image is spreading to even the few that are honorable or, at the very least, well intentioned (still wrong).

Anonymous - re: polarization - I guess you don't like my call for finding mutually beneficial solutions and compormise.
Your resoponse typifies the far left. ignore calls for compromise and solution to the befefit of your agenda alone.

Add to all this the widely reported and much criticized story
that Utah's Republican Governor Gary Herbert "fast tracked" state
approval of the mining company's application last year. This came only a
few days after Herbert reportedly received a reported $10,000 campaign
donation from the company and at about the same time another scandal
broke regarding contracts for a rebuild of I-15 through Utah County near

In that situation, a contractor who lost out on the bid charged
that the state had failed to follow proper bidding procedures and had
awarded a multi-billion dollar contract to a contractor who had a close
relationship with -- and history of generous donations to -- Gov.
Herbert and other Republican members of the state's legislature. As a
result, the losing contractor was paid $13 million in a hush-hush
agreement that was disclosed only after investigation by news media.
The Utah legislature was very reluctant to follow up with an
investigation of their own and the issue has pretty much died out now.

Pay to play politics? Could money be the reason neither side is willing to compromise?

See the Parks,

One example of the "irony" is when you say "Global warming garbage (junk science constantly being disproved)."

Constantly? The recent study at Lawrence Berkeley (partially funded by the Koch bros!) confirms the earlier findings by NASA, NOAA, The National Academy of Sciences, and others. Here's a link

While there may be varying degrees and nuances of dissensus within the scientific community, as there is in every discipline, this disparaging of the science is coming from conservatives outside of the scientific community. In other words, calling global warming "junk science" isn't a scientific argument; it tries to "disprove" global warming by reframing it as a polemic within the culture wars. So, your other statement could just as easily be expressed as "This [statement about global warming being junk science], however, is typicial of far-[right] politics that paint everything in extremes with broad strokes, insist on everything going their way, and demonizing those who disagree.

So Lee - do you have any evidence there was a quid pro quo? The Governor has denied he told regulators to fast track the project and has indicated he did not know the contribution had been made. Do you have evidence he was lying?
Like I said unsubstantiated accusations and meaningless trifflings.
There may be legitimate reasons to deny the permit but they weren't listed in this Miller's rant.

This article is about caol mining near Bryce and I won't turn it into an global warming debate. there is plenty of outside evidence from scientists to disprove man-made global warming, if you are willing to entertain oposing voices. Sadly, the DOE and other agencies have systemitally silenced those voices.
Again, the article offers no solutions, makes unsubstantiated claims, and attmepts to pass opinion as fact. Why not compromise? Why not work towards solutions for the economy and the parks? The voice of reason will look ffor middle gruond on these issues.

"The voice of reason will look for middle gruond on these issues."
I agree, of course. It's just pretty tough sometimes to locate that middle ground when extremism has a way of creeping in to define the extremes.

Actually Justin, the study proves no such thing. While it confirms a rise in temperature, it does not identify the cause of that rise. In fact, that study was released prematurely and without peer review and some important information was withheld causing other major participants in the study to protest. The withheld data showed that, despite substantial increases in CO2 emmissions, temperatures have actually been stable over the last decade. If anything, this study refutes CO2's (and thus man's) contribution to global warming.


Ugh. You're missing the point of my post. Take another look at what I wrote.

Polarized indeed. Only a symptom. Will anyone stop for 5 seconds trying to come uppin' eachother. Leadership at so many levels is lacking. On this particular subject - having/needing fuel/energy - for what? When will we examine our needs from a thoughtful and responsible perspective. Smaller carbon footprint - What is it's value proposition to this dilemma. I am sorry, neither left nor right seem to be on the right track and until "we citizens" get serious about this we get what we deserve.
All you out there, we can change the world and she needs us now. Maybe not global warming, but if you have been near a child or older person when the smog and dirt we create with use of our energy takes their breath away or it triggers even worse effects such as asthma or hypertensive cardiac issues, has to know this is all wrong. We need to start humilating the pigs and pushers of this mindset and keep at it like we have done with smoking. If we could take a similar approach smartly, 30 years from today I wonder where this debate would be?

"some important information was withheld causing other major participants in the study to protest"--Not true. In the article you posted, ecbuck, this quote refers to Judith Curry. But she herself debunks it in The Boston Herald:

The Associated Press contacted Curry on Sunday afternoon and she said in an email that Muller and colleagues "are not hiding any data or otherwise engaging in any scientifically questionable practice." The Muller "results unambiguously show an increase in surface temperature since 1960," Curry wrote Sunday. She said she disagreed with Muller's public relations efforts and some public comments from Muller about there no longer being a need for skepticism.

Anon - Sorry, I stand correct "withheld" wasn't the right word. "Misused" , "disguised" "does not end the debate" Those were the words of Curry. Whatever her words the point she made and the point made by others that fully analyzed the data was that temperatures have not risen in the last decade which is totally contrary to the alarmist's models and inconsisent with blaming CO2 (man) for rising temperatures - a fact Muller did not disclose - ie. "withheld".
And to Justin when you "misuse" "disguise" and make claims that are contrary to the evidence - that is junk science. I don't see the skeptics banding to hide evidence or suppress the voices of others (think East Anglia).

I know you "don't see" it, ecbuck. That's a mark of ideology. Which means there's nowhere for this conversation to go.

Justin - Please show me where skeptics have hidden evidence and banded together to suppress the voices of others.

No, ecbuck, as anyone can see who reads the article you linked to, Professor Curry never uses the words "misuse" and disguise." Those of the words of the article's author, not hers. Which is why HER words are directly presented in The Boston Herald article I quoted above; it was her oppotunity to debunk the story you cite.
She never says this "does not end the debate," either. She does say this "isn't the end to skepticism" but she's clearly talking about SCIENTIFIC skepticism here, which advances inquiry. That said, I'll leave it to the readers to look at both your link and the one from The Boston Herald, where Curry clarifies and recontextualizes her comments.

Don't know about the skeptics banding together but those that are tempted by profit from Climate Change Politics one way or another, have and use the very typical personal slurs trying to discredit the opposition voice. Science has been co-opted by many. Where do the non-agenda based scientists hang out? They probably lay low, afraid of losing their funding.

"Please show me where skeptics have hidden evidence and banded together to suppress the voices of others."

The sentence doesn't make any sense. How would skeptics "hide evidence"? Evidence of what? Their skepticism? Evidence of climate change?--I certainly can't say they've hidden evidence of this.

As for "suppres[sing] the voices of others," I'd refer you to my three or four earlier posts above. (Ideology doesn't operate by suppressing voices; it constructs one in a way that one can't see or value anything that doesn't reproduce one's own resentments, desires, values, etc.)

But this is starting to get pretty far off-topic for this thread . . .

You can't say they have hidden evidence but you claim I can't see how they have. It is perplexing how you can't see the difference. Alarmists have clearly made attempts to suppress data and quiet the skeptics. Alarmists are the ones trying to hide the real science. The skeptic side hasn't done that. You say I haven't seen it because of my ideology but by our own admissions, it (hiding evidence by the skeptics) hasn't happened. You say ideology doesn't operate by suppressing voices but that is exactly what the alarmists have done. Read the East Anglia emails where they openly discuss suppressing research and blackballing those that express skepticism.
And this is very much on topic. The only complaint above that has any weight (if it where true) is the CO2 argument. Problem is, it doesn't appear to be true.

Keystone XL officials have now agreed to reroute the pipeline and avoid the sand hills of Nebraska. Again, this was accomplished by enviromental groups putting their message out there...and gaining public support, which in the end prompted a debate in the State Legislature.


I'm making a different point in my post than what your reading of it suggests. Let me just finish by saying, if you look back over my conversations with you and See the Parks above, there is this prevailing assumption that if a paper shows the climate not to be changing, the science is legitimate. But each and every time a paper shows the opposite, its results must be the result of some sort of falsification. Anyway, why don't we pick this up when a more topical thread comes up. As always, I've enjoyed the sparring. The last word is yours.

Keeper: This is related because it's a part of the bigger picture about the decisions involving the Keystone effort.

OK folks, we're going to cut things off with that last comment. Things are straying a wee bit too far from the parks. Also, that Fox story fails to mention, I believe, that the Solyndra loan actually started with the Bush administration, so there's likely enough blame to go around.