“For many communities and tribes in Utah, Montana, New Mexico and other states across the west, coal on public lands has been both a boon and a missed opportunity. With the potential for thousands of jobs and millions in economic opportunity, the Interior Department is committed to balancing the development and conservation of these resources. The Greens Hollow lease sale is a sign of optimism for the Trump Administration and the pro-energy and pro-growth economic policies to come.”
by Marjorie Haun
Utah’s coal industry suffered a near-fatal blow when, in 1996, President Clinton declared some the state’s richest coal deposits off limits by unilaterally creating the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM).
Following years of economic decline in communities directly effected by impediments to resource development which accompanied the massive national monument designation–including Garfield County’s ‘economic state of emergency,’–local, state and national leaders from Utah began to fight back against aggressive federal land grabs. Most recently, a challenge to the Obama Bears Ears National Monument designation as well as an effort to shrink the size of the GSENM have gained steam in Utah’s Capitol as well as Washington D.C.
Those Utahans fighting federal overreach will likely be heartened by the attention Secretary Ryan Zinke, Trump’s new Department of the Interior chief, is giving to coal country, and his recent approval of a $22 million dollars coal lease to the Utah Fuel Company, LLC, in Central Utah. The lease on the Greens Hollow tract is north of the area directly impacted by the GSENM, but the positive impacts of renewed activity in the coal industry will almost certainly resonate with nearby southern Utah counties beleaguered by federal restrictions.
On March 15 the Department of the Interior issued the following press release:
WASHINGTON – U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke today announced the approval of a $22 million coal lease on the Greens Hollow tract in central Utah to Canyon Fuel Company, LLC, a subsidiary of Bowie Resource Partners, LLC. Coal mining in the area currently supports nearly 1,700 mining and related jobs.
Secretary Zinke also announced Bureau of Land Management (BLM) career veteran Michael Nedd will serve as Acting-Director of the BLM. Previously, Nedd served as Assistant Director for Energy, Minerals, and Realty Management; his selection signals the Secretary’s focus on elevating responsible energy development on public lands where appropriate.
“The United States has more coal than any other nation on earth, and we are lucky to be at a time in our history that we have the technology available to responsibly mine coal and return our land to equal or better quality after,” said Zinke. “For many communities and tribes in Utah, Montana, New Mexico and other states across the west, coal on public lands has been both a boon and a missed opportunity. With the potential for thousands of jobs and millions in economic opportunity, the Interior Department is committed to balancing the development and conservation of these resources. The Greens Hollow lease sale is a sign of optimism for the Trump Administration and the pro-energy and pro-growth economic policies to come.”
On January 4, 2017, the Utah BLM office held a competitive coal lease sale for 6,175 acres of the underground Greens Hollow coal lease tract following several stages of environmental analysis. It is estimated to contain more than 55 million tons of recoverable, high-energy-producing coal. The bid of $22,850,000 by Canyon Fuel Company, LLC (Canyon Fuel) was determined to be the high and acceptable bid ensuring fair market value of the coal. Greens Hollow holds a lease adjacent to the mine which currently employs over 660 workers and 1,000 supporting jobs in the area.
The tract is part of the Wasatch Plateau Known Recoverable Coal Resource Area and is immediately adjacent to the operating SUFCO mine near Salina, Utah. The lease is wholly underground coal with approval for two small surface disturbances necessary for safety and essential mine services. The Greens Hollow lease is feasible to underground mining, which helps ensure the vital water, aesthetic, and archeological resources are protected.
The Greens Hollow Lease by Application (LBA) was received on October 6, 2005 and the environmental analysis was initiated. The U.S. Forest Service is the surface management agency of the coal tract, with the BLM managing the subsurface minerals. According to the U.S. Forest Service, coal leasing and active underground mining have occurred in the area since the 1940s. The existing mine in Salina Canyon provides electricity to about 1.4 million households. The coal resources in the Greens Hollow Tract could power 11.8 million homes. On October 5, 2015, the U.S. Forest Service completed their Record of Decision and letters of Consent to Lease were provided on the same date to the BLM from the U.S. Forest Service.
When signing the secretarial order announcing Mike Nedd as the new Acting-Director of the BLM, Zinke said, “Let me make one thing clear, the Interior Department is in the energy business and Mike is an energy guy who understands the balance we must strike when developing resources and creating jobs on our public lands. It is my hope that working together he will help identify areas where we can expand responsible mineral development while still conserving habitat and wildlife.”
Prior to serving as the Acting Director, Nedd was the Assistant Director for Energy, Minerals, and Realty management for the BLM, a position he has held since 2007. Before joining the Department, he spent more than eight years on active duty in the military as an officer and enlisted soldier, in several highly specialized units, including U.S. Army Special Operations. He began his career with the BLM in 1991 and has served in several positions at the BLM, including that of State Director, Associate State Director, and Deputy Chief Information Officer.
In a nod of reassurance to energy-rich states, especially those in the West where the majority of public lands are under federal management, Zinke named Mike Nedd as interim director for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). On March 15, the Salt Lake Tribune reported:
Nedd, who was the assistant director for Energy, Minerals, and Realty Management, will take over as the interim head of the nation’s land management agency, and Interior said his appointment signals Secretary Ryan Zinke’s “focus on creating responsible energy jobs on public lands where appropriate.”
“Let me make one thing clear, the Interior Department is in the energy business and Mike is an energy guy who understands the balance we must strike when developing resources and creating jobs on our public lands,” Zinke said in a statement. “It is my hope that working together he will help identify areas where we can expand responsible mineral development while still conserving habitat and wildlife.”
The BLM has become the subject of distrust and fear, especially during the last several years with Neil Kornze (former Harry Reid senior advisor) as its head. Mike Nedd’s experience with energy, mineral and land development may also lend hope to those who now see the BLM as a major hurdle to economic activities such as fossil fuel extraction, mining, ranching, and farming.