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Federal Coal Audit Gets Mixed Reviews from Utahns

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Utah Office of Energy Development
Coal -- much of it from federal lands -- still figures big in Utah's economy, and there are different views of its future.

Utahns had a mixed response to the announcement Friday that the Interior Department’s launching an in-depth review of federal coal programs.

Coal plants generate around 80 percent of Utah’s electricity, and coal mining supports around 5,000 direct and indirect jobs, mostly in rural parts of the state. And numbers like those prompted two Utah Republicans in Congress to attack the Interior Department’s coal-program review.

Chris Stewart calls it “a liberal fantasyland.” And Rob Bishop says the audit would shut down mining on federal land and, eventually, on other lands, too.

“It is typical; it is predictable,” Bishop says. “People who are poorest are the ones who are going to be hurt by it. This simply says in order to come up with a political dogma, they’re willing to let people freeze in the dark.”

Federal land is the biggest source of Utah coal, with around thirty-three thousand acres leased at an average price of 32 cents a ton. Lauren Wood, a Utah-based member of the national Keep-It-In-the-Ground campaign, welcomes the Interior Department’s initiative as a first step in transforming Utah’s fossil-fuel economy into a sustainable economy based on renewable energy.

“The future of coal as we know it is uncertain at best and considering the impacts on climate change, considering how dirty it is for the future of the planet, I highly doubt that industry is going to be on the uptick any time soon,” she says.          

It’s unclear how the review might affect proposals to expand the Alton strip mine in Kane County and the SUFCO Mine in Sevier County.        

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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