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Coal Audit Hearing Coming to SLC

Michael D. Vanden Berg
Utah Geological Survey
The coal-industry picture is complex in Utah, as it is elsewhere. The U.S. Interior Department is coming to Utah Thursday to discuss a new programatic review that is expected to include reforms.

The U.S. Interior Department has launched a sweeping review of coal mining on federal lands, and next Thursday officials are visiting Salt Lake City to talk about it.

Bobbi Bryant-Salvato, who runs a small business in Panguitch, plans to speak at the Salt Palace hearing. She has many concerns she wants to share with the Bureau of Land Management. Among them: that coal-truck traffic on Route 89 will scare tourists and that risks from climate change are growing.

“I think this program,” she says, “is going to address a lot of those things and see where maybe we have had antiquated guidelines for the coal companies in the past, and that needs to be brought up to the 21st century.”

The federal coal program hasn’t gotten such in-depth scrutiny in over a generation, and the BLM is still deciding on the questions to study, like whether Americans are getting a fair return for coal mined on federal land and how coal-dependent communities are coping with the changing market.

Laura Nelson, director of Utah’s Office of Energy Development, says next week’s hearing can be productive -- if people accept that coal’s part of the world’s energy future.

“My hope is people will come, be realistic and we can have a really deliberate and constructive conversation about what makes sense for coal in this country,” she says.

Utah ranks 13thin the nation for producing coal. It’s a $570 million industry. Over 14 million tons coal came out of Utah mines last year. Eighty-six percent of that was mined from federal lands.

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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