The U.S. Bureau of Land Management has terminated the suspensions on 10 of 17 leases held by Andalex Resources, which wants to mine large quantities of coal from the Kaiparowits Plateau in southern Utah.
What does it mean?To Andalex, not much. The leases on the land it actually intends to mine are still in suspension, which means that the clock is not running out on those leases.
But to environmentalists, it signifies a new round in the fight to stop Andalex from lifting so much as a pick-ax to the Kaiparowits.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which considers the proposed Smoky Hollow mine as the single largest threat to Utah wilderness, has retained a Washington, D.C., law firm to challenge the BLM's decision this week.
Under federal coal-mining law amendments designed to prevent speculation, lease holders have but 10 years to develop a commercially feasible coal mine or they lose their leases. However, the law allows for suspensions of the leases, essentially stopping the regulatory clock, if it's in the public interest.
In May 1992, Jim Parker, then director of the Utah office of the BLM, suspended 17 Andalex leases to allow time for the preparation of an environmental impact statement on Andalex's coal mining proposal. Andalex obtained the leases in 1986 from the former proponents of a massive coal-mining electrical-generating proposal that died in the 1970s.
As part of the approval, Andalex was required to submit yearly certification that the conditions warranting the suspension continue to exist.
Andalex failed to do that annual certification.
So Mat Millenbach, current director of the BLM's Utah office, decided to terminate the suspensions on the 10 lease tracts that lie outside the area being studied in the environmental impact statement.
The BLM's limiting the terminations to 10 lease tracts has infuriated environmentalists.
"From our view, all 17 lease suspensions should be terminated," said SUWA spokesman Ken Rait.