Letters from the wasteland

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Photo courtesy of Flickr.com

Photo courtesy of Flickr.com

Writers like Edward Abbey and Terry Tempest Williams have changed the view of deserts as wastelands to one of wonder and beauty. But there are some who would like to return the desert to its wasteland status. As the folks from the Appalachian Mountains know all too well, there is no better way to destroy a beautiful space to strip mine it.

The Alton Coal Mine is one such area waiting to be destroyed, just 10 miles from Bryce Canyon, a popular and beautiful tourist destination for families and students alike.

According to the Oct. 27 Associated Press article, “Regulators approve strip mine near southern Utah town,” Alton Coal Development LLC plans to surface mine 400 acres of private land, and will “exhaust the private reserves in three to five years, when the company hopes to mine adjacent federal lands.”

The Southern Utah C.O.A.L.M.I.N.E. Coalition is a group formed to specifically combat the efforts to create (if the term create can be applied to a blatant act of destruction) the Alton Coal Mine.

The group’s objections deal primarily with the effects the mine will have on the surrounding cities and towns, the tourism industry, as well as the natural environment.

Specifically, the large trucks required for the project will have a disastrous impact on the roads and communities surrounding the mine. Air and noise pollution, the extra cost of maintaining roads subjected to the stress of heavy truck traffic and decreased property values are just some of the concerns associated with coal trucks running 153 round trips per day through Panguitch and Hatch.

The impacts of strip mining itself have far more sinister potential. Here are just a few of these potential impacts: the decimation of local wildlife habitat, extensive blasting damage to nearby homes, air pollution due to toxic chemicals used in preparing coal which have been linked to asthma and other illnesses, and pollution of watersheds with heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead. These problems have resulted in the entire surrounding communities being forced to abandon their homes.

But what about the tremendous job opportunities that the mine will bring to the area? Couldn’t these job opportunities possibly outweigh the aforementioned maladies? The answer to this absurd question is obviously, “No.”

Even if we were to entertain the idea that job opportunities could take precedence over the human rights of the established inhabitants of an area, modern strip mining is largely mechanized and creates very few job opportunities. Estimates on the amount of jobs that could be created by the Alton Coal Mine vary between 50-150, a paltry sum.

UVU students  use Bryce Canyon as a destination in the state for recreation and to study the land. These activities would be greatly hurt by the air and noise pollution that go hand-in-hand with strip mining.

Strip mining is a barbaric practice left over from an era infamous for its cruelty and greed. It should have no place in modern discourse, let alone in our own backyard. Utah is renowned for the beauty of its deserts; let’s not allow Alton Coal to build a wasteland in their place.