Utah and coal

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Utah coal mines produced 26.0 million tons of coal in 2006 (2.2% of the U.S. total), making Utah the 12th-biggest coal-producing state in the country.[1] Utah employed 2,036 coal miners in 2006, 73% of whom were non-unionized.[2]

Utah had 16 coal-fired generating stations in 2005, with 5,080 MW of capacity, representing 74.0% of the state's total electric generating capacity; Utah ranks 26th out of the 50 states in terms of coal-fired energy generating capacity.[3] In 2006, Utah's coal-fired power plants approximately 41 million tons of CO2, 34,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, and 68,000 tons of nitrogen oxide; coal-fired power plants were responsible for 66% of the state's total CO2 emissions.[4] In 2005, Utah emitted 25.3 tons of CO2 per person, about 25% higher than the U.S. average.[5]


Coal mining in Utah began in the 1850's, under the aegis of the Mormon church; however, with the completion of the Union Pacific railroad in 1869, and the competing Rio Grande railroad in 1883, the industry became controlled by these tow companies, and coal mining increasingly drew large numbers of Italian, Chinese, Greek, and Mexican immigrants to the otherwise highly homogenous state.

Annual coal production had reached about 1.5 million tons by 1900; in that year, the Scofield mine disaster killed about 200 miners in Scofield, UT (the fifth-worst coal mining disaster in U.S. history), which spurred unionization. Repeated strikes in 1901, 1903, 1910, and 1922 did little to break the power of management; the workers' safety concerns went largely unheeded, resulting in the Castle Gate mine disaster in 1924 (which killed 172 miners in Castle Gate, UT). Only after another national strike in 1933 was full unionization achieved by the United Mine Workers, which was subsequently granted legal recognition through Pres. Roosevelt's New Deal labor legislation. Meanwhile, the industry was growing rapidly: production reached 6 million tons in 1920, and more than 7 million tons during World War II.

However, by the mid-1960's, production had fallen to about 4 million tons - mostly due to the elimination of coal-fired locomotives, which severely impacted coal mining throughout the western U.S. However, during the 1970's, rising oil prices - along with the Clean Air Act, which drove an increase in demand for Utah's low-sulfur coal - sparked a boom in Utah coal mining. Annual production rose dramatically to 13.2 million tons in 1980, and then continued to climb to 22.1 million tons in 1990 and 26.0 million tons in 2006.[6][7]

The 1970's boom in Utah coal mining also drove a boom in coal-fired power plant construction. Out of Utah's 5,080 MW of coal-fired generating capacity, 93% comes from plants built since 1974 - unusual in the U.S., where the median coal plant was built in 1964.[3]

Utah Battles for Clean Power.

Studies on Coal Use in Utah

A study released in July 2010 by the Civil Society Institute argued that it was technically and economically viable to retire all coal and nuclear based power in seven Western states, including Utah.

The region covered in the study was said to have enough renewable sources of energy and, combined with energy conservation measures, the transition away from coal and nuclear could take place within 30 years time. In this scenario, according to the Civil Society Institute study, the entire Northwest could retire 11,000 megawatts of coal-fired power and add at least 12,000 megawatts of onshore wind power.[8]

Report links coal to air pollution and deaths

In October 2010, a study commissioned by Utah state agencies reported that air pollution kills 202 residents a year. A group of Utah doctors, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, is citing the report to urge Gov. Gary Herbert to factor in the environmental costs of coal-fired power in a state energy policy. Utah commissioned the study with a $150,000 matching grant from the federal government, and Massachusetts-based Synapse Energy Economics Inc. itemized the health and environmental costs of Utah's reliance on coal-fired power plants. The report says Utah should replace its most polluting coal plants with wind power and solar power and find ways to conserve energy.[9]

Study on employment and economics of mining operations

According to a study conducted by Headwaters Economics based in Montana entitled "Fossil Fuel Extraction and Western Economics" reported that Utah coal production accounted for 33% of the total mining employment in the state in 2008. Oil and natural gas accounted for a combined 51% for the same year.[10]

Citizen activism

In November 2008, voters in Sevier County passed a grassroots initiative requiring a public vote to allow any new coal-fired power plant in the area. The measure amends the zoning ordinance to say the county cannot issue a conditional-use permit to a coal plant without voter approval. In October a 6th District judge halted the citizen referendum, which was initiated by the Right to Vote Committee, but the state Supreme Court overturned the ruling. The success of the measure leaves the future of NEVCO's proposed Sevier plant uncertain.[11] The company's attorney said NEVCO may try to move the project to a different county or switch the plant to natural gas.[12]

On April 1, 2010 Peaceful Uprising, an environmental groups based in Salt Lake City, launched a campaign against the Kennecott Minerals' coal-fired power plant that located in the Salt Lake Valley. According to company documents the plant emits at least 1 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. Peaceful Uprising, through protests and direct non-violents actions, hopes to force the company to end coal burning. The group argues that the plant is already set up to burn less toxic fuels like natural gas.[13]

Environmental Group Questions Mining Board Makeup

In March, 2010 the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) challenged the Utah Division of Oil, Gas & Mining board stating that any members with financial interests in coal mining should recuse themselves from decisions on Alton Coal Development's mine-reclamation plan. The Oil, Gas & Mining board countered that the board makeup is governed by the Utah Coal Act, which the federal government has certified. But SUWA argues the federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act requires land board members to certify they have no financial stake in matters before the agency. If they do have such an interest, stated SUWA attorney Steve Bloch, then they must refrain from voting on the issue.[14]

Navajos Move Away From Coal

The Navajo Nation is moving toward a clean energy future noted an October 2010 report in the New York Times. A grassroots movement within the tribe is seeking to replace coal power with wind and solar power alternatives. The Navajo Nation occupies all of northeastern Arizona, the southeastern portion of Utah, and northwestern New Mexico. It is the largest land area assigned primarily to a Native American jurisdiction within the United States and has a population of 300,000 people.

As of 2010 coal mines and coal-fired power plants on the Navajo Nation, as well as lands shared with the Hopi, accounted for 1,500 jobs and were a third of the tribe's annual operating budget, the largest source of revenue after government grants and taxes.

The grassroots movement has sprouted as a reaction to the environmental and human costs of coal use. Two coal mines on the reservation have shut down since 2005. The Black Mesa coal mine ceased operations because the plant where the coal was burnt was shut down. Coal mined on Navajo land is used to produce power for the state of California, where greenhouse gas emission reductions have taken place. As such, many Navajo believe that coal is a fuel of the past.

“It’s a new day for the Navajo people,” said Lori Goodman, an official with Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, a group founded 22 years ago. “We can’t be trashing the land anymore.”

At the core of the movement is the belief that Navajo peoples ought not mine natural resources. Some Navajo spiritual guides have said that digging up the earth to retrieve resources is "tantamount to cutting skin and represents a betrayal of a duty to protect the land."[15]

March 2011: Protesters rally in Salt Lake against coal export plan

Rainforest Action Network along with Peaceful Uprising, Utah Moms for Clean Air and the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers organized a 60 person rally in from of the office of coal exporter Ambre Energy asking them to stop their development of coal export facilities in Longview, Washington.

Jim Cooksey, a representative of the union, stated of the export plan:

“We are concerned about the exporting of coal to overseas markets in that there are no environmental standards once the coal leaves our borders. The International Brotherhood of Boilermakers understands the issue of climate change and is looking to secure alliances with other labor and environmental organizations to find solutions that protect workers and the environment.“[16]

Legislative issues

In February 2009, Rep. Roger Barrus (R-Centerville) introduced new legislation to ban new power plants in polluted areas. If passed, HB393 would mandate a two-year moratorium on most new power plants in areas that do not meet federal clean-air standards for fine particle pollution. The ban would not apply to natural gas power plants, which have lower emissions.[17]

On March 2, 2010 it was announced that the Utah legislature passed a non-binding resolution that states "climate alarmists" have orchestrated a "well organized and ongoing effort to manipulate global temperature data in order to produce a global warming outcome." The draft bill also noted that a "climate change gravy train of more than $7 billion annually in federal government grants, which may have influenced the climate research focus and findings that have produced a 'scientific consensus' at research institutions and universities."

The goal of the legislation is to call on the Environmental Protection Agency to abandon its endangerment finding of carbon dioxide. The bill calls the EPA's science "flawed" and "questionable".[18]

In June 2011 Utah Governor Gary Herbert toured Utah's major energy developers to promote his energy vision. During his visits to coal mines Gov. Herbert stated that coal is vital to the future energy needs of the state. However, the governor noted that for coal to be a vital part of our nation's energy the industry must be able to reduce coal's carbon emissions in the future.[19]

Utah Governor Opposes EPA Regulation of Coal Ash

On March 8, 2010 governors from the Western Governor's Association made a statement that the Obama administration should leave coal ash regulation to the states and resist the EPA's effort to reclassify coal ash as a hazardous material. Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the pro-coal chairman of the governor's group, says the EPA's move to regulate coal ash would undercut what he described as "effective regulation by Western states." The governors state that the EPA's reclassification would prevent coal ash from being used in industrial practices like surface pavement. Utah Gov. Gary Herbert says coal-fired electric generation in the West would also be hurt, which would cost ratepayers more money. Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah states that coal-fired electric generation in his state and others would also be hurt and would cost ratepayers more money.[20]

Governors request federal funding for "clean coal"

On February 22, 2009, the governors of Utah, Colorado, and Wyoming submitted a letter to President Obama asking for funding to develop "clean coal" projects in their states. Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter, and Wyoming Gov. Dave Fruedenthal, argued that developing a cleaner way to burn coal is essential to reducing emissions, protecting national security, and creating jobs. The letter also said that the Energy Policy Act of 2005 approved federal cost sharing for a clean-coal demonstration project using coal mined in the West, but that no project was ever funded. According to the governors, the three states are ready to start developing new demonstration projects and retrofitting existing plants with carbon capture and storage technologies.[21]

Utah to receive $4.2 million to clean up coal waste

In late 2010 it was announced that waste coal in Wellington City, Utah will be cleaned up in 2011 with a $4.2 million grant from the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Funding for the clean up will go to the Utah Department of Oil, Gas and Mining’s abandoned-mine reclamation program. The Interior Department made available $395 million to 28 states and American Indian tribes to conduct coal cleanup projects.[22]

Proposed coal plants


  • none


Coal lobbying groups

Coal power companies

Existing coal plants

Utah had 16 coal-fired generating units at 8 locations in 2005, with 5,080 MW of capacity - representing 74.0% of the state's total electric generating capacity. Oklahoma had 15 coal-fired generating units at 7 locations in 2005, with 5,720 MW of capacity - representing 26.6% of the state's total electric generating capacity.[3][23][24]

Here is a list of coal power plants in Utah with capacity over 400 MW:[3][25][26]

Plant Name County Owner Year(s) Built Capacity 2007 CO2 Emissions 2006 SO2 Emissions SO2/MW Rank
Intermountain Power Station Millard 29 municipalities and 6 cooperatives 1986, 1987 1640 MW 16,100,000 tons 4,239 tons 263
Hunter Emery MidAmerican Energy (PacifiCorp) 1978, 1980, 1983 1472 MW 10,600,000 tons 7,338 tons 246
Huntington Emery MidAmerican Energy (PacifiCorp) 1974, 1977 996 MW 6,170,000 tons 17,405 tons 169
Bonanza Uintah Deseret Power Electric Cooperative 1986 500 MW 4,376,000 tons 864 tons 267

These 4 plants represent 90.7% of Utah's coal energy generating capacity, 59.7% of the state's total CO2 emissions, and 33.2% of its total SO2 emissions.[5]

For a map of existing coal plants in the state, see the bottom of this page.

Utah Smelter Power Plant to stop burning coal at 3 of its 4 units

In December 2010, Kennecott Utah Copper Corp. announced it would stop burning coal at its copper refinery in Magna, Utah. The plant would convert to natural gas.[27]

Major coal mines

Mine Name Location Owner 2006 Production
Sufco Mine West Salina, UT Arch Coal 7,908,000 tons
Dugout Canyon Mine Wellington, UT Arch Coal 4,387,000 tons

These 2 mines produced 47.3% of Utah's coal in 2006.[28]

As of 2010 there were approximately 8 active coal mines in Utah with production of approximately 19,351 short tons per year.[29]

State approves Utah's first coal strip mine

On October 10, 2011 the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining approved a preliminary permit for the Coal Hollow Mine, located on private land just 10 miles south of Bryce Canyon National Park. The mine would be the state's first strip coal mine. Alton Coal Development hopes to mine 2 million tons of coal per year for three years. The company must secure a $6 million reclamation bond before receiving final approval of its mining permit.[30] According to an internal memo obtained by the Associated Press, the permitting decision may have been fast-tracked by Governor Herbert after a meeting during which Alton complained that the process was taking too long.[31]

In November 2011, a coalition of environmental groups filed a petition to block the mine, arguing that the project would damage the region's air, water, wildlife and cultural resources. The groups include The Utah chapter of the Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the National Parks Conservation Association.[30] The Division of Oil, Gas and Mining is expected to begin hearings on the petition in December.[31]

BLM considers expanding Coal Hallow Mine

In November of 2011 it was announced that Bureau of Land Management reported it was considering a proposal to greatly expand the Coal Hallow Mine operation to more than 3,500 acres from a 635 acre mine. The the agency released a Draft Environmental Impact Statement laying out the proposal, which quickly drew reaction from environmental and conservation groups that formed an online petition opposing the project.[32][33]

Citizen groups



  1. Coal Production and Number of Mines by State and Mine Type, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.
  2. Average Number of Employees by State and Mine Type, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Existing Electric Generating Units in the United States, 2005, Energy Information Administration, accessed April 2008.
  4. Estimated Emissions for U.S. Electric Power Industry by State, 1990-2006, Energy Information Administration, 2007.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Utah Energy Consumption Information, eRedux website, accessed June 2008.
  6. State Coal Profiles, Energy Information Administration, pp. 91-8 - cached copy at CoalDiver.org
  7. Nancy Taniguchi, Coal Mining in Utah, Utah History Encyclopedia, 1994.
  8. "Study says Northwest can quit coal power and save money" Dustin Bleizeffer, Trib.com, July 29, 2010.
  9. "Report commissioned by state agencies details cost of Utah's reliance on coal-fired power" CB Online, Oct. 19, 2010.
  10. "Fossil Fuel Extraction and Western Economies" Headwaters Economics, April 2011.
  11. "Sevier backs coal-plant measure; Box Elder repeals landfill sale," Salt Lake Tribune, November 5, 2008.
  12. "Utah county voters pass measure on coal plants," Associated Press, November 5, 2008.
  13. Peaceful Uprising Press Release Peaceful Uprising homepage, accessed March 26, 2010.
  14. "SUWA questions makeup of state mining board" Patty Henetz, The Salt Lake Tribune, March 23, 2010.
  15. "Navajos Hope to Shift From Coal to Wind and Sun" Mireya Navarro, New York Times, October 25, 2010.
  16. "Protesters rally in SLC against coal-export plan" Brandon Loomis, Salt Lake Tribune, March 22, 2011.
  17. Judy Fahys, "Proposed bill would ban new power plants in polluted areas," Salt Lake Tribune, February 11, 2009.
  18. "Utah Lawmakers Urge Feds to Ditch Greenhouse Gas Actions" Energy Prospects West, March 2, 2010
  19. "Governor sees future deep in Utah coal mine" Brandon Loomis, Salt Lake Tribune, June, 3, 2011.
  20. "Western govs say states best regulate coal ash" The Seattle Times, March 8, 2010.
  21. "Governors call for clean-coal funding," Associated Press, February 23, 2009.
  22. "Utah to get $4.2 million to clean up coal waste" Mike Gorrell, Salt Lake Tribune, December 23, 2010.
  23. Environmental Integrity Project, "Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants", July 2007.
  24. Dig Deeper, Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed June 2008.
  25. Environmental Integrity Project, "Dirty Kilowatts: America’s Most Polluting Power Plants", July 2007.
  26. Dig Deeper, Carbon Monitoring for Action database, accessed June 2008.
  27. "ennecott to Curb Coal Burning in Salt Lake Valley" Associated Press, December 16, 2011.
  28. Major U.S. Coal Mines, Energy Information Administration, accessed June 2008.
  29. "Coal Production and Number of Mines by State, County, and Mine Type, 2010" U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), 2010.
  30. 30.0 30.1 Mark Havnes, "Environmental groups move to stop strip mine," Salt Lake Tribune, November 20, 2009.
  31. 31.0 31.1 "Memo: Utah regulators sped up mine permit decision," Associated Press, November 19, 2009.
  32. "BLM Considering Proposal To Expand Coal Mine Near Bryce Canyon National Park" Kurt Repanshek, Natural Parks Traveler, November 14, 2011.
  33. "Dirty Coal Should Stay in the Ground" Dirty Coal Should Stay in the Ground, Sharon Buccino, NRDC, November 3, 2011.


Existing coal plants in the United States

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