Virtual Meeting Hosted for the Skyline Mine/Little Eccles Lease by Application and Flat Canyon Lease Modification

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Photo by Jamie Swank

A virtual meeting was hosted on Tuesday, May 14, as part of the scoping period for the Skyline Mine/Little Eccles Lease by Application and Flat Canyon Lease Modification. It was explained that this meeting was being hosted to give a short presentation and to provide guidance in how to participate in the scoping period.

The U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service are the co-lead agencies on this Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) scoping period, while the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement and the Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining are the cooperating agencies.

Involved individuals for the BLM are Elijah Waters, Kyle Beagley, Chris Conrad, Erika Tobin, Joel Ward and Jeremy Dyer. For the Forest Service, involved employees are Victoria Havens and Andrea Holmquist. They are joined by Keith Pohs, who is the EIS Project Manager for Tetra Tech, a third-party environmental consultant.

The presentation began with background on Skyline Mine, which is an underground coal mine that has been in operation since 1981. The Manti-La Sal National Forest is over the surface management, while the BLM covers the mineral estate.

The mine has already mined 119 million tons of federal coal, 12,000 acres of seven federal leases and 634 acres of two private leases. The EIS will consider the Flat Canyon Lease Modification Application (LMA) and the Little Eccles Lease By Application (LBA). The Flat Canyon LMA is 640 acres and 8.6 millions tons of coal, while the Little Eccles LBA is 120 acres and 2.2 million tons of coal.

From there, the presentation focused on the purpose and need of this EIS. The purpose is to respond to Skyline Mine’s LBA to competitively lease coal contained in the Little Eccles Federal Coal Lease Tract, as well as Skyline Mine’s LMA for the existing Flat Canyon Federal Coal Lease Tract to increase the tract acreage.

The need for the BLM is to respond to coal leasing applications. These statutes recognize that public lands shall be managed in a manner that makes them available for the development of not just coal, but other natural resources alike.

For the USDA Forest Service, the need is to respond to requests for consent to coal leasing, which was established by the National Forest Management Act of 1976. In 2015, the Flat Canyon lease was challenged in court and, as part of the settlement agreement in March of 2023, there was a call for the completion of this EIS.

Under the National Environmental Policy Act Compliance (NEPA) the public must be involved, alternatives will be developed/refined, environmental impacts will be disclosed and mitigation measures must be developed. Government-to-Government Consultation includes U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Utah State Historic Preservation Office and Indian Tribal Nations.

There are a few different preliminary alternatives for the EIS. The first is the proposed action (the Little Eccles LBA and the Flat Canyon LMA), no action, or other potential alternatives such as only approving the LMA or the LBA.

Leasing the federal coal tracts would allow full recovery of an estimated 13.6 million tons of privately-owned coal abutting the tracts. Turning to key resource issues for the EIS, geology, wildlife, heritage, socioeconomics, air quality and surface water and groundwater hydrology were some listed.

Going over the EIS timeline, it showed that the Notice of Intent was released on April 15 of this year, while the scoping period spans from April 15 to May 30. Two in-person scoping meetings were hosted on May 7 and 8, with the virtual meeting acting as the third scoping meeting. The draft EIS Notice of Availability is expected to be released in October of this year, opening the comment period from October to November.

Finally, the final EIS Notice of Availability is expected to be released in March of 2025. More information, for those interested, can be located here.

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