The U.S. Forest Service has agreed to withdraw for further environmental review a plan to expand Utah's biggest producing coal mine.
The agency last year approved a plan by Arch Coal subsidiary Ark Land Co. to lease 6,175 acres of coal beneath the Fishlake and Manti-La Sal national forests, essentially expanding the company's underground SUFCO mine east of Salina. But the Utah Environmental Congress and other groups appealed the decision on grounds that it violates the agency's roadless rule and could threaten sage grouse.
This week, Fishlake National Forest Supervisor Allen Rowley withdrew the approval.
The decision does not mean the expansion is thwarted, but rather that the agency will conduct more studies before deciding.
"Because of the appeal we are going to look at what we need to do to be able to get it approved," Fishlake spokesman John Zappell said.
"This is great news for south Manti's sage grouse population â¦," UEC Program Director Kevin Mueller said in a prepared statement. "The new power lines, traffic and huge ventilation facilities would have been so harmful that the decision we challenged admittedly would have contributed to [the bird's] formal Endangered Species Act listing."
The plan calls for mining nearly 57 million tons of coal. The minerals are managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, but the surface is on forest land and the lease needs approval from both agencies.