The BLM completed an expedited environmental analysis that failed to address long-term impacts on the Bears Ears region, despite requests from the Trust and other environmental organizations to take a closer look. Following the official Bears Ears National Monument designation, we submitted additional comments to the BLM in January 2017 urging the agency to prepare a full environmental impact statement on the mine’s expansion.
Where will the ore go?
Ore from the mine — over 500,000 tons during the mine’s life — would be transported across the monument by tarp-covered trucks to the White Mesa Mill, six miles south of Blanding, Utah. The nearby Ute Mountain Ute tribal community of White Mesa is concerned that the mill, which processes and disposes of radioactive waste, will contaminate their groundwater. Currently, the mill is the subject of a citizen suit under the Clean Air Act that the Trust filed to ensure that the mill’s radon emissions comply with the law and that the company reclaims its waste piles.
What will the impacts be?
Dust dispersion from the haul trucks and pollution from any trucking accidents could adversely affect the cultural and historical resources the monument shelters. Radionuclides (unstable atoms that emit radiation) from mining activities would inevitably blow into the monument, potentially threatening plants, wildlife, and the health of people visiting the monument. Fugitive dust would degrade visibility in the region, and noise from mining activities would carry into the monument. Ore will be processed at the nearby White Mesa Mill, increasing the impacts from that facility on the White Mesa tribal community.
Effects on tourism
The monument proclamation notes the importance of the Bears Ears region to southeastern Utah’s ever-growing recreation and tourism industries:
Because visitors travel from near and far, these lands support a growing travel and tourism sector that is a source of economic opportunity for the region.
While the monument is too new to determine its economic impact, studies from Headwater Economics show that protected lands, like national monuments, help create jobs and increase incomes.
If one of the mine’s haul trucks were to have an accident while driving through Bears Ears, uranium ore could be strewn across the monument’s highways. Road closures while the cleanup took place would cut into tourism revenues for Bluff and Blanding, Utah.
So what’s next?
This is a fork in the road. Do we unite to protect the Bears Ears National Monument from unnecessary threats? Do we move forward to a future for Utah that protects these immense and beautiful resources for future generations? Do we stand for our public lands?