Groups sue over Alton Coal mine expansion in southern Utah

By Amy Joi O’Donoghue, KSL | Posted – Apr 16th, 2019 @ 4:09pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Multiple environmental groups teamed up Tuesday to file a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Interior, challenging its 2018 decision to allow a coal mine expansion 12 miles southwest of Bryce Canyon National Park.

The complaint filed in U.S. District Court for Utah asserts the federal agency failed to take a “hard look” at the impacts that will come from the Alton Coal mine expansion, including pollution from trucks, possible impairment of night skies and noise.

Alton Coal wants to mine an estimated 31 million tons of recoverable coal in a federal lease involving 2,114 acres. The lease is for 16 years, according to the suit, with an additional 10 years of reclamation activity.

As Alton Coal Development sought the expansion, it touted the more than 100 new jobs it would bring, the generation of $6.5 million in wages and nearly $200 million in royalty revenue, of which Utah would get half.

The lawsuit brought by the environmental groups says the negative impacts of coal mining — such as dust, noise and pollution — were not adequately contemplated by the federal agency and thus in violation of federal environmental laws.

“The federal defendants’ failure to take a hard look at the indirect and cumulative impacts of emissions from coal combustion violates (the law). The Bureau of Land Management’s approval of the lease is therefore arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion or otherwise not in accordance with law,” the suit states.

In a statement released by the Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, the group’s executive director, Jonny Vasic, said the BLM ignored health impacts.

“The medical research on air pollution is well-established – there is no safe level of air pollution exposure. Even levels far below the EPA’s national standards precipitate a long list of human diseases, acceleration of the aging process and premature death,” Vasic said.

The suit was brought by Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the National Parks Conservation Association, Grand Canyon Trust and WildEarth Guardians.

Trump Administration Ignores Environmental Impacts of Mining 30 Million Tons of Coal near Bryce Canyon National Park

Lawsuit Seeks Improved Pollution and Climate Analysis of the Alton Coal Mine Expansion in Utah


Tuesday, April 16, 2019


SALT LAKE CITY, UT – A lawsuit against the Trump Administration’s approval of Alton Coal’s mine

expansion near Bryce Canyon National Park was filed today by Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense

Council (NRDC), the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Grand Canyon Trust, Utah

Physicians for a Healthy Environment and WildEarth Guardians. The organizations filed a National

Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) challenge to the recent approval of the expanded mine, which would

extract millions of tons of coal and exacerbate climate change impacts including air pollution and other


In August of 2018, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved an environmental report that allows

Alton to expand its mine onto 2,114 acres of public land to extract more than 30 million tons of coal. The

complaint argues that BLM failed to analyze the impacts of mercury pollution from burning coal, did not

consider the enormous social costs of increased carbon emissions, and refused to take a broader, more

cumulative look at the climate impacts of this project as is required under NEPA.

In addition to these pollution and climate impacts (

/trump-administration-ignores-environmental-impacts-mining-30-million-tons-0), the coal mine

expansion threatens natural resources and animals, including North America’s southernmost population of

Greater Sage Grouse. Expanding the coal mine onto publicly owned land threatens to negatively impact the

visitor experience at nearby Bryce Canyon National Park and will infringe upon numerous activities that

thousands of people enjoy in Utah.

Trump Administration Ignores Environmental Impacts of Mining …

1 of 3 4/16/19, 1:50 PM

“The expansion of the strip mine operation near Bryce Canyon National Park is the latest in a series of

actions by BLM focused on degrading our public lands in the interest of short-term gains from energy

extraction,” according to Cory MacNulty, Associate Director of the Southwest Region at the National

Parks Conservation Association. “Expansive views across the colorful hoodoos, clean clear air, natural

quiet and dark, starry night skies are integral to the national park experience at Bryce Canyon–yet all are at

risk from expansion of the Alton coal mine.”

“The country surrounding the mine is so spectacular that it’s hard to imagine any reckoning that could

justify strip-mining coal there,” said Aaron Paul, a staff attorney for the Grand Canyon Trust. “But the

least our government should do before auctioning off our public-lands inheritance to run coal-fired power

plants is tell us roughly how much the resulting climate debt will impoverish us all.”

“The medical research on air pollution is well established–there is no safe level of air pollution exposure.

Even levels far below the EPA’s national standards precipitate a long list of human diseases, acceleration of

the aging process and premature death. The pollution from the mine itself and the transportation and

burning of the coal represents a multi-stage health hazard to people throughout Southern Utah and beyond.

The BLM pretended that was not an issue,” said Jonny Vasic, Executive Director for Utah Physicians for a

Healthy Environment.

See map of the site and expansion here:

‘Diesel Brothers’ held liable for violating Clean Air Act by selling modified vehicles



The end of a long lawsuit against the Diesel Brothers confirmed complaints that they were not complying with the Clean Air Act and Utah Law, are true.

The Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment President Dr. Brian Moench filed a complaint back in 2016 stating the Diesel Brothers — famously known for their reality TV show on the Discovery Channel — were illegally removing pollution control equipment from their diesel trucks, installing defective emission control parts, along with selling and operating those diesel trucks.

“They’re well known and their calling card is dismantling diesel control devices for trucks,” Moench said. “These are monster trucks that are putting out monster quantities of pollution.”

Without the proper pollution control equipment, Moench said the diesel trucks were making 30 to 40 times more air pollution.

“It’s a big public health issue,” he said.

A judge found the complaints true and the Diesel Brother’s attorney, Cole Cannon, said they acknowledge that.

“The environment is very important things to us; the Diesel Brother’s and all their fan base are huge outdoors-men,” said Cannon. “They respect the plight of the UPHE.”

Cannon said it was 17 trucks that were found with the emission control issues, and not all of them were tampered with by the Diesel Brothers.

“These were trucks that they purchased from auction that might have already been modified,” Cannon said.

For the ones that were tampered with, Cannon said they will try to be better and hopes the community will remember what they have done for them.

“The contributions that the Diesel brothers have made to our local community, which have been a lot are not overshadowed by 17 trucks,” he added.

As for UPHE, Moench said this is a good beginning in their fight against companies across the country, hurting our air quality.

“It’s a win for all Utah citizens especially those on the Wasatch front,” he said.

POSTED 6:52 PM, MARCH 14, 2019, BY 

‘Diesel Brothers’ held liable for violating Clean Air Act by selling modified vehicles


Immediate Release 

Thursday, March 14, 2019


Dr. Brian Moench – Board President, UPHE 801-243-9089

Reed Zars – Attorney 307-760-6268

Jonny Vasic – Executive Director, UPHE 385-707-3677




(Thursday, March 14, 2019 – Salt lake City, UT) – Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment (UPHE) announce that Tuesday in Utah Federal District Court Diesel Brothers, known for their reality show on Discovery Channel, and their related companies were found in violation of the Clean Air Act and Utah law.  The court ruled that Diesel Brothers have:

  • Illegally removed pollution control equipment from diesel trucks
  • Illegally installed emission control defeat parts in diesel trucks
  • Illegally sold diesel vehicles with emission control defeat parts installed
  • Illegally sold emission control defeat parts
  • Illegally operated diesel vehicles in Utah without emission control equipment installed

Of equal importance, the court ruled that UPHE has standing to enforce the Clean Air Act (CAA) against Diesel Brothers despite their claim that the excess emissions from their trucks were a “drop in the ocean” compared to emissions from all other pollution sources along the Wasatch Front.

The court reasoned that “a causation standard that precludes citizens from suing for CAA violations directly contributing pollution to the air they breathe would seriously undermine the CAA’s citizen enforcement provision.”

Reed Zars, attorney for UPHE said, “The court’s ruling confirms that citizens and Utah’s vehicle emission testing programs can work together to stop the tampering of emission controls in motor vehicles.  When tampered vehicles like the ones in this case emit 30 to 40 times the pollution of stock vehicles, it only takes 2-3% of these monster emitters to double the emissions from the entire fleet.  This is why the court’s decision is not just a win for citizen enforcement of the law, but a win for cleaner, healthier air.”

Dr. Brian Moench, UPHE President said, “Diesel emissions are a major contributor to air pollution in every city, and they are uniquely toxic to human health.  American citizens, and every level of government, should have zero tolerance for anyone that tries to profit from a hobby or business practice that brazenly sacrifices the health of others.”

“With this ruling Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment have achieved an important milestone in the fight for clean air along the Wasatch Front,” said Jonny Vasic, Executive Director for UPHE.  “This ruling, similar to the result in the Volkswagen scandal, should be a wake up call for all manufacturers, sellers, and installers of illegal aftermarket parts that add to our air pollution.”


Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment was formed in 2007 during one of Utah’s worse inversions.  The organization consists of approximately 400 medical professionals within Utah, and another 4,000 supporting members of the public.  UPHE is dedicated to protecting the health and well-being of the citizens of Utah by promoting science-based health education and interventions that result in progressive and measurable improvements to the environment. UPHE can be found at or on Facebook.








“UPHE Executive Director, Jonny Vasic, had an op ed published in the Tribune about the dangers of the dirty inland port.”

Commentary: Inland port is an air quality disaster waiting to happen











Last summer The Salt Lake Tribune ran an editorial on the proposed inland port. The editorial acknowledged what few lawmakers and port proponents have been willing to do so far:

“We will see large increases in truck and train traffic. Hundreds of diesel engines could be added to the airshed … a jump in cargo plane traffic. Rail, on-highway diesel trucks and operations at the airport are already responsible for about a fifth of the air pollution along the Wasatch Front … We will also be doubling down on air pollution when we’re already maxed out … We will hear a lot of talk about building a ‘green’ port, and that’s good. But there is no scenario where it is anything close to zero emissions. We need aggressive countermeasures on other pollution sources.”

While The Tribune’s frankness is necessary, and should be welcomed even by the port’s most ardent supporters, but I would like make a few additional points about air pollution.

First, if there are “offsets” or “counter measures” that the community can adopt to make room for many tons of new, highly toxic diesel emissions, why aren’t we adopting those offsets already? Why wait for an inland port to reduce those other sources of pollution? Isn’t our air bad enough already that we should be implementing all those “offsets” regardless? If our lawmakers are unwilling to make those improvements now, why does anyone think they will have a sudden change of heart after the arrival of all the added pollution from an inland port?

Second, because there is no safe level of air pollution, adhering to national standards via offsets should be viewed in a different context. While the standards for which we are perennially in violation are better than nothing, merely having those standards creates the false impression that achieving them will be adequate to protect our health. That is not the case.

Not only does the medical research definitively establish that all air pollution is harmful, even levels far below national standards, the research goes a step further. The relationship between pollution concentration and death and disease is not linear, it is steeper at low doses. For “pollution” from cigarette smoke that translates into this clinical axiom — smoking just one cigarette a day is half as much risk as smoking a full pack. For pollution in our airshed it means this. Just as merely one cigarette harms a smoker, even “green” air quality is still harming the community and small increases will have disproportionately larger impacts.

Third, not all particulate pollution is created equal. The chemical toxicity of diesel emissions is greater than most of the other sources of particulate pollution. Specifically, a ton of diesel particulate pollution is worse than a ton of particulate pollution from automobile tailpipes, making offsets in health consequences a more complicated if not unrealistic proposition.

Fourth, the offsets argument doesn’t take into account microenvironments. Pollution tends to concentrate near its sources, and the health consequences that we allow as a community can be vastly different comparing the east side of the Salt Lake Valley to the west, and even from one neighborhood to another. No neighborhood or township should be treated as a sacrifice zone for the economic development of another, or of the state as a whole. While pollution from an inland port would be harmful to everyone on the Wasatch Front, it would be disproportionately harmful to those that live near it, and everyone else that lives near all the freeways that would be more congested from thousands of new diesel trucks, like is now proposed for the Legacy Highway.

Utah is not in desperate need of an economic stimulus. It is in desperate need of clean air. But for those who only look through our smog and see dollar signs, clean air itself would be a much bigger economic stimulus than an inland port.

To educate the public, Utah Physicians for a Health Environment will join many other groups in presenting a half-day forum on the inland port, Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Utah State Fair Park, Zion Building.

Jonny Vasic is the executive director of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, working on air quality issues in the Salt Lake Valley.

Full Story:

UPHE victory! Tesoro Refinery must have updated permit.

UPHE scored a major victory this week in a lawsuit settlement with Utah’s Division of Air Quality over the fact that Tesoro Refinery in North Salt Lake (and the other four refineries) have been operating for 15 years without their required Title V permit under the Clean Air Act. This agreement, brokered by the Utah Attorney General, now requires Tesoro to submit the proper permit application to UDAQ and have it finalized by the end of 2015. This agreement means that Tesoro will have to comply with the most up-to-date Clean Air Act requirements and that UPHE and the public will have a more complete record of emissions and operations in order make sure they are in compliance. Read more….

What’s Killing the Babies of Vernal?


“After Donna Young spoke to the media about the infant deaths, she received threats and now goes to bed with her .45 by her side.”


“Dr. Brian Moench says fracking pollution may be to blame for the stillborns.”

Eastern Utah’s Uinta Basin has experienced an oil and gas boom in recent years, due to fracking technology. But it has come with huge external costs, including some of the worst air pollution in the nation. With it has also come a tragic spike in infant deaths, six times the national average in 2013. Rolling Stone Magazine’s senior reporter, Paul Solotaroff, writes about it as only Paul can do in the latest edition, which features UPHE predominantly. Don’t miss it.

Download the article here, RS1238_FRACKING … or read it on the Rolling Stone Magazine website.

UPHE’s efforts to raise awareness over the tragic number of infant deaths in Utah’s oil patch has gained national attention.  Donate to help support our work!

Health Care and Climate Catastrophes

Last week, leading health authorities were huddled at World Health Organization headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, discussing how to confront one of the most urgent threats to humanity. It’s not Ebola. And it’s not HIV/AIDS, malaria, cancer, obesity, heart disease or diabetes.

The problem — a changing climate — doesn’t fit the traditional definition of health hazard and yet it threatens to undermine the health of individuals and communities in nearly every nation. [More]

MIT Study: Cutting emissions pays for itself

Illustration: Christine Daniloff/MIT The loudest opposition to reducing emissions of carbon and other air pollutants from large point sources (power plants, refineries, etc.) always comes from the industry themselves and politicians who have more regard for bottom lines rather than the health of their constituents. But a new study by MIT researchers shows that such reductions can result in dramatic reductions of healthcare costs, up to tens times the costs of reducing the emissions. [More]

Think You Can’t Afford Solar?

ucomm_60x60 Homeowners who install solar through U Community Solar will receive a discount price of approximately 25% off of the price for a typical installation. Past Community Solar projects in Utah have helped many homeowners power their community with clean, solar energy.  Collectively they will produce enough solar electricity to avoid over 1.3 million pounds of carbon dioxide annually, and the average homeowner will save about $750 each year on their utility bills. Visit the U Community Solar site to learn how to take the first step. U Community Solar has simplified the solar process, making it easier than ever before for you to go solar and be more energy empowered! They’ve done the legwork, so you don’t have to.

UCS Information Article

Salt Lake City Conducts Most Business With Stericycle

Salt Lake City sends the most items to be burned to Stericycle – more than the University of Utah healthcare network. Waste sent from the Salt Lake City police evidence room and airport trash makes up the majority of items burned at Stericyle. In addition, The Utah County jail, Salt Lake County Animal Services and the Davis County Health Department are other Utah agencies that contract for their waste incineration.

[Learn More]