When President Clinton designated 1.7 million acres of Utah wilderness as a national monument, he dashed plans to tap a huge reserve of environment-friendly coal.
The White House says the president acted to preserve a beautiful, exotic place, named Kaiparowits by the Paiute Indians. Critics see a connection to Indonesia, which already mines such cleaner fuel.
Andalex Resources, a U.S. mining company owned by a British family, holds leases on Kaiparowits and was nearly ready to break ground on a Utah mine that would produce about 3 million tons of coal. It reversed course with Clinton’s announcement in September.
The 62 billion tons of coal found beneath the area’s red-rock cliffs burns hot but emits far less polluting sulphur than most coal mined in the United States. It’s known as “super compliance” coal because its properties meet Clean Air Act standards. Similar coal is mined in Indonesia,
A farm trade publication and some politically conservative talk shows have raised questions in recent weeks about whether Clinton’s decision might benefit Indonesia and its Lippo Group, a conglomerate at the center of a controversy over campaign contributions to the Democratic Party.
Lippo’s founder, billionaire Mochtar Riady, his family members and associates have contributed heavily to Clinton and the Democrats.
Lippo has business interests related to coal: One of its subsidiaries was involved in a now-dormant joint venture to run a coal-fueled power plant in China.
The White House calls such speculation preposterous.
“The reason that the monument was created is because it’s an extraordinary place, filled with bird and plant life and natural wonders that needed to be protected,” said spokeswoman Mary Ellen Glynn. “It had nothing to do with Indonesian coal interests.”
Allison agreed that Clinton’s decision has no effect on Indonesian coal producers. “Utah coal does not pose a threat to Indonesia,” he said.The cleaner-burning coal is also found in Colorado, Montana and Wyoming as well as Colombia and South Africa. Utah and Indonesia coal is among the world’s cleanest, though.
Indonesia’s coal production has nearly tripled to 41 million tons in the past five years and is one of the lowest-cost producers in the world, Allison said. Labor costs are low and much of the coal is extracted by surface strip mining.
But the 62 billion tons of coal in southern Utah’s Kaiparowits Plateau is still in the ground. Only about 11 billion tons - worth about $1 trillion - is considered recoverable, but it has never been mined.
There are no paved roads on the remote plateau, just miles and miles of spectacular views. It would take millions of dollars to carve out the coal and build roads for carting it.
Experts say Utah’s coal supplies will run out in 25 years. Kaiparowits has enough coal to keep Utah power plants burning for another 400 years.