Text by Juliet Eilperin | Photos by Bonnie Jo Mount
ESCALANTE, Utah — On the eastern end of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, narrow slot canyons shoot through the rocks in shades of terra-cotta red and pale peach. To the west stand surreal rock spires, the hoodoos for which the badlands are known. But what’s buried beneath undulating gray formations here is what caught Washington’s attention: coal.
Decades ago, that gray swath signaled big profits for any company prepared to dig it up. But today, even the government officials charged with assessing the roughly 9 billion tons of coal deposits say they are unlikely to attract investors’ interest.
Most public-lands battles play out with a predictable script: An industry wants something, and environmentalists resist. But in the case of President Trump’s decision to scale back protections in this patch of southern Utah, the battleground has shifted.
In this fight, ideology has triumphed over economics.
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Trump shrank this national monument to spur a mining boom – but will those lost protections yield real profits?
Advocates fear mining will undermine Grand Staircase-Escalante’s main attractions.