SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Facing heightened pressure from the Trump administration to bolster critical mineral mining operations on American soil, the U.S. government has approved a mining project at the end point of a river in central Utah to extract a mineral commonly used in fertilizer.
Bureau of Land Management officials held a news conference Tuesday to announce the project, which will allow Canadian mining company Crystal Peak Minerals to extract potassium-rich potash at a dry lakebed called Sevier Playa about 180 miles (290 kilometers) southwest of Salt Lake City.
Joseph Balash, assistant secretary for Land and Minerals Management, said the project reflects a return to prosperity in America’s rural communities.
“As we will see here in Utah ... this project, and the jobs it creates, represents a rising tide: more money into schools, local businesses, and communities as a whole,” he said.
Balash announced his resignation from the position last week, which will take effect Aug. 30. He has not cited a reason for his departure.
In June, the Trump administration announced its strategy to expand U.S. mining on public lands of nearly three dozen critical minerals including potash with streamlined permitting because such minerals strengthen U.S. security and reduce the need for foreign imports.
The proposals come at a time of trade tensions with China that some fear could hit U.S. imports of rare earths and other minerals used by U.S. tech firms and other industries, including defense firms.
Officials have said the project could double the United States’ production of sulfate of potash, a form of the mineral used to produce high-value crops like nuts and fruit trees.
Environmental activists and local leaders have expressed concern the project will threaten the area’s solitude and pollute the air and water.
The project’s final environmental impact statement predicts chemical emissions will exceed national air quality standards. But this consequence isn’t sufficiently analyzed, said Steven Bloch, the legal director of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
Evelyn Warnick, a Millard County commissioner, said she’s anxious over how the project, which uses water in an evaporative process to produce potash from the lakebed sediment, could reduce water supply in a valley where it’s a scarce, “special commodity.”
Project documents note that any estimate of the socioeconomic effects of water acquisition would be “speculative.”
Some state officials have argued that mining is the most appropriate use of land that doesn’t hold much promise for development. But Bloch says the Sevier Playa deserves protection for its unique solitude and natural beauty.
“It’s a remote, sublime part of western Utah that’s appreciated for its solitude, its dark skies and its lack of industrial intrusion,” he said. “This project is going to radically change what this part of Utah looks like by bringing in the human activity, development, light, and the noise of industry.”