Coal Mine Expansion Blocked in Colorado Roadless Area
January 29, 2013
On January 29, the Sierra Club and a coalition of environmental groups filed an appeal with the Department of the Interior to halt Arch Coal’s plans to bulldoze 6.5 miles of new roads, and drill 48 new well pads in the roadless areas and the forests next to Colorado’s iconic West Elk Wilderness Area. This action falls on the heels of the December 2012 Bureau of Land Management’s decision allowing Arch Coal to expand its West Elk mine in Gunnison County.
The 1700 acre area earmarked to be roaded and drilled by Arch Coal provides habitat for the threatened lynx, supports backcountry hiking and horseback trail, and provides a valuable linkage between the West Elk Wilderness Area and lowland forests along the North Fork of the Gunnison River. The proposed mine would also release more than 75 million cubic feet of methane each day.
“Instead of once again allowing more mining of dirty coal to tear up this important wildlife habitat, we feel the agency needs to stop this proposal and instead show support for creating clean energy based jobs,” said Roger Singer, senior staff with Sierra Club in Colorado. “We need to protect our public lands from the coal mining that is polluting our air and water.”
September 26, 2012
On September 24, 2012, conservation groups filed an administrative appeal challenging the U.S Forest Service’s decision to authorize the West Elk coal mine expansion into a designated Roadless Area in Colorado. If upheld, the approval would allow Arch Coal to bulldoze 6.5 miles of roads and 48 natural gas drilling pads within the Sunset Roadless area, 10 miles east of Paonia, Colorado.
The challenged decision is the second within a year rubber-stamping the proposed expansion of Arch Coal's West Elk mine into Roadless areas that provide habitat for lynx, black bear, elk, and goshawk.
Sierra Club and its partners won an appeal filed with the Forest Service's Regional Forester back in February 2012 that overturned the initial approval based on a failure to adequately explain weakened protection for lynx and other species. (See the earlier post below for more details). The appeal filed earlier this week, also with the Regional Forester, challenges the Forest Service's August 2012 decision to re-approve the mine expansion, despite significant problems with the revised environmental review.
If it proceeds, the mine expansion could turn the Sunset Roadless Area, which is adjacent to West Elk Wilderness, into an industrial zone of well pads and roads, with an average of 16 wells pads — and two miles of roads — per square mile.
The appeal was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, WildEarth Guardians, High Country Citizens’ Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild, and Defenders of Wildlife.
“The Sunset Roadless Area is real gem, a beautiful forest of aspen and giant spruce, beaver lodges and meadows, a home for elk and bear,” said Ted Zukoski, staff attorney for Earthjustice, the public interest environmental law firm representing the groups. “This is a place the Forest Service should be protecting for all Coloradoans, not sacrificing to appease special interests.”
February 15, 2012
On February 15, the U.S. Forest Service in Denver overturned approval of a coal mine expansion next to the West Elk Wilderness that would have destroyed forest habitat for elk, lynx, black bear, and other wildlife. The agency’s decision comes in response to an appeal filed by Sierra Club and its allies late last year.
The U.S. Forest Service decided that the Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest had failed to explain why it had weakened protections for wildlife, and also weakened measures meant to prevent landslides. This failure violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the regional office concluded, and required vacating the approval.
The 1,700-acre mine expansion in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison National Forest would have paved the way for Arch Coal Company to build as many as 48 well pads and 6.5 miles of road into pristine roadless lands dotted with clear lakes and ponds, aspen stands, and beaver lodges.
Additionally, the expansion would have resulted in continued methane pollution from Arch's West Elk coal mine, one of the state's single largest carbon emitters. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times more heat-trapping ability than carbon dioxide.
"The U.S. Forest Service did the right thing by stopping Arch Coal's expansion plans in Colorado," said Roger Singer, Sierra Club senior organizing representative in Colorado. "By keeping dirty coal in the ground where it belongs, Coloradans can breathe cleaner air, drink cleaner water and enjoy hunting, fishing and recreation in our national forests."
The appeal was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of Sierra Club, High Country Citizens’ Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, and Defenders of Wildlife.
Details and Documents:
Environmental groups challenge expantion of Colorado's West Elk Mine
September 26, 2012, Mark Jaffe, The Denver Post
Coal Mine Expansion Threatens Colorado Mountain Backcountry
Forest Service Blocks Coal Mine Expansion in Colorado Roadless Area
September 25, 2012, EarthJustice
February 15, 2012, Environment News Service
See other "Stopping Mountaintop Removal and Other Destructive Mining" cases.