Regional Forest Service officials vacate earlier approval of coal mine expansion in roadless area
By Summit Voice
SUMMIT COUNTY — Regional U.S. Forest Service officials this week rejected a coal mining expansion that would have had significant impacts on roadless wildlife habitat in the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest near the West Elk Wilderness.
The 1,700-acre mine expansion proposed by the Arch Coal company was approved last year by the forest supervisor despite concerns about impacts to the Sunset roadless area. Conservation groups appealed the decision and regional foresters found that the approval violated federal environmental laws by failing to explain why the plan weakened environmental protection.
“This is a win for Colorado’s forests and wildlife, streams and clean air,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Director for WildEarth Guardians, one of the groups that challenged the decision. “The Forest Service should protect these roadless lands and habitat by putting this damaging mine expansion plan to bed permanently.”
The appeal was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the Sierra Club, High Country Citizens’ Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, and Defenders of Wildlife.
Though the coal mining is underground, the operation requires methane venting wells be drilled above the mine. According to environmental groups, the West Elk mine spews millions of cubic feet of methane pollution every day.
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times more heat trapping ability than carbon dioxide. Methane venting makes the West Elk coal mine one of the single largest carbon polluters in Colorado
“It’s good news for Colorado’s forests that this destructive proposal was sent back to square one,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with Earthjustice. “The Forest Service should not have been trying to pave the way for an incursion into roadless lands when a court recently upheld its authority to protect those lands.”
“This coal mine expansion would have paved the way for industrial development in a beautiful natural area, cost taxpayers millions in potential royalties from methane that is wasted instead of captured, and caused significant air pollution,” said Matt Reed, Public Lands Director of High Country Citizens’ Alliance, based in Gunnison County. “We’re pleased that Colorado’s forests, wildlife and clean air won this round.”