By Tim Pearce
Environmental groups are suing the Trump administration to stop a coal mine expansion into Colorado’s Gunnison National Forest to recover 17 million tons of coal on 1,720 acres, less than 3 square miles.
“The Trump administration’s dangerous decision will harm public health and destroy some of Colorado’s most pristine forests,” Center for Biological Diversity attorney Allison Melton said in a statement. “Arch Coal already has a decade’s worth of coal under lease at this mine. It’s senseless to sacrifice these public lands so more carbon pollution can be spewed into the atmosphere.”
Expanding the West Elk coal mine was first proposed by then-Colorado Gov. Bill Owens in 2006. Owens included the proposal to the Department of Agriculture (USDA) in a petition to allow Colorado to develop a state-specific Roadless Rule that regulates and protects 4.2 million acres of roadless areas in National Forest System lands.
The coal mine’s expansion is an exception to the Colorado’s Roadless Rule, and it allows temporary roads to be built through a part of Gunnison National Forest for the purposes of the coal mine.
“The 2012 Colorado Roadless Rule was developed in a highly collaborative manner. Five formal comment periods were held, which included 27 public meetings and resulted in about 312,000 comments,” the USFS approval for the coal mine says.
The environmental groups’ lawsuit accuses the USFS of downplaying the coal mine’s pollution, ignoring the mine’s impact on wildlife and ignoring a proposal to require the mine to “flare,” or burn, its methane emissions out of small smokestacks. Flaring would reduce the mine’s overall methane emissions, according to the environmental groups.
The West Elk Coal mine currently employs about 220 people and produced around 4 million tons of coal last year. Credit for working to expand the coal mine lies more with the Obama administration than President Donald Trump, the Denver Post reports.