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July 03, 2014

From East to West, Good News for Wilderness and Communities Threatened by Coal Projects

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The Sunset Trail Roadless Area in Colorado. Photo courtesy of WildEarth Guardians - see more photos here.

In the past week we've received good news on major proposed coal projects that pose a threat to communities and beautiful places, from both the eastern U.S. and the western U.S.
 
First, last Friday a federal court cited climate change as a major reason for rejecting federal agencies' approval of a coal mine expansion plan that would bulldoze roads through the pristine and beautiful Sunset Roadless Area wilderness in Western Colorado.
 
The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service had authorized the leasing of 10.1 million tons of coal under 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area in order to expand Arch Coal's West Elk Coal Mine. Last year Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club, High Country Conservation Advocates, and WildEarth Guardians, filed suit to overturn that authorization on the grounds that they had failed to adequately consider the environmental harm the project would cause.
 
"BLM's federal coal leasing program has a massive impact on our climate and public health, affecting the waters we use, the air we breathe, and the wild areas we enjoy," said Roger Singer, Senior Organizing Manager with the Sierra Club in Colorado. "For years, BLM has been telling the public that its individual coal leasing decisions -- even those approving hundreds of millions of tons of coal -- have no impact on our climate. That assumption is out the window."
 
On the other side of the country, mountaintop removal coal mining opponents received good news when the Federal Highway Administration announced that the Virginia Department of Transportation will be required to conduct a full environmental review for a controversial 26-mile section of the Coalfields Expressway that would run through southwest Virginia.
Protesters

The Coalfields Expressway project, which I described as a "mountaintop removal coal mine in disguise" in a prior post, is a public-private partnership between the Commonwealth of Virginia and coal mining companies, including Alpha Natural Resources. The coal companies would get to strip mine the land and leave it razed for building the highway (which may not ever be completed). In order to make this bad deal work, the coal companies were allowed to re-route the highway's proposed route, moving it away from local business districts and threatening to take thousands of acres of privately-owned land through eminent domain.
 
More than 85,000 citizens sent comments to VDOT and FHWA expressing their concerns about the harm that mountaintop removal coal mining associated with this project would have on drinking water, community health, and quality of life.
 
"VDOT now has the opportunity to take a fresh, honest look at this project," said Marley Green, a Wise County resident and Sierra Club organizer in Virginia. "We have the chance to figure out the best ways to improve transportation access and diversify our struggling mountain economy."
 
Coal projects like these continue to threaten wilderness and communities nationwide, but more and more often, they are being met by robust opposition from local residents whose livelihoods depend on a healthy environment. Americans want clean air and clean water, and they don't want communities and beautiful places devastated by coal mining.

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

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