Elk, lynx, black bear, and other wildlife are breathing easier thanks to the news that Regional U.S. Forest Service officials in Denver rejected a coal mining expansion that would have significantly impacted roadless wildlife habitat in western Colorado. Sierra Club, High Country Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, and Defenders of Wildlife worked with Earthjustice to file the lawsuit.
The 1,700-acre mine expansion would have set the stage for Arch Coal company to build up to 48 well pads and 6.5 miles of road into pristine roadless lands in Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre, and Gunnison (GMUG) National Forest, adjacent to the West Elk Wilderness. This area, known as Sunset Roadless Area, is home to pristine waterways, aspen stands, and bald eagles. In addition, the decision would have resulted in continued uncontrolled methane pollution from Arch’s West Elk coal mine, one of the state’s single largest carbon polluters. 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 organizer 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 conservation groups challenged the mine expansion, approved by the Montrose-based GMUG National Forest, by filing a formal appeal to the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Region in Denver. In mid-February, the Region decided that the GMUG National Forest didn’t explain why it had weakened protections for lynx, bald eagles, and measures meant to prevent landslides. That failure violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the Regional Office concluded, and required vacating the GMUG’s previous approval.
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(Image courtesy of Richard Cleis, www.richardcleis.com.)