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Saving Colorado's Sunset Roadless Area

Last week, the Sierra Club and its allies won an important short-term victory in the fight to protect wildlife habitat and prevent pollution in Colorado. Arch Coal agreed not to implement a coal-mining exploration plan this summer, guaranteeing that no bulldozers will enter the pristine Sunset Roadless Area for at least another year.

The Sunset Roadless area, located in western Colorado's Grand Mesa-Uncompahgre-Gunnison National Forest, sits next to the iconic West Elk Wilderness. It provides habitat for the threatened lynx and is a destination for hikers and hunters. Arch Coal's exploration activities would turn this pristine landscape of aspen and spruce forests, streams and wetlands into a spiderweb of roads and rigs.

Earthjustice, on behalf of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Sierra Club, High Country Citizens' Alliance and WildEarth Guardians, filed suit in July challenging the Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service decisions authorizing the expansion of Arch Coal's West Elk coal mine onto 1,700 acres of Colorado's Sunset Roadless Area. More recently, these federal agencies approved a plan by Arch Coal to conduct coal exploration in this same area. This would entail carving out 30 acres of forests and hillsides by bulldozing more than six miles of new roads and constructing 10 drilling pads in previously untouched National Forest land.

In addition to paving the way for bulldozing in the roadless area, the proposed coal mine expansion would contribute to climate disruption by allowing Arch Coal to release huge volumes of methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas. Although the West Elk mine is underground, the coal seams are some of the gassiest in the nation. To mine safely, Arch Coal must drill wells above the coal seams to vent methane gas. The company's plans in the Sunset Roadless area call for nearly 50 new well pads, which would emit millions of cubic feet of methane pollution each day.

Even as we celebrate the reprieve given this beautiful place, the Sierra Club and other environmental groups are continuing work to permanently protect our wildlife, water, air, recreation, and economy from this destructive project.

-- By Anne Haas

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