BLM allows West Elk to expand coal reserves
Expansions that will increase by nearly half the amount of coal that can be taken from the West Elk Mine won approval from the Bureau of Land Management.
The Bureau of Land Management approved two lease modifications for the mine, owned by Arch Coal Co., that add 10 million tons of coal to the existing 19 million tons available for mining, BLM spokeswoman Vanessa Lacayo said.
Issuance of the lease is the last step to be taken by the BLM, which follows action by the U.S. Forest Service in August to modify the leases.
A coalition of environmental organizations in December filed a notice of intent to sue the Forest Service under the Endangered Species Act for failing to ensure that the mine expansion would not harm lynx. The agency failed to consider that approving the lease expansion will permit Arch Coal to bulldoze additional roads through lynx habitat on other nearby National Forest and private lands.
The additional coal lies beneath 1,721 acres in the North Fork Valley.
The West Elk Mine produced 6 million tons of coal in 2011 and has been in operation since 1982.
It employs 378 people, most of whom live in Delta County, and provides about $2 million annually in tax revenues to Gunnison County.
The BLM estimates that the total direct economic benefits associated with the three coal mines in the North Fork Valley exceed $60 million annually.