Court move won’t hit state mining

Clinton-era roadless rule stands; Colorado exception in place

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday not to hear arguments about the national roadless rule gave environmental groups a long-fought victory and a case of heartburn the size of the North Fork coal-mining district.

The Colorado Mining Association, which suffered a setback in the case, meanwhile said Colorado’s unique position would allow mining to continue. Other industries, such as the ski industry, also will continue to operate in the state under the Colorado rule.

The high court allowed to stand a rule adopted in 2001, during the waning days of the Clinton administration, that prohibited development on about 60 million acres of national forest lands.

Colorado was one of two states to insist on drafting its own rule, which was approved in July by Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The high court’s action “validates one of America’s most important and popular land conservation policies,” Jane Danowitz of the Pew Environment Group said. “Without the national standard of protection the rule provides, millions of acres of America’s last pristine national forests could be lost to logging and other industrial development.”

The Colorado Mining Association and state of Wyoming, however, sought the intervention of the high court, calling the national roadless rule “a sweeping usurpation of the authority vested solely in Congress to designate lands as wilderness.”

Environmental organizations declared the Colorado rule weak because under it, the Forest Service has allowed expansion of the West Elk Mine near Somerset by 1,700 acres.

Under the national rule, the expansion would have been prohibited.

The nonprofit legal organization Earthjustice last month began an administrative battle to halt Arch Coal Inc.‘s plan to build 6 1/2 miles of road and 48 drilling pads in the Sunset roadless area to install a system to capture methane from the mine expansion.

The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership called the decision by the high court a “victory for sportsmen.”


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