Groups poised to challenge coal mine expansion

The recent decision by the Bureau of Land Management to allow expanded federal coal leasing just east of Paonia will threaten critical lynx habitat, says a coalition of environmental protection groups opposed to the expansion.

The collection of advocacy groups—including the High Country Citizens’ Alliance, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club and Rocky Mountain Wild—telegraphed their legal strategy in a press release on Monday, indicating they are considering filing a formal challenge to the BLM’s recent decision.

The approval allows Arch Coal’s West Elk mine in the Sunset Roadless Area to expand to an adjacent 1,721 acres of national forest land, allowing an estimated 19 million more tons of coal to be mined over three years.

Conservation groups contend that allowing Arch to build 6.5 miles of road and 48 drilling pads for methane venting in conjunction with the expansion will turn a current roadless area worthy of protection into an “industrial zone” that will threaten the lynx, an elusive and endangered forest cat.

“The beautiful forests, ponds and meadows of the Sunset Roadless Area are a natural wonderland that deserves protection, not destruction at the hands of one of the nation’s dirtiest industries,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with Earthjustice, the legal group representing the various conservation groups.

In addition to the “bulldozing through a roadless forest” that would have to happen to create new roads in the area, the West Elk’s ongoing release of methane as a result of their mining operations is also in the conservation groups’ crosshairs.

“The West Elk mine spews millions of cubic feet of methane pollution every day. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times more heat-trapping ability than carbon dioxide,” the groups’ press release reads. They contend that the West Elk mine is “one of the state’s single largest carbon polluters.”

Last year, the same conservation coalition filed a similar appeal with the Forest Service, which also approved the coal mine expansion project. The coalition challenged the legality of the Colorado Roadless Rule itself, which allows for certain exemptions, including for some North Fork Valley coal mining. That appeal, however, was denied in November last year.



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