A federal judge last Thursday denied an emergency request from conservation groups to halt coal mine exploration that could result in bulldozing two miles of road and constructing three well pads in roadless wildlands on the Gunnison National Forest. St. Louis-based Arch Coal is expected to start drilling and road construction for its West Elk mine expansion on pristine public lands on Colorado’s west slope as soon as this week.
The Forest Service approved Arch Coal’s lease to mine 17 million tons of coal on 1,700 acres about 40 miles southwest of Aspen mid-December. The Bureau of Land Management’s approval earlier this week was fast-tracked by the Department of the Interior, circumventing the usual BLM process and eliminating the chance for groups to appeal the decision, which would have prevented mine expansion work for at least 75 days. Conservation groups sued the Trump administration Dec. 15 to block the expansion and days later requested a temporary restraining order.
“HCCA is disappointed with this decision because it means a currently roadless forest could see road development as early as tomorrow,” said Matt Reed, the public lands director for High Country Conservation Advocates.
Arch Coal wants to carve nearly six miles of roads and scrape 10 drilling pads ― with vents to release the potent greenhouse gas methane ― into the Sunset Roadless Area, adjacent to the West Elk Wilderness. The mine expansion will destroy habitat for black bears, elk, beavers and Canada lynx, and industrialize a landscape currently enjoyed by hunters and hikers.
“The court’s denial is a blow to snowy Colorado winters and a prescription for drier, more fire-prone summers,” said Sloan Shoemaker, executive director of Wilderness Workshop. “Expanding the mine will intensify the climate crisis, endanger public health and deal a huge blow to Colorado’s outdoor recreation economy.”
“This rushed effort to allow Arch Coal to bulldoze into and under the Sunset Roadless area is consistent with the Trump administration’s fast track approach towards granting destruction of our public lands for short term polluter profit,” said Roger Singer, senior organizing manager with the Sierra Club. “This is a big win for Arch Coal and a big loss for Colorado.”
“This early Christmas present to Arch Coal will destroy these pristine forests and the wildlife that depend on them,” said Allison Melton, with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Arch Coal still has an estimated 10-year supply of coal under lease, so there’s no need to steamroll ahead before the case is settled on its merits.”
“Today’s decision is another example of the government bending over backwards for an obsolete industry,” said Shannon Hughes, climate guardian at WildEarth Guardians. “Once these mature aspen and fir trees are gone, they’re gone, and a pause in the process to determine the merits of the case was necessary; unfortunately, that did not happen.”
“What makes Colorado special is the wild, beautiful, remote forests like the Sunset Roadless Area,” said Ted Zukoski of Earthjustice, the attorney who argued the case. “We’ll keep fighting to protect these roadless lands for our, and future, generations.”
High Country Conservation Advocates protects the health and natural beauty of the land, rivers, and wildlife in and around Gunnison County now and for future generations.
The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.6 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with more than 3 million members and supporters. In addition to helping people from all backgrounds explore nature and our outdoor heritage, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.
Wilderness Workshop is a non-profit organization engaged in research, education, legal advocacy and grassroots organizing to protect the ecological integrity of local public lands. Wilderness Workshop is based in Carbondale, Colorado and has approximately 800 members. Wilderness Workshop not only defends pristine public lands from new threats, but also strives to restore the functional wildness of landscapes fragmented by human activity. Wilderness Workshop works to protect and preserve existing wilderness areas, advocate for expanding wilderness, defend roadless areas from development that would destroy their wilderness character, and safeguard the ecological integrity of all federal public lands in the vicinity of the White River National Forest, including the lands at issue in this case.
WildEarth Guardians is a nonprofit membership organization with over 200,000 members and activists throughout the United States. Guardians and its members are dedicated to protecting and restoring the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West. To this end, Guardians works to reduce the adverse impacts of air pollution in the western United States, both to safeguard the broader environment and to protect public health.
Matt Reed, High Country Conservation Advocates, (970) 349-7104, email@example.com
Allison Melton, Center for Biological Diversity, (970) 309-2008, firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas Young, Sierra Club, (719) 393-2354, email@example.com
Shannon Hughes, WildEarth Guardians, (630) 699-7165, firstname.lastname@example.org
Sloan Shoemaker, Wilderness Workshop, (970) 963-3977
Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9622, email@example.com