If you care about public lands, climate change, or follow the work of High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA), you know that we’ve been fighting to stop expansion of the West Elk coal mine into Gunnison National Forest roadless lands for almost a decade. On Friday, December 15 HCCA and four other conservation groups sued the Trump administration to stop the imminent expansion of the West Elk mine into the Sunset Roadless Area. The lawsuit seeks a court order to prevent St. Louis-based Arch Coal from starting exploratory drilling and road construction on pristine public lands in Gunnison County.
The coal mine expansion required approval from the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The Forest Service on December 11 approved Arch Coal’s lease to mine 17 million tons of coal on 1,700 acres of public land. This was followed later in the week by the Department of Interior’s fast-track approval, which circumvented the usual BLM process that would have provided interested citizens an opportunity to appeal.
Arch Coal plans to carve nearly six miles of roads and scrape nearly 50 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 would destroy habitat for black bear, elk, beaver, and Canada lynx, and industrialize a landscape currently enjoyed by hunters and hikers.
HCCA’s lawsuit challenges the Forest Service’s failure to comply with environmental disclosure laws. The Forest Service’s analysis of the project:
- Down-played the climate pollution impacts of coal mining while inflating the economic benefits,
- Ignored the impacts to wildlife caused by fragmenting the forest with miles of road and dozens of drilling pads,
- Ignored a proposal to require the mine to flare methane to reduce its climate impacts, disregarding a study from Grand Junction-based Raven Ridge LLC showing Arch Coal could actually make a profit from flaring.