For much of Gunnison County’s history, coal has loomed large as an economic driver. Today, only one coal operator remains, Arch Coal’s West Elk mine, located near the western end of Kebler Pass.
The West Elk mine’s environmental impacts are very, very real. The mine is proposing to expand into 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area, directly adjacent to the West Elk Wilderness, to access 19 million tons of coal. The U.S. Forest Service will begin a public review of this plan any day now.
While elected officials have been reluctant to challenge coal mine expansion in Gunnison County, Arch Coal should at least be held accountable for paying its way.
Case in point: Arch is proposing to reduce the royalty it pays on the coal taken from the West Elk mine, a request that would slash by almost 40% money that would otherwise go to federal, state and Gunnison County taxpayers. Arch’s royalty reduction request comes despite the fact that it paid its executives $8 million in bonuses in January, 2016, one business day before the company declared bankruptcy. That’s approximately the same amount of money that the State estimated in 2012 that Colorado taxpayers would lose to Arch under the company’s previous royalty relief request, one that BLM granted.
Arch is seeking a retroactive rate reduction for a five-year period beginning on February 1, 2015. Since that time, the company has mined approximately 9.4 million tons of coal at the West Elk mine. Based on the average cost of coal sold during that period, taxpayers stand to lose approximately $10 million just in the little over two years since the date at which the reduction would commence.
BLM is currently considering Arch’s royalty request. We must ensure that Arch Coal pays its way and does not shortchange taxpayers.
High Country Conservation Advocates is calling on YOU to contact BLM Colorado Director Ruth Welch (firstname.lastname@example.org) and ask that Arch Coal pay its way in Gunnison County! BLM should not grant a royalty rate reduction to Arch Coal for mining public coal from public lands at the West Elk mine.