The environmental group Earthjustice celebrated the fact that on Oct. 1, the U.S. Supreme Court denied a request by the state of Wyoming and other parties to review the legality of the 2001 Roadless Rule, which protects about 46 million acres of National Forest lands.
The rule was issued in the last days of the Clinton Administration and, among other things, restricts access to coal reserves on federal lands in several states where no pre-existing roads are in place. The state of Colorado this year, with federal approval, issued its own version of the Roadless Rule that carved out an exemption for existing coal mining operations along the North Fork of the Gunnison River, including Arch Coal’s (NYSE: ACI) West Elk longwall mine.
Wyoming lost its challenge to the rule before the Denver-based U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in October 2011, Earthjustice noted. Earthjustice attorney Kristen Boyles said in the Oct. 1 statement: “For a decade, Earthjustice has opposed Wyoming’s efforts to derail the popular Roadless Rule, which protects some of America’s best National Forest lands. With the Supreme Court’s denial of Wyoming’s petition for review, there should no longer be any question about the Roadless Rule’s legality.”
Boyles added: “The ten-plus years of our legal campaign to defend the Roadless Rule have seen many twists and turns in the legal process, but one thing hasn’t changed—the undeveloped forest lands at issue remain some of the most environmentally important public lands in our country. They produce clean water and clean air, offer a last refuge to imperiled wildlife across a warming, changing landscape, and provide world-class recreation opportunities for campers, hunters, hikers, fishermen, and bird watchers. Americans love these lands, and it has been an honor to represent those American values before the courts for the last decade.”
Wyoming announced on May 15 that it had asked the U.S. Supreme Court that day to hear its challenge of the Roadless Rule. Wyoming filed a petition for a writ of certiorari that argued that the U.S. Forest Service exceeded the limit of its authority when it created the Roadless Rule by usurping a power reserved to Congress.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said he directed the Attorney General to appeal to the Supreme Court after the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the opinion of U.S. District Judge Clarence Brimmer. “I believe that Judge Brimmer provided a well-reasoned opinion, which stated that the Forest Service circumvented Congress with the Roadless Rule, and I hope that opinion will be reinstated by the Supreme Court,” Mead said in the May 15 statement.
The Colorado Mining Association (CMA), which represents coal producers, expressed disappointment about the Oct. 1 decision. CMA President Stuart Sanderson thanked the eight states and the many agriculture, mining, recreation and other public lands users which had joined with CMA in asking the Supreme Court to strike down the 2001 rule.
“Regardless of today’s outcome,” Sanderson said, “the Colorado roadless rule, which the Secretary of Agriculture approved earlier this year, is not affected by today’s Supreme Court decision.” That rule, he added, will allow for the continued limited development of Colorado coal.