Forest Service turns back appeal on new West Elk coal reserves

Earthjustice on Nov. 8 slammed a Nov. 7 ruling by the U.S. Forest Service against conservation groups’ challenge to the Forest Service’s approval of an expansion of Arch Coal’s (NYSE: ACI) West Elk longwall mine, which is within the Sunset Roadless Area, located 10 miles east of Paonia, Colo.

The coal lease expansion, together with “loopholes” built into the Colorado version of the national Roadless Rule, will allow Arch Coal to bulldoze 6.5 miles of road and 48 natural gas drilling pads through 1,700 acres—nearly three-square miles—of wild, roadless forest, the environmental group said.

The appeal filed in September with the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Regional Forester in Denver, sought to overturn an August decision affirming Arch Coal’s West Elk mine expansion into roadless lands. The conservation groups argued that the mine expansion violates laws meant to protect wildlife, air quality, and forest lands, as well as the Colorado Roadless Rule.

Ted Zukoski, staff attorney for Earthjustice, said “the Forest Service has literally paved the way for a coal mega-corporation to destroy real bear habitat. The Sunset Roadless Area is a beautiful forest of aspen and giant spruce, beaver lodges and meadows, a home for elk and hawks. This is a place the Forest Service should be protecting for all Coloradoans, not sacrificing to appease special interests. We will be examining all of our legal options going forward.”

The appeal was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the WildEarth Guardians, High Country Citizens’ Alliance, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Wild and Defenders of Wildlife. The conservation groups won an appeal in February, overturning the Forest Service’s initial approval of this expansion, when the Forest Service concluded that it had failed to explain weakened protections for lynx, bald eagles, and measures meant to prevent landslides.

But when the Colorado Roadless Rule was adopted by the Obama Administration in July in place of the national Roadless Rule, Colorado became subject to lower levels of protection for its roadless lands than for virtually all other roadless forest lands in the nation, Earthjustice said.

The decision being appealed was to give consent to the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to add acreage to two existing coal leases and to modify lease stipulations to protect non-mineral resources. The consent is needed because the Forest Service is the surface managing federal agency. The decision would give consent to the BLM Colorado State Office to add about 800 acres with associated lease stipulations to federal coal lease COC-1362 and about 921 acres with stipulations to lease COC-67232.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.