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Red Cliff Mine: A Hazy Future?

We knew the proposed Red Cliff coal mine in western Colorado had a lot of problems.  It's no secret that coal is a dirty fuel.  On top of the predictable global warming impacts from burning the mined coal, this mine each year will spew thousands of tons of methane - a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than CO2 - into the atmosphere without controls.   It will require bulldozing in the Hunter Canyon proposed wilderness.  And it will degrade important habitat for deer and elk.

The project will likely also bring another unwelcome impact to Colorado's West Slope: smog (AKA ozone).  If you couldn't figure that out by reading the BLM's 1,000+ page environmental impact statement, there's a reason for that:  BLM didn't analyze the mine's ozone impacts.

That's right.  Despite the fact that BLM admits the proposed mine will spew chemicals that cause ozone to form, the agency didn't bother to disclose whether the project could worsen smog in nearby communities, including Grand Junction.

Smog is hardly an academic issue, even outside the large urban areas of the West.  Wyoming's governor recently begged the Environmental Protection Agency to find parts of southern Wyoming in "non-attainment" for ozone as a way to get help clearing the air in the state's natural gas patch.  Smog seems prone to form in areas where there are temperature inversions, good snow cover, and oil and gas development, all of which one can find in winter in the area around the proposed Red Cliff mine.  The mine will only make these problems worse.

There may be a lot of ways to deal with the smog-producing agents emitted from the Red Cliff mine.  But just ignoring them, as BLM did here, isn't one of them.

Tags:  air, coal, public lands

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