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Forest Service Reloads Assault On Colorado Roadless Area

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View Ted Zukoski's blog posts
15 June 2012, 3:54 AM
Agency pushes lose-lose-lose-lose coal mine expansion
The Sunset Roadless Area.
(Photo: Ted Zukoski)

Coal is dirty.

It’s the dirty fuel that gives us mercury in our lakes, acid rain in our skies, carbon pollution, leaky ash ponds, and scraped-off mountains and buried streams in Appalachia.

And just like the coal itself, Arch Coal’s proposed West Elk mine expansion into the Sunset Roadless Area in western Colorado will be a lose-lose-lose-lose proposition. Sadly, that doesn’t mean it’s going away.

The Forest Service is proposing to OK the mine’s expansion under the roadless area, a natural, rugged landscape of beaver ponds and aspen stands, lynx habitat and giant spruce trees, elk and deer habitat and dramatic scenery of the adjacent West Elk Wilderness.

To get at the coal under the roadless area, the mine says it will need to drill wells to release methane from the mine. Methane is a hazard to miners, but when released into the atmosphere, it’s a climate change-causing gas on steroids, with more than 20 times the heat trapping capacity of carbon dioxide.

Infrastructure to remove the methane will require bulldozing more than 6 miles of road and nearly 50 one-acre well-pads, cutting the heart out of the roadless area.

So, Loss No. 1: Natural lands in the Sunset Roadless Area.

Loss No. 2: Unnecessary methane pollution. Unnecessary because the mine simply wastes the methane, spewing into the atmosphere. Methane is also known as natural gas. But rather than capturing the gas—and West Elk is wasting enough of it to heat a small town—or using it on-site to generate power, or even burning it to cut its carbon pollution by 90 percent, the mine will simply waste and emit the equivalent of more than 1 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution.

Which leads to Loss No. 3: Our money. The public—you and me—own that gas. But instead of getting the mine to pay for taking our gas, thus generating revenue for our cash-starved treasury, Uncle Sam is letting the mine waste the gas and pay nothing for it.

But wasting America’s natural gas isn’t enough for Arch Coal. It wants a discount for mining the coal (a nearly $5 million cut in royalty payments), making this an even worse deal for taxpayers—Loss No. 4. (How will Arch use the $5 mil it doesn't want to pay taxpayers? Ask Arch's CEO—he got a $2.5 million raise this year.)

Earthjustice, which has been fighting to protect roadless forest for decades, beat back the first version of this loser proposal in February, when the Forest Service admitted it had violated the law in its initial process. Undaunted, the Forest Service has made some minor tweaks to the roadless area bulldozing project and re-proposed it, hoping to get the project approved by this fall.

Apparently, as long as the coal company wins, the Forest Service doesn’t care that this project bulldozes and clearcuts forest, fouls the skies, and shortchanges taxpayers.

We’ll keep fighting this one.

And you can too. Send a letter telling the Forest Service to drop this damaging, loser project.

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