Skip to main content

Ted Zukoski's blog

On the Obama administration's second Earth Day, we can look back on some change we can believe in: oil and gas leases near national parks in Utah suspended, a glimmer of progress on slowing the destruction of rivers and streams in Appalachia by coal mines, the beginning of EPA's commitment to slow global warming from car tail pipes.

But 15 months in, the administration appears to have at least one glaring blind spot: how to reduce the environmental destruction from coal mining in the West - both on the ground and in the atmosphere. 

More than a decade ago, dedicated conservationists within and without the Forest Service began clamoring for a nation-wide policy to protect the last remnants of roadless lands across the National Forests. The rationales were many: providing solitude for wildlife, preventing wildfires (which occur most often near roads), protecting water supplies for cities and towns, and leaving the last scraps of land unharmed by the buldozer after a century of pressure from loggers, miners, and other development.

On November 5, 2009, something happened in Colorado that hasn't happened in a long, long time: the U.S. Forest Service rejected a proposal to turn a natural area into ski runs and a magnet for private land development.  The natural area is Snodgrass Mountain, which includes inventoried roadless lands, beautiful aspen stands, raptor habitat, and open space.  

Greed is usually the reason we see so many companies foul up our lands, air and water. But in Colorado, where a coal mining company is refusing to make money off the gas it is releasing, a little greed could actually help the environment.

For years, coal companies in Colorado's North Fork Valley have been spewing millions of cubic feet of methane into the atmosphere every day from their underground coal mines. They have to get rid of the methane because otherwise it's a safety hazard.

What a difference a year makes! Or maybe not.

Last year, the oil and gas industry and its supporters were spending tens of thousands of dollars in Colorado to attack some modest proposals to protect the state's property owners and public health from the natural gas boom that was consuming the western part of the state.

We like to think of our national parks as places that are protected for generations, where outside the visitor center and a few heavily used trails, the vistas, the streams and the wildlife are there now as they have been and ever will be. But some of the West's most iconic parklands—Canyonlands, Bryce, Zion, Death Valley, Glen Canyon, Yosemite—have been under assault in recent years.

Pages

About the Earthjustice Blog

unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders. Learn more about Earthjustice.