What's at Stake
Earthjustice is fighting to halt coal mine expansions plans in Colorado’s iconic West Elk Wilderness Area that will destroy pristine public lands and further lock the U.S. into dirty energy dependence.
Forests next to Colorado’s iconic West Elk Wilderness Area provide habitat for the threatened lynx, support the Sunset Trail, a backcountry hiking and horseback trail, and provides a valuable linkage between the West Elk Wilderness Area and lowland forests along the North Fork of the Gunnison River.
In December of 2012, a Bureau of Land Management decision allowed Arch Coal to expand its West Elk mine in Gunnison County, paving the way for Arch Coal to bulldoze 6.5 miles of new roads, drill 48 drilling pads in 1,700 acres of roadless forest, and waste millions of cubic feet of methane daily.
Although the West Elk coal mine is underground, the coal seams are some of the gassiest in the nation. To get the coal safely, Arch Coal will drill wells above the mine to vent the methane gas into the air. Methane is not only natural gas, a valuable and useful product, but also a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times more heat trapping ability than carbon dioxide. Data shows the amount of methane vented at West Elk could heat a city about the size of Grand Junction. Both the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service have refused to require Arch to capture, burn, or reduce any of the mine’s methane pollution, or to simply say enough to the wasteful and inefficient practice.
The Bureau of Land Management’s decision follows an August 2012 Forest Service decision to “consent” to the destructive expansion on the Gunnison National Forest. The roadless area at stake includes forest of aspen and giant spruce, beaver lodges and meadows in an area used by hikers and hunters.
Earthjustice is fighting to halt Arch Coal’s plans to turn the Sunset Roadless Area, which is right next to the scenic West Elk Wilderness, into an industrial zone of well pads and roads, with an average of 16 wells pads per square mile. In July 2013, we filed suit in U.S. District Court in Colorado on behalf of High Country Citizens’ Alliance, Wildearth Guardians, and Sierra Club, and got Arch Coal to agree to not bulldoze in the roadless area until May 2014, by which time the case will be fully briefed before the court.
Citing agencies’ neglect to consider climate change impacts, a federal court ruling today rejected federal agencies’ approval of Arch Coal’s plans to bulldoze roads through 1,700 acres of the pristine Sunset Roadless Area in Western Colorado and halted any road construction in the area.
The federal Bureau of Land Management has approved an expansive coal exploration plan for ten new coal mines and the construction of access roads through previously undisturbed, natural lands rich with wildlife. The plan, submitted by a subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc., calls for the assembly of these mines at a site adjacent to the existing West Elk coal mine.