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Protecting Colorado's Mountain Backcountry

A beaver lodge by the Sunset Trail. The trail is a valuable linkage between the West Elk Wilderness Area and lowland forests along the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

A beaver lodge by the Sunset Trail. The trail is a valuable linkage between the West Elk Wilderness Area and lowland forests along the North Fork of the Gunnison River.

Photo by Ted Zukoski

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.

Case Overview

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.

Case ID

2064

Attorneys

Related Features

Coal Mine To Emit Worst Greenhouse Gas

On Colorado’s western slope near the small town of Paonia, two of the world’s worst sources of global warming emissions are locked deep below roadless forest lands next to the West Elk Wilderness.

Case Updates

July 14, 2014 | Blog Post

A Win For Roadless Forest, Climate

Earthjustice prevailed after four years of fighting to protect the roadless forest in western Colorado from a coal mine that would deal a double whammy of damage.

July 8, 2013 | In the News: Denver Business Journal

Bureau of Land Management OKs coal exploration in western Colorado

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.