The Fight To Defend The Sunset Roadless Area — And Our Climate
- Edward T. of Arvada, Colorado:“My wife and I are long-term residents of Colorado. This is our state, and we want it protected from exploitation. It is time for our government to do what is best for the nation and its citizens.”
- Ann S. of Haxtun, Colorado:“Our family owns property adjacent to Gunnison National Forest. We hunt and recreate, farm and ranch. We treasure the wildlife and do not want anything there to do with coal whatsoever ...”
- Ann S. of Haxtun, Colorado:“... We have solar and wind power—and want to see much more of it.”
- Elizabeth F., Denver, Colorado:“We cannot create new wilderness. Please protect the wilderness areas we have!”
- Gwen F. of Denver, Colorado:“This is not the 1800's and 1900's. There is new technology. There is wind and solar power, and it creates new jobs. Give up the old destructive ways of the past.”
- Christina A., Longmont, Colorado:“There is no way to put a price or value on our roadless, wilderness areas. Once they are gone, they are gone forever. Nothing of value was ever achieved or preserved by greed.”
- Susanna D. of Albuquerque, NM:“I am a frequent visitor to Colorado and know its pristine wilderness areas well. I am shocked to think of violating one of these beautiful areas for a few tons of dirty coal.”
- Stephanie of Colorado:“I seek out secluded backcountry spots like these roadless forests. There, I am able to find peace and tranquility to recharge myself for the hectic daily life of an acute care nurse ...”
- Stephanie of Colorado:“... These wild sanctuaries must be preserved, not sacrificed for the profits of corporations that accelerate the destruction of our precious planet.”
- Matt F. of Goodrich, MI:“The need for energy cannot forever be a reason to pick away at our nation's ecological treasures ...”
- Matt F. of Goodrich, MI:“... We will someday have to rely on renewable energy. It makes more sense to embrace that truth now and protect our roadless areas, before we have nothing left to protect.”
- Richard G. of Colorado:“Almost 40 years ago, our family moved to Colorado to take advantage of the healthy environment and clean air. Another coal mine will cause serious degradation of these resources ...”
- Richard G. of Colorado:“... It is incumbent on the Forest Service to protect not only the health of the forest but also of the people.”
- Phaedra G. of Arroyo Hondo, NM:“We have to be responsible stewards of this planet, and the time is now.”
- Robert C. of La Mesa, CA:“This is one of my favorite areas in the country, which I have been visiting for 40 years and know well ...”
- Robert C. of La Mesa, CA:“... For the sake of the water, air, precious wildlife which belong to all Americans, not to scofflaw coal barons, please keep it roadless ...”
- Robert C. of La Mesa, CA:“... Do your job and protect the area from polluters and from needless dinosaurs of outmoded technology.”
- Bonnie O. of Denver, Colorado:“I moved here from Pittsburgh, where coal and oil were mined so much when I was a kid that the air was usually orange ...”
- Bonnie O. of Denver, Colorado:“... So you might appreciate why I am writing about stopping pollution and land destruction.”
Mar. 3, 2020
In one of the first opportunities three years ago to push back against the devastating on-the-ground impacts the Trump administration's fossil fuel agenda, nearly 45,000 people across the country spoke up to save pristine roadless forests in Colorado from coal mining.
The U.S. Forest Service persisted in carving out an exception to Colorado’s roadless area protections in order to pave the way for expansion of a destructive coal mine. Earthjustice filed a legal challenge later that year, on behalf of five conservation groups.
Now, a federal appeals court has ruled the agency acted illegally, giving new hope for the protection of these wild lands — and for the climate.
“This is a victory for the remarkable wild forests of the North Fork Valley,” explained Robin Cooley, the Earthjustice attorney who argued this case on behalf of our clients. “As a result of the ruling, the Forest Service must go back to the drawing board and consider whether to protect more of the Valley’s irreplaceable roadless forests.”
The Forest Service attempted to give Arch Coal, the nation's second largest coal company, the right to expand its mining into 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area — lands that belong to all Americans.
A rolling landscape of aspen and spruce-fir forests and beaver ponds, the Sunset Roadless Area is within Gunnison National Forest, 40 miles from Aspen, Colorado. The lush, wild forest is public land — prime habitat for goshawk, black bear, elk, cutthroat trout and the imperiled lynx, and enjoyed by hikers and recreationists visiting from near and far. Some of the spruce may be centuries old.
Arch Coal has repeatedly sought to mine this area. Legal and advocacy work over the past decade by Earthjustice, our partners and clients, and our supporters, has saved the Sunset Roadless Area from each of Arch Coal's attempts. (See timeline: The Long, Winding Road to Save The Sunset Roadless Area)
But with a fossil fuel-friendly administration, the Sunset Roadless Area — and the climate-polluting coal and methane gas under it — was again at risk.
Arch Coal’s existing industrial operations scar the landscape west of the Sunset Roadless Area. The company already has a ten-year supply of coal at its current rate of mining, even without the expansion of the coal mine lease. Trump’s Forest Service proposes to give Arch Coal additional access to more than 17 million tons of coal.
Left in place, the coal and methane under the roadless area will not contribute to the planetary crisis of climate change. But leaving them alone is not what Arch Coal has in mind.
The underground mining will vent hundreds of millions of cubic feet of methane—a potent climate pollutant—into the atmosphere from a tight web of industrial facilities scraped and bulldozed through the forest.
Methane traps more than 80 times more heat than CO2 in the short-term. According data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, from 2013 to 2015, the mine Arch Coal seeks to expand was the largest single industrial source of methane pollution in Colorado. Arch Coal will not be required to capture, burn, or reduce any of the methane pollution.
Today, Colorado’s solar and wind industries employ more than 14,000 people, about twelve times as many as work in the state’s mines.
Thank you to the nearly 45,000 people spoke up during the public comment period on the Forest Service’s draft Environmental Impact Statement for Arch Coal’s mine lease expansion into the Sunset Roadless Area.
Earthjustice's Rocky Mountain Office is located in Denver.
More national parks and monuments are concentrated in the Rocky Mountains and the desert southwest than in any other part of the United States. The Rocky Mountain Office protects the region’s public lands and unique wildlife, challenges reckless oil and gas development and off-road vehicle use, and safeguards precious water resources. Learn more.