Forest Service approves Colo. mine expansion in roadless area
Written byMANUEL QUINONES, E&E
The Forest Service is giving the Bureau of Land Management its consent to a controversial mine expansion in a Colorado roadless area, a key step in the permitting process.
In its environmental impact statement and record of decision, announced in this morning's Federal Register, the Forest Service consented to the construction of methane drainage wells and associated access routes in the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests. It cited the new Colorado roadless area as key in the decisionmaking.
"This exemption was crafted to allow construction of temporary roads needed for coal mining activities," said the record of decision. "These temporary roads would not have been allowed under the 2001 Roadless Rule, and the project proponent has said that absent these roads, coal mining would not occur."
BLM, which is conducting its own review into Arch Coal Inc.'s 1,700-acre expansion of the West Elk mine in Gunnison County, said it was necessary to conduct the two lease modifications "to prevent the bypassing of about 10.1 million recoverable tons of federal coal."
Earlier this year, the Forest Service scrapped a previous approval for the project after an appeal from environmentalists, who are trying to stop West Elk's expansion. They promised to appeal the latest decision.
"For anyone who loves our wild forestlands, this is a tremendous letdown," said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians' climate and energy director. "The Obama administration seems to be going to such lengths to facilitate expanded coal mining that they're putting a treasured roadless area on the chopping block."
He added, "To boot, they're authorizing more methane waste, an unconscionable act not only given its global warming implications, but given also that the gas in this case is a public resource that at the least should be making American taxpayers some money."
The Forest Service said that methane capture issues were not under its jurisdiction. It also set aside its own environmentally preferable alternative because of a "relatively small environmental footprint difference."
The Forest Service said its decision consented to the disturbance of 72 acres and a recovery of more than 10 million tons of coal, extending the mine's life for more than a year.
Acting Forest Supervisor Sherry Hazelhurst wrote: "I determined that the economic benefits of Alternative 3 outweigh the environmental effects of disturbing a small amount of NFS lands for a short period of time as assessed in Alternative 4."