Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, November 17, 2016

Contact: Taylor McKinnon (801) 300-2414

Obama Kicks Off Trump's Dirty Energy Agenda by Moving to Open
Colorado Roadless Forest to Climate-destroying Coal

Roadless Rule Loophole Could Cause Vast Carbon Pollution,
Undermine Obama Administration Climate Goals

DENVER, Colo.— A U.S. Forest Service plan released today proposes to reopen a gaping loophole in the Colorado Roadless Rule that would allow Arch Coal to expand coal mining across about 20,000 acres of pristine, high-country forest and crucial wildlife habitat in western Colorado. Tens of thousands of people have urged the Obama administration to abandon the plan because of its threats to the climate and public lands.

Mount Gunnison
Mount Gunnison, Sunset Roadless Area. Photo by Ted Zukoski. Photos are available for media use.

If enacted, the decision would result in the mining of 172 million tons of coal over 17 years and at least 443 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions.

“Opening pristine backcountry for coal mining in the face of a global climate crisis is dangerously backward public policy,” said Taylor McKinnon with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Instead of setting the table for Trump’s dirty energy agenda, Obama should nix this plan on his way out the door.”

Today’s environmental analysis is the latest in a long series of decisions affecting coal mining in the West Elks. Originally protected from tree-cutting and road-building by the Forest Service’s 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, the Sunset Trail and Pilot Knob roadless areas again came under threat from mining in 2012 when the Forest Service approved a Colorado-specific roadless rule allowing new coal mine methane drainage pads in the area.

The loophole was thrown out by the U.S. District Court of Colorado in 2014 because the Forest Service failed to consider the climate change impacts of millions of tons of federal coal, which could result in more than half a billion tons of carbon pollution from mining and burning the coal.

The Sunset Trail and Pilot Knob roadless areas threatened by new methane drainage pads for expansion of Arch Coal’s West Elk Mine are home to spectacular aspen groves and mountain vistas, black bears, beaver ponds, rare and sensitive amphibians and watersheds supporting endangered native fish.

Today’s announcement flies in the face of the United States’ commitment in the Paris Climate Accord to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. Recent studies have shown that the greenhouse gas pollution that would result from developing fossil fuels beyond those already under production is incompatible with that goal.

“The science is clear — it’s climate insanity to be considering any new public lands coal mining in 2016,” McKinnon said. “It’s alarming to see the Obama administration ushering in Trump’s dirty energy agenda by sacrificing Colorado’s pristine backcountry for a climate-destroying coal company.”

In 2012, the Forest Service adopted the Colorado Roadless Rule, which generally banned road construction on 4 million acres of the state’s most wild, remote forest lands. The rule, however, contained a number of loopholes, including one permitting road construction on 19,000 acres of roadless forest north and east of Paonia, Colo., to benefit future coal mining proposals there.

In 2013, the Forest Service approved Arch Coal’s proposal to fragment the forest by building six miles of road and clearing the forest for 48 industrial pads for methane drainage wells in the Sunset Roadless Area, a project only made possible by the coal mining loophole.

Conservation groups sued to halt the project in part on the grounds that the Forest Service failed to disclose the extent of carbon pollution generated by mining and burning the 350 million tons of coal made possible by the Colorado Roadless Rule. In June 2014, a federal court sided with the groups, ruling that the Forest Service broke the law by sweeping climate pollution impacts under the rug, and subsequently threw out the coal mine loophole.

The court’s ruling left the door open for the Forest Service to revive the loophole if the agency undertook a new analysis that adequately disclosed the climate pollution the loophole would cause.

Photos of the Sunset Roadless Area are available here.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.1 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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