When you hear the words “roadless forest,” do you think “coal mine”? Yeah, us either.
Right now, there’s a major threat to western Colorado’s Sunset Roadless Area, a pristine forest in the Gunnison National Forest managed by the US Forest Service (USFS). Arch Coal, the nation’s second-largest coal producer, is on track to destroy thousands of acres of public lands and mine over 170 million tons of coal in the area if the USFS doesn’t take action and withdraw a proposed loophole in the Colorado Roadless Rule. And if the US wants to stay on track to meet its global emission reduction targets, we need to keep coal in the ground. Period.
If the Colorado Roadless Rule and Arch Coal’s efforts to mine coal in Colorado’s forests doesn’t ring a bell, you’re not alone. In this post, we’ll break down the Colorado Roadless Rule, explain what role it plays in this story, and let you know what you can do to help.
What is the Colorado Roadless Rule?
The Colorado Roadless Rule is a US Forest Service rule for conserving and managing 4.2 million acres of National Forest System wilderness in the state of Colorado. In part, the rule prevents the building of roads in support of logging or other activities. However, when the rule was first established in the summer of 2012, it included an exception for coal-related activities in the 19,100-acre North Fork Coal Mining Area, meaning the USFS essentially approved mining in one specific part of the National Forest System lands.
Then in September 2014, thanks to a successful lawsuit filed by High Country Conservation Advocates, WildEarth Guardians, and the Sierra Club, the US District Court of Colorado found the the Colorado Roadless Rule Environmental Impact Statement to be in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. That might sound like a lot of jargon, but the takeaway is that the court’s ruling resulted in the North Fork Coal Mining Area exception being removed from the rule – a very good turn of events. Which brings us to today.
What is Arch Coal trying to do?
Now, Arch Coal—a company that filed for bankruptcy in January 2016—has been and continues to seek the reinstatement of the North Fork exception. The bankrupt coal producer wants to expand its current mining operation by bulldozing thousands of acres of untouched forest in western Colorado and mining an estimated 173 million tons of coal.
How will Arch Coal’s efforts hurt the environment and our climate?
The stakes are not small here. Extracting that much coal from the ground could result in up to 486 million tons of carbon being released into the air and add to the millions of cubic feet of methane the mine already releases every day. It’s no secret that carbon pollution is the greatest driver of climate change – thanks to the 30-billion-plus metric tons released every year – causing global temperatures to rise at their fastest rates in millions of years. Methane, on the other hand, accounts for just about 10 percent of all US emissions – but those emissions pack a real punch, trapping 86 times more heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide over 20 years.
If Arch Coal expands its mining operation, analysts also predict dire costs, resulting in up to almost $13 billion in damages to the economy and environment. It boils down to this: an exception to the Colorado Roadless Rule for Arch Coal would not only have an impact on our climate and our economy, but would also undermine the incredible progress the US has made in addressing climate change in recent years.
What can you do to help?
While the negative climate impacts of Arch Coal’s possible expansion may seem obvious, the proposed North Fork exception to the Colorado Roadless Rule has even wider-reaching implications. If the USFS decides to allow the exception, even considering the climate impacts outlined in its own environmental impact analysis, the decision creates a very dangerous precedent.
Fortunately, we can all take action today to help stop Arch Coal. Until April 12, the USFS is accepting public comments on its plans to modify the company’s coal lease and exploration plan. If approved by the USFS, this plan would expand Arch Coal’s acreage and could put bulldozers, drill pads, and methane vents in Colorado’s Sunset Roadless Area.
The USFS needs to hear that the public doesn’t support Arch Coal profiting at the expense of our beautiful lands and our climate. Join us by adding your voice to the thousands of others to ensure that Colorado coal stays in the ground. We only have until April 12 to make our voices heard – so make sure to submit your comment today.