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Colorado roadless rule exception reinstated

Parts of Colorado Roadless Area open to mining related activities

By Alissa Johnson

On Monday, the U.S. Forest Service reinstated an exception to the Colorado Roadless Rule that allows for mining related activities in parts of the roadless area. The rule becomes effective on February 17, and opens the door for Arch Coal’s West Elk Mine to mine beneath 1,700 acres of roadless forest on the west side of Kebler Pass.

The exception to the Colorado Roadless Rule was recently reevaluated through a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) after a federal judge ruled that the Forest Service had failed to fully quantify and analyze carbon emissions.

By reinstating the exception, the Forest Service is allowing for the temporary construction of roads for coal exploration, the collection and transport of coal mine methane and other coal-related surface activities.

Arch Coal is the only mine to have a pending application in the area in question, which would include building six miles of road and 48 drilling pads adjacent to the West Elk wilderness near Paonia.

According to a press release from High Country Conservation Advocates and WildEarth Guardians, the Forest Service could approve the leases within weeks.

HCCA would like to see the Forest Service take climate impacts related to the decision. more seriously. “Here in Colorado, climate change is already causing a longer fire season, more intense wildfires, drought, and more damaging insect infestations,” said Matt Reed, public lands director for HCCA. “The Forest Service should be battling climate change to save our forests, not sacrificing forests to make climate change worse.”

According to Reed, there are no longer administrative challenges available for the decision. Any challenge would have to take place in court. And while HCCA was part of past litigation challenging the exception, it’s too soon to tell whether they will do so again.

“HCCA is considering its options and will be taking a hard look at challenging this in court,” Reed said.

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