Colorado Wilderness and Broader Climate threatened by Arch Coal global mining company
Colorado’s West Elk Wilderness encompasses vast, untouched landscape that offers a truly wild experience. Avid back country skiers and riders and split board enthusiasts appreciate the isolated terrain against the Rocky Mountain views, free of roads and only accessible by foot and the occasional horse back. The area houses black bears, elk, goshawk, beaver ponds, lynx habitat, and Aspen groves. The West Elk Wilderness presents a paragon of freedom and beauty.
However, this wilderness and its adjacent Sunset Roadless Area now faces destruction. Arch Coal mining company, the second largest U.S. coal producer, puts the range in jeopardy with a giant coal mine expansion. The global coal mining company plans to obliterate the area to mine 173 million tons of coal from 1,700 acres of this land. The arena stages a familiar battle–Goliath, the corporation, pitted against David, the environment.
Opposition to the mine expansion stands on two grounds: localized wildlife and biodiversity conservation and broader climate concerns.
It is estimated that mining operations in this area would unlock up to half a billion tons of carbon pollution from mining and burning the coal. Groups worried about climate change strive to transition to proven, cost-effective renewable energy sources rather than to unearth more fossil fuels. Environmental groups say the execution of the plan would erase at least half of the methane reductions the state stands to achieve with new air pollution rules for the energy industry.
Arch Coal spokeswoman Logan Bornacorsi said West Elk Mine in Somerset is operating as normal. The expansion, she said, remains important to the mine, its 320 employees and the regional economy.
This exact expansion plan got overruled by a lawsuit in 2014. The federal judge ruled that the Forest Service and BLM should have considered the climate impacts of mining and burning coal when the agencies approved the expansion two years before.
Interest in considering health and environmental concerns falls in line with the Obama Administration’s thinking. In January, the federal government ordered a temporary prohibition on new leases for coal mines on federal land.
Oddly enough, the fact that this project was previously denied presents a loophole for Coal Arch mining company. The temporary prohibition does not apply to pending leases, including leases “undergoing re-evaluation after having been vacated by judicial decision.” This fine print allows Coal Arch to continue their proposal to bulldoze the West Elk Wilderness.
We observe a pivotal moment, when environmental and climate considerations stand at the forefront of both business and individual concerns. We are grateful to see a time when society and corporations are considering environmental impact like never before.
If you would like to protect Colorado’s Sunset Wilderness Area, click here. Weigh in on this issue in the comments below.