HIGH COUNTRY NEWS 12-5-16 Roadless Rule Loophole

Dec 5, 2016
  • The West Elk Mine, with the Sunset Roadless Area in the distance.

    Chris Council/EcoFlight

A loophole in the 2012 Colorado roadless rule, which protects undeveloped areas in the state’s national forests, allows coal mines to expand operations on 20,000 acres in western Colorado. Environmental groups sued to block expansion of the West Elk Mine near Paonia, Colorado, because the federal government refused to assess the social cost of the greenhouse gases that the mining would produce. A court ordered it to make that assessment and removed the coal mining exemption (“The campaign against coal,” HCN, 11/9/15).

In November, the Forest Service proposed reinstating the exemption even though its analysis shows that mining the coal could create 433 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions and cost society billions of dollars. Robert Bonnie, undersecretary of Agriculture for natural resources and environment, justified the decision: “No one is under the belief that we’re going to immediately change the energy mix starting today. There’s going to be some level of coal for some time to come.”