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Trump Administration Pushes Coal Mining in Roadless Forest in Colorado

Forest Service Pushes to Mine Next to West Elk Wilderness, Giving Arch Coal Access to More Than 17 Million Tons of Coal

     by Center for Biological Diversity

DENVER— Just days after announcing the U.S. will exit the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration today pushed ahead with plans for another damaging action: a plan to approve Arch Coal’s proposal to lease 1,700 acres of roadless wildlands in the Gunnison National Forest for mining 17 million tons of coal. The plan, addressed in a draft environmental impact study, would greenlight exploratory drilling and road construction to expand the West Elk coal mine about 40 miles southwest of Aspen.

Mount Gunnison perched atop the Sunset Roadless Area. The aspen forests on the right would have been scarred by six miles of road and nearly 50 methane drainage well pads if the lease expansion had gone forward. Ted Zukoski / Earthjustice

Local, regional, and national conservation groups condemned the proposal.

“This coal mine expansion proposal brings Trump’s dirty energy agenda to Colorado,” said Matt Reed, public lands director for Gunnison County-based High Country Conservation Advocates. “Pristine forests, abundant wildlife, clean water, and a healthy snowpack are the cornerstones of our local economy and quality of life, and this destructive proposal threatens all of these values.”

The Colorado mine expansion plan follows high-profile Trump actions to allow coal mines and coal-fired power plants to foul America’s air and water, including killing rules meant to stop mines from dumping millions of tons of metal-laced waste rock into streams, rolling back measures limiting arsenic, lead and mercury pollution poured into rivers and lakes by coal-fired power plants, gutting protections that limit health-threatening air pollutants from such plants, and, last week, terminating America’s commitment to reduce planet-heating climate pollution pursuant to the Paris Agreement signed by more than 190 nations.

Under Arch Coal’s plan, more than six miles of roads will be bulldozed and as many as 48 drilling pads with vents to release methane will be built in the Sunset Roadless Area, which is adjacent to the West Elk Wilderness. The area is a rolling landscape of aspen and spruce-fir forests that provide habitat for black bear, elk, lynx and cutthroat trout.

Mining in this pristine area will create a spiderweb of roads and industrial facilities on 1,700 acres of public lands, similar to that already encroaching toward wilderness.

“Bulldozing aspen groves to mine coal is exactly the sort of senseless destruction we’ve come to expect from the Trump administration,” said Allison Melton, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But it’s madness for the climate and a raw deal for the people of Colorado, and we’re not going to sit still and let it happen.”

The Trump administration’s latest action exploits Colorado’s Roadless Rule loophole, reinstated last year after being thrown out by a lawsuit, which opened the door for road construction within about 20,000 acres of the Gunnison National Forest to subsidize coal mining.

The lease that the Forest Service is poised to approve will give Arch Coal access to more than 17 million tons of coal, extending the life of the West Elk mine by about three or four years. The company already has an estimated 10-year supply of coal under lease.

The West Elk mine was the single largest industrial source of methane pollution in Colorado from 2013 to 2015, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data. Methane — an immensely potent greenhouse gas — has more than 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide over the short term and is a major contributor to climate pollution. The West Elk mine emits so much methane that it wipes out a significant chunk of the benefit from the state’s trailblazing rule to limit waste methane from oil and gas wells.

The impact of pushing more coal into the energy market at a time when the demand for coal has dropped could undercut efforts to transition to a clean energy economy. A 2016 Forest Service study concluded that opening Colorado roadless forests to coal mining would displace renewable energy from the grid.

“While Arch Coal and the U.S. Forest Service may feel the political winds have shifted in their favor recently with the Trump administration, the harsh reality of this polluting coal mining expansion proposal remains the same,” said Jim Alexee, director of the Colorado Sierra Club. “These coal mining operations and the associated road construction will cause irreparable harm to our local air quality, to our climate, and to the wildlife living in the Sunset Roadless Area.”

“Giving away our western public lands to the coal industry isn’t energy independence, it’s a scheme to make executives and shareholders rich at our expense,” said Shannon Hughes, climate guardian for WildEarth Guardians.  “Our future is clean energy and vibrant public lands, not more fossil fuel giveaways in our backcountry.”

“Roadless areas are important for many of the wildlife species in our state including the federally threatened Canada lynx,” said Matt Sandler, staff attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild. “Sacrificing these areas to appease the interests of the coal industry is irresponsible public lands management.”

“At this point in history when climate change is already causing devastating impacts in Colorado and worldwide, it is unconscionable to continue mining and burning fossil fuels, especially on federal and public lands,” said Micah Parkin with 350 Colorado. “We must begin leaving fossil fuels in the ground and transitioning rapidly to Colorado’s abundant renewable energy if we are to have any chance of staying below the 1.5-2 degrees C global temperature rise that countries around the world have agreed to.”

“It’s shameless that our roadless public lands and prime wildlife habitat will now be leased to a coal company for its own profit,” said Shelley Silbert, executive director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “We need to transition to a future with clean energy jobs, clean air, and healthy communities, and not commit our public lands for more development that pollutes our water, air, and climate.”

The groups pledged to oppose the plan through public comments, which the Forest Service will accept through July 24.  The public can submit concerns about the proposal through the agency’s website: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=32459.

“This proposal is the latest example of the Trump administration’s apparent desire to ignore science, poison the air we breathe, and undermine our shared responsibility to be good stewards of the Earth,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice. “We’ll keep fighting Trump’s damaging mining plan because we need to protect what Coloradans love best about our state: clean air, scenic mountains, healthy streams, and vibrant wildlife populations.”

Read more the roadless area and what’s at stake.

See photos of the roadless areas the Forest Service opened to bulldozing, as well as of damage from Arch Coal’s ongoing mining operations to nearby forests.

Utah Lawmakers Scheme to Fund California Coal Terminal

By Center for Biological Diversity

SALT LAKE CITY­— Republican lawmakers in Utah are attempting an eleventh-hour maneuver that would use $53 million in state sales tax money to pay for a California coal-export terminal.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams (R-Layton) has proposed using $53 million in sales-tax revenue targeted for highway improvements to fund a proposed coal terminal in Oakland. The scheme would ship millions of tons of coal from four Utah counties to be burned abroad, further deepening the climate crisis. Under legislative rules, Wednesday is the last day bills can be taken up in committee to be considered this session, which has eight scheduled days remaining.

The redevelopment of the waterfront in Oakland, California, is generating new controversy over a proposed coal export terminal. Image: "Port of Oakland 'Round Sunset" by Russel Mondy/CC BY-NC 2.0

The redevelopment of the waterfront in Oakland, California, is generating new controversy over a proposed coal export terminal. Image: “Port of Oakland ‘Round Sunset” by Russel Mondy/CC BY-NC 2.0

“This is clearly a cynical maneuver to sneak legislation into the waning days of the session,” said Wendy Park of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It makes no sense to use highway-improvement money from Utah to build a coal terminal in California. On top of that, Utah would be doubling down on coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet and one of the primary reasons our climate’s in serious trouble.”

“With China’s coal consumption falling, and coal exports down more than 20%, this bill is a risky bet,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney at Earthjustice.  “Apparently, one of the few places it’s legal to gamble in Utah is at the state legislature, where it’s OK to raid taxpayers’ wallets to wager on an industry in historic decline.”

Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund, designed to offset the effects of mining on rural communities, last year agreed to loan $53 million to four Utah coal-producing counties, which planned to invest the money in the coal terminal. The state agency asked state Attorney General Sean Reyes to review the deal’s legality. The results of the review have not been made public.

“The lack of transparency in the attorney general’s office on this review makes one wonder whether there is a legal reason that the Community Impact Board review has not been made available and could explain this last-minute attempt to shift the burden of this scheme to taxpayers,” Park said.

“It’s clear this bill is being pushed because there’s concern that the CIB loan is illegal,” said Zukoski. “The Attorney General should release his analysis now – before the bill is considered – so the public can know whether SB 246 is also vulnerable to challenge.”

In a letter to Reyes in November, environmental groups, including the Center, Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Grand Canyon Trust, argued that the $53 million loan violated federal and state laws.

The proposed coal terminal that is to be built on a former Army base in Oakland has been vigorously opposed by Mayor Libby Schaaf and many city officials, faith leaders, residents and environmental groups in the Bay Area who do not want to see trainloads of dusty coal pass through their neighborhoods. Several bills have been introduced in the California legislature to block funding for the $1.2 billion terminal project over concerns about effects of transporting coal locally and the burning of coal globally.

China announced last week that it is closing more than 1,000 coal mines due to a “price-sapping supply glut” and the government’s new determination to clean up dangerous air pollution across the country.

The Obama administration has also paused all new federal coal leasing until a comprehensive review of the federal coal-leasing program is completed. Some of the coal that would supply the Oakland terminal could come from the publicly owned coal from the Greens Hollow mine, but the president’s coal moratorium offers no guarantee that this coal will be mined, making the legislature’s gambit to bet state sales tax revenue on the coal-export terminal a very questionable move.

BLM Utah Halts Oil and Gas Lease Sale

By Center for Biological Diversity

SALT LAKE CITY— Climate activists are celebrating today as the Bureau of Land Management made a last-minute decision to halt an oil and gas lease sale owing to a “high level of public interest.”

Photo by Andres Sheikh, Center for Biological Diversity

Photo by Andres Sheikh, Center for Biological Diversity

Dozens of citizens were planning to protest the auction on Tuesday morning in Salt Lake City. Instead they will now celebrate the Bureau’s decision to postpone the auction of 73,000 acres of publicly owned oil and gas in Utah—which harbor an estimated 1.6 million to 6.6 million tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. The planned protest had been led by Elders Rising, calling on the BLM to act to prevent catastrophic climate change and to ensure a livable future for generations to come.
The victory is the latest from a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to define his climate legacy by stopping new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans—a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution from escaping into the atmosphere. Similar “Keep It in the Ground” protests were held in Colorado and Wyoming in recent weeks and more are planned for upcoming lease sales in Reno, Nev., and Washington, D.C.

“The BLM knows the public is watching, and that they don’t want our lands and our climate auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said Valerie Love with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We pushed the BLM to stop this lease sale, and we won’t rest until all new fossil fuel lease sales on America’s public lands are ended.”

 

Center for Biological Diversity: 2.7 Million Animals Killed by Wildlife Services in 2014

For Immediate Release, April 13, 2015

Contact: Amy Atwood, (503) 504-5660, atwood@biologicaldiversity.org

New Data: 2.7 Million Animals Killed by Rogue Federal Wildlife Program in 2014

Ignoring Calls for Reform, Agency Shoots, Poisons and
Traps Tens of thousands of Coyotes, Bears, Wolves, Foxes

WASHINGTON— New data from the highly secretive arm of the U.S. Agriculture Department known as Wildlife Services reveals it killed more than 2.7 million animals during fiscal year 2014, including wolves, coyotes, bears, mountain lions, beavers, foxes, eagles and other animals deemed pests by powerful agricultural, livestock and other special interests.

Despite increasing calls for reform after the program killed more than 4 million animals in 2013, the latest kill report indicates the reckless slaughter of wildlife continues, including 322 gray wolves, 61,702 coyotes, 580 black bears, 305 mountain lions, 796 bobcats, 454 river otters, 2,930 foxes, three bald eagles, five golden eagles and 22,496 beavers. The program also killed 15,698 black-tailed prairie dogs and destroyed more than 33,309 of their dens.

Coyote snared by Wildlife Services in Nevada. Photo by Sacramento Bee.

Coyote snared by Wildlife Services in Nevada. Photo by Sacramento Bee.

“It’s sickening to see these staggering numbers and to know that so many of these animals were cut down by aerial snipers, deadly poisons and traps,” said Amy Atwood, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These acts of brutality are carried out every day, robbing our landscapes of bears, wolves, coyotes and other animals that deserve far better. Wildlife Services does its dirty work far from public view and clearly has no interest in cleaning up its act.”

Agency insiders have revealed that the agency kills many more animals than it reports.

Many animals – especially wolves, coyotes and prairie dogs – were targeted and killed on behalf of livestock grazers or other powerful agricultural interests. Wildlife Services does not reveal how many animals were wounded or injured, but not killed.

The new data also show that hundreds animals were killed unintentionally including 390 river otters, as well as hundreds of badgers, black bears, bobcats, coyotes, foxes, jackrabbits, muskrats, raccoons, skunks, opossums, porcupines and 16 pet dogs.

The data show that the federal program has refused to substantially slow its killing despite a growing public outcry, an ongoing investigation by the Agriculture Department’s inspector general, and calls for reform by scientists, members of Congress and nongovernmental organizations.

“Wildlife Services continues to thumb its nose at the growing number of Americans demanding an end to business as usual,” said Atwood. “This appalling and completely unnecessary extermination of American wildlife must stop.”

Just since 1996 Wildlife Services has shot, poisoned and strangled by snare more than 27 million native animals.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 825,000 members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Forest Service Approves Grand Canyon Uranium Mine Despite 26-year-old Environmental Review

by the Center for Biological Diversity

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK— The U.S. Forest Service announced late Monday that it will allow Denison Mines Corp. to begin excavating the “Canyon Mine” this fall without first updating the 26-year-old environmental impact statement for the uranium mine, located due south of Grand Canyon National Park on the Kaibab National Forest. The Service claims no new public review or analysis is needed because there is no new information or circumstances relevant to its original analysis.

“It is impossible to imagine how the Forest Service, with a straight face, can say that no additional environmental analysis is required for Canyon Mine, when the analysis is totally dated — more than 26 years old — and when so much has changed,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “This mine was and is hugely controversial as it threatens Native American cultural sites, groundwater and ultimately the springs of Grand Canyon, and numerous wildlife species. It is irresponsible to allow it to go forward without looking at these important issues and being honest with the public about the impacts.”

 

The Canyon Mine is located in the 1 million-acre watershed where new uranium mining was banned by the Obama administration in January. Although the so-called “mineral withdrawal” prohibits new mining claims and development on existing claims lacking valid existing rights, it allows development on claims whose existing rights are deemed valid— such as the ones the Forest Service just granted to Denison for the Canyon Mine based on “current economic conditions.” Four uranium mines within the withdrawal area, including the Canyon Mine, have been on standby status — neither operating nor reclaimed — since uranium-market downturns in 1992. One of those mines, Arizona 1, resumed operations in 2009.

“We now know uranium mining threatens permanent, irretrievable damage to Grand Canyon’s watershed, yet the Forest Service pretends we’ve learned nothing in the past quarter-century,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This dangerous proposal should never have been approved back in 1986, and rubber-stamping it a generation later is an insult to the public, American Indian tribes and Grand Canyon National Park.”

Uranium mining at the Canyon Mine threatens to contaminate and deplete shallow and deep aquifers that feed Grand Canyon’s springs. State and federal agencies do not require deep aquifer monitoring to detect contamination plumes, they do not require remediation plans or bonding for correcting aquifer contamination if it does occur, and they cannot guarantee such damage won’t occur.

“The Forest Service review ignores significant new evidence from the Orphan, Kanab North and other uranium mines that show how soil and water contamination can occur well beyond the mine sites,” said Roger Clark, Grand Canyon program director at the Grand Canyon Trust. “We are also disappointed that the review team did not include experts from the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service.”

The uranium industry has filed four separate lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s January decision to withdraw 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. Represented by attorneys at Earthjustice, the Havasupai Tribe, the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association and Sierra Club are intervening in each of those lawsuits to defend the decision to protect these lands.

Uranium pollution already plagues the Grand Canyon and surrounding area. Proposals for new mining have prompted protests, litigation, and proposed legislation. Because new mines threaten to industrialize iconic and regionally sacred wildlands, destroy wildlife habitat, and permanently pollute or deplete aquifers, scientists, tribal and local governments and businesses have all voiced opposition to new mining.

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Reblogged from Earth First! Newswire

Suit Filed Against Expansion of Navajo Coal Mine Polluting Four Corners Region

Reblogged from Earth First! Newswire:

by the Center for Biological Diversity

Click to visit the original post

Navajo Mine, by Kelly Michals

After decades of coal pollution from the 2040-megawatt Four Corners Power Plant and BHP Billiton’s 13,000-acre Navajo Coal Mine that supplies it, Navajo and conservation groups filed suit against the federal government late Tuesday for improperly rubber-stamping a proposal to expand strip-mining without full consideration of the damage and risks to health and the environment.

“The Navajo mine has torn up the land, polluted the air, and contaminated waters that families depend on,” said Anna Frazier of Diné CARE. “Residents in the area deserve a full and thorough impact analysis that is translated into the Navajo language to provide for real public participation, not another whitewash for the coal industry.”

Navajo Mine is located in San Juan County, N.M., on the Navajo Nation. Four Corners Power Plant, built in 1962, provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and is the largest coal-fired power plant source of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the United States. (NOx is associated with public-health impacts including respiratory disease, heart attacks and strokes). The legal action, brought under the National Environmental Policy Act, challenges the Office of Surface Mining’s decision to allow BHP Billiton to expand strip-mining operations into 714 acres of a portion of land designated “Area IV North” and the agency’s claim that the mine did not cause significant human health and environmental impacts.

The present Area IV mine expansion was proposed in the wake of Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment v. Klein (Diné CARE), 747 F. Supp. 2d 1234, 1263-64 (D. Colo. 2010). In that case, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled that a previous proposal to strip-mine all 3,800 acres of Area IV North violated the National Environmental Policy Act and ordered OSM to revisit its analysis under the Act.

Unfortunately, OSM’s new analysis only exacerbates the deficiencies of its first analysis. OSM’s analysis justified a finding of no significant impact in a vacuum by focusing only on a cursory analysis of impacts within the mine expansion’s perimeter and ignoring indirect and cumulative impacts from mercury, selenium, ozone, and other air and water pollutants caused by the combustion of coal at the Four Corners Power Plant and the plant’s disposal of coal ash waste generated by the coal mined from the expansion area.

“The way the approval was rushed through and the way OSM put on blinders to the cumulative reality of coal operations at the mine and the power plant is an injustice,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator with the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “It hides the true magnitude of the damage going on with coal in our region and the risks of green-lighting more of the same with no change.”

“Mercury and selenium pollution from coal mining and combustion is driving endangered fish extinct in the San Juan River while it threatens people’s health in nearby communities,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These are massive environmental problems facing the Four Corners region and people — problems the Office of Surface Mining can’t ignore any longer. ”

“Pollution and other impacts from coal mining and coal power plants broadly impact New Mexico’s rivers and streams, in particular the Chaco and San Juan rivers,” said Rachel Conn, projects director at Amigos Bravos. “These rivers must be better protected for agriculture, drinking water and fish.”

“Ultimately, we need to transition away from coal and towards clean, renewable energy from New Mexico’s abundant sun and wind,” said Nellis Kennedy-Howard with the Sierra Club. “As we make that transition, we need to account for the true magnitude of coal’s impact to human health and the environment.”

“When the federal government gets out the rubber stamp in a situation like this, where so much is at stake for clean air, vital waterways, and the people who depend on them, that leaves no alternative but legal action to try to ensure fairness and accountability,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who is representing the groups.

The lawsuit seeks a comprehensive analysis of the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant’s impacts to health and the environment to inform current and future coal-related decisions and help illuminate opportunities to transition away from coal toward clean, renewable energy generated by New Mexico’s abundant sun and wind.

Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (CARE), San Juan Citizens Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Amigos Bravos and the Sierra Club are represented in the case by the Western Environmental Law Center.

A copy of the filed lawsuit can be found here.