This decision by Judge Jackson is the first of its kind and could greatly change the current threat that mining and burning fossil fuels have on our environment.
By Linn Smith
August 19, 2014—On June 2014, a judge in Colorado refused to allow expansion of the West Elk coal mine owned by Arch Coal Company. Arch Coal planned to plow a six mile road and expand the mine into a 1700 acre area of wilderness in Colorado. Why did the judge halt the road that had been approved by the BLM and Forest Service? Because Arch Coal Mine could not address the negative impacts that destroying the Colorado wilderness and extracting more coal for burning in power plants would cause. They failed to “adequately consider and disclose the impacts that a mine would have on climate disruption.”
“First of a Kind” Decision for Coal Mines
This decision by Judge Jackson is the first of its kind and could greatly change the current threat that mining and burning fossil fuels have on our environment. It’s the first time a judge told a big coal mine operation that their current way of thinking is no longer acceptable. Coal companies, in the past, have continually made statements that coal mines have no long term effect on our environment and, consequently, climate change. The judge stated that coal mine companies can no longer ignore the cost of destroying our planet for coal.
In 2013, the Sierra Club and several other environmental groups sued the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to block the expansion of the Arch Mine. The Forest Service and the BLM had earlier approved the new expansion ignoring the federal environmental laws that require, “full analysis and disclosure of environmental impacts, including the climate impact of any related carbon emissions.It is arbitrary to offer detailed projections of a project’s upside while omitting a feasible projection of the project’s costs.” This judgement will effect the future, mining companies will no longer be given a free ride for future expansion. Judge Jackson’s ruling holds the coal mines accountable. The BLM’s decisions to lease land to coal mines whenever requested, will now be questioned.
Arch Coal Claims No Harm to the Environment
Arch Coal Mine’s website states, “Arch Coal and our subsidiaries have a leading position in every major U.S. coal basin, with mining complexes in Wyoming, Colorado, Illinois, West Virginia, Kentucky, Virginia and Maryland. As a natural resource company, we take our responsibility to the land seriously. We integrate land reclamation into every phase of mining. Great care is taken to ensure that the land is restored to a natural and productive state once mining is complete. Out west, herds of elk, mule deer and pronghorn antelope thrive on previously mined lands. These herds benefit from more plentiful water sources and vegetative cover. Within a few seasons, these lands become virtually indistinguishable from the surrounding terrain.”
Arch Coal: No longer Business as Usual
Arch does not address the fact that coal mined on federal lands is emitting pollution when burned, causing extreme weather and a warming planet. Judge Jackson’s final statement counteracts the all-is-well attitude of the big coal companies: “BLM’s topsy-turvy approach on climate has brought us a federal coal binge that is indirectly subsidizing the coal industry(Arch Coal) and worsening climate disruption. The economic principles at play are not complicated. Broadly stated: if you reject a lease and take a large portion of a commodity (here coal, but it could have been natural gas, tar sands, etc.) off the market, you decrease the supply, increase the cost, and, over the long term, decrease the use of that commodity. Because switching from coal to cleaner and more affordable energy would result in less coal mined, less coal burned, and less carbon pollution emitted, BLM’s decisions do have a climate impact — and a big one at that.”
To maintain a healthy planet for future generations, business as usual will no longer work. All is not well with the big coal companies and it takes people like Judge Jackson to make it right for the survival of life on our planet!