For Immediate Release
Ted Zukoski, Earthjustice, (303) 996-9622
Groups Challenge Federal Decision to Waste Natural Gas, Ignore Global Warming at Colorado Coal Mine
Agencies reject multi-million dollar chance to capture gas, protect climate
DENVER - WildEarth Guardians and Earthjustice today called on federal
agencies to withdraw a permit for a Western Colorado coal mine
expansion that would waste massive amounts of methane and contribute to
Methane -- also known as natural gas -- is 21 times more potent than
carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere, yet is also a
valuable energy source.
"Not only is this a waste of valuable resources, it's worsening
global warming," said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program
Director for WildEarth Guardians. "We aim to put an end to this
needless waste and safeguard the climate."
In a lawsuit filed in federal court in Denver, WildEarth Guardians,
represented by the public interest law firm Earthjustice, challenges
the U.S. Forest Service and Department of Interior for ignoring global
warming impacts of enlarging the West Elk coal mine. The lawsuit aims
to overturn the decision authorizing the mine to expand and vent 7
million cubic feet of methane daily.
The Forest Service estimates that the amount of wasted methane would
be enough to heat more than 34,000 homes for 12 years. Based on current
natural gas prices, the methane's value would be approximately $21
million annually and more than $250 million over the life of the mine
"This is the ultimate hypocrisy," said Nichols. "While the Bush
Administration is clamoring for more and more natural gas drilling in
Colorado, they're authorizing a massive waste of this valuable
The West Elk coal mine, near Paonia in Gunnison County, is operated
by Mountain Coal Company, a subsidiary of Arch Coal, a multinational
coal company based in St. Louis. Last July, the Forest Service and
Interior Department permitted Arch Coal to expand the mine, drill 168
drainage wells to vent methane, and build nearly 23 miles of new roads
on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests.
Methane must be released from a coal seam before it can be safely
mined. But rather than venting, the gas can be captured for use or, as
a last resort, flared. These alternatives were not seriously reviewed
by the agencies, yet a number of coal mines throughout the U.S., and
even the world, are capturing methane and safely flaring. In August
2007, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency pointed out that the
West Elk Mine was the fourth largest emitter of methane from an
underground coal mine in the U.S. and one of only 12 mines in the
country that does not capture vented methane for use.
The decision by the Forest Service and Interior Department comes at
the heels of Gov. Bill Ritter's April 2008 executive order calling for
a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases below 2005 levels by 2020
and an 80 percent reduction by 2050. The agencies predict that the
volume of wasted methane will increase Colorado's greenhouse gas
pollution by more than 1 percent, defying Gov. Ritter's greenhouse gas
reduction goals and putting the climate at increasing risk.
"The federal government is allowing this massive release of methane
just as we're beginning to tackle climate change here in Colorado,"
said Ted Zukoski, the Earthjustice attorney who filed the suit on
behalf of WildEarth Guardians. "It not only undercuts our governor, but
undercuts progress toward meeting our greenhouse gas reduction goals."
Today's lawsuit charges the Forest Service and Department of the
Interior for violating the National Environmental Policy Act by failing
to even consider alternatives to methane venting and to account for the
impacts of methane venting on global warming.
See the complaint here.