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Court forces Colorado coal company to pause construction

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Posted at 1:35 PM, Nov 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-01 15:35:33-05

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado coal mining company must temporarily stop building new roads in the Gunnison National Forest’s Sunset Roadless Area, a federal appeals court ruled.

The 10th U.S. Court of Appeals on Thursday temporarily blocked Mountain Coal Co. from constructing roads and drilling pads until federal courts chime in.

The 10th Circuit Court in March had blocked the coal company from building new roads in the area. But Mountain Coal, a subsidiary of Arch Resources, bulldozed about 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) of new road in the roadless area in early June, before the pandemic-delayed U.S. District Court could enforce the 10th Circuit Court’s March ruling on June 15.

Mountain Coal said that the Forest Service approved the construction of the new road.

Conservation groups filed several lawsuits urging federal courts to stop the coal company. They said the company ignored the March appeals court ruling.

Colorado’s Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety in June ordered Mountain Coal and its parent company, Arch Resources, to stop building roads in the area. In September, the division changed the order to allow the company to continue building mine ventilation bore holes and drill pads in one portion of the roadless area, the Colorado Sun reported.

The division’s decision was based on Mountain Coal providing evidence that the Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management approved the company’s road-building plans in the roadless area before the U.S. District Court’s June 15 enforcement of the 10th Circuit Court’s ruling.

The 5,800-acre (23 square kilometer) Sunset Roadless Area was established to protect wildlife habitat and undeveloped forests. Conservation groups have been fighting for years an exemption that allowed mining roadwork inside the Sunset Roadless Area.

Mountain Coal has worked to expand its West Elk Mine into the roadless area with roads and well pads to vent methane.

“Mountain Coal’s blatant disregard for past judicial decisions has resulted in damage and destruction to one of the wildest roadless landscapes in Colorado,” Matt Reed, public lands director at Gunnison County-based High Country Conservation Advocates, wrote to The Sun in a statement. “We are pleased that the 10th Circuit today blocked further drilling pad development in the Sunset Roadless Area, and we are eager to see this spectacular landscape protected for future generations rather than sacrificed for dirty coal extraction.”