Even if Arch Coal is allowed to vent methane directly into the atmosphere as part of a West Elk Mine expansion that will keep miners employed for a few more years, the industry’s days appear to be numbered in the North Fork Valley.
Mining jobs are important to the North Fork’s economy, so we hope they can be preserved for as long as possible — if nothing else, to give the region time to transition to a new economic reality. So it’s imperative for the mine and federal permitting agencies to reach an accord on how the mine deals with methane, lest those jobs becomes casualties of a methane-fueled controversy.
The Sentinel’s Dennis Webb has followed this story closely, quoting sources who point to the mine as Colorado’s largest single industrial emitter of methane — a potent greenhouse gas.
After a lawsuit by conservationists, a federal judge in 2014 vacated the North Fork mining exemption to Colorado’s Roadless Rule and canceled lease modifications Arch Coal obtained on two existing leases to allow for the eventual 1,700-acre expansion of its mine. The judge said the federal government failed to consider the climate-change impacts of its actions.