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Environment

Conservation groups sue over coal mines in Colorado, Montana

A lawsuit against Colorado environmental agencies alleges they failed to ensure that the state's largest coal mine, West Elk Mine, complied with state and federal clean air laws

The West Elk Mine east of Somerset, on CO 133 Dec. 15, 2020. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Conservation groups filed lawsuits against state environmental agencies in Colorado and Montana this week targeting coal mines in the two states.

On Tuesday, five organizations including the WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against Colorado environmental agencies alleging they failed to ensure that the state’s largest coal mine, West Elk Mine, complied with state and federal clean air laws.

The complaint filed in Gunnison County District Court contends that Colorado state officials failed to approve or deny an air pollution permit required by the U.S. government within the 18 months allotted by state law.

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The federal permit, granted by state agencies, would allow greater oversight over the mine’s compliance with clean air laws and regulations, ensuring that the company was sufficiently restricting methane emissions. If the state denied the permit application, the mine would have to halt operations.

“These air pollution permits are so important for ensuring that Colorado’s largest polluters are operating in compliance with clean air laws,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians. “The state has been dragging their feet.”

West Elk Mine sits in Colorado’s North Fork Valley and is owned by Arch Resources, a company based in St. Louis. The mine produced more than 4 million tons of coal in 2019, according to the Colorado Division of Reclamation, and emits greenhouse gases, including methane.

Arch Resources did not immediately return a voicemail seeking comment. Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment spokeswoman Jessica Bralish also did not immediately return a voicemail and email seeking comment.

In Montana, two groups sued the state’s Department of Environmental Quality on Monday over an approved expansion of the Rosebud Mine, a coal strip mine near the Wyoming border.

They claim it will allow Colorado-based Westmoreland Energy to mine more than 60 million tons of coal over two decades, according to the complaint from the Montana Environmental Information Center and Sierra Club.

They allege officials ignored the future climate impacts from burning the coal in violation of state law.

Montana Department of Environmental Quality spokesperson Moira Davin said the agency is reviewing the complaint and could not yet comment.


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