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Forest Service releases draft EIS for Arch's proposed West Elk mine expansion

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Forest Service releases draft EIS for Arch's proposed West Elk mine expansion

The U.S. Forest Service has produced a supplemental draft environmental impact statement on the controversial proposal for the expansion of an Arch Coal Inc. mine in Colorado.

The U.S. Forest Service approved a modification of the Colorado Roadless Rule last year, which allowed for the development of about 20,000 acres for the so-called North Fork Coal Mining Area in the Gunnison National Forest, an area where roads are normally not permitted.

This 1,000-page draft EIS statement, released in June, focuses on the impact of the project itself.

"We are pleased the process is moving ahead and we look forward to the advancement of the project," Logan Bonacorsi, spokesperson for Arch, told S&P Global Market Intelligence. "While we won't know definitively how much coal is located on the lease modifications until we conduct exploration, we expect the addition of these reserves to extend the life of the West Elk mine – which currently supports more than 200 direct and many more indirect jobs."

Environmental groups criticized the project.

"This is a bad proposal on multiple levels," Ted Zukoski, staff attorney with Earthjustice, told S&P Global Market Intelligence. He argued that the mine is bad for the area because it is going to add drilling pads and roads, among other things. "It's going to devastate the roadless area there."

Zukoski said this draft EIS, produced under the Trump administration, fails to look at the social cost of carbon.

Allison Melton, staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a release that the expansion of the West Elk mine was "madness for the climate" and a bad deal for Coloradans. "Bulldozing important aspen groves to mine coal and vent methane into the atmosphere is exactly the sort of senseless destruction we've come to expect from the Trump administration," she said.

A comment period for the draft EIS ends July 24. After that, the Forest Service will make a decision which stakeholders will have a certain period to comment on as well.