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Federal agency approves 1,720-acre expansion to West Elk coal mine in Colorado

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement approved a 1,720-acre expansion to Arch Coal Inc.'s West Elk mine in Colorado.

The agency, or OSMRE, approved the coal producer's plan to mine coal from the E seam using underground longwall mining techniques to produce about 4.5 million tons of coal a year, according to a Feb. 26 decision published March 15 in the Federal Register. The approval allows Arch to mine about 10 million tons of coal over three years. The expansion will disturb about 54 surface acres of federal and private land for construction and transportation purposes.

Although there has been an appeal filed challenging the expansion, the leases "are in effect" and the agency has the authority to adopt the U.S. Forest Service's supplemental final environmental impact statement on the modifications to the federal coal lease. That impact statement "adequately assesses and discloses the environmental impacts for the mining plan modification," according to the March 15 decision.

The OSMRE recommended approval of the mining plan without modifications to the Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management, a move that will take effect once the latter approves the adjusted mining plan.

The West Elk mine produced 4.7 million tons of coal in 2018, according to the U.S. Mine Safety and Health Administration.