Forest Service Approves Coal Mine Expansion in Colorado Mountain Backcountry
The U.S Forest Service on Nov. 7 ruled against conservation groups’ challenge to the Forest Service’s approval of a coal mine expansion within the Sunset Roadless Area 10 miles east of Paonia, Colorado. The coal lease expansion, together with loopholes built into the Colorado Roadless Rule last July, will allow corporate giant Arch Coal to bulldoze 6.5 miles of road and 48 natural gas drilling pads through 1,700 acres—nearly three-square miles—of wild, roadless forest.
The appeal, filed in September 2012 with the Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Regional Forester in Denver, sought to overturn an August decision that affirming Arch Coal’s West Elk mine expansion into roadless lands that provide habitat for lynx, black bear, elk and goshawk. The conservation groups argued that the mine expansion violates laws meant to protect wildlife, air quality and forest lands, as well as the Colorado Roadless Rule.
“Smokey Bear has turned his back on Colorado’s natural, roadless lands,” said Ted Zukoski, staff attorney for Earthjustice, the public interest environmental law firm representing the groups. "Instead, Smokey has literally paved the way for a coal mega-corporation to destroy real bear habitat. The Sunset Roadless Area is a beautiful forest of aspen and giant spruce, beaver lodges and meadows, a home for elk and hawks. This is a place the Forest Service should be protecting for all Coloradoans, not sacrificing to appease special interests.”
“We will be examining all of our legal options going forward,” Zukoski added.
The appeal was filed by Earthjustice on behalf of the WildEarth Guardians, High Country Citizens’ Alliance, Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Wild and Defenders of Wildlife. The conservation groups won an appeal in February 2012, overturning the Forest Service’s initial approval of this expansion, when the Forest Service concluded that it had failed to explain weakened protections for lynx, bald eagles and measures meant to prevent landslides.
But when the Colorado Roadless Rule was adopted by the Obama administration in July in place of the National Roadless Rule, Colorado became subject to lower levels of protection for its roadless lands than for virtually all other roadless forest lands in the nation.
“The loopholes built in to the Colorado Rule leave 20,000 acres of pristine forest on Colorado’s West Slope open to destruction by coal mines,” said Matt Reed, acting director of High Country Citizens’ Alliance based in Gunnison County. “With this decision, the Forest Service rubber-stamped Arch Coal’s plan, and greenlighted use of these loopholes to bulldoze through wild forests.”
The Forest Service decision to permit the mine expansion could turn the Sunset Roadless Area, which is right next to the scenic West Elk Wilderness, into an industrial zone of well pads and roads, with an average of 16 wells pads—and two miles of road—per square mile. In addition to paving the way for bulldozing in the roadless area, the mine expansion decision allows continued uncontrolled methane pollution from the West Elk coal mine, one of the state’s single largest carbon polluters.
Although the West Elk coal mine is underground, safe mining there requires that methane venting wells be drilled above the mine. The West Elk mine spews millions of cubic feet of methane pollution every day. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 21 times more heat trapping ability than carbon dioxide.
Forest Service and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data show the amount of methane vented at West Elk could heat a city about the size of Grand Junction. But the Forest Service has refused to require the mine to capture, burn or reduce any of the mine’s methane pollution.
“This is a lose-lose-lose proposition,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy coordinator for WildEarth Guardians. “The public loses their mountain backcountry, loses millions of dollars from wasted methane and loses because of more coal pollution. The Forest Service needs to stand up to Big Coal, but now with a weaker Colorado Rule in place, this kind of destructive expansion could unfortunately happen again and again and again.”
Visit EcoWatch’s COAL pages for more related news on this topic.
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It's going to be back-to-school time soon, but will children go into the classrooms?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) thinks so, but only as long as safety measures are in place.
Keeping Schools Safe<p>What will safer schools look like?</p><p>In a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/2766822" target="_blank">JAMA article</a> published last month, <a href="https://www.jhsph.edu/faculty/directory/profile/1781/joshua-m-sharfstein" target="_blank">Dr. Joshua Sharfstein</a>, a pediatrician and professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, outlined suggestions — many of which are similar to AAP's.</p><p>Remote learning protocols must stay in place, especially as some schools stagger home and in-building learning. If another shutdown needs to occur, children will rely on distance learning completely, so it must be easy to switch to, he said.</p><p>He suggested giving parents a daily checklist to document their child's health. Kids should be screened quickly on arrival and be given hygiene supplies. Maintenance staff should use appropriate PPE and have regular cleaning schedules. A notification system should be in place if a case is identified, Sharfstein recommended.</p><p><a href="https://www.albany.edu/rockefeller/faculty/erika-martin" target="_blank">Erika Martin</a>, PhD, an associate professor of public administration and policy at University at Albany, said nutrition assistance and health services should be included. She called for tutoring programs with virtual options as well as technology access.</p>
Supporting Staff<p>Teachers and staff will be affected by safeguarding measures, noted <a href="https://directory.sph.umn.edu/bio/sph-a-z/rachel-widome" target="_blank">Rachel Widome</a>, PhD, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at University of Minnesota.</p><p>"In order for all of the in-school precautions to work well, we'll be asking a lot of teachers and staff," Widome told Healthline. In addition to their usual workload, they'll now be asked to monitor mask-wearing, ensure children are keeping distance, and be aware of any symptoms.</p><p>Along with Sharfstein, Widome called for an increase in financial support. More employees will likely be required so teachers and staff members can keep up with the added demands.</p>
Should Kids Go Back?<p>While these guidelines may help get some schools to reopen, many people don't think children should go back to school over fears they could contract the disease and spread it to other vulnerable family members like grandparents, infant siblings, or their parents.</p><p>In a <a href="https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2020/07/08/peds.2020-004879" target="_blank">Pediatrics</a> commentary, <a href="https://www.md.com/doctor/william-raszka-md" target="_blank">Dr. William V. Raszka, Jr.</a>, an infectious disease specialist at The University of Vermont Medical Center, argued that schools should open because school-aged children are far less important drivers of COVID-19 than adults.</p><p>But he says the risk and benefit is not equal among all students ages 5 to 18.</p><p>"Elementary schools are arguably higher priority for face-to-face schooling, since younger children are at lower risk for infection and transmission, and since parental supervision of younger children's distance learning may be particularly challenging," added Sorensen, who penned a <a href="https://jamanetwork.com/channels/health-forum/fullarticle/2767411" target="_blank">June article in JAMA</a> with reopening tips. "That means middle and high schools are more likely to emphasize distance learning."</p><p>Specific student populations, such as special education students and students with disabilities, would also benefit greatly from more time spent in face-to-face environments, Sorensen said.</p>
What Parents Can Do<p>Parents should ask for and receive frequent updates from schools about plans for the fall. They should also be informed about plans if and when COVID infections are identified, Sharfstein said.</p><p>"I'd like to see parents investing now, during the summer, in doing things that can slow and stop the spread of the virus in their communities," Widome said.</p><p>"Now is a good time for kids to practice wearing masks and get used to them as they may be wearing them for longer stretches if school starts up in person," Widome suggested.</p><p>She recommends parents try different mask designs and materials to see what children are more comfortable wearing.</p><p>"If you are using cloth face coverings, it's good to have extras on hand," Widome added.</p><p>Parents should model healthy behavior at home and while out in public — another thing that could affect how well children adapt to reopening practices, Sorensen said.</p><p>"Children may want to know more about face coverings," added <a href="https://www.linkedin.com/in/leescott/" target="_blank">Lee Scott</a>, chairwoman of the Educational Advisory Board at <a href="https://www.goddardschool.com/" target="_blank">The Goddard School</a>. "Dramatic play, such as creating or wearing a face covering, may help some children adjust to this concept." Schools can also show children photos of what faculty members look like in their masks so the students are familiar with that appearance.</p><p>Johns Hopkins University recently released its eSchool+ Initiative, a slew of resources surrounding education during the pandemic. These include a <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-checklist/" target="_blank">checklist for administrators</a>, report on <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/ethics-of-reopening/" target="_blank">ethical considerations</a>, and a tracker of <a href="https://equityschoolplus.jhu.edu/reopening-policy-tracker/" target="_blank">state and local reopening plans</a>.</p>
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