National Roadless Rule Overlooked in Colorado
The U.S. Forest Service issued a decision Nov. 8 that literally paves the way for conglomerate Arch Coal to build up to 48 well pads and 6.5 miles of road into pristine roadless lands about ten miles east of Paonia, Colo. This decision permits a 1,700-acre expansion of Arch’s West Elk coal mine, one of the state’s largest greenhouse gas polluters.
The Obama administration’s action comes on the heels of the recent decision by the Denver-based Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the 2001 National Roadless Rule, court action in which the administration defended that rule. The National Roadless Rule prohibits road construction on about 4 million acres of roadless forest in Colorado, including the Sunset Trail Roadless Area that Arch Coal would develop.
“The Forest Service is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with Earthjustice, a public interest law firm that defended the 2001 National Roadless Rule in courtrooms across the nation for the last decade.
The majority expansion is within the Sunset Trail Roadless Area, a pristine landscape of beaver ponds and aspen and conifer forests which provides habitat for lynx, elk and black bear adjacent to the scenic West Elk Wilderness Area. The Obama administration’s decision will likely turn this wild roadless area into an industrial zone of well pads and roads, with an average of 18 wells pads—and two miles of road—per square mile.
“The administration should not be paving the way for an incursion into roadless lands when a court has just upheld its authority to protect those lands,” Zukoski said. “This administration promised to protect Colorado roadless areas as well or better than the 2001 Roadless Rule required. It doesn’t look like they intend to live up to that promise.”
The administration is considering a Colorado-specific rule that, unlike the National Roadless Rule, will allow dozens of miles of road to be built in 20,000 acres of roadless areas to meet the desires of several coal companies hoping to develop these wild areas for mining. The administration received more than 30,000 comments opposing the coal mines in May 2010.
“With this decision, we know what the administration’s proposed Colorado roadless rule would mean—miles of roads, well pads and a maze of destruction on stunning landscapes right next to one of the state’s flagship wilderness areas,” said Suzanne Jones, Colorado regional director for The Wilderness Society.
Although the West Elk coal mine is underground, safe coal mining in the North Fork Valley 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. Methane venting makes the West Elk coal mine one of the largest sources of greenhouse gases in Colorado.
West Elk’s methane pollution also wastes a valuable commodity—natural gas. 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 project is a lose-lose-lose proposition,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy coordinator for WildEarth Guardians. “The public loses a fantastic wild area, loses millions in potential royalties from methane that is wasted instead of captured, and loses due to the massive pollution the mine causes. It’s time the Forest Service stood up to Big Coal and said no to this kind of damaging expansion.”
- Video documenting threats to Sunset Trail Roadless Area
- High resolution images of the Sunset Trail Roadless Area
- Pictures of current methane venting at the West Elk coal mine
- Comments of conservation groups Colorado Wild (now Rocky Mountain Wild), WildEarth Guardians, High Country Citizen’s Alliance, Wilderness Workshop, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Defenders of Wildlife criticizing the Forest Service’s initial proposal (from May 2010)
- Forest Service map of the proposed lease modification boundaries
- The Forest Service’s decision
For more information, click here.
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They also encounter what some call an "infodemic," an outbreak of misinformation that's making it more difficult to treat patients.
When Leaders and Doctors Spread Misinformation<p>When people in charge of towns, cities, states, and countries spread misinformation, the potential for belief in misinformation to result in policies can have harmful effects.</p><p><a href="https://www.northwell.edu/find-care/find-a-doctor?q=Bruce+E.+Hirsch%2C+MD&insurance=&location=&query_type=provider&physician_partners=false&default_view=list&gender=&language=&sort=relevancy" target="_blank">Dr. Bruce E. Hirsch</a>, attending physician and assistant professor in the infectious disease division of Northwell Health in Manhasset, New York, says an example of this is when President Trump informed the public he was taking hydroxychloroquine as a preventive measure.</p><p>"To approach this enormous challenge, we need some intellectual honesty and clarity, and to disregard expertise and to make decisions and model decisions based on hunches is inviting us to handle challenges on the basis of rumor and uninformed opinion. The magnitude of that error is epic," Hirsch told Healthline.</p><p>Stukus agrees, noting that the harm of this proclamation is documented.</p><p>"Early on when the president touted the benefits of hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin, people started to hoard this medicine, and state boards had to shut it down because they were getting so many prescriptions for this unproven therapy that it was not available for those who truly needed it, such as those who have lupus and autoimmune conditions," Stukus said.</p><p>He adds that calls to poison control centers increased after the president suggested using disinfectant to prevent contracting the new coronavirus.</p>
Listen to Science, Even When it Changes<p>When recommendations change or evidence flip-flops, skepticism may arise. However, Stukus says change is the beauty of science.</p><p>"That shows us that we can evolve, and if the evidence shows that our prior thoughts were incorrect, we need to be able to change our recommendations and advice based upon the best quality of evidence at the time," he said.</p><p>Pierre agrees.</p><p>"Science is an iterative process, whereby we arrive at facts and truth through repeated and controlled observations. That means that it's inherently self-correcting as we revise conclusions based on ongoing research. Scientific facts aren't immutable dogma chiseled on a tablet. They change based on the best available evidence we have at a given point in time," he said.</p><p>Because research of COVID-19 has only been underway for 6 months, information is evolving rapidly, and new information may contradict old.</p><p>"There's still much we don't know about exactly how [COVID-19] spreads, what effects it has on the body, or how to best treat it. That means that the best available evidence is preliminary, but that doesn't mean that we should ignore it or turn to other sources of information or opinion as if they're just as valid," Pierre said.</p><p>He explains that conspiracy theories based on mistrust lead to vulnerability to misinformation.</p><p>If people mistrust science because it sometimes "changes its mind," Pierre said, "that shouldn't be used to embrace other opinions based on no evidence at all, which are typically selected based on confirmation bias: what we want to believe rather than what the objective evidence supports."</p>
Where to Find the Best Information<p>Stukus says to start with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html" target="_blank">CDC</a> and <a href="https://www.nih.gov/health-information/coronavirus" target="_blank">NIH</a>. Then check with your local health officials, because COVID-19 guidelines may vary depending on where you live.</p><p>If you can't find information you need or have questions specifically related to you, call your primary care doctor.</p><p>"Your personal doctor should always be a resource for individual specific questions because they know best how to apply all the nuances retaining to your health, and how to incorporate all the other general [COVID-19] recommendations," Stukus said.</p><p><a href="https://www.eehealth.org/find-a-doctor/b/boyd-laura-b/" target="_blank">Dr. Laura Boyd</a>, primary care physician at Edward-Elmhurst Health Center in Elmhurst, Illinois, says her clinic receives a lot of calls about COVID-19.</p><p>"Most doctors' offices are receiving calls and answering questions, and doing phone or video visits to help clarify and/or order testing over the phone based on patients' symptoms. It is always best to call your doctor's office first instead of worrying about symptoms and waiting too long to seek treatment," she told Healthline.</p><p>If your primary care doctor has limited testing, she suggests looking on your state's public health website for available testing sites.</p><p>With a lot of unknowns related to this virus and disease, Boyd says many patients are feeling overwhelmed and anxious for a treatment.</p><p>"Unfortunately, there is no specific medication recommended for COVID for outpatient. There are a lot of ongoing studies with various drugs going on within the hospital setting. Patients should always contact their doctors about their specific symptoms as they can treat the symptoms that go along with COVID, but there is no cure," Boyd said.</p><p>While we wait for treatment and a vaccine, Hirsch, who treats patients hospitalized for COVID-19 complications on a daily basis, says everyone can do their part by washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart.</p><p>"As an infectious disease doctor working in the hospital, I see the damage of the pandemic and the worst cases of what's happening. We are trying to get the best possible outcome and confronting this overwhelming biologic reality of this terrible epidemic the best we can," Hirsch said.</p><p>Everyone at home can help in the fight too, he adds.</p><p>"Follow information that is science- and evidence-based, and avoid that which is not," he said.</p>
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