Colorado Gov. Hickenlooper's Climate Plan Ignores Arch Coal's Mine Pollution
Colorado's number-one source of dangerous methane gas
Matt Reed, High Country Conservation Advocates, (970) 349-7104, firstname.lastname@example.org
Allison Melton, Center for Biological Diversity, (970) 309-2008, email@example.com
DENVER— Gov. John Hickenlooper’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions ignores Colorado’s number-one source of dangerous methane pollution ― the West Elk coal mine near Paonia, Colo. The governor’s Colorado Climate Plan is open for public comment through Nov. 3.
The West Elk Mine, owned by the St. Louis-based Arch Coal, spewed more methane into the air from 2011 through 2016 than any other man-made source in Colorado, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency. In 2016 West Elk was the state’s worst source of methane pollution.
“Hickenlooper’s so-called climate plan is a gift to Arch Coal that lets this huge corporate polluter off the hook,” said Allison Melton, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “The governor needs to put the health of Colorado residents above special interests and ensure that West Elk’s methane emissions are captured.”
Methane at the West Elk Mine is vented directly into the atmosphere. Mines can reduce methane pollution significantly by flaring the gas, putting it in a pipeline for household use or using it to generate power. But Arch Coal, which operates the mine on public land, has repeatedly refused to implement these measures.
The draft Colorado Climate Plan, released to the public in early October, identifies financial subsidies to encourage methane capture or flaring, but fails to recommend any limits on coal mine pollution.
“It’s long past time for state and federal regulators to stop giving dirty coal mines a free pass to pollute,” said Matt Reed of High Country Conservation Advocates. “If the Colorado Climate Plan is going to be successful, it has to set forth the steps that will halt our home-grown climate pollution, not merely mildly mitigate them at best.”
In 2016 West Elk Mine spewed more than 16,000 tons of the heat-trapping methane gas into Colorado air — the equivalent more than 400,000 tons of carbon dioxide. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is a greenhouse gas on steroids, trapping about 87 times more heat than carbon dioxide.
“The West Elk Mine has been treating our air and our climate as a sewer for far too long,” said Shannon Hughes of WildEarth Guardians. “It’s time for that to end.”
Colorado has adopted rules to control methane pollution from oil and gas operations, but has done nothing to regulate coal mine emissions. Hickenlooper’s administration has rejected recommendations from its own inspectors to require coal mines to file permits disclosing other pollutants emitted when methane is vented.
In September the Trump administration proposed approval of an expansion of the West Elk Mine into 1,700 acres of roadless wildlands in the Gunnison National Forest. If approved, the expansion would include exploratory drilling and miles of road construction to mine 17 million tons of coal within pristine forest that provides habitat for black bear, elk, beaver and lynx.