Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, March 25, 2021


Allison Melton, Center for Biological Diversity, (970) 309-2008,
Matt Reed, High Country Conservation Advocates, (303) 505-9917,
Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians, (303) 437-7663,
Nathaniel Shoaff, Sierra Club, (415) 200-9778,

Federal Officials Urged to Deny Another Subsidy for West Elk Coal Mine in Colorado National Forest

DENVER— Conservation groups urged the Bureau of Land Management today to deny another request from Mountain Coal to lower its royalty rates for the West Elk coal mine in Colorado’s Gunnison National Forest.

In a letter to the director of Colorado’s BLM office, the groups said coal mine subsidies are incompatible with the Biden administration’s policy of ending such handouts to the fossil fuel industry.

“The West Elk mine emits staggering amounts of methane pollution to facilitate the extraction and eventual burning of millions of tons of coal while carving up public lands with a spiderweb of roads, pads, and infrastructure,” the letter said. “Given the climate change crisis, and the commitment of the Biden administration to tackling that crisis, the federal government should not be subsidizing this activity.”

Mountain Coal Company has asked the BLM to reduce the royalties it pays to federal and state governments for the coal it extracts on public lands from 8% to 5%, based on the coal’s value. The BLM approved the company’s 2016 request to reduce royalty payments. That same year Mountain Coal’s parent company, Arch Coal, paid its executives $8 million in bonuses despite being in bankruptcy proceedings. The state lost roughly $8 million from 2010-2015 because of an earlier royalty reduction.

“The West Elk coal mine is the largest industrial source of methane pollution in Colorado, and subsidizing that pollution is incompatible with America’s climate change policy. The application for royalty rate relief must be rejected,” said Matt Reed, public lands director at High Country Conservation Advocates in Gunnison County.

President Biden’s executive order on climate acknowledges the climate crisis and directs federal agencies to end fossil fuel subsidies.

“The BLM shouldn’t reward Mountain Coal for abusing these subsidies, disregarding the law and bulldozing some of Colorado’s most spectacular forests,” said Allison Melton, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We need to stop these outrageous handouts and transition away from the dirty fuels of the past to preserve a livable climate for our children and the wildlife that make Colorado wild. This starts with the BLM making the commonsense decision to deny this request.”

In March 2020 an appeals court ruled that the U.S. Forest Service broke the law by failing to consider an alternative that would protect the Gunnison National Forest’s Pilot Knob roadless area from coal mining. The court ordered the removal of road-building exemptions in all Colorado roadless forests with such exemptions. In June 2020 Mountain Coal bulldozed nearly a mile of road and scraped two well pads in violation of the court’s order.

“The Biden administration has made it clear that they care about the climate crisis and that they’re going to end fossil fuel subsidies,” said Sierra Club senior attorney Nathaniel Shoaff. “This is an opportunity to put those principals to work for people of Colorado who use and enjoy this spectacular backcountry.”

In October 2020 subsidence from mining operations swallowed part of South Prong Creek, leaving a 40-foot-wide hole and causing water to flow into the mine works. The Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety said Mountain Coal was negligent and fined the company $3,500.

Located in the iconic West Elk Mountains just east of the town of Paonia, the West Elk mine is one of the largest coal mines in Colorado. It is the single-largest industrial source of methane pollution in Colorado. In 2019 the mine released more than 440,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, equal to the annual emissions from more than 98,000 cars.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Based in Crested Butte since 1977, High Country Conservation Advocates protects the health and natural beauty of the land, rivers, and wildlife in and around Gunnison County now and for future generations.

WildEarth Guardians works to protect and restore the wildlife, wild places, wild rivers, and health of the American West.

Wilderness Workshop is a non-profit organization engaged in research, education, legal advocacy and grassroots organizing to protect the ecological integrity of local public lands. Wilderness Workshop is based in Carbondale, Colorado and has more than 700 members.

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