mitment to reducing pollution linked to climate change.
While the 2001 rule applies to forests nationwide, Colorado and Idaho pushed for state-specific rules that could give greater flexibility for economic development. Colorado’s rule, done in 2012, covers 400,000 acres more than the 2001 rule it replaced, and it increased protection for 1.2 million acres deemed high-quality, while also allowing possible expansion of ski areas on about 8,000 acres.
Colorado leaders then pressed for the exception for coal mining in the North Fork Valley.
In 2014, a federal court rejected a Forest Service decision to grant the exception, ruling that Forest Service officials failed to consider adequately the climate change impacts of mining, which would extract as much as 350 million tons more coal.
Forest Service officials’ latest version of the exception reduces the amount of coal that temporary roads and drilling pads would enable to 173 million tons.
Coal mining long has played a key role in the western Colorado economy. But most of the mines in the North Fork Valley have closed amid competition from natural gas as a source of energy to generate electricity. The coal companies that once employed hundreds in the valley now are tasked with restoring damaged land. But West Elk, despite an Arch Coal bankruptcy, has managed to keep producing — with a workforce of about 300 — struggling to stay alive as long as is economically feasible.