The Denver Post - - NEWS - Bruce Fin­ley: 303-954-1700, bfin­ley@den­ver­post.com or @fin­ley­bruce

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.

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