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EPA rejects air pollution permit for Colorado’s largest coal mine

Date
May 30, 2024
Contact
Katherine Merlin, Staff Attorney, WildEarth Guardians, kmerlin@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy, Colorado  
#COCleanAir, #ForceForNature, #PressStatement

GUNNISON, Colo.— The Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that Colorado’s air pollution permit for Arch Coal’s West Elk coal mine fails to meet Clean Air Act requirements for monitoring harmful smog-forming compounds.

The May 24 ruling, made public this week, came in response to a legal petition filed by the Center for Biological Diversity and WildEarth Guardians. That petition challenged the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment’s air pollution permit for the coal mine.

“The climate scored an important victory,” said Kate Merlin, staff attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “The West Elk coal mine is a relic of a bygone era of energy production that sacrificed some of Colorado’s most beautiful and ecologically important lands in the name of profit. The EPA’s rebuke of the state’s clearly inadequate permitting process gives us hope that a better, cleaner future is on the way.”

“This ruling is a critical rebuke of the Polis administration’s failure to make sure air pollution from the state’s largest coal mine isn’t harming Coloradans,” said Jeremy Nichols, a senior advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity. “I’m disappointed that Colorado officials continue to refuse to hold the coal industry accountable, but thankfully the EPA was willing to put its foot down and defend our clean air.”

The West Elk mine in Gunnison is the largest coal mine in Colorado. The mine vents large amounts of harmful gases, including volatile organic compounds and methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Volatile organic compounds react with sunlight to form smog, which damages lungs and forests. They also include compounds like benzene, a known carcinogen. Gas is released from mine ventilation shafts and venting wells drilled above the underground mining operations.

For years the West Elk mine operated without proper limits on volatile organic compound emissions. After being sued, coal company giant Arch agreed in 2022 to control its pollution and obtain a legally required permit to operate. The Department of Public Health and Environment finally issued the permit in August 2023 only after being ordered to by a Colorado judge.

In January the Center and WildEarth Guardians filed a formal petition urging the EPA to reject the West Elk mine permit as legally deficient because it failed to require adequate air pollution monitoring.

While denying some challenges, the EPA ruled that Colorado had failed to ensure proper monitoring of volatile organic compounds and compliance with legally required limits. The EPA ordered the Department of Public Health and Environment to revise the permit.

Under the Clean Air Act, Colorado officials have 90 days to respond to the EPA’s ruling and revise the flawed air-pollution permit.

More information about the Center’s fight against air pollution is available at Protecting Air Quality Under the Clean Air Act.

Arch Coal’s West Elk coal mine is the largest coal mine in Colorado.

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Other Contact
Jeremy Nichols, Center for Biological Diversity, jnichols@biologicaldiversity.org