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Guardians Condemns Coal Corruption Within Trump Administration

March 14, 2019
Jeremy Nichols, (303) 437-7663, jnichols@wildearthguardians.org
In This Release
Climate + Energy  
Denver—WildEarth Guardians today is condemning the Trump Administration’s plans to rubberstamp coal mine expansions on public lands in the American West.

“Trump is selling out the American public interest to the coal industry,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director.  “It’s clear our federal government is no longer in the business of serving Americans, but instead is in the business of sacrificing our climate, lands, and clean energy future to appease coal company executives.”

In notices published today, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining announced its intent to approve two coal mine expansions, one in Colorado and one in New Mexico.

In New Mexico, the agency wants to approve an expansion of the San Juan mine, which is owned by the formerly bankrupt, Westmoreland Coal.

The mine  fuels the nearby coal-fired San Juan Generating Station.  The proposal would extend the mine’s life by 10-15 years, opening the door for 53 million tons of coal to be mined.

The proposal comes even as the San Juan Generating Station is slated to close by 2022, which will effectively mean the end of the coal mine.

Rather than approve the mine expansion, WildEarth Guardians called on the Office of Surface Mining to focus on transition, including providing assistance to workers and communities, and speedy reclamation of mining operations.

Ignoring this call, the agency intends to approve the expansion as if the mine is not going to shutter.

“The Office of Surface Mining is essentially giving the coal industry a blank check to keep the San Juan mine in business for another decade or more,” said Nichols.  “Unfortunately for miners and communities, that blank check is going to bounce. Sadly, all Trump seems to care about is lining the pockets of executives, not actually helping people.”

In Colorado, the Office of Surface Mining wants to approve an expansion of the West Elk mine, which is owned by Arch Coal, the second largest U.S. coal company.

While coal from West Elk is burned in power plants, mining operations also release large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. This makes the West Elk mine one of the most carbon-intensive in the United States.

The expansion would let Arch undermine National Forest roadless areas outside of the town of Paonia in Colorado’s North Fork Valley. It would also let the company construct a system of roads and methane venting wells above the mine, despoiling public lands.

WildEarth Guardians is currently in court to block two federal coal leases sold to Arch that opened the door for the mine expansion. In the meantime, the Office of Surface Mining is barreling forward to green light mining, despite the climate consequences.

“To appease Arch Coal’s demands, the Office of Surface Mining is handing over our public lands, denying climate change, and selling out the public interest,” said Nichols.  “This is corruption, plain and simple. Trump and his Office of Surface Mining simply want to make coal companies rich at our expense.”

The proposals come even as the coal industry is collapsing. This year, coal production rates are expected to reach historic lows and the industry’s share of power generation has hit its lowest level on record.

WildEarth Guardians is weighing legal action to overturn the Office of Surface Mining’s decisions.

“The reality is, we can’t afford any more handouts to the coal industry,” said Nichols. “For our climate, we have to keep our coal in the ground.”