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West Elk mine expansion halted by judge

World Coal,

In June, Jackson, a 2011 Obama appointee to the federal bench, placed a 90-day halt on the mine’s federally approved expansion plans. His ruling hinged on a view that the USFS and BLM had not adequately considered the effects of coal-fired electric generation on global warming.

The expansion had been temporarily halted by a court in June, but Judge R. Brooke Jackson has now put a permanent end to Arch Coal’s expansion plans.

In addition to cancelling the BLM/Forest Service approvals for West Elk expansion, Judge Jackson’s ruling has a second part – he outlaws construction work for methane vent bore holes. The methane vent bore holes are needed to let the dangerously explosive methane gas escape above ground in order to access the underground expansion area for coal extraction. By overturning the mine expansion lease approvals, the methane vent boring issue becomes moot.

The West Elk Mine has been in operation since 1982. In 2013 it produced 6.1 million t of coal. The mine expansion would have produced an additional 10.1 million t of coal, according to the Forest Service’s record of decision.

As of June, West Elk mine had approximately 320 full-time employees plus a number of contractors, according to an Arch Coal spokesperson.

The company issued a statement after last June’s ruling: “We are disappointed in the court’s ruling. We believe that the ruling contains several serious errors. While concerning (to us), Friday’s ruling will not necessitate any immediate changes at the mine. Coal mining requires complex, long-term planning and today’s ruling complicates our efforts in that regard. We are still analysing parts of the ruling and evaluating our options.”

Arch Coal offered no reply to the DCI’s request for a statement on the Judge’s permanent ruling.

Edited by Sam Dodson

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