Concerns over the proposed expansion of Colorado coal mines (4 letters)

The editorial board’s false alarm that coal plants will “starve” unless two Colorado mines expand into “pristine” forest

concerns-over-the-proposed-expansion-of-colorado-coal-mines-4-letters photo 1RJ Sangosti, Denver Post fileArch Coal has proposed taking an additional 173 million tons of coal from an expansion of its West Elk Mine into a pristine, roadless area of the Gunnison National Forest. Roads would need to be built as would ventilation pads for the release of methane and other gases.

Re: “Starving coal power plants to save the environment is misguided,” Aug. 5 editorial.

The Denver Post’s editorial on coal mining is severely misinformed.

First, it asserts that denying the West Elk Mine’s expansion may “starve” power plants out of commission, when instead we must carefully plan transition from coal. But West Elk already has a decade of coal under lease, providing time for transition. West Elk sells much of its coal overseas, and none in Colorado last quarter, so limiting the expansion wouldn’t “starve” local utilities.

Second, The Post’s “faith in state and federal agencies to adequately regulate” coal mining is misplaced. The Trump administration has eliminated rules protecting streams from coal waste, moved to gut limits on utilities’ greenhouse pollutants, and repealed measures to ensure coal companies can’t short-change taxpayers of royalties. And while Colorado law limits methane waste from oil and gas operations, the state has done zero to regulate emissions from the state’s single largest methane polluter: West Elk’s mine.

Ted Zukoski, Denver

The writer is staff attorney for Earthjustice.

Your editorial on the West Elk Mine misses the key policy issue. Arch Coal is asking for a significant public subsidy in the form of defiled lands, increased atmospheric methane, diminished recreational opportunities, and loss of scarce, valuable habitat.

What does the public receive? The company argues that it should not even pay its fair share of royalties due from past and future mining on public lands, so that mining jobs slated for phase-out are prolonged two years. But the company itself has been in and out of bankruptcy and now wants to milk significant subsidies from the public treasury. Why not use our public capital to help miners and transition them to jobs of the future?

The Forest Service, designated to protect public lands and the public interest, should reject Arch Coal’s expansion, secure in the knowledge that it is serving the nation’s economic and environmental interests.

Timothy E. Wirth, Boulder

The writer is a former U.S. senator from Colorado and is vice chairman and president emeritus of the United Nations Foundation.

The editorial board’s false alarm that coal plants will “starve” unless two Colorado mines expand into “pristine” forest deeply misunderstands the coal market, Economics 101, and climate change.

U.S. coal production — especially from leased public lands — largely drives the global coal market. As mine expansions increase coal supply, basic economics teaches that increased supply will decrease coal prices. Lower prices increase coal demand and combustion, thus emitting more harmful pollution and exacerbating climate change.

The resulting climate effects are not “distant,” as the editors claim. Two-thirds of economists believe climate change either already harms our economy or will within a decade. The federal government’s latest leaked report confirms that weather extremes affecting agriculture, health and infrastructure “have already become more frequent” — including negative impacts in the Colorado River basin and “virtually certain” snowfall reductions.

Mine expansions may be a “win” for coal companies but could be a devastating loss for Colorado.

Jason A. Schwartz, Denver

The writer is legal director for the Institute for Policy Integrity.

The Post’s editorial employs a collection of contradictions in the cause of sound coal policy. The editorial board notes the need for state and local communities to work to limit venting or flaring large amounts of methane. Agreed. Methane should not be intentionally released and wasted. Period.

However, the board mistakenly claims climate change is a “distant” threat. Visit the Western Slope to see evergreen forests decimated by insect infestations. Insects live longer because sustained winter cold is rare due to the rising temperatures accompanying climate change right now.

And the board naively affirms its faith in state and federal agencies to regulate the coal industry. In fact, the Grand Mesa Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests are spending millions of dollars to “climate-proof” the landscape while green-lighting the West Elk Mine expansion and accelerating climate change.

If we care about Colorado’s forests, we must end our coal addiction.

Steven R. Reed, Grand Junction

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