Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group's U.S. public lands program, issued the following statement today in response to a decision by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to allow the Oxbow Group to expand its coal mining operation into national forest roadless areas in Colorado. This action comes at the same time the Obama administration is in court defending the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule, a national policy that prevents road-building and limits industrial activity such as coal mining on undeveloped U.S. forestlands.
“We are concerned that the Obama administration is giving a go-ahead for the coal industry to expand mining operations into some of Colorado's best backcountry national forests.
“By not restricting the construction of roads, this decision appears to be in conflict with the administration's position to uphold the national roadless rule.
“We urge the administration to honor its commitment to the roadless rule and not allow a coal mining company to bypass the rule's protections.”
The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was issued in 2001 to protect nearly 60 million acres of undeveloped U.S. Forest Service lands. The Oxbow Group, the 80th largest privately held company in the nation, has made repeated attempts to seek an exemption from the rule to expand its Elk Creek mine in Colorado. In 2008, Colorado Governor Bill Ritter proposed that Oxbow would be allowed to expand its mining operations into roadless areas as part of a controversial statewide proposal intended to replace the 2001 rule. The governor is expected to send his proposal soon to the Obama administration. The administration has expressed strong support for the 2001 policy, including in a case before the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals that will be argued March 10. An Oxbow subsidiary, Gunnison Energy, also benefited from a 2008 U.S. Forest Service decision, which allowed its Bull Mountain Pipeline to be constructed through national forest roadless areas in Colorado.