BLM urged to restrict future coal leases

By Dr. David Inouye


Dear Editor:

The BLM is currently accepting public comment on the federal coal program, which now has a hold on issuing of new leases for coal mines. You can send your comments to: BLM_WO_Coal_Program_PEIS_Comments@blm.gov. Here are comments I have sent:

I've been an alternate member of Secretary Jewell's Department of the Interior Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science, am past president of the Ecological Society of America, and write to comment on the coal programmatic EIS scoping. I live most of the year in an area affected by coal, the North Fork Valley of the Gunnison River. I can see and hear the coal trains from my house, and know that Paonia, Hotchkiss and other Delta County towns are strongly impacted by coal mining and the recent loss of coal miners' jobs. I am a retired ecologist and conservation biologist from the University of Maryland, but have spent summers doing ecological research in Gunnison County (at the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory) since 1971, which is also impacted by coal mines. When I look out the window of my cabin at the Rocky Mountain Biological Lab, I can see an antique wood water tank that used to serve the steam trains that carried coal from Crested Butte. This serves as a reminder that the economics of energy extraction change, that the job market changes with it, and that a town dependent on coal mining can make a successful economic transition to an economy based on recreation and tourism. Crested Butte's economy was very weak when I arrived there in 1971, but it now takes advantage of the surrounding viewsheds, wildlife, wildflower meadows, and clean abundant water to drive a very strong economy. Delta County now needs economic assistance in order to make a similar transition, to provide jobs for unemployed coal miners and boost the activities of its local business owners. The new program from the Delta-Montrose Electric Association to bring gigabit internet service to the area is one example of a way to do this.

The antique water tank also makes the point that the science of energy generation changes. We are approaching a tipping point where renewable energy resources are supplanting fossil fuels. The BLM should acknowledge this and consider being very restrictive in the issuing of future coal leases. Expansion of existing coal mines and leases, and new coal leases, can have significant ecological impacts that clash with the kind of transition that Crested Butte and Gunnison County have already undergone and that Delta County has the potential to achieve.

Dr. David Inouye
Professor Emeritus
Department of
Biology, University
of Maryland
Principal Investigator
Rocky Mountain
Biological Laboratory