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Draft EIS released for two West Elk lease modifications

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The U.S. Forest Service, along with cooperating agencies, Bureau of Land Management, Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, and Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety announce the availability of the supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement for two federal coal lease modifications and an on-lease exploration plan for West Elk Coal Mine, located near Somerset on the Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests. Arkland Company, LLC and Mountain Coal Company requested the modifications to expand their existing federal coal leases by a total 1,720 acres to ensure coal reserves are not bypassed. The 45-day public comment period began June 9 and ends July 24.

The analysis considers three alternatives in detail, including a no-action alternative, an alternative that would consent to only one lease modification and an alternative that would consent to both lease modifications, the agencies' preferred alternative. The purpose of the federal agencies' actions is to facilitate recovery of federal coal resources in an environmentally sound manner.

If the Forest Service does consent to lease, the Forest Service will prescribe conditions, as stipulations, for the protection of non-mineral resources; and then the Bureau of Land Management will decide whether or not to grant lease modifications and will further decide, if leased, whether or not to authorize on-lease exploration consistent with lease terms. With regard to on-lease exploration, the Bureau of Land Management will determine whether or not to approve the exploration plan consistent with the lease rights (if granted), or approve the exploration plan with additional conditions to minimize impacts. Subsequent permitting through the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety and possibly the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement would also be required before mining could occur. The cooperating agencies will be using the same analysis to inform their decision-making processes and regulatory requirements.

Most of the area being analyzed is part of the Sunset Colorado Roadless Area under the Colorado Roadless Rule; however, it is situated within the North Fork Coal Mining Exception Area, which provides for construction of temporary roads and other short-term disturbances related to underground coal mining.

Comments must be received by July 24 to be considered. Comments can be submitted by mail, faxed or electronically:

Mail: Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests, Attn: Forest Supervisor, 2250 Hwy. 50, Delta, CO 81416

Fax: 970-871-6698

Electronically: https://cara.ecosystemmanagement.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=32459

Previous Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forests and Bureau of Land Management BLM analyses and decisions were vacated by U.S. District Court for Colorado on Sept. 11, 2014, for issues related to economic analysis on the agencies' leasing analysis and Bureau of Land Management's exploration analysis of recreation impacts and a redundant road. The West Elk Coal Mine Lease Modification supplemental draft environmental impact statement remedies several court-identified deficiencies for the leasing and exploration analysis.

The SDEIS, as well as other related project documents, are available for public viewing online at https://www.fs.usda.gov/project/?project=32459.

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