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West Elk Coal Expansion On Hold Pending Review

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SOMERSET, Colo. (AP) – A proposed coal mine expansion near the West Elk Wilderness is on hold pending an environmental review by the U.S. Forest Service.

A Forest Service deputy regional forester on Monday overturned an earlier decision allowing Arch Coal to add a total of about 1,700 acres to its existing coal leases on federal land, siding with environmentalists who said the plan hadn’t been sufficiently analyzed.

An appeal reviewing officer found that the previous approval didn’t explain why some lease conditions meant to protect wildlife were being changed. Forest Service spokesman Steve Segin said the agency will review the matter, working with the state and the Bureau of Land Management.

Most of the mine’s proposed 1,700-acre expansion is in a roadless area.

Environmentalists say wells that would have to be drilled above the mine to vent methane would increase pollution and ruin a natural area.

An Arch Coal spokeswoman didn’t return a phone message seeking comment Tuesday.

A 2001 Clinton-era rule prohibiting commercial logging, mining and other development on about 58 million acres of roadless areas national forests was upheld by a federal appeals court last year, but Colorado has proposed its own rule that would create exceptions to allow for activities like methane venting at coal mines. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has yet to decide on Colorado’s proposal.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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