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Brief to Forest Service on Expansion of Colorado’s West Elk Coal Mine

The U.S. Forest Service continues to ignore climate damages in its final approval of a coal mine expansion in Colorado, despite a court ruling that asked the Forest Service to disclose the effects of greenhouse gas emissions from the expansion. In its final environmental impact statement (EIS) on the project, Forest Service quantifies how much the expansion will increase greenhouse gases emissions but only gives a generic description of climate change and its effects. By not quantifying and monetizing the effects of this increase in emissions, the EIS obscures information necessary for the public to appreciate how the expansion will result in hundreds of millions of dollars in climate damages.

Our brief to the District Court of Colorado argues that Forest Service’s failure to monetize climate impacts was arbitrary and is still in violation of the National Environmental Policy Act. It cannot legally ignore climate costs, which are not difficult to quantify, while also monetizing the economic upside to industry of changing these coal leases. As recently at 2017, agencies used the Interagency Working Group’s estimates of the social cost of greenhouse gases when making similar resource management decisions, including on projects with far fewer emissions at stake than in this case. For these reasons, the court should rule that the Forest Service’s failure to use the social cost of greenhouse gas metrics was arbitrary and in violation of NEPA requirements.

We previously objected to Forest Service’s decision to expand the West Elk mine and submitted comments to Forest Service before it was sued for omitting climate impacts.