Climate + Energy

No Thank You for your Comment

[Editor’s Note:  Read the latest ClimateWest update on this post here.]

It’s bad enough the U.S. Forest Service has greenlighted the expansion of a western Colorado coal mine into an undeveloped roadless area, now the Agency is lobbing contemptuous insults at the public.

Take this gem of a response from the Forest Service to somebody who expressed concerns that the, “Lease modification area is one of the best deer and elk hunting areas and would be destroyed by mining coal”:

Fall big game hunting season opportunities don‘t exactly scream of protecting deer or elk habitat as they are being chased out of it. We also believe that if you‘ve hunted this area, you‘ve probably accessed it using roads or trails associated with coal exploration or mining.

In other words, Mr. Public, the Forest Service could care less about your hunting concerns.

The venomous responses were published on pages 151-167 of an Environmental Assessment posted online on November 8 in which the Agency justified its decision to allow Arch coal to expand its West Elk coal mine into the Sunset Trail roadless area. And although the mine is underground, to get the coal, Arch plans to construct 6.5 miles of new road and 48 methane drainage drainage wells.

What is a methane drainage well? It’s basically a natural gas well, except that all the gas that these wells produce is just blown into the air. In other words, to get the coal, they first need to punch a natural gas well field into the Sunset Trail roadless area.

To say the least, the damage is a disgraceful use of public lands, especially considering the waste. Every year, the West Elk coal mine vents 7 million cubic feet of methane daily, enough to heat 34,000 homes a year. To really visualize the problem, check out our pictures of methane venting going on right now above the West Elk mine.

To boot, methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Over a 20 year period, it has 56 times the heat trapping ability of carbon dioxide. So 7 million cubic feet of methane? That’s actually equal to 3.04 million tons of carbon dioxide every year, the same amount released by 540,324 passengers vehicles (according to the EPA’s handy greenhouse gas converter).

The proposal rightfully drew critical comments from the public, such as this:

Blithely allowing coal mine expansion in one of our few remaining roadless areas…will thoughtlessly damage a pristine area just so King Coal can make another buck, at a time when man-made climate change due to burning such filthy fossil fuel is patently obvious and should be avoided at all cost. Such thoughtless action would also promote polluting coal when America needs to be building a clean energy economy ASAP. The American people are sick of being put at risk just so greedy and dirty industries can do whatever they please to turn an outrageous profit at our planet’s expense.

And the Forest Service’s response? Well, read for yourself:

Well, Ms. Jones, unfortunately the American people love their inexpensive, reliable electricity. The Forest Service also receives nominations for lease for other forms of energy development for which you too are able to apply. Many of these will require commitments of land in Roadless because that is where the water, wind, and geothermal resources exist and which will also have effects on local climate, fish, and wildlife, and include powerlines, ancillary development facilities, and roads. Unless you live and work offthe-grid, please cut your total power consumption by 49.61% immediately (US EPA’s estimate of power generated by coal). After all, these efforts begin at home. We’ll worry about the thousands of years of radio-active waste from your home state’s nuclear power generation and mining activities on federal lands required to support it in your next modified form-letter comment.

All I can say is, wow. You can agree or disagree with person who commented, but for this kind of flippant response to come from a federal agency charged with managing public resources is a bit out of line.

Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. Take these comments and responses–some snarky and some downright mean, which are quoted verbatim from the Forest Service’s Environmental Assessment:

Comment from Member of Public

Response from U.S. Forest Service

Coal is filthy and dangerous. (p. 163) Coal mining is dangerous, there‘s no doubt about that.
Enough of Colorado‘s great wilderness has already been bulldozed, detonated, mined, grazed, and plowed. (p. 165) This area is not wilderness. Additionally, it was not brought forward as an area to be considered for further planning for wilderness as long as 32 years ago. Sorry to burst your bubble, this area has also been grazed for a century or more.
We are destroying more oxygenmaking forests to produce carbon dioxide making coal. (p. 164) Might be true if the aspen in the lease area weren’t dead or dying anyway.
Shouldn’t we be turning to cleaner forms of energy? (p. 164) Probably. No Forest Service issue.
I demand you stop playing lap dog to any individual, group of corporation that seeks profit from public land use when you know such use will damage the natural resources of my land. You sicken me Richmond! If you wish to stay out of court read: …With great disrespect. (p. 166) Mr. Artley, as a retired Forest Service employee, you know the mission of the agency is multiple use and that we consider issues from multiple perspectives. Congress, not the Forest Service, mandates consideration of energy development on federal lands which is in the “interest of the United States”. We also notice that the comments you’ve submitted are not necessarily in line with either Wild Earth Guardians or NRDC whose websites you used to submit two of the three of yours. Your issues seem to be of a personal or positional nature with the Forest Service and do not reflect issues specific to the lease modification parcels at hand.
Do you people do anything but sit at your desk taking orders from industry?? How is it that you don’t seem to have any say, will power, direction about protecting our public lands from thieves, muggers and greedheads that spell out “megacorporations”? (p. 167) We spend about 80% of our time implementing policy and maintaining the balancing act which is the Forest Service’s multiple use management goals and minerals management policy (this includes both desk time and field time). The other 20% is spent sitting at our desks responding to snarky rhetorical questions and comments from environmental and special interest groups.

Now could some of these public comments have been more constructive? Certainly, but that’s no excuse for the Forest Service to respond like this, especially given the significance of this latest coal decision.

And especially given that the Chief of the Forest Service himself has recognized that climate change is a significant threat to our National Forests, the Agency’s contempt of the public in this case is, to say the least, worrisome.

Perhaps these comment responses are just a cynical office joke that got a little too far outside the office. Perhaps. But perhaps they’re also a sign of the Forest Service’s real feelings about the public and their concerns over the future of their National Forest lands and resources.

Either way, it’s a shame. The public deserves an apology, but more importantly, they deserve better stewards than this.

1 reply »