An expansion at the West Elk Mine has been halted by U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson.
Arch Coal, which operates the mine in Somerset, wants to build six miles of road and clear vegetation for drill pads on 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area east of the West Elk Wilderness.
The company wants to use the exploratory wells to see if there’s a viable coal seam to expand its mining operations.
The Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service approved the company’s expansion last year and construction was set to start this week before the ruling halted the project.
Kim Link, a spokeswoman for Arch Coal, said the ruling won’t impose any immediate changes at West Elk.
“Coal mining requires complex, long-term planning and this rule complicates our efforts in that regard,” Link said.
Officials with the U.S. Forest Service said they can't comment on active cases.
Crested Butte based High Country Conservation Advocates, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club filed suit over the expansion. Environmental law group EarthJustice represented the three conservation organizations.
“This decision was a well reasoned decision by Judge Jackson," said EarthJustice attorney Ted Zukoski. "It points out the inconsistencies and deep flaws in the agencies’ failure to take a hard look at important environmental impacts."
In the ruling the judge said the BLM and the Forest Service failed to take into consideration the effects the expansion would have on climate change.