(CN) – The 10th Circuit allowed a mining company to intervene in a lawsuit challenging coalmine methane venting in Colorado, saying the government might not fully represent its interests.
WildEarth Guardians sued the Forest Service and other government officials for approving methane drainage wells at the West Elk Mine, which lies beneath three Colorado national forests.
WildEarth claimed that the plan to vent methane off coal seams violates the National Environmental Policy Act because it doesn’t consider alternatives, lacks environmental mitigation and will contribute to global warming. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and natural gas extraction is a major source of methane emissions.
A federal judge in Colorado refused to allow the Mountain Coal Company, operator of the West Elk Mine, to intervene in WildEarth’s lawsuit, saying the government adequately represented the mining company’s interests.
The 10th Circuit reversed, writing that the mining company has already begun mining and constructing the vents, and thus holds a “direct economic stake” in the outcome of the litigation.
The government is supposed to represent the public interest, which could be at odds with a private party, the Denver-based appeals court noted. The government “has multiple objectives and could well decide to embrace some of the environmental goals of WildEarth,” Judge Hartz wrote.
The 10th Circuit remanded with instructions to let the Mountain Coal Company intervene in the lawsuit.
The West Elk Mine lies underneath Colorado’s Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison national forests and produces 6 million tons of coal annually. The Mountain Coal Company extracts the coal from public lands under a 1967 lease.