« Return to this article

for people who care about the West

Rationalizing coal production


Reading Elizabeth Shogren’s update about the Forest Service’s decision to expand the Somerset Coal Mine (near your office in Paonia), I was a bit stunned to see the following quote from USDA Undersecretary Robert Bonnie: “No one is under the belief that we’re going to immediately change the energy mix starting today. There’s going to be some level of coal for some time to come” (“A loophole in Colorado’s Roadless Rule,” HCN, 12/12/16).

I am a former deputy chief of the Forest Service, and I share Bonnie’s belief that the energy mix will not immediately change. But that belief should not lead to a limp, passive federal decision that runs directly counter to the stated goals of the Obama administration and our country’s need to stop needlessly adding yet more coal to a bloated supply. The agency’s own analysis describes the unwarranted negative economic and environmental consequences that will ensue from mine expansion. Federal agencies have a responsibility to help Somerset and their local employees face the day when its coal no longer serves a public interest. Winking at foreboding realities is not the answer.

A definition of “rationalize” is to “invent plausible explanations,” as Bonnie has done here. 

Jim Furnish
Rockville, Maryland