Environmental Groups Appeal Wayne National Forest Coal-Lease Decision

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Environmental groups are appealing a decision by Forest Service Supervisor Anne Carey that consented to the leasing of coal for mining within the Wayne National Forest.

The appeal was filed by the Buckeye Forest Council, Ohio Environmental Council, Earthjustice, Center for Biological Diversity, Heartwood and the Sierra Club.

In September, Carey consented to the Bureau of Land Management's proposed leasing of seven parcels (433 acres) of federally owned coal beneath the Wayne National Forest. The coal is located in Perry and Morgan Counties, east of Corning. A company has requested that the coal be leased for underground mining.

At the time the Wayne announced the decision, a news release said that a Forest Service environmental assessment concluded the surface of the forest would not be utilized during the mining, and that no significant resources would be impacted by the underground room-and-pillar mining.

The announcement said the environmental assessment considered potential impacts to surface resources, including water, air, wildlife, plants, heritage resources and recreational opportunities.

However, the appeal argues that the environmental assessment failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts that burning of the coal would have.

"If the lease is denied, this specific coal will not be extracted, its carbon not released into the atmosphere, its mercury not deposited in streams to bioaccumulate, nor its particulates inhaled by at-risk populations near power plants who are already prone to asthma and death from poor air quality," the appeal states.

The Wayne's environmental assessment states that use of the Wayne coal would not increase greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the area.

"If the proposed action were not implemented and the seven parcels not leased and subsequently mined, it is assumed that the coal needed to generate heat and electricity would be obtained from other locations," the assessment states. "Therefore, the GHG emissions from burning the amount of coal to be recovered from the seven parcels would still occur within the four-county analysis area, only the origin of the coal would be different."

The appeal argues that the Forest Service also failed to consider the environmental impacts of coal ash, a byproduct of burning coal.

Gary Chancey, spokesman for the Wayne National Forest, said the Forest Service has 45 days to consider the appeal and provide a response. He said that response will come from the regional forester based in Milwaukee.