The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal filed bythe state of Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association to strike down the 2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule that prohibits most roads on 18 million ha (45 million acres) of national forests. The roadless rule effectively bans mining development and exploration access on these lands.
The Colorado Mining Association had argued the rule “is a sweeping usurpation of the authority vested solely in Congress to designate lands as wilderness.”
The mining associations asked the high court to overturn a decision last year by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Clinton Administration-era rule and reversed a Wyoming U.S. district court’s ruling that the rule had created de facto wilderness and violated the National Environmental Policy Act.
In their challenge to the rule, Wyoming and the Colorado Mining Association said closing so much forest land to development has had serious consequences for residents of Western states and the logging, mining and drilling industries. The challenge centered on the contention that the U.S. Forest Service essentially declared forests to be wilderness areas, a power that rests with Congress under the 1964 Wilderness Act.
“The Forest Service’s designation of 58.5 million acres of de facto wilderness prohibits future mineral development since road construction is effectively prohibited under the rule,” the associations had argued in their petition for a Writ of Certiorari before the Supreme Court. “Without roads, mineral development cannot occur.”
Colorado news reports said the long list of organizations that had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take the case included the Utah Mining Association, the National Mining Association, the American Petroleum Institute, the National Cattleman’s Beef Association and the American Forest Resource Council; and the eight states filing amicus briefs were Utah, Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Michigan, North Dakota, South Dakota and Virginia.
CMA President Stuart Sanderson had argued “the Roadless rule will effectively prevent future mining operations on roadless lands, leading to a decrease in mineral and coal production, job losses, and sharp decreases in taxes and revenues from the coal mining industry that are critical to local governments and public school systems.”
The association asserted the “Roadless Rule is so broad that it will effectively shut down future responsible mining development. This will occur despite the fact that mining operations impact only a small portion of the roadless lands.”
Several state mining associations had filed “friend of the court” briefs supporting CMA's actions.
National environmental groups applauded the ruling.
“The Supreme Court action validates arguably one of most important public land conservation polices in a generation,” said Jane Danowitz, director of the Pew Environment Group, which has worked on the rulemaking since 1998. “Without the roadless rule and its national standard of protection these millions of acres of pristine forest land could be opened to a variety of development, including logging, mining and drilling.”