U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson overturned an initial June 27 finding by the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management, deciding that the agencies did not follow environmental laws in the approval of Arch Coal’s plans for 1,700 acres of the Sunset Roadless Area in Paonia, neighboring Colorado’s West Elk Wilderness, for an expansion of West Elk.

Environmental lawyers Earthjustice had represented the High Country Conservation Advocates, WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club in the case against the U.S. Forest Service (USFS), U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Department of the Interior and several others; the expansion, which was designed to benefit the underground mine’s long-term plans, was first approved in 2012.

The newest September 12 order means that the mine expansion on roadless lands cannot occur unless, and until, the USFS and the BLM correct the legal violations. Also, the agencies must also make new decisions to permit road construction for coal mining in roadless areas that will permit Arch Coal to expand its lease.

“This case is more like a Gordian knot that needs cutting than a simple tangle that the government can untie with a little extra time,” Judge Jackson said in his decision.

According to Earthjustice, Jackson’s ruling invalidates only the coal mining loophole and leaves intact the rest of the Colorado Roadless Rule, which protects more than 4 million acres of roadless national forest in the state.

“While we don’t anticipate any immediate impacts to the West Elk mine, we are concerned that a valuable and job-creating resource – the coal reserves in the Sunset Trails area – could potentially be rendered unavailable by the court’s decision and the serious delays that could very well accompany it,” an Arch spokesman said September 15.

A copy of the order can be viewed in its entirety here.