Mine getting court-ordered environmental study
DENVER — Federal regulators are re-doing an environmental review for a Colorado coal mine after a judge threatened to shut it down unless they took a closer look at its indirect environmental impacts, including its contribution to climate change.
However, it’s not clear yet whether the federal agency that granted the permit will appeal the overall ruling, which could set a precedent that might endanger mining projects elsewhere.
The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, part of the Interior Department, posted a notice of the review for the Colowyo Mine near Craig on Thursday, saying it would accept public comments through June 15.
Office spokesman Chris Holmes declined to comment Friday on whether it would appeal the May 8 ruling from U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson in Denver.
The ruling faulted the agency for not taking a hard look at both the direct and indirect environmental impacts of coal mining when the permit was approved in 2007 and not publicizing the review.
Jackson, echoing his ruling in another Colorado coal- mining case last year, said the review should not just look at the impacts of mining but the pollutants and greenhouse gases produced when the mined coal is eventually burned to produce power.
Partly because most of the permitted coal has already been mined, Jackson said it did not make sense to immediately revoke Colowyo’s permit — a move that would put about 220 miners out of work — but warned he would do so if the mining office did not complete a new review of the permit that involved the public within four months.
The mine is one of two that provide most of the coal used at the Craig Station power plant, which generates about 8 million tons of greenhouse gases annually, according to federal emissions data.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which owns the mine and the power plant, will help the agency as it prepares the review even as it considers an appeal of the ruling, spokesman Lee Boughey said.
Both of Colorado’s senators and Gov. John Hickenlooper have urged Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to make sure that deadline is met to protect the miners’ jobs as well as the $12 million the mine pays in taxes and royalties each year.
Sen. Cory Gardner as well as U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, both Republicans, and Hickenlooper, a Democrat, also urged Jewell to appeal the decision that could affect rulings in other similar cases.
“The federal government must vigorously defend the legality of its permitting actions and leave policy debates over the role of coal to the legislative and rulemaking proceedings where those debates belong,” Gardner and Tipton wrote in a letter Thursday.
Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet did not request an appeal in his letter to the secretary.
New Mexico-based WildEarth Guardians, which challenged the Colowyo permit, has similar lawsuits pending challenging the permits for the San Juan coal mine in New Mexico and the Spring Creek mine near the Montana-Wyoming border in the coal-rich Powder River Basin.
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