Coal industry mines issues, solutions

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Lt. Gov. Jane Norton said Friday that there were enough fireworks in the Legislature this year without her adding any. Nonetheless, she volunteered to detonate an explosive at Trapper Mine before a group of about 50 power plant, mine and legislative representatives.

The 16th annual Coal Conference brought more than 130 industry and legislative officials together Thursday and Friday for discussions of issues facing the mining and energy industry. The conference also included tours of local facilities, which nearly included the rare sight of overburden being blasted from the top of a coal seam. However, the blast never happened because of technical difficulties.

Unlike Norton's performance, the conference went off without a hitch.

Few speakers could resist reiterating that 2002 was a banner year for Colorado's coal industry. Of the 35.3 million tons mined statewide, 18.6 million tons were taken from Northwest Colorado. Approximately 60 percent of that coal was mined in Routt, Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

Fifty-one percent of the nation's and 85 percent of Colorado's energy comes from coal.

"All of that means more jobs and more revenue for Colorado and we're very proud of that," said Ron Cattany, director of the Colorado Division of Minerals and Geology.

There are 12 active coal mines in nine Colorado counties. Eight of those 12 exceeded their own production records. None of those eight were in Moffat County.

The industry contributed a banner $167,367,266 in total wages and benefits, averaging $80,659 per employee. Nearly 2,100 people were employed in Colorado mines -- 900 of those in Moffat, Routt and Rio Blanco counties. Those employees earned $75 million in wages, and the industry paid $18 million in taxes.

Routt County lost its place as the biggest coal-producing county this year, nudged out of its first-place spot by Gunnison County. Moffat County remains the third largest coal-producing county in the state.

"Mining has been sustainable in Colorado for almost 150 years. I would consider that sustainable development," Colorado Mining Association President Stuart Sanderson said.

Though the House passed the 2003 energy bill, the Senate is still debating provisions, many of which will affect the mining industry.

The bill provides $2 billion for 10 years to establish a Clean Coal Power Institute and at this point carries no mandates for the use of renewable energy sources. But the Senate is heavily debating those mandates.

"I think we can expect to see them back next year," said Diana Orf,

lobbyist for the Colorado

Mining Association.

Legislation mandating the use of renewable energy is something the CMA opposes but not, Sanderson said, for the reasons most expect.

"Renewables are no threat to coal in terms of energy production," he said. "But mandating the use of a particular fuel is something we've always had concerns with."

Mining companies are energy users and are susceptible to energy prices increases.

"Coal will continue to be the base-load generation in Colorado and several other states," Sanderson said. "We're going to need all energy fuels in the future, there's no question about that."

He said he can see a synergy between coal and wind-power generation that justifies the use of constructing the additional transmission lines needed.

Getting the message out about coal and new clean coal burning technologies is imperative to the industry in the face of environmental groups that are using foundation grants to spread word and garner public opinion.

"We need to find a way to get the mining message to the public and get people involved," Sanderson said.

The Department of Natural Resources has created a textbook, "Global Science," that includes facts about the development and necessity of the coal industry and hopes schools will consider using it. In addition, the Colorado Foundation of Agriculture has published a mineral and energy issue of the Colorado Reader -- which targets fourth-grade students -- on the same topics.

The Department of Natural Resources has also designed a program that includes a weekly reader on energy and mining issues directed toward fourth and ninth graders.

That project, as yet, has not been funded.

Industry officials support changes to the fee structure paid by coal mines for the reclamation of abandoned mines. Until now, coal mines have carried the burden for paying for that reclamation and the money, Sanderson said, has not been well managed. The CMA is pushing for reform that would even out the burden and return more of that money to the states that pay it.

There are about 17,000 abandoned mines in Colorado.

"We continue to look at ways to equalize the burden of funding solutions to abandoned mines," Cattany said. "Until now, the coal industry has carried the burden."

Coal-burning facilities may be targeted in the future for their nitrous oxide emissions. Currently, the Denver Regional Air Quality Control Commission is evaluating the role of nitrous oxide in the formation of ozone. Those findings may impact coal-burning power plants, said Ken Lloyd, director of the Air Quality Control Commission

There is an estimated 12 billion tons of coal remaining in the Yampa Valley -- 10.5 billion tons that are technologically recoverable, according to Chris Carroll with the Colorado Geological Survey.

"From an environmental quality scale, Colorado coal is off the scale compared to the quality in other states," he said.

ColoWyo Coal produced 5.4 million tons in 2002, 400,000 tons less than in 2003. Sixty percent of the coal mined by ColoWyo was sold in Colorado. Its contract to supply coal to the Hayden Power Plant is through 2011.

According to General Manager Kelly Sanders, the mine has 378 million tons of surface reserve and 451 million tons underground -- making it a viable operation for many years to come.

"We're looking at where we're going to go after the next 10 years," he said. "Sometime in the next five years we'll be deciding whether to go underground or remain on the surface.

The mine employs 300 people and paid $24.9 million in wages and benefits, $22.2 million in taxes and $1.5 million in local property taxes.

Trapper Mine has been operating in Moffat County for 26 years. Its sole customer is the Craig Station Power Plant, with which it has a contract through 2014.

In 2002, Trapper mined 2 million tons of coal, employed 155 people and paid a total of $12.9 million is wages and benefits.

Twenty-Mile Coal Company mines on a market-driven basis that resulted in nearly 8 million tons mined in 2003. It paid $31.3 million in wages and benefits in 2003 to its 355 employees.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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