Coal industry responds to suit over federal mining leases

Quotable...

“Our position is you have to consider the source of the complaint, and in this case it’s coming from a very special-interest group with a long history of coming after industry.”

Jim Van Someren, communications manager for Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association, about a suit filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Colorado by WildEarth Guardians.

A special-interest group has filed suit against the U.S. Interior Department over federal coal mining leases in four Western states, including Colorado.

WildEarth Guardians, headquartered in Santa Fe, N.M., and with offices in Denver and Tucson, Ariz., contends that federal coal mining leases approved by the Interior Department at seven coal mines in Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Montana were illegal.

Trapper Mine and Colowyo Coal Co. were among the seven recipients of federal leases named in the suit. Both operations mine coal in Moffat County.

The basis behind the WildEarth Guardians complaint, filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Colorado, stems from federal law that requires the Interior Department to approve a mining plan prior to awarding federal coal leases, and to provide public notice about proposed mining plans.

During the past six years the Interior Department has approved numerous mining plans authorizing the extraction of more than a billion tons of federally owned coal throughout the West without notifying the public, according to WildEarth Guardians.

“Without any public knowledge, Interior has given the green light for coal companies to despoil our air, our water, and our land,” Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in a news release. “It’s bad enough that Interior is approving this kind of dirty energy development in secret, but it’s also doing so without consideration of the environmental implications.”

In addition to the failure to provide public notice, the suit also challenges the failure of the Interior Department to analyze the environmental impacts of coal mining — particularly air-quality impacts — as well as the related impacts of coal combustion, the release states.

WildEarth Guardians further allege that Colowyo Coal Co. and Trapper Mine are in violation of the Clean Air Act and has exceeded water pollution limits.

Although representatives from Trapper Mine were not available Friday for comment, Jim Van Someren, communications manager for Tri-State Generation & Transmission Association in Westminster, said the latest suit by WildEarth Guardians in nothing more than an unfounded rant by a special-interest group.

Tri-State G&T owns Colowyo Coal Co.

“Our position is you have to consider the source of the complaint, and in this case it’s coming from a very special-interest group with a long history of coming after industry,” Van Someren said.

“Take the State Implementation Plan (of the Clean Air, Clean Jobs Act) as an example. SIP was a collaborative agreement between the state of Colorado, Tri-State and the environmental community, and it was signed off on by the EPA. Jeremy (Nichols) and WildEarth Guardians decided not to participate in the legislative process, but have also filed a petition against that plan after the fact.”

In regards to the specific charge that Colowyo is in violation of the Clean Air Act, Van Someren said it would take some time to compile that data.

“Overall, however, our facilities operate well within our permitted levels, regardless of what they are at both the federal and state levels,” Van Someren said.

Joe Moylan can be reached at 970-875-1794 or jmoylan@craigdailypress.com.

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