Colorado congressmen address Secretary of the Interior on behalf of Moffat County | CraigDailyPress.com

Colorado congressmen address Secretary of the Interior on behalf of Moffat County

Patrick Kelly

On May 8, Federal District Judge R. Brooke Jackson ruled that mining plans for South Taylor Pit at Colowyo Mine did not meet requirements set out in the National Environmental Policy Act and ordered the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to complete a new environmental analysis within 120 days.

The Colowyo coal calamity continues as Colorado congressmen convene to compel the Interior secretary to contest conservationists' claims.

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, and Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, sent a co-authored letter to Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell voicing concerns about a recent federal court ruling regarding Colowyo Mine.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, also sent Jewell a letter articulating the same anxieties.

All parties have asked Jewell to dedicate the resources necessary for the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to complete the revamped environmental analysis that Federal District Judge R. Brooke Jackson ordered on May 8. Jackson provided 120 days for the completion of the analysis.

"Obviously, compliance with our environmental laws should be taken very seriously, but I am gravely concerned about the repercussions that the closing of this mine would have on the economy of Northwest Colorado and the livelihoods of many families in my state," Bennet wrote in his letter to Jewell.

Colowyo Mine employs 220 people and is a significant contributor to Moffat County's tax base.

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According to Yampa Valley Data Partners, Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the company that owns Colowyo Mine, accounts for nearly one out of five tax dollars in Moffat County.

"These jobs are important to our communities, and we've got to be able to preserve them," Tipton said.

Drew Kramer, public affairs manager for Tri-State, wrote in an email that Tri-State is grateful for the congressmen’s support.

“They recognize the importance of these 220 mining jobs to northwest Colorado, and they are working closely with Tri-State, state and local officials to support the community,” he wrote.

The three congressmen also encouraged Jewell to pursue an appeal on the judge's ruling.

"Without remarking on the reasoning of the Court contained within the decision itself, the result nonetheless creates adverse precedent with other suits pending, which would harm not only Colowyo and the town of Craig, but potentially numerous other mining operations and towns in other states as well," Tipton and Gardner wrote.

U.S. Department of the Interior Press Secretary Jessica Kershaw wrote in an email, “We are not likely to have further comment to provide at this time due to the litigation process.”

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said at this point it seems like the best use of resources would be for the Office of Surface Mining to focus on completing the environmental analysis.

"We'd rather see (Department of the) Interior respond and do the job right than the mine shut down," Nichols said. "I don't think anybody, including Guardians, wants to see the mine shut down immediately tomorrow, and I think that's unrealistic and unnecessary."

Reach Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@CraigDailyPress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MP_Kelly.

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