Local government reacts to federal judge’s ruling regarding Colowyo | CraigDailyPress.com

Local government reacts to federal judge’s ruling regarding Colowyo

Patrick Kelly

A train carries coal from Colowyo coal mine to Craig Station coal-fired power plant in Craig.

Representatives from all levels of Colorado government have taken note of last week's federal district court ruling regarding Colowyo and Trapper mines and are collaborating on how to proceed.

Two Moffat County officials, who are in Washington, D.C. for a Club 20 meeting, had the opportunity to meet with Colorado's federal representatives Thursday morning.

Craig Mayor Ray Beck, Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock and Senior Manager of Government Relations for Tri-State Dave Lock voiced their concerns about the lawsuit to Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, and Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado.

The meeting was a result of Federal District Judge R. Brooke Jackson's ruling on a claim brought by the environmentalist group WildEarth Guardians against the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining.

In his ruling, Jackson stated that OSM did not comply with federal law when it approved mining plans for both Colowyo and Trapper mines nearly a decade ago.

Jackson provided OSM with 120 days to complete an environmental analysis for Colowyo mine complying with the National Environmental Policy Act. If the analysis is not completed within the timeframe, the mine will be ordered to halt operations — displacing 220 employees.

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Colowyo mine provides coal for Craig Station, the largest coal burning power plant in Colorado, and is owned by Westminster-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission.

Gardner said he recognizes Colowyo and Trapper mines' role in the local economy and will do whatever he can to support the community.

"I am certainly committed to resolving this issue," Gardner said.

As the defendant in the claim, it is the responsibility of the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to file an appeal on Jackson's ruling. Beck and Lock said both senators agreed to contact her and encourage the appeal.

"We asked them to actually write a letter and call the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell," Beck said.

Both Beck and Lock said they appreciated the level of involvement from the senators.

"They did definitely grasp the urgency," Lock said.

It is difficult to gauge whether or not the OSM will be able to meet the judge's demand for NEPA compliance within the 120-day window and the time it takes to complete an environmental analysis is highly variable, Lock said.

"It's kind of an unprecedented situation, so it's kind of difficult to really assess," he said. "We are going to do absolutely everything we can working with OSM to make sure that we do as thorough and complete job as we can."

Moffat County Commission Chairman John Kinkaid feels the interaction will be helpful moving forward.

"I absolutely do not feel like we're getting the run around or just being told what they think we want to hear," Kinkaid said.

Representative Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, District 3, voiced his concerns in a press release.

"I want the people of Moffat County to know that they are not alone in this. I am working with stakeholders to identify the next steps and am committed to doing everything within my power to fight for affordable, reliable and responsible energy production," he wrote.

Professor Mark Squillace, director of the Natural Resources Law Center at the University of Colorado Boulder said it has largely been the case that OSM deferred to state agencies in approving mining plans for federal coal. Jackson's ruling may signal a change in how OSM operates.

"I think that this is a significant decision in the sense that if it is ultimately applied across the country, particularly in the west, it will result in a much more significant federal role in the decision making process on federal mine plans," he said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper was unavailable for comment but provided the following statement via email: "We have expressed our concerns to OSM about the potential loss of over 200 jobs and the broader economic effects on the communities of Northwest Colorado. We will play whatever role we can to minimize these impacts."

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

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