U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner visits Craig, Colowyo Mine | CraigDailyPress.com

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner visits Craig, Colowyo Mine

U.S Sen. Cory Gardner said he can't help but get emotional when he thinks about the challenges facing Northwest Colorado.

Friday morning in Craig, Gardner spoke about how his experience growing up in a small Colorado town helps him understand the importance a single industry can have to a community.

"We can't wake up tomorrow and see 220 of our neighbors and our family members and our community going away," he said, in reference to a court order that threatens to halt work at Colowyo Mine.

In May, a federal district judge ordered the Department of the Interior's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to redo its environmental assessment for Colowyo Mine's South Taylor Pit within 120 days, ruling that the original assessment did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

Although Department of the Interior will not appeal the ruling, spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw said they are on track to complete the remedial environmental assessment within the time frame.

But Gardner said he would like to see more involvement from Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell.

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"The Secretary of the Interior needs to speak, and we need to hear the commitment from the highest levels of our government," he said.

With 58 days left to complete the environmental assessment, Gardner said he would continue to push for a favorable outcome for the mine. His most recent effort, aside from the visit to Craig, is drafting a letter to the director of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Once OSMRE completes its assessment, it is handed over to Fish and Wildlife for a consultation, which by law it has 165 days to complete. Gardner said he is trying to coordinate with Fish and Wildlife so it will expedite the consultation and accommodate the judge's deadline.

"Those are the things that we have to do — continued pressure, continued oversight and continued insistence that they do the right thing," he said.

While in Craig, Gardner took a tour of Colowyo Mine along with Colorado Rep. Bob Rankin, R-Carbondale.

"We need to get more people out to see it," Gardner said. "Coal mining done right is a vibrant part of our energy future."

Gardner said as he returns to the grind in Washington, D.C., he will now be able to provide first hand accounts — rather than a "phone-call point of view."

"The perspective of seeing the area that's under litigation is an important part of the oversight and persuasion that we can provide in Congress," he said.

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

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