Colowyo and Trapper continue to sift through legal woes
August 27, 2015
On May 8, federal district Judge R. Brooke Jackson ordered the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to redo its environmental assessment for Colowyo Coal Mine within 120 days, threatening to stop work if the process was not completed by the deadline
As OSMRE approaches its Sept. 6 deadline, Craig and Moffat County are faced with a pivotal moment in the future of the area's economy. Although the situation at Colowyo may be approaching resolution, Trapper Mine, which was originally spared from a remedial assessment in Jackson's ruling, has been thrown back into the ring and will likely be subject to an OSMRE redo.
What happens when the deadline hits?
Bob Postle, program support division manager for OSMRE's Western Region, said the assessment is scheduled to meet the deadline. Sometime in the first week of September, OSMRE will issue a Finding of No Significant Impact — meaning a more complicated Environmental Impact Statement does not need to be drafted.
Next, the Secretary of the Interior's office will review the assessment and approve or dismiss the mining plan. The court will also be notified that the judge's order has been met.
If the new assessment gets the green light, then the threat of vacatur at Colowyo no longer exists, said Samantha Ruscavage-Barz, attorney for WildEarth Guardians.
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The new environmental assessment could still be challenged in the courts. Since the 120-day deadline lands on a Sunday and Labor Day is on Sept. 7, the courts and government will most likely look at the statements on Tuesday, Sept. 8, according to mine officials.
Where does Trapper stand?
Paul Seby, attorney for Trapper Mining, Inc., said negotiations between Trapper, Guardians and OSMRE are ongoing.
On July 1, Trapper filed a notice of correction statement with the district court withdrawing its argument for mootness in the claim brought by WildEarth Guardians.
Before Jackson's May ruling, both mines advocated that Guardians' arguments were irrelevant because the coal in question had already been taken out of the ground. In the case of Trapper Mine, Jackson agreed and did not enter an order for a new environmental assessment like the one at Colowyo.
However, attorneys for Trapper came to realize the OSMRE plan at issue covers additional federal coal. Since then, Trapper, Guardians and OSMRE have been working toward a resolution that will keep them from going back to court.
Seby said OSMRE has requested until the end of April to complete a new assessment, but Guardians think the same 120-day timeframe applies at Trapper.
"They want OSM to fail on the very thing that they sued OSM to force them to do," he said.
Seby said Guardians would only concede to OSMRE's projected timeline if Trapper gave up its right to appeal, which he did not agree with.
"No thank you, we're not going to give up our legal, constitutional rights," he said.
Major negotiations are taking place this week and if unsuccessful the issue will have to go back in front of Judge Jackson, Seby said.
"I'd rather go to the court and say there is need here, and there is a basis for the time OSM says," he said.