Colowyo still mining coal one year later | CraigDailyPress.com

Colowyo still mining coal one year later

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.

A year ago this week, a federal judge issued a ruling that would send shockwaves through Northwest Colorado.

Judge R. Brooke Jackson sided with environmental group WildEarth Guardians on its claim that the Office of Surface Mining did not comply with federal law when it approved mining plans for Colowyo and Trapper mines.

As a result, he ordered OSMRE to complete a new, revamped environmental assessment for Colowyo's South Taylor Pit or the mine's permit would be revoked — shutting down the mine and displacing 220 employees.

The news shook residents of Craig, Meeker and Moffat and Rio Blanco counties — who depend on the mines for economic stability — while making national headlines.

Within two weeks of the ruling, 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 how their constituents could be affected and encouraging an appeal.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colorado, also sent Jewell a letter articulating the same anxieties and Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper joined the group of supporters shortly after.

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As the 120-day countdown progressed, the community swelled with support for the mine and though the Interior Department decided not to appeal the judge's ruling, it vowed to meet his deadline, which it did.

But the story was far from finished. About a month before Colowyo cleared its name, Trapper was thrown back into the ring.

In court, attorneys for Trapper Mine argued that Guardians' claim was irrelevant because all of the coal in question was already mined. Jackson considered this and Trapper was spared from a remedial environmental assessment based on its argument of mootness.

However, in early July, Trapper's attorneys realized the OSMRE plan at issue covered additional federal coal the mine wanted to access and rescinded their previous argument.

Trapper worked with Guardians and OSMRE to reach a mutually agreed on remedy and set a timeline for preforming a new assessment, which Judge Jackson approved.

On April 30, Trapper's assessment was approved by the Interior Department.

Both mines will continue to produce coal for Craig Station and Colowyo is currently seeking approval on a new lease that would extend its life at least another two decades.

Though it may be in the past, the entire saga resulted in a massive community effort to protect the mines and preserve the regional economy.

A beer boycott even took place in Craig when local liquor distributors found out that New Belgium had donated money to Guardians. A year later, New Belgium still won't be found on the shelves of Craig's liquor stores or on tap at any bar.

To thank the community for its support, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association and Colowyo Mine donated $15,000 to the city of Craig in November.

Recently the city has decided how it will spend that donation.

Craig Mayor Ray Beck said $3,000 will go toward Fourth of July fireworks, $4,000 will go to event calendars for residents and the remaining amount will be set aside for match money on broadband planning grants.

"We all agreed that this is a great way to spend this money that will benefit the community and the local economy as well," said Beck, thanking Tri-State for the contribution.

Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.Contact Patrick Kelly at 970-875-1795 or pkelly@CraigDailyPress.com or follow him on Twitter @M_PKelly.