Interior Department will not pursue appeal of Colowyo ruling

Patrick Kelly
A haul truck moves a large quantity of coal to a coal stock pile within Colowyo Coal Company north of Meeker in 2014.
File photo

The U.S. Department of the Interior has decided not to pursue an appeal of a federal court ruling that threatened to close Colowyo coal mine in Northwest Colorado.

According to a statement from Department of the Interior spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw, “We are not appealing the court’s decision, but are on track to address the deficiencies in the Colowyo permit within the 120-day period.”

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, said the decision is disappointing and he will follow up with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to ensure all the resources necessary to keep the mine open are allocated.

Colowyo Coal Co., a subsidiary of Westminster-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, owns Colowyo mine and was disappointed with Department of Interior’s decision while still hopeful about the upcoming review.

“We are disappointed that the government did not appeal the federal district court’s decision. Colowyo Mine remains confident that the U.S. Department of Interior and Office of Surface Mining are making every effort to complete the required environmental review within the 120-day period ordered by the court,” Tri-State’s Senior Manager of Corporate Communications and Public Affiars Lee Boughey wrote in an email. “These efforts help ensure compliance with the judge’s order while supporting the 220 employees of Colowyo Mine and communities across northwest Colorado.”

The issue arose on May 8 when Judge R. Brooke Jackson ordered Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to redo its environmental assessment for Colowyo’s South Taylor pit within 120 days or the mining plan would be voided.

Jackson’s order was the result of a claim brought by environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians. Guardians’ claim asserted the OSMRE did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act when it recommended approval of Colowyo’s mining plans to the Secretary of the Interior’s office in 2007.

Jackson agreed with the claim, specifically citing OSMRE’s failure to facilitate adequate public comment and take into account the indirect impacts of mining coal — steps he found were mandated by NEPA.

After the ruling, Jewell received an influx of letters from elected officials urging her to pursue an appeal of the decision.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Senators Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet, and Tipton all joined Craig City Council and Moffat County Commissioners in addressing Jewell regarding the situation at Colowyo.

On July 2, the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce, the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation, the Colorado Competitive Council and the Colorado Energy Coalition sent a co-authored letter to Jewell voicing their concerns.

According to the letter, “this precedent could pose a threat to any activity on federal lands that performed an environmental analysis under the National Environmental Policy Act in order to obtain federal leases and permits. That could stretch from energy development and mining, to agricultural grazing and ski resorts becoming vulnerable to retroactive legal challenges.”

Tri-State filed its notice of appeal May 29. It also filed a motion for stay pending appeal.

Drew Kramer, public affairs manager from Tri-State, said all of the support underscores the importance of the Colowyo case.

“I think everyone understands the importance of this issue, not just for the community around Colowyo mine, but the potential precedential nature,” he said. “It could affect all sorts of businesses operating on federal lands.”

Trapper Mining Inc., which owns the second mine involved in WildEarth Guardians’ claim, filed its notice of appeal on Monday.

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

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