Jewell confident mine will stay open |

Jewell confident mine will stay open

Gary Harmon/The Daily Sentinel

— Interior Secretary Sally Jewell reassured Northwest Colorado officials and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colorado, that Interior will complete work on a study needed to keep Colowyo coal mine open.

“We believe the best way to deliver certainty to the Colowyo mine and the people who work there is to fix the deficiencies,” Jewell told more than a dozen county commissioners, city councilors and others at the Glenwood Hot Springs Lodge on Friday night. “I’m confident we’ll do it within the 120-day deadline.”

If the timeline should slip, though, Jewell said, “We will ask for an extension.”

Northwest Colorado officials pressed for a meeting with Jewell when they learned she would be on the West Slope.

A Sept. 6 deadline looms for an Interior Department agency, the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and En-

forcement, to complete work evaluating the mine’s contribution to global warming.

The study was required by U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson, in a case in which an environmental organization, WildEarth Guardians, challenged the agency’s approval of the mine, which employs 220 people from Moffat and Rio Blanco counties.

“We feel we are ground zero for your department,” Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said.

The potential loss of 220 jobs at the Colowyo mine in northwest Colorado amounts to the equivalent of 50,000 jobs in Denver, he said.

Northwest Colorado also is awaiting a decision by another Interior Department agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whether to list the greater sage-grouse as threatened or endangered. A listing would be an additional burden on the region’s lagging energy economy, officials maintain.

The agency declined to appeal the May 8 Colowyo ruling and said it would meet the judge’s deadline.

Progress on completing the study is “going like clockwork,” Jewell said.

That’s not enough, necessarily, for residents of Rio Blanco County, Commissioner Jeff Eskelson said.

“They think they are not being defended,” by Interior’s decision not to appeal Jackson’s ruling, Eskelson said.

The judge built into his decision the possibility that an extension could be given if the agency is making progress, Jewell said.

“A lack of certainty is preventing a lot of economic development,” Tipton said, noting the economy has cost 8,000 jobs in Mesa County alone. “Every one of these counties is trying to diversify, but jobs we have are energy-based.”

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