U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner: DOI must act swiftly to save Colowyo
July 10, 2015
The Colowyo mine is the lifeblood of Northwest Colorado's economy, and now it's in jeopardy due to a U.S. Federal District Court ruling. If action isn't taken within 60 days, the mine will close and the jobs, economic activity and affordable energy it supports will be eliminated. That is why the Department of the Interior (DOI) must consider all options and dedicate all available resources to saving the mine.
In May, a Colorado U.S. Federal District Court ruled that the Office of Surface Mining's (OSM) Environmental Assessment (EA) failed to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act. To be clear: the court's decision was not due to violations of environmental laws or regulations — the issue at hand is whether OSM gave the proper public notice and completed the analysis required when it approved Colowyo's mining plan in 2007. The court gave OSM only 120 days to put forth a new assessment. If OSM fails to meet its deadline, the mine will shut down.
Now, the communities of Craig and Meeker are facing the possibility of crippling economic devastation. If Colowyo closes its doors, more than 200 people will lose their good-paying jobs. For small communities, that kind of job loss is an economic catastrophe.
The looming threat also includes the loss of significant revenue. The region has relied on the mine to produce nearly $165 million in one year in economic activity and almost $10 million in annual royalties. If the mine closes, that revenue would disappear and the surrounding communities that depend on it would feel a direct negative impact.
Lastly, the mine provides affordable, reliable energy not only to Coloradans, but also the Intermountain West. Its closure would lead to higher energy prices in Colorado and neighboring states that participate in the energy cooperative, which administers the mine. Energy cooperatives have a long, successful history in many rural areas of providing affordable electricity, and energy cost increases lead to direct price surges on consumers.
These communities aren't just pieces of paper in a lawsuit. DOI must recognize that the mine's closure would threaten the livelihoods of hundreds of Coloradans and send shockwaves across the region. That is why the federal government must defend the legality of its permitting decisions, and DOI must reach a resolution before the Sept. 6 deadline.
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To that end, I joined Governor Hickenlooper, and Representatives Tipton and Perlmutter in urging Secretary Jewell to appeal the court's decision. Earlier this week, I was disappointed to learn that DOI will not pursue an appeal of the ruling. A spokesperson from the federal agency, however, stated that the department is "on track to address the deficiencies in the Colowyo permit within the 120-day period."
It's good to have the confirmation that the agency is working toward a solution, but it's not enough. We need evidence of its progress. I strongly urge DOI to provide a guarantee to the people of Northwest Colorado that the agency will complete an EA prior to the looming deadline. Just yesterday, I sent a letter asking DOI to provide a timeline for when the agency anticipates completing and publishing the new analysis. If this becomes impossible, DOI must ask the court for an extension.
I remain in close contact with the leadership and employees at Colowyo, and look forward to visiting the mine today. I'll continue to fight in Washington for the jobs and communities that Colowyo supports.
The alarm has been sounded, and now it is time for DOI to act swiftly to save one of the most important employers in the region, preserve affordable energy, and protect an economic lifeline. Northwest Colorado is depending on it.
Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, is a United States Senator.