Window for Office of Surface Mining to appeal Colowyo ruling closes Tuesday |

Window for Office of Surface Mining to appeal Colowyo ruling closes Tuesday

Patrick Kelly
Coal is being removed from the high wall at Colowyo. A high wall digs into a mined wall and extracts coal from a seam in between layers of other material and soil.
Noelle Leavitt Riley

The 60-day time period for federal agencies to file an appeal of a ruling that threatened to close Colowyo coal mine in Northwest Colorado ends midnight July 7.

With only one day left to file its notice, the Department of the Interior has not commented on if it will appeal federal district Judge R. Brooke Jackson’s May 8 ruling.

Jackson’s ruling is the result of a claim brought by environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians. Guardians’ claim asserted the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement 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. As a result, OSMRE was ordered to re-do its environmental assessment for Colowyo’s South Taylor pit within 120 days or the mining plan would be voided.

Since the ruling, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell has received an influx of letters from elected officials urging her to pursue an appeal of the decision.

Gov. John Hickenlooper, Sen. Cory Gardner, Sen. Michael Bennet and Rep. Scott 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.”

Colowyo Coal Co., a subsidiary of Westminster-based Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, owns Colowyo mine and filed its notice of appeal on May 29. It also filed a motion for stay pending appeal.

Drew Kramer, public affairs manager fro 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.”

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

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