Interior Department approves mining plan for Colowyo Coal Mine |

Interior Department approves mining plan for Colowyo Coal Mine

Patrick Kelly
Colowyo Coal Company in Northwest Colorado
Noelle Leavitt Riley

After months of nail biting, Moffat County can breathe a heavy sigh of relief — the Department of the Interior has given the thumbs up to Colowyo’s new mining plan.

According to a press release from DOI, “Assistant Secretary of the Interior Janice Schneider has approved the mining plan for an expansion of the Colowyo Coal Mine in Craig.”

The approval is supported by an environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact prepared by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, as well as a biological opinion prepared by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The approval of the new mine plan completes OMSRE’s effort to comply with a federal district Judge R. Brooke Jackson’s May 8 order to finalize the environmental review within 120 days.

According to the notice the Department of Justice filed with the district court, “Federal Defendants have now complied with the Court’s May 8 Order, thus obviating the need for entry of a vacatur order.”

In other words, the judge’s order has been satisfied and Colowyo can continue to mine coal under the new plan.

“We are grateful to the staff at the Office of Surface Mining and the other cooperating agencies for their diligence and hard work to complete the environmental review within the short timeframe ordered by the judge,” said Mike McInnes, chief executive officer of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which owns Colowyo Mine through its subsidiary, Colowyo Coal Company.

Craig Mayor Ray Beck said this is the best news Northwest Colorado has received in a long time.

“I was just elated for the good news,” he said, adding that he wanted to thank OSMRE and DOI for all the hard work.

Beck also voiced his continued support for coal.

“If the American people want to keep having affordable electricity, then we’re going to have to keep mining coal,” he said.

Jackson’s order was the result of a claim brought by environmental advocacy group WildEarth Guardians. Guardians’ claim asserted 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.

The ruling garnered the attention of state and federal lawmakers as well as Gov. John Hickenlooper, who urged Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to make sure the assessment was completed on time.

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colorado, who visited the mine in July, said in a statement he is pleased that OSMRE and DOI met the deadline and reached a conclusion that allows the mine to operate.

“An economic engine for Northwest Colorado, the Colowyo mine supports more than 200 jobs, produces $165 million in economic activity annually, and provides affordable energy to not only the region, but neighboring states. Now that the DOI has met the court’s deadline, the hardworking Colowyo employees should be able to get back to work immediately,” Gardner said in the statement.

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