Colorado coal mine appeals climate change court ruling

Jun 2, 2015, 2:12 PM

DENVER (AP) — A Colorado coal mine at the center of a legal fight over whether coal’s impact on climate change needs to be considered before it is mined wants to make sure it can keep operating while it appeals a federal court ruling.

On Friday, the Colowyo Coal Co. asked the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver to overturn a ruling requiring federal regulators to redo their environmental review of operations at its mine near Craig within four months. U.S. District Judge Brooke Jackson said the mine’s permit would be yanked if the deadline was missed.

Such appeals normally take months to complete, so the company also asked Jackson to put his ruling on hold while the various legal issues are considered.

In their request to Jackson, Colowyo lawyers argue regulators might not be able to complete such a process in time, which could potentially put 220 miners out of work.

The Office of Surface Mining, Regulation and Enforcement, part of the Interior Department, posted notice of the new review May 22 and plans to accept public comments through June 15.

“Our intent is to finish the review within 120 days,” said office spokesman Chris Holmes, who declined to elaborate.

Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians, which sued over the Colowyo permit, said Jackson gave regulators a deadline to ensure the impact of coal burning is taken into account in mining decisions.

“The Interior Department is moving to respond. There is no threat of a shutdown,” he said.

Gov. John Hickenlooper and members of Colorado’s congressional delegation have urged Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to make sure the review is completed in time to save the jobs and the $12 million the mine pays in taxes and royalties each year.

The Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, which owns the mine and the power plant it supplies, plans a community meeting Wednesday evening in Craig to discuss the ruling, which will include the mayors of Craig and Meeker.

Jackson’s ruling echoed another one he issued last year halting a mining expansion at Arch Coal Inc.’s West Elk mine in Somerset, Colorado. He halted it partly because the Bureau of Land Management considered but rejected calculating the impact of future greenhouse emissions of the new coal to be mined.

In April, another Denver federal judge, John Kane, ruled the surface mining office must consider the effects of burning coal at a northwestern New Mexico power plant before allowing an expansion of the Navajo Nation’s Navajo Mine. Environmentalists there were mostly concerned with mercury pollution impacting fish in the San Juan River, not climate change.

The Navajo Nation company that owns the mine has appealed Kane’s ruling to the 10th Circuit. The West Elk ruling was not appealed.

WildEarth Guardians has similar lawsuits pending challenging the permits for the San Juan coal mine in New Mexico and the Spring Creek mine near the Montana-Wyoming border in the coal-rich Powder River Basin.

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Colorado coal mine appeals climate change court ruling