WildEarth attacks OSM approvals for two Colorado coal mines

WildEarth Guardians on Aug. 22 called on a federal court in Colorado to overturn the U.S. Interior Department’s approval of two coal mine area expansions in northwestern Colorado.

“It’s time to put an end to the Interior Department’s practice of secretly approving public lands coal mining,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director in an Aug. 22 statement. “Not only does mining take a tremendous toll on our western landscape, it’s fueling coal-fired power plants that are spewing out millions of tons of carbon and other toxic air pollution.”

In an opening brief filed Aug. 22 at the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Guardians said it has “exposed” how the Interior Department and the U.S. Office of Surface Mining “secretly and illegally” approved the expansion of the Colowyo and the Trapper coal mines without analyzing the impacts to clean air or addressing the impacts of coal combustion.

Both the Colowyo and Trapper strip mines fuel Tri-State Generation and Transmission’s Craig coal-fired power plant, the second largest coal-fired power plant in Colorado.

In 2007 and in 2009, Interior’s Office of Surface Mining approved expanded mining at Colowyo and Trapper, respectively. No public notice of these decisions was provided, even though they green-lighted the mining of more than 50 million tons of publicly owned coal from more than 5,000 acres, the lawsuit claimed.

In approving the mine expansions, the agencies relied on environmental reviews prepared in the 1970s and 1980s, and asserted that there would be “no significant” impacts to human health or the environment, the lawsuit said. Neither decision addressed or even acknowledged the current impacts of the Craig coal-fired power plant, including its air pollution impacts, it said.

The Aug. 22 opening brief called on the court to overturn these mining approvals, not only over the failure of the Interior Department and Office of Surface Mining to provide any public notice, but also over the alleged failure of these agencies to limit environmental impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act.

WildEarth Guardians has filed similar challenges over federal coal mining approvals in Montana and New Mexico. It said a ruling from the Colorado court is likely in 2015.

Said the Aug. 22 brief: “For each approval, OSM prepared four-page environmental assessments (‘EAs’) purporting to analyze the environmental impacts of expanded coal mining operations at Colowyo and Trapper but did nothing more than reference decades-old [National Environmental Policy Act] and non-NEPA documents as sufficiently analyzing the environmental impacts of additional coal mining at Colowyo and Trapper. OSM made no effort to determine whether the impacts analyses and conclusions in these documents from the late 1970s remained valid for assessing impacts of mining additional coal from Colowyo and Trapper 30 years later.”

Operated by Tri-State, Craig is a 1,303-MW plant. Craig Units 1 and 2 make up the Yampa Project, owned by Tri-State and four other regional utilities. Tri-State is the sole owner of Unit 3.

Said the Tri-State website: “Craig Station receives its coal supply primarily from two sources: Trapper Mine, located one mile south of the plant and Colowyo Mine sited about 30 miles southwest of the station. Trapper Mine, which is owned by Tri-State and certain members of the Yampa Project, delivers coal to the plant via 100-ton haul trucks from the mine site. Colowyo Mine delivers coal to Craig Station daily by train. The station also augments these two sources of coal with spot coal purchases from other mines in northwestern Colorado.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.