Trapper Mining, Colowyo Coal seek appeals court review of lower court decision

Trapper Mining on July 7 filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals after a Colorado federal judge found the U.S. Department of the Interior illegally granted it a permit and ordered it to be revoked.

Trapper is the second company to appeal U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson’s May 8 ruling that Interior’s Office of Surface Mining failed to properly examine or notify the public of the environmental effects of expanding the Colowyo and Trapper mines, both located in Colorado. The July 7 notice of appeal doesn’t contain any legal arguments; those will come later.

Colowyo Coal, a subsidiary of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, filed its notice of appeal with the appeals court on June 19, with its full legal arguments not filed as of July 8.

Colowyo Coal on May 29 filed a motion for a stay with the district court pending appeal of the May 8 ruling. That motion was still pending as of July 8. Tri-State said in a May 29 statement that the request for a stay asks for operations at the mine to continue until the appeals process is concluded. The motion for a stay is based on Colowyo’s belief the court’s decision against OSM was in error and includes several legal issues. Colowyo believes a stay is warranted given the likelihood of a successful appeal and the irreparable harm that will occur to Colowyo, its employees and northwest Colorado’s communities if mining operations are ceased.

Tr-State said the May 8 ruling out of the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado puts more than 200 mine employees and their families at risk and threatens the mine’s more than $200 million annual impact to the regional economy. While Colowyo appeals the ruling, Tri-State encourages OSM and the Department of the Interior to continue to aggressively pursue all options to allow the mine to continue to operate, including continuing to comply with the judge’s order to conduct an environmental analysis of the Colowyo mine plan. Colowyo will continue to support OSM during the development of the environmental assessment, but has also encouraged the agency to file its own appeal.

WildEarth Guardians’ lawsuit against the OSM was not based on a violation of any air or water quality laws or regulations, Tri-State said. The Colowyo mine has responsibly operated its mining and reclamation activities since the mine plan was approved under the federal review process, and the mine remains in compliance with all state and federal requirements, it added.

The issues raised in the lawsuit are related to whether OSM completed appropriate public notification and analysis required during a review of the mine plan issued in 2007. At no time during the case did WildEarth Guardians argue that the mine should be designed or operated any differently than it operates today, Tri-State said.

Both affected mines are the suppliers to the Craig power plant

Colowyo Coal is a subsidiary of Tri-State, which purchased the mine in 2011 from international miner Rio Tinto. Colowyo supplies the 1,303-MW Craig Station, which is a key baseload resource providing Tri-State with a total of 653 MW of generation. The plant is operated by Tri-State. Craig Station 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. Craig Station receives its coal supply primarily from two sources: the adjacent Trapper mine, and the Colowyo operation, sited about 30 miles southwest of the station.

OSM filed a June 26 update with the district court saying that in response to the May 8 order, it has achieved a number of milestones. It has retained a consultant and is working on an Environmental Assessment (EA). The EA will analyze the direct, indirect, and cumulative effects of the 2007 mining plan approval at issue in this case. OSM has prepared a project schedule that anticipates completion of the effort by Sept. 5.

To ensure appropriate public participation, OSM published public notices in the Craig Daily Press and Rio Blanco Herald Times on May 21 and 22, and again on June 4 and 5. The notices announced OSM’s intent to prepare an EA, advised of the initiation of a public comment period, and advised of a “public outreach” meeting to be held in Craig, Colorado, on June 10. OSM held the meeting as scheduled, and 632 people attended— most of whom expressed concerns about a possible shutdown at the mine and impacts to the community. At the meeting, the agency received a total of 447 comment forms. By the close of the public comment period on June 15, the agency had received a total of 1,183 comments.

In addition, OSM has developed and entered into Memoranda of Understanding with three cooperating agencies: the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and Moffat County. OSM said it expects to release the EA for public review and comment on or about July 27.

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.