OSM readies court-mandated environmental assessment of Trapper coal mine

The U.S. Office of Surface Mining is taking comment until Nov. 12 on what should be included in a planned environmental assessment on a mining plan modification request from Trapper Mining, which operates a large strip mine in Colorado that serves the nearby Craig power plant.

OSMRE will hold an Oct. 29 open-house public outreach meeting in Craig, Colorado, that will include displays and handouts explaining the status of the project.

This plan modification covers coal in federal coal lease Nos. C-079641 and C-07519 held by Trapper Mining as part of the Trapper Mine. The EA will cover the time period beginning July 1, 2015, and continuing through the planned life of mine for the portion of the two federal coal lease areas lying within the approved Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 (SMCRA) Permit Area.

Preparation of the EA will be completed pursuant to a Joint Proposed Remedy, as approved by the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado on Sept. 14 in the case WildEarth Guardians v. U.S. Office of Surface Mining et al. As part of the court-approved remedy, OSM agreed to conduct a new National Environmental Policy Act analysis for Trapper’s current and future mining activities within these federal lease areas.

The Trapper Mine is located approximately six miles south of the town of Craig in Moffat County. The leases within the SMCRA permit area cover a total of approximately 2,423 acres of federal mineral estate. As of July 1, 2015, approximately 19 million tons of recoverable federal coal remains within the project area. The Trapper Mine uses a combination of dragline, truck shovel, and highwall mining methods to remove the overburden and mine the coal.

OSM agreed to conduct this new NEPA analysis, consistent with the court’s May 8 order, for Trapper’s 2009 mine plan modification covering the two federal leases. Trapper Mining, on its part, will facilitate an expeditious NEPA analysis by OSM. OSM will complete the environmental assessment, including all public participation components, on or before April 30, 2016. In the meantime, Trapper has agreed to abide by certain on-the-ground restrictions on its mining activities. Specifically, Trapper’s mining activities within the two federal leases will be restricted as follows:

  • Mining activities will only occur on lands permitted, as of July 1, 2015, by the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety (CDRMS);
  • Within the permitted area, mining will only occur on lands already classified as “disturbed”; and
  • Within the “disturbed” area, no coal removal will take place east of a “Coal Removal Limit” line.

This plan will not apply to or have any effect on Trapper’s mining or reclamation activities on state, county, private, or other federal leases.

Trapper Mining on July 7 filed a notice of appeal to the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals on the May 8 decision. Trapper was the second company to appeal U.S. District Judge R. Brooke Jackson’s May 8 ruling that OSM failed to properly examine or notify the public of the environmental effects of expanding the Colowyo and Trapper mines, both located in Colorado. Colowyo Coal, a subsidiary of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, filed its notice of appeal with the appeals court on June 19.

Tri-State purchased the Colowyo 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 receives its coal supply primarily from two sources: the adjacent Trapper mine, and the Colowyo operation, sited about 30 miles southwest of the station.

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.