A three judge panel at the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals on June 17 rejected as moot appeals over U.S. District Court decisions related to approved mining plans for Colorado coal producers Colowyo Coal and Trapper Mining.
WildEarth Guardians had brought suit at the District Court level against the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSM), challenging OSM’s approval of certain mining plan modifications for mines owned by Colowyo Coal and Trapper Mining. WildEarth alleged that OSM violated the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) by failing to involve the public in its approval processes and by failing to take a hard look at the modifications’ environmental impacts. The District Court agreed and remanded the matters to OSM with directions to comply with NEPA.
Colowyo and Trapper then initiated separate appeals, which the appeals court later consolidated. While the appeals were pending, however, OSM completed its remedial NEPA analyses and reapproved both mining plan modifications. WildEarth thus argued that the appeals are now moot, depriving this court of subject-matter jurisdiction. Colowyo and Trapper disagreed. They alleged that OSM’s subsequent approvals reset the statute of limitations for third-party attacks, and that OSM imposed conditions during the reapproval processes that adversely affect their lease rights and require them to fund downstream studies. Thus, they argued they suffer a “concrete ongoing injury” as a result of the reapproved modifications and that the appeals are, therefore, not moot.
But, the appeals court said in the June 17 decision that only issue before it in these appeals is whether OSM violated the prescribed NEPA procedure in approving the now-superseded mining plan modifications. And, since that problem has now been fixed, the appeals are moot.
The Colowyo mine is located approximately 26 miles southwest of Craig, Colorado, and 22 miles north-northeast of Meeker, Colorado, in southwest Moffat and northern Rio Blanco counties. Colowyo Coal is a limited partnership, which is indirectly owned by Western Fuels–Colorado. Lately, the Colowyo mine has produced approximately 2.3 million tons per year and provides coal primarily to the Craig Generation Station located in Craig, Colorado.
The Trapper mine is located approximately six miles south of the town of Craig in Moffat County. The mine uses a combination of dragline, truck shovel, and highwall mining methods to remove the overburden and mine the coal. It also supplies the Craig power plant.