More coal mining equals more ozone
FRISCO — Federal officials may have failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of more coal mining in northwestern Colorado, according a conservation group that’s suing the Bureau of Land Management over an expansion permit for the Deserado coal mine, located in Rio Blanco County in northwestern Colorado directly south of Dinosaur National Monument.
The mine fuels the 500-megawatt Bonanza power plant, located 30 miles west in Uintah County, Utah. The mine and the power plant are connecte by a dedicated electric train.
According to WildEarth Guardians, the BLM failed to address air quality impacts from fossil fuel combustion from the Bonanza facility. The group said regional air quality monitoring shows continued violations of ozone. According to the lawsuit, the mine expansion would mean that the Bonanza power plant would continue to operate for another 16 percent years — too long in the context of climate change.
“The Interior Department is sacrificing the west to dirty energy,” said Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ Climate and Energy Program Director. “More coal mining means more carbon pollution, more air contamination, and no clean energy. At a time when climate change is wreaking havoc on the west, the last thing Interior should be approving is more coal.”
The area where the mine and power plant are located is called the Uinta Basin, which has been struggline with smog and particulate pollution. A monitoring site in Rangely, Colorado, near the mine, shows that Rio Blanco County is violating federal smog limits.
The Bonanza power plant’s 600-foot tall smokestack is the largest source of smog and haze forming nitrogen oxide emissions in the region. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the power plant has been releasing illegal amounts of air pollution since the early 2000’s.
The power plant and mine are also major sources of carbon pollution. The Deserado mine practices methane venting, where wells are drilled above the mine and methane gas, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, is blown into the air.
A report from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency indicates the Deserado mine releases 459 cubic feet of methane per ton of coal produced, or 19 pounds of methane per ton of coal produced (see EPA report at 5-20). The mine produces between 2.5 and 3 million tons of coal per year meaning every year the mine vents more than 23,000 tons of methane every year.
In 2013, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management leased 21.3 million tons of coal under 3,000 acres of public lands to the mine’s owner, Blue Mountain Energy, a subsidiary of Deseret Power, the owner of the Bonanza Power Plant. The lease would keep the power plant, which was originally slated for retirement in 2016, operating for another 16 years, or until 2032. In late 2013, the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining approved mining.
“More coal mining means more coal pollution, an outcome we can ill-afford,” said Nichols. “With the skies of northwest Colorado and northeast Utah smoggier than ever, the last thing the Interior Department should be doing is rubberstamping more coal.”