By Bob Berwyn
FRISCO — Federal officials have completed a new environmental study for a beleaguered coal mine in northwestern Colorado in a process that will presumably enable the mine to continue operating.
At issue is the ColoWyo Mine in Moffat County, which faced a shutdown after a federal judge found that an existing study didn’t adequately disclose the impacts of digging up and burning the coal. The lawsuit was filed by climate and environmental activists as part of a systematic campaign to highlight the vast amount of heat-trapping pollutants unleashed by the extraction and burning of coal and other fossil fuels.
The ruling triggered a political furor, along with personal attacks against the environmentalists by the likes of Republican Sen. Cory Gardner, whose Facebook posts spurred a slew of hateful comments.
Colorado’s congressional delegation, along with Gov. John Hickenlooper, called on the Department of Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement to quickly finish a new study in order to protect mining jobs.
The revamped study shows that greenhouse gas emissions from mining and burning the coal will add up to about 10 million metric tons per year — an amount that the Department of Interior says is insignificant and will only have “negligibly adverse” impacts, measure on a scale of regional, national and global impacts.
Here’s how the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Safety phrased it in their Finding of No Significant Impact:
“The emissions impacts resulting from the combustion of Colowyo Mine coal under Alternative B would represent insignificant impacts relative to U.S. emissions and moderate impacts relative to Colorado emissions.”
WildEarth Guardians is unlikely to challenge the Colowyo permit again, said Jeremy Nichols, the group’s climate and energy program director. Nichols is still skeptical of the analysis, saying the federal agencies still haven’t done enough to disclose the true impacts of coal mining and combustion. In particular, the Department of Interior didn’t account for the costs of continued carbon pollution.
“This is a much bigger issue than a mine in Colorado, but we don’t have politicians who are willing to lead. Who can say they care about the climate but still support pulling all the coal we can out of the ground,” Nichols said.
“We woke everybody up, showing that coal has climate impacts. We’re not going to push it on this one, but going forward, everyone should be on notice that these decisions have consequences,” Nichols said. “Coal is on the way out. Communities like Craig need to start planning for the future.”
Nichols also said the Department of Interior used a double standard by measuring the climate impacts of the Colowyo Mine on a national and global scale, while touting the economic benefits of continued mine operation on a purely local level.