Jewell rejects pleas to request delay of judge’s Colowyo mine order

Jewell rejects pleas to request delay of judge’s Colowyo mine order


Valerie Richardson
The Colorado Statesman
July 8, 2015


Those fighting to keep open the Colowyo mine in Craig by delaying a judge’s order will have to do so without the help of the Obama administration.

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell allowed this week’s deadline to pass without filing a motion to stay the order of U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson, who gave the department 120 days to redo parts of an eight-year-old expansion permit.


The decision came despite a full-court press of Colorado officials, led by Gov. John Hickenlooper, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, along with business leaders throughout the state, asking Jewell to weigh in on the potential mine closure.


Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the rural power co-op that owns the mine, filed a motion for a stay pending appeal shortly after the judge’s May 8 order.


“We are disappointed that the government did not appeal the federal district court’s decision,” said Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey in a statement, adding, “Colowyo has established a solid foundation for its success on appeal and believes its motion for stay pending appeal with the district court should be granted.”


Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid said the department’s decision not to appeal is “very disturbing and has nationwide implications.”


In a statement, the Interior Department defended its decision to pass on the appeal, saying that the Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement is “on track to address the deficiencies in the Colowyo permit within the 120 day period.”


“The Department of the Interior including the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement take our NEPA responsibilities seriously, including the robust public participation in any environmental reviews,” the statement said.


The problem is that many of those close to the situation doubt the permit’s environmental assessment can be redone in 120 days. If the OSM cannot finish the permit in time, the mine may have to shut down, taking with it 220 jobs and jeopardizing the region’s economy.


WildEarth Guardians, which filed the lawsuit against the Colowyo mine permit, issued a press release Wednesday applauding the Interior Department’s decision with the headline, “Agency Accepts Federal Court Ruling over Colorado Coal Mine.”


“Under federal court rules, the Interior Department had 60 days to appeal and overturn the court ruling. That deadline passed yesterday and Interior filed no appeal,” the press release said. “This means the federal court ruling in May will stand and that the Interior Department will follow through to address the climate impacts of coal mining.”


Based in Santa Fe, WildEarth Guardians has come under fire for its attacks on coal, including lawsuits against a half-dozen other coal mines, spurring a “beer boycott” in northwest Colorado by liquor stores and bars against breweries that support the environmental litigation group.


About 450 companies cited on the WildEarth Guardians website as supporters, including several Colorado breweries, dropped off the list in the weeks following the beer boycott, according to the Craig Daily Press.


Officials at several breweries said they had contributed to WildEarth Guardians’ efforts on issues unrelated to coal and requested the environmentalist group remove their company names from the roster of “Businesses for Guardians.”


“What we are seeing is an attack on the livelihoods of Coloradans by anti-energy special interests based out of Santa Fe, coupled with a lack of action from the Department of the Interior despite lawmakers on both sides of the aisle coming together to fight for the mine,” said Jonathan Lockwood, executive director of Advancing Colorado, a free-market advocacy group, in a statement on Wednesday.


The Colowyo mine issue this week also seeped into the 2016 Senate race. The National Republican Senatorial Committee slammed Bennet, a Democrat, in a blast on Wednesday for recommending Judge Jackson for the federal bench.


“Whom do Coloradans have to thank for helping to create this whole debacle? Senator Michael Bennet,” said the NRSC statement. “In 2010, Senator Bennet even praised Jackson by saying, ‘Jackson has shown to be a thoughtful jurist, one that I believe will serve Colorado and the country well on the federal bench.’”


Bennet had stopped short of asking Jewell to join the request for a stay, but did urge her in a June 23 letter to visit Moffat County and to “take all appropriate actions to remedy this situation as soon as possible,” including asking her to urge OSM to petition the court for an extension for the environmental review.


In a separate June 23 letter, Gardner and three fellow Western Senate Republicans had also asked Jewell to hold a community meeting in Craig “to hear from those who would be affected by the mine’s closure.”


Tri-State has emphasized that the lawsuit was not based on any problems with the mine’s operations.


“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,” Boughey said.