Environmentalists are targeting Colorado coal, successfully

“Say your neighbor just keeps dumping garbage in your yard and you just keep picking it up. Why not just ask them to stop dumping it in the first place?”

Environmentalists are targeting Colorado coal, successfully

A federal judge has threatened to block Tri-State Generation’s expanded Colowyo and Trapper coal mines outside Craig, Colorado. It’s a big win for environmentalists and a big shakeup for the 220 employees of the Colowyo mine, which could be shutdown in four months.

“Communities like Craig are pissed at us right now,” said Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians, the environmental group that sued over the mines. “They don’t know what’s going on. They’ve been told for a long time that we can just keep mining coal forever, but now we’re all running up against climate reality.”

Last Friday, Federal District Judge R. Brooke Jackson sided with WildEarth Guardians, ruling that the Department of the Interior illegally approved permits to expand the coal mines back in 2007. Jackson said the Department didn’t look hard enough at the environmental impact of expanding the mines and should have included the public in the process.

“Right now the Judge has said, ‘Go fix your mistake in 120 days. Otherwise mining shuts down at Colowyo,” said Nichols.

The Department of the Interior declined to comment on the ruling, saying the litigation was ongoing.

Nichols argues that the Department of the Interior is working against the nation’s climate goals, continuing to approve coal-mining permits. Even Obama’s administration and the EPA are asking states to cut carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants by one-third.

“This is the third time the courts have said the Interior must stop ignoring coal-combustion impact,” Nichols said. “If we have any chance of meaningfully reducing greenhouse emissions, at the bare minimum, it means getting rid of coal.”

Yet getting rid of coal is a more immediately apocalyptic proposition than climate change for towns like Craig.

“The Colowyo Mine employs 220 and contributes more than $200 million to the regional economy,” pointed out Lee Boughey at Tri-State.

“Last Friday’s decision threatens the jobs and livelihoods of rural Colorado communities,” agreed Colorado Mining Association President Stuart Sanderson, in a release.

Sanderson also argued that coal mines should not be held responsible for the downstream uses of their product that create emissions, only for the emissions from mining.

Nichols disagreed: When it comes to carbon, the days of focusing on plants alone are over. Environmentalists are headed right to the source.

“Say your neighbor just keeps dumping garbage in your yard and you just keep picking it up,” Nichols said. “Why not just ask them to stop dumping it in the first place?”

But even environmentalists like Nichols hear the economic-impact argument.

“We need to empower communities in our nation not just to weather the transition [away from coal], but embrace it.”


CORRECTION: In the original draft, the article stated that Lee and Sanderson argued that coal mines should not be held responsible for the downstream uses of their product that create emissions, only for the emissions from mining. In fact, only Sanderson argued this. 

West Virginia trapper by mine hieroglyphics, image by Lewis Hine in the Public domain via WikiCommons.

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About the Author

Tessa Cheek

She writes and makes photos about communities. Her book, Great Wall Style, a monograph-profile-lyric essay, is out from Images Publishing. tcheek@coloradoindependent.com | 720-440-2527 | @tessacheek


  1. Robert on said:

    Ya know, it still takes coal to make steel…It takes steel to make alternative energy products…It takes fortitude from our government to face the realities…Fracking is way worse than coal mining…I know this, by living and working in a coal mining community…

  2. Heath on said:

    Groups like the W.E.G’s have no concern for the well being of the small towns they go after. It seems they only care about the donations they receive from left wing radicals. Its all a money game to them.

  3. Angela on said:

    What would it take to replace the Craig Power Plant if the POS’s from WEG got their way and it was shut down…

    The typical solar panel (photovoltaic panel or PV) is 2 x 4 foot and generates 75 Watts at high noon on a clear summer day. The average annual capacity factor for PV in Colorado is 14%. It would take 120 million PV panels to equal the output of the Craig Station. The surface area of the panels would be 963 million sq. ft. A PV array of this size would need access roads, which are estimated to increase the land coverage by 10%. Total land area needed would be 1.1 billion sq. ft., or 24,000 acres, or 38 sq. miles.
    The capital cost for PV panels, supports, batteries, inverters, etc. is about $5 per watt. The total cost for a PV array equal in electrical output to Craig Station would be about $45 billion, not including land.

    Large wind turbines at wind farms require about 36 acres per MW. The annual capacity factor for wind turbines at a good site is about 27%. The size of a wind farm equal in electrical output to the Craig
    Station would be about 169,000 acres or 263 sq. miles.
    The capital cost for wind turbines is about $950/kW. The cost for wind turbines equal to the energy output of Craig would be about $4.4 billion. This doesn’t include land or leases.

    Could you imagine the EYESORE these fields would be?
    Could you imagine the negative impact it would have on Colorado’s beautiful landscape and the wild life that these losers claim to protect?
    American NEEDS energy diversification… America NEEDS COAL!

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