Company withdraws Hunter Canyon-area mine application

The company proposing an underground coal mine west of Grand Junction in Mesa and Garfield counties has pulled its permit application with the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety because of new requirements by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

According to a BLM spokeswoman, CAM-Colorado LLC pulled its state permit application for the Red Cliff Mine near the proposed Hunter Canyon wilderness area because the BLM has decided to require a revised draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).

“We did determine that it will be necessary to prepare a revised draft EIS on their proposal with us, and they are aware of that and they did cite that that was the reason they are withdrawing the [state permit] package,” said Erin Curtis, BLM public affairs director for western Colorado. “It sounds like they want to make some changes to it based on our decision.”

Further delays are not likely to please state Rep. Laura Bradford, R-Collbran. According to the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel, Bradford was trying to pressure Gov. Bill Ritter and U.S. Rep. John Salazar to intervene in order to speed up the process or slow the closure of an Xcel power plant supplied by coal from local mines. Bradford is trying to prevent the loss of local jobs.

The latest delay, however, has nothing to do with environmental concerns voiced by Earthjustice, an environmental law firm dismayed by the lack of methane venting or flaring plans for the proposed Red Cliff Mine.

“It was related to public comments we received during the public comment period on the first draft EIS that was released in January that was questioning the competitiveness of the proposed lease tracts,” Curtis said. “We are required to have a lease tract that is as competitive as possible so that we get the best possible bid for the taxpayers for that coal resource.”

Several of the comments on the original DEIS questioned the competitiveness of the BLM lease because it didn’t explore alternatives for larger lease tracts. Curtis said there is no timetable yet for completing the revised DEIS.

Earthjustice has legally challenged a U.S. Forest Service permit allowing the venting of naturally occurring methane at the West Elk Mine in the North Fork of the Gunnison valley.

Highly explosive methane has to be vented to safely mine for underground coal, but environmentalists want the methane either captured for commercial use or flared (burned off) to reduce its impact on global warming.

Methane is 20 times as potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA.

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