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.