Millions of tons of coal a year and more than 200 jobs are at stake in a classic tale of climate-change concerns vs. big-coal profits unfolding at one of Colorado’s largest mines.
The Colowyo mine outside Meeker may be closed after a successful lawsuit from the environmental group WildEarth Guardians forced the federal government to reissue permits for the mine because the Office of Surface Mining initially failed to take into account the environmental impact of the operations and public comment on the project.
If the government fails to complete the permitting process within 120 days, the mine will be shuttered. The clock started during the first week of May.
Colowyo has now asked the court to let the company continue mining even if the feds don’t complete the re-permitting on deadline.
“Colowyo believes a stay is warranted given the likelihood of a successful appeal and the irreparable harm that will occur to Colowyo Mine, its employees and northwest Colorado’s communities if mining operations are ceased,” wrote Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey, in a release.
Boughey added that shutting the mine would have a $200 million impact on the surrounding community.
The feds have not indicated whether they will appeal the ruling, which will otherwise require the Department of the Interior to routinely weigh climate impacts when approving mining on federal land.
Christopher Holmes, the spokesman for the Office of Surface Mining, said that they’ve started work on a redo of the environmental assessment and plan to have it completed within the 120-day timeline. He added that the office is currently open to public comment regarding the mine issue and will hold a public meeting about it on June 10th.
Jeremy Nichols at WildEarth said he doesn’t expect the feds — specifically the Departmetn of Justice — to appeal the ruling.
“If the feds appeal the ruling because they don’t think they should have to take into account coal-burning effects when they approve mining, I’d be blown away,” said Nichols. “For this administration to deliberately act against climate change and then appeal a ruling that says they have to consider climate change would be beyond hypocritical.”
Nichols added that he thinks Colowyo’s request for a time-out says more about them than about the lawsuit.
“They just don’t think the federal government should take into account coal-burning impact when they approve mines,” said Nichols. “It’s wrong and a dangerous position to have in this day and age.”
Photo credit: Jeffrey Beall, Creative Commons, Flickr.