Judge rules against Colowyo, Trapper mines; 120-day window set

RBC I A federal judge ruled Friday that expansions of two Western Slope coal mines approved nearly a decade ago failed to adhere to federal law and consider potential environmental impacts.
Judge R. Brooke Jackson said that 2006 and 2007 expansions of the Western Slope’s Colowyo and Trapper mines, which have provided coal to the Craig Station, one of the largest coal-fired power plants in the state, did not give the public sufficient notice of its decisions or adequately involve the public in the development of environmental assessments.

It also failed to take a “hard look” at possible environmental effects, Jackson said.
The court’s decision came after conservation group WildEarth Guardians brought a claim against the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement, arguing that it issued the extensions without following federal guidelines. The case was then taken up by Trapper Mining, Inc. and Colowyo Mine owner Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association.
Friday’s ruling does not affect the Trapper Mine, which has already mined the vast majority of the coal covered under the federal lease. It also will not halt Colowyo’s current operations.
It does, however, require the Office of Surface Mining to address the environmental effects of the extensions and involve the public in the process within a 120-day window.
WildEarth Guardians spokespeople expressed satisfaction at the decision, while Tri-State representative Lee Boughey said in an email that the company was disappointed with the outcome and would consider next steps in conjunction with the Office of Surface Mining.
The ruling states that Colowyo has yet to mine 12 million tons of coal still within extension boundaries. The mine adds more than $200 million to the area’s economy and employs 220 people, Boughey said.
The conservation group’s suit was originally part of a larger complaint of alleged mine violations in New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and Colorado.