MOFFAT, Colo.—Moffat County in western Colorado is run on fossil fuels, and local jobs in the coal industry comprise one of its key economic drivers. On May 8, a federal judge ruled in favor of the environmentalist organization, Wild Earth Guardians (WEG), which filed lawsuits against the Office of Surface Mining (OSM) on the basis that it was out-of-compliance when it approved the plans for the Colowyo and Trapper coal mining projects.
COAL COUNTY AT STAKE: A federal judge has sided with a powerful environmental group whose mission is to wipe out coal economies in the Mountain West.
The OSM is a branch of the Department of the Interior, and oversees leasing processes for various surface mining operations on federally-managed lands. Lawsuits against the OSM, such as those filed by WEG, can impede, and even stop, coal exploration and extraction processes altogether.
The full withdrawal of OSM leases could potentially devastate Moffat County. According to a Craig Daily Press article, the Colowyo mine employs around 250 people and adds $12 million annually to local and state economies. With an entire population of less than 13,000—which is shrinking— the loss of 250 good-paying coal jobs poses a real threat to all sectors of the economy in Moffat County.
The federal judge in this case, R. Brooke Jackson, granted the effected companies a 120-day window in which to review and revise current plans, but the ruling leaves little room for error and will bring a close to all mining operations by Colowyo if full compliance is not met. According the Craig Daily Press:
The court has provided the Office of Surface Mining with 120 days to “take a hard look at the direct and indirect environmental effects of the Colowyo mining plan revisions and provide public notice and an opportunity for public involvement before reaching its decisions.”
If this process has not been completed within the 120-day window, an order to halt mining operations will be issued immediately.
In reference to the potential mine closures, Judge Jackson said, “I find that the benefits of immediate vacatur do not outweigh the potential harms.” His position seems to favor the scenic “view” from nearby recreational areas over human and economic concerns. The article goes on to say:
Jackson supported Guardians standing argument, stating that members of the organization, specifically Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for Guardians, suffered a verifiable injury.
‘Using lands within view of the affected area may establish injury-in-fact when the aesthetic and recreational value of the lands would be harmed by the challenged activities,’ he wrote.
According to U.S. Census data, per capita income in Moffat County, at $24,577 per year, is well below the average in Colorado, which is $31,109. Mineral extraction, agriculture, and a small tourism industry provide the basis for the local economy.
But out of those economic sectors, jobs in the mining industry far outweigh the others in income and benefits. The average Colowyo job pays $44,000 per year. And, according to one study by the National Mining Association, the indirect job creation for a typical coal miner is 1:3, so for every one coal job, there are three additional jobs created to support the mines themselves and the housing, schooling, and other needs of the miners and their families. The ruling by Judge Jackson could result in the loss of 1,000 jobs in Moffat County.
Unfortunately for the coal community in Moffat, and other regions of the country, WEG is relentless in their efforts to shut down mining operations. The Craig Daily Press article says:
The claim against Colowyo and Trapper mines was originally part of a larger complaint from [Wild Earth] Guardians regarding mines in New Mexico, Montana, Colorado and Wyoming.
The WEG website discloses their goal to eliminate all forms of coal mining in the Mountain West:
Wild Earth Guardians is challenging every new Interior Department plan to sell coal. We are forcing a new paradigm that will make coal more expensive and thus, clean energy more competitive. At every turn we will fight the coal industry to keep coal in the ground.
With the ruling in Moffat County by Judge Jackson, local coal companies face regulatory complications that will certainly make it more expensive to mine in the area, and if WEG has its way, it will become impossible.
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.
reposted with permission of the author 5/15/15