Environmental assessment for Colowyo Mine project available for public comment Jan. 19

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  • Collom project will sustain 220 Northwest Colorado mining jobs
  • Department of the Interior coal program review not expected to impact process
  • Mine will donate more than 4,500 acres of Greater Sage Grouse habitat to state

The Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE) announced the draft environmental assessment (EA) for the Collom Area Development Project at Colowyo Mine in Northwest Colorado will be available for public comment on Jan. 19, 2016. The environmental review is required prior to federal government approval of a revised mining plan.

Colowyo Coal Company proposes to revise its current mining plan to continue the development of Colowyo Mine coal reserves leased from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in 1982 and 2007. The Colorado Division of Reclamation and Mine Safety (CDRMS) permitted mining operations and reclamation for the Collom project in 2013.

"It's important that the public review the draft environmental assessment and provide comments to the Office of Surface Mining," said Lee Boughey, sr. manager, corporate communications for Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., which owns Colowyo Coal Company. "We believe the project will have no significant impact on the environment and the revised mining plan should be approved."

The EA is as comprehensive as most environmental impact statements and includes assessments of air quality impacts from mining and from combustion of the coal at Craig Station. Colowyo Mine currently delivers coal used at Tri-State's Craig Station power plant. The EA also includes assessments of water quality impacts and impacts to all wildlife including Greater Sage Grouse.

The Collom project is located on federal, state and private lands in Moffat County, Colo. adjacent to existing mining and reclamation operations. The project will sustain 220 mine jobs and operations that annually have a $200 million-plus impact to the regional economy and that make an estimated annual contribution of $12 million in local, state and federal tax revenue.

Information on the EA, including the draft document and public comment process, can be found at the OSMRE web site at http://www.wrcc.osmre.gov/initiatives/colowyo.shtm.

Communities and organizations in Northwest Colorado have recently launched an effort to educate the public on the value of coal mining in the region and encourage participation in the public comment period for Colowyo EA. More information can be found at SupportNorthwestColorado.com.

Review of federal coal leasing program not expected to affect Collom development

The federal coal leases previously issued obligate Colowyo Coal Company to develop the coal reserves for the benefit of the citizens of the United States through the payment of royalties to the state and federal government. Colowyo has paid substantial royalties on these leases in advance of mining.

"Colowyo Coal Company is required to develop the coal leases that were previously issued by the BLM in 1982 and 2007," said Boughey. "A minor lease modification proposed to protect Greater Sage Grouse habitat is less than 160 acres and is listed by the BLM as potentially covered by a pause exemption from the recently announced leasing moratorium."

The Collom project should not be impacted by the announcement that BLM will not hold lease sales or process new lease applications for federal coal until a program review is completed. The minor modification that is being requested to protect Sage Grouse habitat falls well under the 160-acre threshold that will be exempted by the agency.

Greater Sage Grouse habitat protected

The Collom development protects Greater Sage Grouse and other wildlife habitat. To enhance habitat for the Greater Sage Grouse in Northwest Colorado, Colowyo Mine is donating more than 4,500 acres of Priority Habitat to the Colorado Division of Parks & Wildlife (CPW). The donated lands will be managed for the benefit of Greater Sage Grouse and offset impacts that may occur as a result of mining.

"Colowyo Mining Company will use best practices to safely and responsibly mine coal from the Collom area," said Boughey. "We will continue our ongoing work to reclaim and restore previously mined areas and the Collom area to significant amounts of high quality sagebrush habitat."

In addition, Colowyo Mine is donating $150,000.00 to CPW to study how the Greater Sage Grouse responds to the initiation of mining operations and has committed to reclamation plans that will focus on returning the mined area to high quality sagebrush habitat.

Coal-based electricity has role with EPA Clean Power Plan

In August 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released final rules to regulate and reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. According to the EPA, coal will continue to provide 28 to 32 percent of the nation’s electricity generation mix.

"Even as the U.S. and individual states develop plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, coal-based electricity will continue meeting the need for affordable and reliable power," said Boughey. "There is a continued need for the development of coal resources, and the Collom project is a responsible option to provide a long-term source of clean, low-cost fuel."

Trapper Mine to also have public comment period on environmental assessment

The EA being developed for the Collom project is separate from the EA that was successfully completed for the South Taylor area of Colowyo Mine in 2015 by OSMRE as a result of a court order. In fact, federal court decisions supporting additional analysis on federal coal leases have been incorporated into the ongoing development of the Collom EA.

Also as a result of a court action, a separate EA is under development by OSMRE for Trapper Mine, which also supplies coal to Craig Station. The draft Trapper Mine EA is expected to be released for public comment in the coming weeks.

"It is important for the public to review and comment on both the Colowyo Mine and Trapper Mine environmental assessments," said Boughey. “The continuation of operations at both mines is critical to the communities of Northwest Colorado.

Colowyo Coal Company is a subsidiary of Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., which purchased the mine in 2011. Tri-State is the not-for-profit wholesale power supplier to 44 electric cooperatives and public power districts that serve 1.5 million consumers throughout 200,000 square-miles of Colorado, Nebraska, New Mexico and Wyoming.

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