Colowyo Ruling Could Now Affect Second Colorado Coal Mine

Photo: Trapper Mine near Craig, Colorado
A backhoe dumps coal into a haul truck at Trapper Mine near Craig, Colo. The coal is taken to a crusher behind Craig Station, a coal-fired power plant, to begin the process of turning it into energy.

Additional mining jobs near Craig, Colorado could be in question after Trapper Mining Inc. revealed new details in district court. The mine--along with Colowyo Mine--have been embroiled in a lawsuit initiated by WildEarth Guardians over environment assessments performed by the federal government eight years ago.

About 150 people worked at the Trapper Mine this April according to state data.

Related stories:

The Trapper Mine was named along with the Colowyo Mine in a lawsuit filed by the environmental group WildEarth Guardians in 2012. The suit questioned the environmental assessment and public input process conducted by the federal government. Specifically, it claimed U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement had failed to evaluate the direct and indirect impacts of mining and burning the coal.

On May 8, Judge R. Brooke Jackson agreed. He gave federal regulators 120 days to re-do an environmental assessment on the Colowyo Mine. But the Trapper Mine was left out because it was believed 96 percent of the coal included in a 2009 expansion approval had already been mined.

But in a Notice of Correction Statement filed July 1, Trapper Mining Inc. announced that its evaluation of the situation was incorrect. In fact, there was more coal to be mined in the area covered by the ruling.

The company learned of its mistake after it filed for a state permit to mine coal in a new area near Craig. In doing so, Trapper Mining Inc. realized that area had already been included within the 2009 federal review now in legal jeopardy.

"The state and federal approvals were understood to cover the same areas. In fact, they're different," said Paul Seby, an attorney representing Trapper Mining Inc.

The next steps are for OSMRE, WildEarth Guardians and Trapper Mining Inc. to decide how they want to resolve the issue.

"They recognized they made a mistake. They're being very honest. And hopefully we can work through this and come up with a solution that everyone can agree on," said Jeremy Nichols, a program director with WildEarth Guardians.

Nichols said he would like to see a new assessment performed on the area in the question. He's hoping that Trapper Mining Inc. won't tap the coal under question until a new environment assessment is performed. Trapper Mining Inc. will submit a progress report on the discussions July 14.