- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 21, 2015

DENVER | Twisted Pine Brewing used to be listed as a supporter on the WildEarth Guardians website, but no more.

The Boulder-based craft brewer is one of more than 450 companies that have dropped off the environmental group’s list of business backers since liquor stores and bars in Colorado coal towns began boycotting labels that support the anti-coal advocacy group.

That represents about two-thirds of the 605 business entities previously listed on WildEarth Guardians’ website before the boycott’s launch in early June, leaving about 150 companies on the group’s “Businesses for Guardians” list, according to the Craig [Colorado] Daily Press.

“I was amazed,” said Courtney Swedenburg, who works at Stockmen’s Liquor in Craig, one of the stores that has removed from its shelves beers listed as WildEarth Guardians’ supporters.

Justin Tilotta, sales and marketing director for Twisted Pine, said the company was “uncomfortable being stuck in the middle” of the battle between the mining towns and WildEarth Guardians, which filed a lawsuit that threatens to close the Colowyo mine and take with it 220 jobs.

“We certainly have no problem with people working in the mines in Craig. We’re very pro-job,” said Mr. Tilotta.

Like officials at other breweries, Mr. Tilotta said he was unaware that Twisted Pine was listed on the WildEarth Guardians website until the boycott began. At first, Twisted Pine officials couldn’t figure out why the brewery had been included as a supporter.

“We looked back through our records, and all we could find was a note asking for a silent auction donation,” Mr. Tilotta said. “I think we gave them a gift basket, which would have had the usual contents — a T-shirt and a growler. Odds are it was pretty minimal.”

Other Colorado brewing companies whose names no longer appear as WildEarth supporters include Avery, Breckenridge, New Belgium and Prost.

New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, known for its popular Fat Tire amber ale, released a statement last week emphasizing that the company had donated in the past to WildEarth Guardians in support of watershed projects, not anti-coal litigation.

“Specific to any work WildEarth Guardians has done regarding the ColoWyo and Trapper mines, we were unaware of it at the time and that is outside the scope of our grant allocations,” the New Belgium statement said.

“In this case, our funding dollars were allocated for healthy watershed projects only, and no money was given to overturn mining operations,” the statement said. “Additionally, we have never granted operational funds to Wild Earth Guardians, and we have no future funding plans at this time.”

New Belgium was easily the largest brewing donor, with $9,000 in grants since 2008. The others were hardly platinum sponsors: Breckenridge donated a $30 gift card to WildEarth Guardians in 2011, while Ska Brewing co-founder Dave Thibodeau said his brewery gave a $25 gift certificate last year to support banning coyote and pigeon “killing contests.”

“I hate to be lumped in with everything they do, and I don’t know everything they do. I know what I was supporting,” Mr. Thibodeau said.

Prost Brewing President Kevin Sheesley said that WildEarth Guardians “misrepresented us” because the Denver brewery had never given a donation. He added that the group may have confused the brewery with another company named Prost.

“We called them and they’ve taken us off their list,” Mr. Sheesley said, adding that, with regard to the lawsuit against the Colowyo mine, “We don’t support that.”

Not against coal miners

WildEarth Guardians is no green behemoth like the Sierra Club, but the Western-based litigation group has exercised outsize influence due to its courtroom success.

A WildEarth lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service resulted in a sweeping 2011 settlement requiring the agency by September to make listing decisions on 252 species by 2016, including the Greater sage grouse.

Jeremy Nichols, WildEarth Guardians’ climate and energy program director, said the group identified the breweries on its website because “we feel that this generosity is worth acknowledging.”

“Unfortunately, some have accused these businesses as somehow being against coal miners because of their generosity and support for environmental protection,” Mr. Nichols said in an email. “We live in a democracy, so it’s fair for folks to have this perspective, but at the end of the day, none of these businesses are against coal miners.”

Mr. Nichols said that the group had honored requests by breweries to have their names removed from the website, but that “we’ll continue to reach out to businesses for support and acknowledge generosity in all its forms.”

“If people want to pressure these breweries to distance themselves from effective environmental advocacy groups like WildEarth Guardians, that’s a fair tactic, but it’s not something we’re going to sweat or let distract us from our efforts to safeguard the environment and help move our nation toward cleaner energy,” Mr. Nichols said.

Several liquor store owners said they were heartened by the business support for the mine, but wanted to see the breweries issue public statements before restocking the labels.

“What the Guardians are doing to the community here is terrible,” said Jana Venzke, owner of A1 Liquors in Hayden. “I’m happy that people aren’t supporting them.”

A federal judge ruled May 8 that the Department of the Interior has 120 days to redo a 2007 expansion permit for the Colowyo mine in reaction to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians. A slew of Colorado officials, both Democrats and Republicans, has asked Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to consider appealing the decision and ask for more time.

If Interior’s Office of Surface Mining is unable to complete the permit review in time, the Colowyo mine, an economic backbone of northwest Colorado, may be forced to shut down, at least temporarily.

“For a community that’s the size of the town I live in, 3,000 people or so, to lose 200 jobs would be economic catastrophe,” said Sen. Cory Gardner, Colorado Republican, in a floor statement last week.

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