- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Denver Post, July 29, on the Gold King Mine spill:

A year ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency wound up red-faced after the Gold King Mine blowout turned the Animas River orange. Since then, the EPA won grudging support from Silverton and San Juan County to designate the Bonita Mountain mining district as a Superfund site, but little or no progress has been made on the ground toward a permanent fix. Blame for that lethargic progress, however, spreads beyond the EPA.

Across the West, a half-million abandoned mines ooze toxins into precious waterways, but the old-time prospectors and companies are dead or out of business, so no one is around to take responsibility. Yet like the Gold King, most of those rickety mines are ticking environmental time bombs. Technologies exist to solve the problem, but there’s no money to use them.

A well-intentioned 1972 federal law known as the Clean Water Act imposes complete liability on any person, company or nonprofit trying to remedy even part of a leaking abandoned mine, so lawyers tell their clients not to try. Efforts by Colorado’s congressional members - including former U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, a Democrat, and current U.S. Sens. Cory Gardner, a Republican and Michael Bennet, a Democrat - sought a “good Samaritan” exception to encourage at least partial remedies, a remedy we have supported. The idea earned support from the Colorado Mining Association and some green groups, such as Trout Unlimited, but the proposals stalled when industry argued for too broad an exemption and some national environmentalists wanted too many restrictions.

In addition, Superfund faces a financial crunch. The 1980 law imposed a tax on the chemical industry to pay for the cleanups, but that fee expired in 1995 and Congress never replaced the money. Today, the 1,328 sites already on the National Priority List compete with all other federal funding needs and with each other for the remaining dollars. The Bonita Mountain project will join this fight.

The U.S. House worsened the problem by cutting $64 million a year from the EPA and some other agencies that might become involved or offer expertise for fixing the Gold King mine and the Bonita Mountain district. While throwing money at a problem won’t necessarily solve it, starving EPA of resources certainly will make it worse.

Still, gold, silver and other “hard rock” mines enjoy exceptional privilege because - unlike coal, oil and natural gas - hard rock mines don’t pay federal royalties and certainly don’t contribute to an abandoned mine reclamation fund like coal companies have done for decades. And the metal mining industry obdurately opposes any effort to bring them into line with the rules that apply to coal, oil and gas.

Now when the public hears news about “mining,” people may imagine an orange river - even though properly designed, well-run modern mines shouldn’t cause that kind of pollution. If the industry hadn’t opposed a reasonable royalty or reclamation fee on itself years ago, a reform we supported, many potential environmental risks could have been reduced. But now, with a surly Congress and a public that underestimates the scale of the nightmare, the metal mining industry may face a worsening public relations nightmare.

Editorial: http://dpo.st/2ayDLva

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The (Grand Junction) Daily Sentinel, July 31, on the federal government canceling oil and gas leases:

Setting aside for a moment the question of whether the Bureau of Land Management can cancel oil and gas leases, the reaction to its plans to do just that indicates the agency struck a delicate balance.

Conservation groups feel the BLM didn’t propose to go far enough to protect a bigger portion of the White River National Forest from development. At the same time, the lease owners are obviously disappointed with the BLM’s direction. When two parties are unhappy with a potential outcome, it’s usually a sign of a good compromise.

Before the BLM issued its final environmental impact statement Friday on a review of 65 contested leases, Gov. John Hickenlooper threw his support behind the BLM’s preferred alternative to cancel some leases because it reflected the U.S. Forest Service’s updated management plan for future oil and gas leasing in the White River National Forest.

“That plan allows for continued leasing in the most prospective portion of the Forest and in areas where infrastructure already exists, while closing to future leasing areas where there is little to no potential for oil and gas and where there is no existing production,” Hickenlooper wrote in a letter praising the direction staked out in the BLM’s draft EIS.

In the final EIS, the BLM stuck to its preference to cancel 25 leases in the Thompson Divide area southwest of Glenwood Springs and to place additional restrictions on others that haven’t yet seen development. The review came about because the BLM failed to conduct an environmental review, or adopt one previously done by the Forest Service, before issuing the leases. It seems prudent that any decision coming out of that review should mesh with the long-term management plan for the area.

Nobody was surprised by the BLM’s preferred outcome. The Sentinel’s Dennis Webb outlined several avenues of recourse for the affected leaseholders. If, after a 30-day public comment period, the preferred alternative become a final decision, SG Interests plans to challenge it, possibly with a lawsuit.

Industry representatives have been clear that they view the canceling of leases as an “illegal taking” - a violation of contractual law and private-property rights.

The Code of Federal Regulations specifies that leases issued by Interior Department agencies can be subject to cancellation if improperly issued. A suit may boil down to whether the BLM’s “improper” action was anything more than a procedural oversight. Even if it was, the bigger legal question may be whether that failure short-circuited the ability for stakeholders to articulate concerns about the leases.

Regardless, a suit is probably inevitable, but it will help illustrate why procedure has substantive implications. Meanwhile, as the BLM endures criticism from both environmentalists and the oil and gas industry over its intentions, it’s worth asking: What’s worse - making a mistake or refusing to fix it?

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2aMh9ez

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The Durango Herald, July 29, on limiting methane gas pollution:

We are used to making top-10 lists, usually for an amenity - best biking, hiking, outdoors town - which is why it was disconcerting a few years ago to learn that we made a list of another kind.

In October 2014, scientists published in Geophysical Research Letters a paper entitled, “Four Corners: The largest U.S. methane anomaly viewed from space.” The Four Corners region ranked No. 1 for the nation’s largest concentration of methane gas.

It was heartening then to learn last week that La Plata Electric Association is considering a methane capture project in southwestern La Plata County in partnership with Williford Resources, and that co-ops and some in the industry are embracing these win-win projects that lets them capture and sell the gas and keep it out of the atmosphere.

Methane is an odorless, colorless greenhouse gas that, over a 20-year period, is more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping the sun’s heat, dwarfing the impact of carbon dioxide emissions, and making the American Southwest increasingly vulnerable to climate change.

Methane releases volatile organic compounds that create ozone, which contributes to poor air quality, harming people with asthma or respiratory conditions. Ozone levels in the Four Corners barely meet the Environmental Protection Agency national air quality standards, a problem more often seen in large urban areas.

The EPA has called the San Juan Basin of Colorado and New Mexico the most productive coalbed methane basin in North America. For decades, oil and gas companies have exploited this resource, drilling approximately 60,000 wells across the region.

Energy development has greatly benefited our communities and economies but continues to leave a legacy of environmental impacts, and we are left to address the negative byproducts of industry. With exposed coal seams and open mine shafts, not all methane seepage is the result of leaking equipment and human activity, but the study suggests that that is the likely source.

Because human activity is the only piece of the puzzle we can address, the EPA recently issued new rules to limit methane pollution at new oil and gas sites, as did the Bureau of Land Management, requiring industry to limit methane escaping into the air on public and Native American lands.

The American Petroleum Institute said industry is already fixing leaks and called the new rules “unreasonable.” But through innovation and use of infrared cameras, companies like Jonah Energy, based in Denver, have cut repair time and labor costs at their operations in Wyoming and think the new regulations can simultaneously be effective and make economic sense.

We applaud the BLM and EPA for taking action, and LPEA for taking a step forward on a project that makes good economic and environmental sense. Though a step in the right direction, we do need a comprehensive approach to resolve some of our toughest air, land and water quality issues so, as with the Gold King Mine spill, the public is not left footing the bill.

Editorial: http://bit.ly/2ahlXIY

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