- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 9, 2015

DENVER — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has rebuffed the entreaties of Colorado lawmakers urging her to appeal a federal judge’s order that threatens to shut down the Colowyo coal mine.

Ms. Jewell allowed the deadline to expire this week without filing a motion to appeal, despite requests from Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, Republican Sen. Cory Gardner and Republican Rep. Scott Tipton for the administration’s help in buying time to comply with the ruling.

In a May 8 ruling, U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson gave the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining 120 days to redo the National Environmental Policy Act process on a permit approved eight years ago to expand the mine in rural Craig, Colorado.

“The decision to not appeal Judge Jackson’s ruling in the Colowyo court case is very disturbing and has nationwide implications,” said Moffat County Commissioner John Kinkaid.

Interior Department spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw indicated in a statement that an appeal is unnecessary because the OSM is “on track to address the deficiencies in the Colowyo permit within the 120 day period.”

“The Department of the Interior including the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement take our NEPA responsibilities seriously, including the robust public participation in any environmental reviews,” the Tuesday statement said.

Not everyone is as confident. Colorado Department of Natural Resources director Mike King has called the 120-day deadline “an unrealistically short timeframe to remedy a complicated NEPA process.”

Mr. Gardner, Mr. Tipton and Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet responded Thursday by asking Ms. Jewell to “provide assurances” that the review would be completed by the deadline.

“We are truly appreciative of the early actions taken by agency officials. We remain concerned, however, about the rapidly approaching deadline, and your Department’s decision to not appeal the Court’s decision has done nothing to allay this concern,” said the lawmakers in their letter.

“We understand that you committed to Governor Hickenlooper that you would complete the necessary review by the deadline. What assurances can you provide us that the updated NEPA review will be completed by the September 6 deadline?” the letter said.

If the agency is unable to redo the permit in time, the coal mine could be forced to close, taking with it 220 jobs.

Tri-State Generation and Transmission, the rural electrical co-op that owns the mine, has filed for a stay pending an appeal of the judge’s decision.

“We are disappointed that the government did not appeal the federal district court’s decision,” said Tri-State spokesman Lee Boughey in a statement.

The judge’s ruling came in response to a lawsuit by WildEarth Guardians, which praised the Obama administration’s decision not to fight the order in a press release headlined, “Agency Accepts Federal Court Ruling over Colorado Coal Mine.”

“Under federal court rules, the Interior Department had 60 days to appeal and overturn the court ruling. That deadline passed yesterday and Interior filed no appeal,” the press release said. “This means the federal court ruling in May will stand and that the Interior Department will follow through to address the climate impacts of coal mining.”

Fears over the loss of the coal mine, a cornerstone of the northwest Colorado economy, prompted local liquor stores and bars to launch a beer boycott against breweries listed online as supporters of WildEarth Guardians.

Since then, the names of about 450 companies have been removed from the WildEarth Guardians “Businesses for Guardians” list, according to the Craig Daily Press.

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