Tag Archives: Durango Herald

5/23/2012 The Durango Herald: Five groups ask court to halt coal mining Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts

5/23/2012 The Durango Herald: Five groups ask court to halt coal mining- Environmentalists say feds failed to consider cumulative impacts By Emery Cowan local environmental group is one of five organizations suing the federal government over its approval of a proposed expansion of the coal mine that supplies the Four Corners Power Plant in northern New Mexico. The lawsuit, filed last week, challenges the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement’s approval of a 714-acre expansion of the Navajo Coal Mine in northern New Mexico. The plaintiffs argue the federal agency did not evaluate the indirect and cumulative impacts of the mine expansion.

The extraction, combustion and waste disposal of the additional coal will cause the release of significant amounts of air and water pollution that will adversely affect the Four Corners and beyond, the lawsuit claims.

Coal ash disposal, dust accumulation, traffic and contamination of water sources are other potential environmental impacts, said Mike Eisenfeld, the New Mexico energy coordinator at the San Juan Citizens Alliance, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

The office of surface mining “put on blinders to the cumulative reality of coal operations at the mine and the power plant,” Eisenfeld said.

The approval “hides the true magnitude of the damage caused by coal mining and combustion in our region and the risks of green-lighting more of the same with no change,” he said.

The groups argue the federal agency should pursue a more-detailed analysis of the environmental impacts of mine expansion.

Mine operator BHP Billington is willing to discuss with the environmental groups the cumulative environmental impacts, said Jac Fourie, president of BHP Billiton’s New Mexico Coal operations, according to news reports.

The 714-acre expansion is a scaled-down version of the company’s 2010 proposal to strip mine 3,800 acres on the same site.

A Colorado district judge ruled the Office of Surface Mining’s analysis of that proposal insufficient.

The current expansion proposal permits the company to extract 12.7 million tons of coal that will be burned at the Four Corners Power Plant.

“The two facilities are inextricably connected,” Eisenfeld said.

The mine needs the expansion permit to fulfill its contract with the power plant, he said.

The Four Corners Power Plant provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

It is the largest coal-fired power plant and the largest single source of nitrogen oxides in the country.

Recent regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that target toxic pollutants would reduce the plant’s emissions by 87 percent.

ecowan@durangoherald.com

11/10/2011 Durango Herald: Wildcat’s mining permit approved

11/10/2011 Durango Herald: Wildcat’s mining permit approved – Initial access to mines allowed only for water sampling, cleanup surveys By Joe Hanel Herald Staff Writer: DENVER – State regulators approved a permit for a controversial gold mine in La Plata Canyon on Wednesday, but it comes with a long list of conditions and does not allow mining until the company has cleaned up the messes it made. Since Wildcat Mining Corp. took over historic mines near the hamlet of Mayday in 2006, it has built an illegal road, blasted two mine portals and moved a mill into one of the mines, all without a permit. All three portals into the mine have collapsed either completely or partially, endangering a road above. Water is leaking from the mine. Engineers and neighbors also have concerns about the stability of the company’s illegal road, which descends from County Road 124 across the La Plata River.

Regulators with the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety reasoned that the only way they could ensure a cleanup was to get the mines and road a new permit, which the governor-appointed Mined Land Reclamation Board approved unanimously Wednesday.

Board members stressed that the permit initially will allow access to the mines only for water sampling and other surveys needed to begin cleanup work. Without a permit, Wildcat officials are not supposed to enter the mines for any reason.

“The permit doesn’t authorize any mining or any milling,” said MLRB member Bob Randall.

Elizabeth Paranhos, who represents environmental interests on the board, said she was comfortable with plans to approve a permit with many conditions.

“What’s happening now is really a matter of data gathering without doing any further mining or milling,” Paranhos said.

Wildcat Mining also said Wednesday’s decision is a step forward.

“The Mined Land Reclamation Board’s unanimous vote today to accept the recommendation by the Colorado Division of Reclamation Mining and Safety for approval with conditions for the May Day Idaho Mine Complex will allow Wildcat Mining to move forward in a measured fashion to resolve existing issues on the project site,” Randall Oser, Wildcat Mining president, said in an email. “We are pleased with DRMS’s recommendations and the Board’s work to ensure that all stakeholders have been informed and involved.”

But the assurances were not enough for several La Plata Canyon residents who testified by phone against approval of the permit.

“The division has never given a permit of this type. I don’t think now is the time to start, especially with this operator,” said Scott Collignon, a longtime critic who lives across the river from the mine.

Indeed, Wally Erickson of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety said he doubted the state has ever approved a permit with such a long list of conditions.

Robert Abshire, a Native American student at Fort Lewis College, testified by phone from a room he said was filled with 30 fellow Native students.

The mine sits on a sacred mountain for the Navajo Nation, and it cannot be worked on without violating sacred space and possibly federal laws, Abshire said.

Wildcat lawyer Penfield Tate said the mine has been blessed by Native Americans in the past, and the company has a medicine man on retainer in case people think it needs another ceremony.

Company officials say they have a new team in place and blamed former owner Mike Clements for the company’s previous problems.

Roger Tichenor, Wildcat’s new CEO, said he didn’t appreciate the depth of the problems when he invested in Wildcat. He decided to take control of the company and bring in experts to repair the damage.

“We’re here to do things right. We’re here to make it right and run a profitable business,” Tichenor said.

But neighbor Phil Vigil isn’t convinced.

“A new owner really doesn’t make for a new operation,” Vigil said, testifying by phone.

The company will have to make a series of applications to amend the permit before it can begin mining, Erickson said.

jhanel@durangoherald.com

9/7/2011 Durango Herald: Air quality backpedal – Obama’s retreat from rule was wrong

9/7/2011 Durango Herald: Air quality backpedal-Obama’s retreat from rule was wrong: One of the oft- and rightly criticized hallmarks of George W. Bush’s environmental policy was its brazen disregard for science, instead favoring political or ideological arguments. To the environmental community, and all those who value policies that are built upon research and scientific rigor, the Obama administration’s promise to do just that in its environmental efforts was a welcome answer to the Bush era. So it was with no small amount of disappointment that news was received last week of the administration’s decision to abandon an effort to tighten ground-level ozone standards.

Had the announcement been justified by science, it might have made the pill less bitter to swallow, but that was not the case. Instead, the decision appears to have come as a result of some rather basic political calculus, infused with integers from a concerted lobbying effort on the part of a range of business interests – including the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers. Tapping into the hot-button political issues such as jobs and burdensome regulatory efforts that stymie economic growth, this lobbying cohort effectively chastened the administration into abandoning the revised ozone standard so as not to give Republicans fodder for criticizing Obama’s commitment to job creation and economic recovery.

The trouble is, that is a false premise that gained unwarranted traction at a time steeped in all-jobs-all-the-time rhetoric. In accepting that claim, Obama has sidestepped a more important issue: public health and its impact on economies – not to mention communities, human and otherwise – over the long term.

The revised ozone standard that was widely expected to be accepted by Obama, would have reduced the limit of acceptable levels of ozone from 75 parts per billion to 60 to 70 parts per billion. That change would have meant many counties across the country exceeded the limit. La Plata County’s fate under the revision was uncertain, but noncompliance was a possibility. Regardless, ground-level ozone – that which is generated as a result of emissions from industrial activity such as gas and oil drilling – is known to cause a range of health problems such as increased asthma rates, as well as compounded effects of emphysema and bronchitis, and an overall decrease in lung capacity. The Environmental Protection Agency’s analysis of the standard found that a 60 to 70 parts per billion limit would be the most cost-effective way to address the growing issue. Despite opponents’ claim that the new rule would cost industry $90 billion a year to implement, the EPA found that savings of up to $100 billion each year would result. Nevertheless, Obama punted.

Aside from the disproportionate role politics played in his decision to ignore the EPA scientists’ recommendations, Obama showed a troubling willingness to play fast and loose with public health. With documented ill effects associated with ground-level ozone, erring on the side of caution, particularly when that caution is bolstered by abundant scientific evidence, is the responsibility of any good policymaker. Shirking that charge in order to win an election and duck criticism is a disappointment – to those to whom the administration promised better, to those who expect reason and research to take precedence over calculation and rhetoric, and to those who have seen the effectiveness of regulation in protecting those who suffer the environmental and health consequences of the industries that shape our economy. Both are essential to consider in formulating policy and striking a balance is always a goal, but putting a political finger on the scales produces nothing but cynicism.