Feds rescind approval for Oxbow lease

The Bureau of Land Management wants to withdraw its approval of a 786-acre coal lease for Oxbow Mining near Somerset so it can respond to concerns raised by environmental groups in an appeal.

“BLM no longer endorses the decision and therefore requests a remand in order to withdraw it,” the agency said in its request to the Interior Board of Land Appeals.

WildEarth Guardians and the Sierra Club challenged the lease approval because of concerns about climate-change and air-quality impacts. They want the agency to require companies to capture methane released during mining, rather than vent it. Methane is considered a potent greenhouse gas.

BLM spokesman Steven Hall said a lawsuit is likely no matter what the agency decides, and it wants to look at whether it can strengthen its environmental assessment to address the groups’ concerns and ensure it has a legally defensible document.

“This does not mean that we believe that WildEarth Guardians has the right prescription for coal mining in the North Fork Valley, which is to shut it down,” he said.

He said the group has been challenging every coal-lease decision the agency makes in the valley.

Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director for WildEarth Guardians, said in an e-mail the BLM’s decision restores confidence the agency is committed to ensuring sensible environmental safeguards are in place.

“This isn’t about shutting down coal mining,” Nichols said. “It’s about seizing opportunities to protect clean air, the climate and public health. More importantly, it’s about finding every opportunity possible to recover value. In this case, recovering methane from the Elk Creek mine would bring in much-needed revenue and create new jobs.”

Oxbow contends it is not economically feasible to recover methane during mining, or it would be doing it.

Oxbow Corp. spokesman Brad Goldstein said the company is “completely disappointed” by the BLM’s decision.

“It’s a sad day for the economy of the North Fork Valley, that’s for darn sure,” he said.

Oxbow’s Elk Creek Coal Mine in Somerset employs about 350 people. The new coal lease would extend the mine’s life by a year and let it produce an additional 4 million to 6 million tons of coal.


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