EPA proposal would impact local mining

Change in methane checks big cost for coal operations

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing toughening its requirements for measuring methane emissions from underground coal mines, a move that would result in some added expenses for testing and could bolster calls for regulating the emissions.

The agency recently unveiled a proposal it says will streamline — and improve the data quality of — its greenhouse gas reporting rule, which applies to a number of industries.

In the case of underground coal mines, it would no longer let them use data from quarterly Mine Safety and Health Administration reports for reporting the volumes of methane vented from mines.

Methane is freed from underground formations as coal is mined, and typically is vented to the surface. If allowed to build up it can create explosive conditions for miners.

The EPA says in its proposal that relying on MSHA data can result in too many data gaps. Problems can result from things such as occasional inconsistency in the locations within a mine where MSHA inspectors measure methane flow and take grab samples, the agency says.

It also is proposing that measurements be taken once a month “to provide more accurate and reliable data.”

The agency estimates that about half of the 125 mines reporting under the rule use MSHA quarterly reports, and having to provide monthly grab samples instead would cost about $28,440 per mine the first year and $14,609 in subsequent years.

Arch Coal and Bowie Resource Partners respectively operate the West Elk and Bowie No. 2 underground mines in the North Fork Valley.

Ted Zukoski, an attorney with the Earthjustice conservation group, praised the proposal as one that will provide better information on Colorado coal mines and address a major source of climate pollution.

“Methane is a greenhouse gas on steroids — it’s up to 80 times more potent than (carbon dioxide) as a heat-trapping gas over the short term. And coal mine methane is a big issue in Colorado because coal mines in the North Fork Valley are some of the gassiest in the U.S. It’s important for EPA — and the public — to have an accurate picture of this pollution, particularly after the climate accord in Paris, which put a major emphasis on transparency around climate pollution,” he said.

More accurate data also may help mines determine if measures to mitigate emissions are cost effective, “something that may be increasingly true with California’s cap-and-trade system,” Zukoski said. “That system provides incentives to combust coal mine methane, something that greatly reduces the pollution’s heat-trapping potential. Better data may also help agencies figure out whether these emissions should be controlled through regulations that require mitigation.”

Stuart Sanderson, president of the Colorado Mining Association, pointed to reports that coal-mine methane is estimated to contribute just 1 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and said that “any attempt to link these mines to climate change is speculative, at best.”

He said methane data already is being collected, and the public should be more concerned about efforts by extremists to shut down the state’s coal mines, “which anchor rural economies and pay average wages and benefits in excess of $122,000 annually,” and in Colorado contribute nearly $40 million in annual federal and state royalties.

He said also of concern is a recent Independence Institute finding that Colorado’s residential electricity rates have increased by more than 63 percent since 2001, an increase Sanderson attributes to “Colorado’s ill-advised, government-mandated switch to higher-cost energy sources” than coal.


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