Feds seeking comment on coal proposal
BLM wants input on leasing of 14,160 acres in Bookcliffs
The Bureau of Land Management is kicking off a review of a proposal to lease an estimated 78 million tons of coal reserves beneath about 14,160 acres in the Bookcliffs north of Fruita in Garfield County.
The proposal represents an expanded version of a lease proposal submitted in 2006 by CAM-Colorado, LLC, and at one point entailing about 11,600 acres. Any lease would be subject to a competitive bidding process.
“We’re happy to see (the review) moving along,” said Corey Heaps, project manager for western operations for Rhino Energy LLC, which owns CAM-Colorado.
The BLM released a draft environmental impact statement in 2009, but decided based on public comments that additional environmental review was needed. On Friday, it posted a Federal Register notice of its intent to prepare an EIS and kick it off with a public scoping process that will continue through Feb. 18.
Arch Coal, which also runs the West Elk Mine in the North Fork Valley, had expressed interest in the same acreage being pursued by Rhino Energy, but had told the BLM expanding the proposed acreage would make the leasing process more competitive. Heaps said others are probably interested in the coal as well.
Jeremy Nichols of WildEarth Guardians said the new proposal includes modifications proposed by both Arch Coal and his group. But he said WildEarth Guardians continues to have the same concerns.
“This massive new coal mine promises only to fuel our climate and clean air woes here at home and beyond. Instead of facilitating more fossil fuel development, the Interior Department should be working with Western communities to advance clean energy and safeguard our irreplaceable landscape,” he said.
The new proposal comes during a challenging time for domestic coal producers due to factors including pollution concerns and increased competition from natural gas as a power plant fuel source.
“It’s a tough market environment right now, that’s all I can say,” Heaps said. “We just do the best we can.”
McClane Canyon, another Rhino mine north of Fruita, has been closed since the loss of its customer, the Cameo Power Plant east of Palisade. The BLM has approved a 320-acre lease expansion for that mine but it remains inactive as the company seeks a buyer for the coal.
The BLM says some preliminary issues it has identified for analysis in its Bookcliffs review include air and water quality, wildlife and wildlife habitat, socioeconomics, grazing, oil and gas development and transportation.