Promise of mine jobs worth embracing
The Bureau of Land Management is reviewing 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 Grand Junction Economic Partnership has offered its support of the proposed Book Cliff Mine, noting that it would provide a big economic boost to the region, and present little in the way of negative impacts.
We agree. There are plenty of coal critics who want America’s energy policy to move away from “dirty” fossil fuels and invest in clean-fuel technologies. But there’s a downside to every form of energy. Natural gas drillers have their fracking opponents. Nuclear has its radioactive waste. Even hydropower faces criticism for disrupting river ecosystems.
The Daily Sentinel’s editorial board has advocated an “all of the above” energy strategy, recognizing that our region has an abundance of energy resources. The responsible development of those resources has the potential to create jobs, grow the economy, raise tax revenues and help meet national goals.
According to GJEP, the mine project could create 224 “above-average” paying jobs with good benefits, leading to further economic stimulus. Even though the mine operation will be in Garfield County, the workers will most likely live in Mesa County.
We’ve seen how small Western Slope communities that are solely dependent on mining jobs have suffered when shutdowns and layoffs have occurred.
Fortunately, that’s not the position the Grand Valley finds itself in. Because of the devastating effects of the oil shale bust in the early 1980s, GJEP was created to help diversify the Grand Valley economy. Despite GJEP’s numerous successes, the local economy is still susceptible to fluctuations within the energy sector. But our latest “bust” in 2008-09 was far less painful than its predecessor.
The mine is not a magic bullet. It just adds another piece to a growing puzzle. Unfortunately, the schedule for it to become operational means we won’t see the economic benefits for five years or more.
The BLM has essentially gone back to the drawing board after previously considering expansion of an existing mine operation in the area. It decided to create a larger lease area and open the process to competitive bidding. That means that after it decides to lease the coal, the agency will begin another review of the site-specific proposals of the company awarded the lease. That process alone could take five years.
Considering that the existing resource management plan for the area anticipates the coal being leased, we hope the BLM will expedite its review process. We think an opportunity to bring 224 good jobs to the county without putting a strain on local infrastructure or services is worth embracing.
Sooner would be better than later.