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.


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It shouldn’t take 5 years to lease and open a coal operation.

Friday’s optimistic Sentinel editorial – “Promise of mine jobs worth embracing” – aptly chronicles the prospect of eventually (in five years) adding 224 high-paying jobs to our ever-diversifying economy via the proposed Book Cliff Mine project.

Consequently, every aspiring local politico should understandably endorse that prospect – even if with differing degrees of enthusiasm, given the many remaining uncertainties.

However, as the Sentinel implies – citing the Grand Junction Economic Partnership’s hopeful assessment that the project “would provide a big economic boost to the region, and present little in the way of negative impacts” – there may be “devils in the details”.

Moreover, because the Sentinel properly opines that “sooner would be better than later”, it is never too soon to consider what those minimal “negative impacts” might be.

Thus, while the underground mine itself will be far below the leased area, some surface disturbance is unavoidable – with truck and/or rail traffic raising clouds of dust—which could increase the concentration of “particulates” already in the Grand Valley’s air-shed (particularly during ever-more-frequent “inversions”), and could (at least temporarily) exacerbate local non-attainment of air quality standards and accelerate the imposition of mandatory compliance measures under the Clean Air Act and/or Colorado’s recently adopted stricter air pollution regulations.

Likewise, dust clouds could impair the statutorily protected view-sheds of the Colorado National Monument (or “Park”) and/or the quality of Colorado River water.

Similarly, just as the oil and gas industry is now required to capture 95% of its emitted methane, so too should the mine be subject to similar permit conditions – since methane gas emissions are inherent in coal mining.

Finally, consistent with the Sentinel’s (and President Obama’s) advocacy of “an all of the above strategy”, scoping might also consider the feasibility of co-locating a solar array and/or wind turbine “farm” on the surface above the mine.

Oh, yes, Mesa County parents, waste no time in sending your children off to grab these wonderful, promising mining jobs! Just pay no attention to the toll mining deaths in this country. A partial list:

April, 2010 - Upper Big Branch Mine, gas explosion, Performance Coal Company, Raleigh County, VA - 29 dead

August, 2007 - Crandall Canyon Mine, Emery County, Utah, falls, 6 deaths

May, 2006 - Darby Mine No. 1, Harlan County, Kentucky, explosion, 5 dead

Jan., 2006 - Sago Mine, West VA, explosion, 12 dead

Sept. 2001- No. 5 Mine, Jim Walter Resources, explosion, 13 killed

1992 - No. 3 Mine, Southmountain Coal Co. Wise Co., VA Explosion, 8 killed

1989 - William Station No. 9 Mine, Pyro Mining Col. Wheatcroft, KY, explosion, 10 dead

Feb. 1986 - Loveridge No. 22, Consolidation Coal Co., Marion County, WVA, 5 dead from suffocation

Dec., 1984 - Wilberg Mine, Emery County, Utah, 27 burned to death in a fire..

Many more at

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