Pe­abody wants 640 more acres

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Jesse Paul Jesse Paul: 303-954-1733, jpaul@den­ver­post.com or @JesseAPaul

The Bu­reau of Land Man­age­ment is weigh­ing whether to al­low Pe­abody En­ergy to lease new fed­eral land to mine up to 4.1 mil­lion more tons of coal in northwest Col­orado.

The agency says it is mak­ing the de­ci­sion un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion’s en­ergy poli­cies, which in­clude re­scind­ing Obama-era rules that placed a mora­to­rium on coal leases.

Pe­abody has ap­plied to lease 640 more acres of fed­eral coal west of Steam­boat Springs as part of its Foidel Creek Mine op­er­a­tions.

The coal pro­ducer, com­ing out a bank­ruptcy fil­ing that dis­rupted Routt County’s tax base, es­ti­mates it could re­cover 4.1 mil­lion tons of coal from the lease area, gen­er­at­ing about $13 mil­lion in roy­al­ties, half of which would go to Col­orado, ac­cord­ing to the BLM.

The lease would help the mine con­tinue at its cur­rent em­ploy­ment level of 365 peo­ple, the BLM says.

“This would be a new fed­eral lease within the area they are per­mit­ted to mine by the state,” said David Boyd, a BLM spokesman. “They have other fed­eral leases in the area but not im­me­di­ately ad­ja­cent to the pro­posed area.”

Col­orado Divi­sion of Recla­ma­tion, Min­ing and Safety data show 1,265,592 tons of coal were mined at Foidel Creek be­tween Jan­uary and April by a work­force of about 275 peo­ple. Statewide, 4,879,289 tons of coal were pro­duced dur­ing the same pe­riod.

The Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians, a group of con­ser­va­tion­ists, in re­cent years have been bat­tling the fed­eral gov­ern­ment over coal min­ing leases in the re­gion and are poised to chal­lenge Pe­abody’s lat­est re­quest.

“I can tell you that we will be do­ing our damnedest to keep this new lease from mov­ing for­ward,” said Jeremy Ni­chols, cli­mate and en­ergy pro­gram di­rec­tor at WildEarth Guardians. “This is part of a broader scheme by Pres­i­dent (Don­ald) Trump and his In­te­rior sec­re­tary, Ryan Zinke, to sacri­fice pub­lic lands and re­sources in or­der to sub­si­dize the coal in­dus­try.”

Col­orado coal pro­duc­tion fell by nearly 40 per­cent in 2016, fol­low­ing sim­i­lar trends across the na­tion. Trump’s elec­tion has led to hopes in the na­tion’s coal com­mu­ni­ties, in­clud­ing in West­ern Col­orado, that the in­dus­try’s ro­bust days might re­turn.

The BLM will launch an en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sess­ment of the ap­pli­ca­tion, but first is so­lic­it­ing pub­lic com­ments on is­sues or con­cerns through Aug. 23. The lease pro­posal, in­clud­ing maps, is avail­able for re­view on­line.

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