Repeal of federal coal rule met with relief by Northwest Colorado officials
February 27, 2017
Craig — A law that jeopardized the future of Northwest Colorado coal mines was repealed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump this month, an early step towards fulfilling his promise to protect coal jobs.
The Stream Protection Rule was initially designed to protect waterways near mountaintop removal coal mines in Appalachia, and local and state officials said it was ill-suited and redundant for Colorado mines.
"We certainly thought this rule was completely inappropriate for Colorado," said Colorado Mining Association President Stan Dempsey, Jr. "I think it could've threatened all of Colorado's coal production."
The law was signed by President Barack Obama in December and took effect Jan. 19. It prohibited the dumping of coal mining debris into waterways and mandated a 100-foot setback from streams.
Moffat County Commissioners sent a letter to elected officials on Jan. 30 requesting their vote to repeal the rule.
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"Analysis from the Colorado Mining Association projects this rule would result in shutting down more than 60 percent of the State's production, and directly target (Northwest) Colorado," the letter said.
The commissioners went on to identify several existing laws and agencies that already protect streams and groundwater in Colorado.
"In a world of overregulation and anti-coal political agendas, redundancy of regulation is not only unnecessary, but detrimental to our community's largest employee base and economic contributor," the letter concluded.
Moffat County Natural Resources Director Jeff Comstock believed the law was too far-reaching and disagreed that the move represented deregulation by the Trump administration.
"Colorado has been one of the most proactive states for regulating coal and oil and gas in the nation… so taking this rule and applying it to Moffat County just doesn't even make sense," he said. "I don't view it as deregulation at all, I view it as a local control issue."
As could be expected, The Sierra Club criticized the rule's disapproval.
"The Stream Protection Rule sought to tackle the decades-old practice of coal companies dumping tons of dangerous mining waste from their mining operations into nearby waterways that were frequently used for drinking, farming, and fishing by local communities," according to a Sierra Club press release.
As for what it bodes for the future, Dempsey believes there's still opportunity for the coal industry under the new administration.
"I think we've bottomed out. We had a 32-percent reduction in coal produced in 2016, so I think we've hit bottom," Dempsey said.
Trump's plans to focus on economic growth could mean growing energy needs, he added, possibly fueling a rebound in the coal industry.
"The first thing we'd urge the Trump administration to do is to take the Obama administration's boot off of our neck," Dempsey said. "I think if he can grow the economy, all fuel sources will benefit."