Federal agencies announced this month that they will conduct additional environmental analyses of a Hesperus coal mine’s expansion plans.
GCC Energy, which owns the King II coal mine, wants to expand mining on about 950 acres adjacent to the existing operation on County Road 120.
Most of the proposed expansion area is split estate between the federal government, which manages the subsurface minerals, and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, which own the surface lands.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management began an environmental assessment process in 2011, but now the U.S. Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is joining the BLM in preparing one environmental assessment in accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act.
“GCC is interested in expanding onto BLM property, and there is a NEPA process for that,” La Plata County Planning Director Damian Peduto said.
“This scoping is restarting the NEPA process.”
The agencies decided additional study was necessary before King II is permitted to expand, and they are accepting public comments until Feb. 5.
Conservation organizations have pushed the BLM to conduct further scoping because the most recent environmental assessment was conducted in 2011 when GCC first proposed the expansion, and conditions have changed in six years. “Initially, the BLM said they were not going to re-scope it, which would have been really unfortunate when you have a document that old,” said Jimbo Buickerood, public lands coordinator for San Juan Citizens Alliance. “Overall, we’re pleased the OSMRE joined the process and the expansion is open to the public through the scoping process. Unfortunately, the agencies did not take the next reasonable step and hold a public meeting to detail what the expansion entails.”
The BLM local office, OSMRE and GCC Energy officials could not be reached.
As a cooperating agency in the process, La Plata County will have opportunities to weigh in throughout. County commissioners will consider submitting comments at a meeting Tuesday, which will likely call for monitoring any effects on the La Plata River Basin and consideration of impacts to private landowners.
Before King II can proceed, the BLM must decide whether to approve, approve with modifications or deny a modification of the mine’s existing federal coal lease. Approval of the lease modification would let the mine expand by the proposed 950 acres.
OSMRE must decide whether to approve a permit revision application package that includes a water-monitoring program and water-impact analysis. The agency must also decide whether to approve a renewal of King II’s federal mine permit.
The project also needs approval from the Department of Interior.
The coal mine opened in 2007 and produces just under 1 million tons of bituminous coal annually. Last July, because King II’s coal reserves are dwindling, the company was granted an exemption from the federal coal moratorium on new leases and lease modifications. That exemption allows GCC Energy to pursue its request for additional acreage.
Maps and previous scoping materials are available at go.usa.gov/x92jw.