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County supports coal

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County government continues moving forward on opportunities to support the coal industry.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Regional Forester announced that his agency has completed the rule making and environmental analyses to reinstate the North Fork Coal Mining Area Exception to the Colorado Roadless Rule.

For over two years, county government has been at the front of efforts to reinstate the North Fork Coal Mining Area Exception. The county has continually commented on and advised the Forest Service and others about the importance of coal mining to the Delta County economy. Rocky Mountain Regional Forester Brian Ferebee acknowledged the county's position in his announcement two weeks ago when he noted, "The reinstatement of the North Fork Coal Mining Area exception addresses a state specific concern for managing roadless areas while providing opportunities for energy development and other benefits such as supporting local economies."

The original North Fork Coal Mining Area Exception was overturned in court as a result of lawsuits from anti-coal environmental groups. A federal judge in Denver said the exception had been adopted in error because it did not address environmental effects of coal use as fuel. The revised North Fork Coal Mining Area Exception has been released for a 30-day comment period.

The effort to fully reinstate the North Fork Coal Mining Area Exception is not over. Earlier this year the U.S. Office of Management and Budget undertook its own review of the Forest Service's reinstatement effort. County government responded with a statement of the coal industry's importance here. The three-page-long letter to the Office of Management and Budget details a number of important local economic issues surrounding coal.

Delta County government recently opened a third front in the federal administration's "war on coal" and in the ongoing effort to support the industry locally. The county has accepted an invitation to work with the BLM as a "cooperating agency" in the BLM's coal industry Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) process. The BLM's PEIS process will evaluate whether to increase royalty payments by the industry to the federal government for coal mined from public lands. The study is seen by industry as a needless threat to coal mining at a time when the industry is suffering economic hardship due to a combination of federal policies and market conditions.

By participating as a cooperating agency in the BLM process, the county commissioners and administration expect to be kept abreast of developments and to have the opportunity for comment as the PEIS moves forward.

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