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Citizens, businesses to gather for BLM protest

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Citizens from across Colorado and the West are expected to show up in force in Grand Junction June 23 to protest the Interior Department's moratorium on new coal leases from federal land and its attempt to stop existing mines through increased royalties on production.

Several organizations representing a broad coalition of citizens, miners, local governments, business and civic leaders will appear. Representatives of many organizations are expected to testify in support of rural economies and affordable energy at the Bureau of Land Management hearing scheduled at the Avalon Theater in Grand Junction. Included in the broad coalition are Arch Coal/Mountain Coal Company, LLC, Bowie Resource Partners, Club 20, Craig-Moffat County Economic Development Partnership, Craig Chamber of Commerce, Delta County, Friends of Coal West, Meeker Chamber of Commerce, Mesa County, Moffat County, National Mining Association, Oxbow Mining, Progressive 15, Town of Rangely and Utah Mining Association.

Members of the coalition issued the following joint statement: "It is time for the war on coal mining jobs and affordable energy to end. Western coal mining jobs are important to rural economies and the clean, affordable and reliable energy from mining still accounts for the bulk of electricity produced in Colorado and much of the West. Royalties paid by coal producers are returned to the state to support our public school system. The current lease moratorium and proposals to raise royalty rates will have a chilling effect on rural Colorado and the western United States."

The group also took issue with the need for any revision of the current royalty program. "There is no compelling need for a 'political-fix' to a program that is not broken. The current program provides an exceptional return to taxpayers. In fact, the 12.5 percent royalty paid on coal leased from federal land is approximately 40 percent higher than royalty rates paid by coal mined on private land in coal states. Recent investigations by the Government Accountability Office and the Department of the Interior's Inspector General confirm that the public is getting a fair return and often above fair market value for federal coal leases."

Elected leaders, congressional and state government representatives will also speak at the hearing in support of mining and affordable energy.

Coal miners in Colorado alone earn above average wages and benefits of nearly $135,000 annually, according to the Colorado Mining Association's Coal Production and Employment Report for 2015. But federal and state laws have resulted in significant harm to Western Slope economies. Since 2013, two mines in Gunnison and Delta counties have been forced to cease operations and a third recently announced a reduction in its workforce. All mines in Colorado have reduced production. In 2015, mining output fell to a 25-year low of less than 19 million tons, a decrease of more than 50 percent from the record levels achieved in 2004.

Recent employment numbers published by the federal government show a significant decline in mining employment. "It is time for rural Colorado and the West to stand up and be heard. Join us on June 23," the groups announced.

The event runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Avalon Theater.

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