FromThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Alex Zorn):
More than 20,000 pounds of fresh seed airdropped over the area of the Pine Gulch Fire [the week of February 21, 2021] is intended to help regrow the sagebrush, pinyon, juniper and other timber and brush that were lost to the record-setting blaze.
By the time the last ember went out, the fire burned more than 139,000 acres — the largest in Colorado history before being overtaken by fires later in the season. Rehabilitation efforts are planned over the next year, including these seed drops…
The BLM will receive $3.5 million in funding from the Department of Interior for rehabilitation efforts.
“The majority of it will recover naturally. It’s a part of the ecosystem and (fire) stimulates new growth. We’re only seeding 22,000 of the 138,000-acre fire in areas where the fire burned hottest,” Coulter explained. “Sometimes, in those areas, the soil won’t absorb water and support regrowth.”
With a smaller fire, BLM may have used a team of volunteers to seed the burned areas but, on Colorado’s third largest fire in history, aerial drops were necessary…
Seed was also dropped on other nearby burn scars in partnership with Colorado Parks and Wildlife…
Seed was purchased mostly from producers, though some volunteers were used to collect seeds from the land.
The best time to seed is when there is still a fresh layer of snow on the ground.“It’s a tremendous conditions. It’s all snow-covered, the timing is optimal” Sullivan said.
Here’s a guest column from Don Coram that’s running in The Montrose Daily Press:
While the cat is away, the mice will play. That is exactly what is going on in the Colorado General Assembly. With all the COVID-19 issues from the last session, the executive branch and regulatory agencies had full control of Government. It appears the regulatory agencies are still trying to flex their muscles.
It has been that agencies used fiscal notes to gain favor or opposition using this analysis of the cost of enacting a bill. Last week I had SB 21-034 in the Agricultural and Natural Resources Committee. This bill was to have the conversation of funding for Colorado’s water future. To bring a little history to the subject, Gov. Hickenlooper directed in the spring of 2013 for the Colorado Water Conservation Board to create a plan for Colorado’s water future. When asked where, does the legislature and general public fit? The director of the Department of Natural Resources told us we did not. Under the leadership of former Sen. Ellen Roberts, she and I drafted legislation to bring the conversation to the designated river basins. Ironically, our largest meeting was in Durango. From those meetings, the Colorado Water Plan was written.
With all the information, the Colorado Water Plan has never been really implemented, because of no stable funding source. So, to start the conversation I drafted and introduced SB-034; it also sat on the shelf for two years prior to introduction. The measure would send to the voters in November of 2022 the question of creating a new enterprise to fund Colorado’s water future. The enterprise would combine the CWCB and the Water and Power Authority to provide grants to water issues, such as treated domestic water, gray water, infrastructure and projects among others.
Now to the source of my frustration. The fiscal note states that CWCB who already has a grant program for funds that are expended from dollars generated by severance tax would require 7.6 new employees and over $1.25 million to implement the first year and more than $1 million annually to continue. The entire ag committee was frustrated by the department’s position on the projected costs. Estimated cost to the average household was $1.59 per month, and annual revenue was in excess of $38.2 million. The bill failed on party line vote, but the message was sent.
SB 21-105 is another example of fiscal note jeopardy. With the passage of Amendment 114, reintroduction of the gray wolf, it stated that a plan for reintroduction shall be completed by Dec. 31, 2023. In addressing the Colorado Wildlife Commission, Gov. Polis seemed to give a strong desire to have wolves on the ground in early 2022. Let me make it perfectly clear, I am not challenging the vote of the people. I just want to ensure CPW does it as prescribed in Amendment 114. Side by side comparisons were shown except for the addition on chickens and alternative livestock. The Blue Book projected first year costs at $344,000 and second year costs at $467,000 Those must be some expensive chickens, because the fiscal note asks for $841,414 in the first year and one FTE and $1,003,945 and three FTE in the second year; $300,000 a year for a meeting facilitator; $600,000.00 to host meetings for two years. That seems to be better and less time consuming than this legislator gig. Once again committee members rail on such asinine projections. Final vote, it failed on a party line vote. There is no funding for the wolf reintroduction. So, tell me whose ox gets gored? Education, transportation, health and environment, department of corrections, governor’s office, or what?
On Saturday, March 20, 2021 Colorado may have had an air quality alert from all the meat that was grilled or served in restaurants throughout Colorado. The Governor’s meatless proclamation certainly had a ripple effect in perhaps setting the record for the most meat consumed in one day in Colorado. I don’t think that was the plan, but my gratitude for all those who stood with Colorado ranchers and farmers.
One of the wetter spots in Colorado, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, is east over the mountains from Steamboat Springs in Larimer County.
Much of that county is in the lowest level of drought, called “abnormally dry,” thanks in part to historic snowfalls on the Front Range earlier this month. If Larimer County is dry, the trek west to Routt County — through part of the state that saw several record wildfires in 2020 — might test which drought-related adjectives apply.
The drought monitor goes with “extreme” and “exceptional” to describe drought conditions in Routt County. Most of the Western Slope is looking at a similar situation, with the western third of Colorado being shades of ruby red and maroon on the latest map released by drought officials last Thursday.
After having a call put on it for the second time in three years in 2020, state water officials are now considering whether the Yampa River has enough water to fulfill rights held by people downstream of Steamboat Springs. What is most concerning to officials isn’t just the low amount of snow seen this winter, but also how dry the ground was before it started falling.
In the Yampa and White River Basins in Northwest Colorado, the snowpack is about 87% of average in terms of snow water equivalent, according to data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, but there isn’t much snow forecasted for the next few weeks, and the average peak in the snowpack generally comes around April 10…
Rain is key at maintaining soil moisture, Romero-Heaney said. Because the soil was so dry last fall, she anticipates a lot of the melting snow will be soaked up and water runoff will be lower than normal.
This means stream flows will be lower, likely requiring release of water from Stagecoach Reservoir to support the health of the Yampa River later in the season. Romero-Heaney said more often then not, since 2013, they have needed to release water into the Yampa.
If enough of that spring and summer rain does not come, Romero-Heaney said the valley could see a summer much like the last, and “we start to run out of water for all the uses in the basin.”
Municipal customers running out of water is not a concern at this point. Whether there will be enough water for all the agricultural uses in the basin while also keeping the river healthy is in question though, Romero-Heaney said…
Despite lower snow totals, Andy Rossi, general manager at the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District, said he anticipates they will be able to fill Stagecoach Reservoir this year. That said, Rossi is not expecting to be able to fill Yamcolo Reservoir, which is primarily used for agriculture…
In repeated dry years, it can be increasingly hard to fully recover a reservoir until that streak ends, and there is a wetter year. In these dry years, potentially this summer, it can become difficult to meet the need of all the agricultural water diversions, Rossi said.
New legislation could help states and tribes clean up decades-old mining liabilities and restore the environment while creating needed jobs.
Mined lands reclaimed for biking trails, office parks — even a winery. Efforts like these are already underway in Appalachia to reclaim the region’s toxic history, restore blighted lands, and create economic opportunities in areas where decades-old mines haven’t been properly cleaned up.
The projects are sorely needed. And so are many more. But the money to fund and enable them remains elusive.
Mining production is falling, which is good news for tackling climate change and air pollution, but Appalachia and other coal states are also feeling the economic pain that comes with it. And that loss is more acute on top of pandemic-related revenue shortfalls and the mounting bills from the industry’s environmental degradation.
Local leaders and organizations working in coal communities see a way to flip the script, though. The Revelator spoke with Rebecca Shelton, the director of policy and organizing for Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center in Kentucky, about efforts focusing on one particular area that’s plagued coal communities for more than 50 years: cleaning up abandoned mine lands.
Shelton explains the history behind these lands, the big legislative opportunities developing in Washington, and what coal communities need to prepare for a low-carbon future.
What are abandoned mine lands?
Technically an abandoned mine land is land where no reclamation was done after mining. Prior to the passage of Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act in 1977, coal-mining companies weren’t required to reclaim — or clean up — the land they mined.
What SMCRA did, in addition to creating requirements for companies to do reclamation into the future, was create an abandoned mine land fund to distribute money to states and tribes with historic mining so that they could clean up those old sites. The revenue for that fund comes from a small tax on current coal production.
The program has accomplished a lot. It has closed 46,000 open mine portals, reclaimed more than 1,000 miles of high walls, stabilized slopes, and restored a lot of water supplies.
t’s been a successful program, but the work is far from done. A conservative estimate is that there’s still more than $11 billion needed to clean up existing identified liability across the U.S. [for sites mined before 1977].
What are the risks if we don’t do this?
There are safety, health and environmental issues.
Just this spring we’ve already gotten calls from folks living adjacent to abandoned mine lands that are experiencing slides [from wet weather causing slopes destabilized by mining to give way]. People’s homes can be completely destabilized, and if they don’t get out in time, it can be really dangerous.
There’s also a lot of existing acid mine drainage across coal-mining communities, which is water that’s leaking iron oxides and other heavy metals from these abandoned mine lands. This is bad for the ecology of the streams, but heavy metals are also not safe for humans to be exposed to.
There’s legislation in Congress now that could help deal with this issue. What are those bills?
One bill is the reauthorization of the abandoned mine land fund. That bill is absolutely critical because the fee on coal production, which is the only source of revenue for the fund, will expire at the end of September if Congress doesn’t take action.
If Congress fails to extend that, we may not see any more funding for the $11 billion needed to clean up abandoned mine lands. If passed, the bill would reauthorize the fee at its current level for 15 more years.
The challenge is that even if the fee is reauthorized, it’ll likely generate only around $1.6 billion — based on current coal-production projections — and that’s vastly inadequate to cover all of the liabilities that exist.
Also, when the abandoned mine land fund was first started, there were some funds that were not redistributed to states and tribes and have just remained in the fund — [about] $2.5 billion that’s not being dispersed on an annual basis.
So another bill, the RECLAIM Act, would authorize [an initial] $1 billion to be dispersed out of that fund that would go to approximately 20 states and tribes over the next five years. This money would be distributed differently than the regular funds in that any kind of project would have to have a plan in place for community and economic development.
So though the funds can only be used for reclamation, they need to be reclamation with a plan. There are so many high-priority and dangerous abandoned mine land sites that exist, and the RECLAIM Act funds would prioritize supporting community and economic development for communities adjacent to these lands.
How much support are you seeing for these bills?
We see momentum in this Congress, and there’s a lot of conversation around investing in our nation’s infrastructure. We see abandoned mine lands and their remediation as natural infrastructure that we need to invest in to keep our communities safe and prepare them for the future.
But we also see these bills as important pieces of an economic recovery package. COVID-19 has really exacerbated so many of the existing health and economic crises already in coal communities.
When we talk about economic stimulus and job creation, we also see reauthorizing the abandoned mine land fund as contributing to that because it takes a lot of work and creates a lot of jobs to do land reclamation.
We’ve talked about the legacy issues from lands mined before 1977, but what concerns are there from current or recent mining? Is that reclamation being done adequately?
That’s an area that also needs a closer look.
As the industry declines, we’ve seen coal companies file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy or reorganization. And when they do this, oftentimes they’re granted permission to get rid of liabilities that would affect their solvency. Sometimes those liabilities are reclamation obligations, pension funds or black lung disability funds.
And then what you see is smaller companies taking on these permits that the reorganizing company no longer wants. But many are under-capitalized and they sometimes don’t have the ability to even produce coal, or if they do they can’t keep up with the reclamation. And it’s dangerous for communities if there’s environmental violations that aren’t getting addressed.
I’ll give you a recent example. Blackjewel [the sixth-largest U.S. coal producer] went bankrupt in the summer of 2019. Since then there’s been very little done to address any kind of environmental violations existing on their permits.
Because of SMCRA, companies are required to have bonds in order to obtain their mining permits, but these bonds are not always adequate. The Kentucky Energy and Environment cabinet made a statement in the Blackjewel bankruptcy proceedings that it estimated that reclamation obligations on these permits were going to fall short $20 to $50 million.
What else is needed to help coal communities transition to a low-carbon economy?
That’s a big question. We have to address these legacy issues in order to help transition these communities into the future. And we have to address the problems right now of folks who are losing their jobs and need to be supported through training programs or through education credits.
But we also need to be thinking about the future more broadly. What will be in place 20 years from now for the younger generation?
There’s going to be a lot of gaps in local tax revenues because so much of the tax base has been reliant on the coal industry, which makes it really difficult for communities to continue to provide public services and keep up infrastructure as that industry declines. It’s going to be critical to think about that and invest in that.
I think the best approach is to find solutions that work for [specific] places. And to do that we need to listen to community leaders and folks in these communities that have already been working to build something new for many years. There are solutions that I think can apply to all places, but there also needs to be a targeted intention to create opportunities where communities can develop their own paths forward.
The South Taylor pit is one of Colowyo Mine’s current active coal mining site. Photo by David Tan via CoalZoom.com
Image credit: Dan Winters
Coal plant water consumption in the American West. Graphic credit: The Energy Policy Institute
Coal train loading at Spring Creek mine, Montana. Photo: WildEarth Guardians, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
Spring Creek Coal Mine. Photo credit: Cloud Peak Energy
One coal mine remains open in the North Fork Valley. Photo/Allen Best
The U.S. is the second-largest producer of coal in the world, thanks in part to massive surface mines like this one in Wyoming. Photo courtesy BLM.
West Virginia coal mine circa. 1908
December 22, 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash retention pond failure via the Environmental Protection Agency and the Tennessee Valley Authority