CB council considers two requests dealing with coal development

Asked for bigger royalties, not sure about HCCA request

by Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte Town Council joined some other mountain communities and signed a letter to the U.S. Secretary of the Interior asking for elimination of loopholes that allow coal companies to undervalue the coal mined in Colorado in order to pay lower royalties to states where mining takes place. Under the name “The Mountain Pact,” the council signed the letter stating that taxpayers are missing out on about $1 billion a year because of the way royalties are calculated.

The letter states that mountain communities are oftentimes surrounded by federal lands and are very vulnerable to climate change impacts. “The costs of adapting to a changing climate are rising, but at the same time coal companies are taking advantage of gaping loopholes that allow them to pay less (royalties) thus depriving many western states (and taxpayers across the country) their fair share of the revenues from coal leased on federal lands,” the letter states.

“I’m not saying we shouldn’t sign this but that money will be passed on to the consumer one way or the other,” said councilman Skip Berkshire. “If they pay more in royalties, you will see your bill go up to make up for it.”

The council unanimously agreed to sign the letter and join the Mountain Pact coalition.

At the same meeting the council declined to take immediate action on a request by High Country Conservation Advocates (HCCA) public lands director Alli Melton, who asked the council to write a letter to the Forest Service not allowing a “carve out” of a roadless area in a proposal in the North Fork Valley by Arch Coal. Melton said the company is asking to mine 350 million tons of coal on the other side of Kebler Pass.

“Climate change is a real issue for ski and mountain towns,” Melton said. “We need to keep the snowpack and the wildflowers strong. This is an opportunity for the town to stand up and support keeping carbon in the ground and keeping a nearby roadless area intact.”

Melton said she had made a similar request of the Gunnison County commissioners. She suggested the council could also make it clear to the BOCC that the town supports keeping carbon in the ground and protecting our roadless forests.

“This is becoming a national issue,” Melton said. “The Forest Service has received more than 100,000 comments on this proposal. People are watching to see what the county and the town do.”

“We did agree to sign the Mountain Pact letter but this is a Forest Service decision. What did the county decide? I’d want some more information before we take any action on this one,” said councilman Skip Berkshire.

“I’m not sure what the commissioners did but I know they might have budget and jobs concerns with the coal mining issue over there,” said mayor Aaron Huckstep.

The county commissioners have not yet taken any position on HCCA’s request. County manager Matthew Birnie said, “In the past, they have consistently supported the ‘exemption’ in the Colorado roadless rule for the coal mines in Somerset that HCCA successfully had remanded in court. The commissioners will be discussing potential comments for the federal scoping process for this exemption at next week’s work session.”

The council did not take any action on Melton’s request at the May 4 meeting.

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