Environmental impact statement proposes keeping mine open until 2033

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
An Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement evaluation says the San Juan Mine in Waterflow,  seen here in a January 2016 file photo, has the capacity to stay open until 2033, regardless of which entity buys its product.

FARMINGTON — The San Juan Mine could continue to provide coal to the San Juan Generating Station, or another customer, until 2033.

The final Environmental Impact Statement for the mine’s Deep Lease Extension recommends allowing up to 53 million tons of coal to be removed from the mine. That would allow the mine to supply coal to the power plant for at least another decade should it stay open past 2022.

The Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement released the final EIS on Friday after years of working on it. A record of decision will be issued in April, according to a press release. The document and responses to public comments can be viewed online at wrcc.osmre.gov.

The final EIS evaluates three alternatives: keeping the mine open until 2033, closing the mine this year and keeping the mine open through 2022 when its coal supply contract with the power plant expires.

Keeping the mine open until 2033 would allow Westmoreland Coal Company to continue supplying coal to the power plant or to find a new customer if the power plant closes in 2022.

While most of the power plant’s owners plan to stop receiving electricity from it in 2022, the city of Farmington is in the process of acquiring the shares it does not own. It has signed a non-binding letter of intent with Acme Equities LLC for the New York firm to take ownership of the plant and keep it open after 2022. It would need a coal supply contract with San Juan Mine to continue operations at the plant.

According to the document, mining could legally continue at the San Juan Mine even if the Deep Lease Extension is not approved, however it would result in a lower quality of coal. Without having higher quality coal to blend with the low-quality coal, the operators of the San Juan Generating Station would risk damaging the plant’s boilers.

An OSMRE press release states the proposed action in the final environmental impact statement would add 10 to 14 years to the life of the mine. It states the mine supports 526 jobs in the Four Corners region. The mine itself accounted for 282 of those jobs in 2017, according to the EIS.

In addition to supporting more than 500 jobs, the mine provides millions of dollars in tax revenue to federal, state and local governments.

The final EIS states the federal government receives $24.8 million in revenue from the mine while the state receives $21.8 million and the local government receives $150,000 in property tax revenue from the mine.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at hgrover@daily-times.com.