Federal agency examines impact of San Juan Mine options

Options detailed in draft environmental impact statement

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Community members participate in a public comment meeting for the San Juan Mine Deep Lease Extension Tuesday at the Farmington Civic Center.

FARMINGTON — The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is asking members of the public to provide input about whether the San Juan Mine should continue operating until 2033 or if it should close next year.

The Office of Surface Mining is accepting comments on a draft environmental impact statement through July 9.

Dozens of community members attended a public meeting Tuesday evening to provide input about the three options detailed in the draft environmental impact statement.

The people who attended ranged from mine workers concerned about the loss of jobs to local leaders, including state Rep. Paul Bandy, R-Aztec, and Rep. James Strickler, R-Farmington. Several environmental advocates also attended.

If the mine is closed next year, nearly 900 jobs would be lost and the Four Corners region would see a loss of $356 million of economic activity, according to the draft environmental impact statement.

Pat Walters gives an oral statement to court reporter Ana Gallegos Tuesday during a public meeting organized by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement at the Farmington Civic Center.

Local air quality, climate could be impacted if mine stays open

If the mining operations continue through 2033, about 53 million tons of coal would be removed from the underground mine near Waterflow. The mine’s sole customer is the San Juan Generating Station, which is proposed to close in 2022.

According to the draft environmental impact statement, keeping the mine open would have long-term but minor impacts to the air quality.

The 184-page document states the San Juan Mine and the generating station would produce 97.5 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions cumulatively. This would be about 0.3 percent of the total carbon dioxide emissions nationwide from fossil-fuel fired electricity generating stations.

The greenhouse gas emission from the mine and generating station would be less than 0.8 percent of national coal mining greenhouse gas emissions, according to the draft environmental impact statement.

San Juan County Commissioner Jim Crowley looks over documents Tuesday during a public comment meeting by the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement at the Farmington Civic Center.

Farmington council hears about importance of comments

While community members learned about the proposal at the Farmington Civic Center on Tuesday, a representative of San Juan Mine and a representative of the San Juan Generating Station attended the Farmington City Council meeting to encourage people to provide comments on the draft environmental impact statement. The meeting can be viewed online at fmtn.org.

“It’s a chance for people to say why they want the proposed action to go through or why they may want the no-action alternative,” said Derek Rawson, superintendent of production execution at San Juan Mine.

The proposed action would allow mining through 2033, and no action would mean closing the mine next year.

“We want people to go and say how they would be impacted if the mine didn’t continue, if the generating station didn’t continue,” Rawson said.

Mayor Nate Duckett said he already has sent in an email comment supporting mining through 2033.

“I think we need that mine,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it. We need the generating station to continue to operate. There’s no doubt about it. We care about our families, we care about this community and we care about our future.”

People who did not make it to Tuesday’s meeting have an opportunity to comment through email at osm-nepa-nm@osmre.gov. The subject line of the email should read San Juan Mine Draft EIS comments. There will also be meetings at 5 p.m. Thursday at Shiprock High School and 4 p.m. Friday at Durango Community Recreation Center in Colorado.

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