Mine workers stress importance of coal to community

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Pat Walters

FARMINGTON — A 184-page document outlines the potential impacts of extracting coal from the San Juan Mine through 2033 or closing the mine next year.

The federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement is gathering public comments on the draft Environmental Impact Statement that was released May 25.

The comments will be accepted through July 9.

Local residents attended a meeting Tuesday evening at Farmington Civic Center to learn about the draft Environmental Impact Statement and to provide input.

‘God has gifted San Juan County with all this coal’

Pat Walters works at the mine building roads, drilling to underground and reclaiming areas after operations. He said he leaves the land in better condition after reclamation than it was before operations.

“There’s no better use for this property than this,” Walters said. “Just think of the tax revenues and all the money we get for all this. God has gifted San Juan County with all this coal. We need to use it. We need to use it wisely. It built this town. I mean oil and gas is in here and mining. You need to do it all, then this town will stay alive. Otherwise, it’s going to die.”

Mike Eisenfeld

‘Part of what should be analyzed is a more robust alternative’

Farmington resident Mike Eisenfeld, energy and climate manager for the environmental advocacy group the San Juan Citizens Alliance, criticized the draft document.

“Part of what should be analyzed is a more robust alternative that looks at transition,” he said. “What happens if San Juan Generating Station does indeed close in 2022? How do we decommission, reclaim, diversify our economy? How do we bring in renewables? What do we do with stranded assets? It seems like there’s some big questions that aren’t really encapsulated in this draft environmental impact statement.”

Loretta Grimsley

‘It’s my job, and I want to work’

Loretta Grimsley, an operator at the mine, said she wants to have the mine able to supply the generating station with coal until the generating station closes in 2022.

She said she is not concerned that the proposed action of keeping the mine open to 2033 is longer than the generating station will need the coal.

“We don’t know how it’s going to be in the future, but, as of right now, I want it to be extended until the plant shuts down,” Grimsley said. “That’s the main thing. That’s the only thing I’m concerned of because it’s my job, and I want to work ... The plant is going to shut down, and there’s people there who already know that they’re not going to be working and they know that. We just need to supply them more coal because if we don’t, what’s the use of the plant being open?”

She said it would cost more for the generating station to ship coal in from another mine.

Grimsley said closing the coal mine would have a negative economic impact on the community, including schools, police departments, hospitals and businesses.

“It’s going to affect Farmington,” Grimsley said. “It’s going to trickle down. People that are against it, they don’t know what’s coming, and they’re going to feel it when it happens, and it will be too late to say, ‘Hey, we’re wrong. We’re sorry.’”

Michael Darmody

‘It’s not as simple as yes or no’

Farmington artist Michael Darmody said he appreciated the information provided at the public meeting and how complex the subject is.

“It’s not as simple as yes or no,” he said.

However, the information provided did not convince him that the mine should be granted the permit to operate until 2033.

“I have a prior decision that hasn’t been impacted by this,” he said.

Darmody explained his concern is based on what will happen after the generating station closes in 2022.

“It seems that the reason for keeping it open past 2022 depends on a wing, a prayer or a hope that there will be a customer in the future, but they don’t have anybody necessarily in mind,” Darmody said. “They’re just going to put it out there and hope for the best.”

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