DENVER — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is visiting Colorado under pressure to make sure a coal mine ordered to undergo a new environmental review remains open.
Jewell is scheduled to meet Friday night with officials from Moffat County, where the Colowyo mine employs about 220 workers.
She added the meeting to her schedule following calls from local officials as well as from members of Colorado's congressional delegation, asking her to visit the community following a May court ruling ordering a review that will consider coal's impact on climate change.
A federal judge said he would shut down the mine if the review was not completed by Sept. 5.
Jewell rejected requests from Colorado lawmakers to appeal the ruling, but in letters to them this week she pointed out that the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has indicated it may reject appeals as premature.
She said the Interior Department is on schedule to complete the review on time and could ask for an extension, if needed. A preliminary environmental assessment is expected to be released for public comment during the last week of July, she said.
"We fully appreciate that it is necessary to comply with this timeline to avoid disruptions to operations at this mine," Jewell wrote in one of the letters, to U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet.
The court order resulted from a lawsuit filed by New Mexico-based Wildearth Guardians, which has filed similar lawsuits involving mines in New Mexico and Montana to try to force federal regulators to calculate the eventual climate change impact of coal before allowing it to be mined.
Jeremy Nichols, the group's climate and energy program director, acknowledges that the group eventually wants coal mines shut down but said it doesn't want Colowyo to be closed in the near future and put miners out of work.
However, he said Jewell needs to work with communities to transition to a time when he sees coal being phased out. "She needs to start getting real and she needs to be real with them that the future of coal is bleak," he said.
The meeting with Moffat County officials is being held in Glenwood Springs, about a two-hour drive away from the mine, and it will follow an appearance by Jewell in Aspen at a lecture series.
The former president and CEO of REI and petroleum engineer is scheduled to speak with Aspen Institute senior fellow Mike Boots about her work conserving public lands and building connections between the nation's youth and the outdoors.
On Saturday, she is set to join officials including Bennet and Gov. John Hickenlooper to help dedicate the newly created Browns Canyon National Monument near Buena Vista.
Hickenlooper, a Democrat, as well as Republicans Sen. Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton have urged her to keep the mine open.