Colorado seeks easier access to funds to fight coal seam fires
Congress was scheduled to hear two amendments this week that could help Colorado fight coal seam fires like the one that sparked a wildfire that struck Glenwood Springs June 8.
Greg Walcher, executive director of the state Department of Natural Resources, sent a letter to Colorado’s members of Congress Wednesday asking them to support the amendments, which he said would give Colorado much-needed flexibility in using the Abandoned Mined Land Reclamation Fund.
In a news release, Walcher said the move would let Colorado’s portion of the fund – estimated at $19 million – return to the state without congressional appropriation, allowing the state quicker access to critical coal seam fire mitigation resources.
“This money is generated in Colorado for use in Colorado, and that’s been a sore subject for a long time,” said Walcher. “It’s fairly clear that holding our money in Washington, D.C., doesn’t help put out coal seam fires in Colorado.”
Colorado receives only about $2 million to treat some 20,000 abandoned mines each year, allowing the state to deal with only a small percentage of the threats, Walcher said.
“With our current fire and drought conditions, we really can’t afford to wait for the next disaster to strike,” he said.
Additional resources would allow more use of foam and grouting techniques, which he said have proven useful in fighting coal seam fires. The techniques seek to extinguish or limit the fires by choking off their air supply.
Walcher estimated that 29 coal seam fires are burning in Colorado today.
One such fire, in South Canyon, was blamed for igniting the fire that raced east to Glenwood Springs, destroying dozens of homes and structures and forcing thousands to be evacuated from their homes. The Coal Seam Fire continues to burn, mostly north of No Name.
Some coal seam fires have been burning for close to a century.
Said Walcher, “After the latest fire in Glenwood, it seems pretty clear that additional resources are needed to fight these quiet menaces.”
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