Brook Mine

The future site of Brook Mine is shown in January 2015, just north of Sheridan. Kentucky-based Ramaco plans to produce about 8 million tons of coal annually using highwall mining techniques.

Alan Rogers, Star-Tribune

An eastern coal company recently denied a permit to mine in northern Wyoming is appealing to the courts, but said it will continue working with regulators to clear up what the state has labelled as deficiencies in its mining plan.

In an appeal filed Friday, the company’s lawyers argue that there were a number of procedural errors leading up to and following a citizen’s board decision that Ramaco Carbon’s mining plan failed to address environmental concerns. The board’s opinion was followed by a denial from state regulators.

Ramaco will have to further study how blasting will impact the surrounding community, regulators said, and on what mining will do to water and soil.

In a statement on the appeal, Ramaco CEO Randall Atkins said the company is committed to being “a good steward of Wyoming’s air, water and soil.”

“The … appeal is simply procedurally necessary, due to the judicial process,” Atkins said. “We will address all of the alleged deficiencies raised by the [citizen’s board] in a manner that the State of Wyoming wants.”

The mine, and proposed carbon product research facilities linked to the mine, will be an economic boon for Wyoming, he said. The facility would be located in a previously-mined area in northern Wyoming near the small ranching community of Ranchester. It would be the first new coal mine in Wyoming in decades.

Shannon Anderson, lawyer for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, which opposed the company’s mining plan, said Ramaco was sending “mixed messages.”

The company had warned of a legal battle in a strongly worded dismissal of the council decision in September, but following the department’s denial of the permit weeks later, Ramaco took a softer turn, expressing its desire to work with state regulators to clear up deficiencies.

The council and the company have been at odds for nearly a year, with locals questioning the company’s commitment to the community. One of the points raised during the citizen’s board hearing was Ramaco’s failure to hold any public meetings in the Sheridan area that would be impacted by the first mining operations in more than three decades.

The company’s appeal to the courts was criticized Tuesday by members of the resource council.

“Instead of tilting at legal windmills, it would benefit everyone more if Ramaco put its time and resources into actually fixing the serious deficiencies in its coal mine permit application,” said Powder River Basin Resource Council Chairman Bob LeResche, alluding to the novel Don Quixote where the protagonist fights windmills that he thinks are giants.

“This appeal tells the residents of the Tongue River Valley and the rest of us in Sheridan County that the company isn’t concerned with protecting the important water resources and quality of life of the valley, but instead just wants to push forward with its deficient plan for a coal mine, regardless of the consequences to local citizens.”

State regulators were not aware of the appeal Tuesday morning, and could not comment until they had reviewed the court documents, a spokesman said.

It is not unusual for groups to appeal after a citizen’s board decision. As noted in Ramaco’s filing, such an appeal is the right of a disgruntled party. But denying a coal mining permit isn’t run of the mill, said Anderson, with the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

“Everyone will have to dust off their case law.”

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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