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Council votes to uphold permit for Wyoming's first coal mine in decades
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Council votes to uphold permit for Wyoming's first coal mine in decades

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An independent regulatory council has backed a decision by Wyoming environmental regulators to grant a mining permit to a coal technology company.

The decision rendered Wednesday comes after an agriculture and conservation organization challenged the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to extend the permit to Ramaco Carbon this summer. The mining permit allows the coal firm to dig for coal at a former mine site eight miles outside Sheridan. The Brook mine would be the state’s first new coal mine to open in decades.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council submitted an administrative appeal to the Environmental Quality Council, an independent regulatory entity, and petitioned for a hearing on the matter. The Powder River Basin Resource Council asserted the permit application submitted by the coal company was deficient on multiple grounds. They alleged it lacked an adequate subsidence control plan or a full traffic plan for haul roads, among other requirements stipulated in the Wyoming Environmental Quality Act.

But according to the final permit issued by state environmental regulators, Ramaco Carbon’s “Brook Mine surface coal mine permit application substantially complies with Article 4 of the Wyoming Environmental Quality Act and all other applicable State and Federal Laws and regulations.”

On Wednesday, the Environmental Quality Council voted to affirm the state’s decision and will allow the permit to proceed.

Marcia Westkott, chair of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said she was disappointed with the council’s decision.

“We had hoped that solid science surrounding the risk of ground cave ins or subsidence issues would be acknowledged and that the state would agree that the company needs to provide a better overall plan for this serious issue,” Westkott said in a statement. “However, we will continue to be involved with this mine permit and work to ensure proper oversight and that the company abides by the 12 conditions the Wyoming (Department of Environmental Quality) set for the permit.”

She also urged the Department of Environmental Quality to “protect the health and safety of the Tongue River Valley and its inhabitants.”

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Ramaco Carbon stood by the integrity of its permit application and the Wyoming regulators’ decision, and praised the council’s decision to uphold the permit.

“We are delighted that the (Environmental Quality Council) has brought this almost decade-long permit odyssey to an end,” Ramaco Carbon CEO Randall Atkins said in a statement. “We salute the professionalism of the DEQ, and look forward to going to work developing our coal-to-products technology platform.”Atkins called the Powder River Basin Resource Council a “front organization” funded by “out-of-state, anti-fossil fuel megadonors.”“This frivolous opposition has unfortunately cost Wyoming new jobs and taxpayers money while delaying our ability to do business,” he said.

The firm bought mineral rights at a former coal site for the purpose of complementing its research buildings nearby. Atkins aims to use the coal produced at the proposed Brook coal mine for commercial uses beyond electricity generation, like carbon fiber and graphene.

The company hopes to pivot away from thermal coal generation to carbon materials in light of the downturn in the thermal coal market. It anticipates employing 30 to 40 employees when the coal mine initially opens.

But along the way, the mine has faced strong opposition from nearby landowners in the surrounding Tongue River Valley.A number of residents have concerns the company has insufficiently assessed the potential consequences the mining could have on the environment, recreational opportunities and public safety in the Tongue River Valley, according to interviews conducted with nearby landowners.“We’re disappointed that the permit has been issued without stronger conditions for a subsidence plan, but we hope that the other conditions placed on the permit will protect our health, water, safety, and property,” Anton Bocek, the nearest landowner to the mine, said in a statement. “We also hope that Ramaco will do the right thing by being a good neighbor here in the valley and be open to talking with the neighbors.”

Nonetheless, several public officials in and around Sheridan have expressed support for the company and its plans for Sheridan.

Project proponents cite the positive economic growth the research and mining could spur for Sheridan County and the state, especially at a time when demand for thermal coal has dramatically declined and local economies are hurting from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Follow the latest on Wyoming’s energy industry and the environment at @camillereports

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Energy and Natural Resources Reporter

Camille Erickson covers the state's energy industries. She received her master's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Before moving to Casper in 2019, she reported on business and labor in Minneapolis, Chicago and Washington.

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