SHERIDAN — A Laramie County District Court judge this week ruled a state regulatory agency did not have the authority to reject a 2017 mining permit application from Sheridan-based company Ramaco Carbon, clearing a significant obstacle from the company’s path to opening Wyoming’s first new coal mine in more than 40 years.
Judge Catherine Rogers’ decision remands Ramaco’s 2017 mining permit application for the Brook Mine, which the company hopes to open just north of Sheridan, to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
The Wyoming Environmental Quality Council ordered the DEQ to reject Ramaco’s Brook Mine permit after a contested hearing in September 2017, concluding the application failed to address concerns about the environmental impacts of the proposed mine raised by neighboring landowners.
Ramaco’s appeal of that decision did not challenge the EQC’s findings, however, but its authority to order the rejection of the permit.
Rogers’ ruling upholds that challenge, asserting the final decision on the permit should have been made by Wyoming DEQ Director Tom Parfitt.
If the decision stands, it would set an important precedent for how the state considers future mining applications, Ramaco Attorney Tom Sansonetti said.
“The fact that (Rogers) made this decision…clears up a lot of confusion that has been out there for years,” Sansonetti said. “So the impact is not just for Ramaco, and the Brook Mine, it is one that will affect all future applications for mines in Wyoming.
“I think if the decision had been allowed to stay as it was, it would have been very discouraging to other companies out there that might be interested in utilizing coal for carbon or any other purpose,” he continued.
Sansonetti noted that the decision could still be appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court, though.
The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a group representing landowners opposed to the proposed Brook Mine, issued a statement expressing disappointment with Rogers’ decision, but reiterating landowners’ primary concern is the environmental impact the Brook Mine could have on their property.
“Powder River has remained engaged with DEQ throughout this process, and we remain committed to ensuring that the deficiencies in Ramaco’s coal mine permit regarding groundwater and hydrology, subsidence and blasting are thoroughly addressed and that landowners and the Tongue River Valley are protected,” said Joan Tellez, a neighbor of the proposed mine and PRBRC member, in the statement.
Ramaco submitted a revised permit application to the Wyoming DEQ following the rejection of its 2017 application.
The DEQ has requested Ramaco provide more information before deeming the revised application “technically complete” and it is still under review.
Wyoming DEQ Public Information Office Keith Guille said it is still unclear how the recent decision will affect the DEQ’s deliberations on that permit.
“Right now, we are still in the process of reviewing the decision and what it means for the Brook Mine permit application,” Guille said. “…We’re talking with our council about what steps we need to take in the future.”
That application is in its 11th round of revisions, according to Sansonetti. Guille said an application going though several rounds of revisions is not uncommon.
“It doesn’t really matter the number of rounds (an application goes through),” Guille said. “What matters to us is, at the end of the day, does it meet the standards of the state?”
Ramaco CEO Randall Atkins said he is confident the revisions his company has made address landowners’ environmental concerns for the land.
“We felt that the issues that had been raised were very solvable, even back in 2017,” Atkins said. “…We’re basically looking at nominal tweaks in a 15,000 to 20,000 acre land-use plan that, in our opinion…would satisfy all of the environmental questions that have been out there.”
Ramaco intends to use coal from the Brook Mine to supply facilities in the company’s iCAM research park — located adjacent to the site of the proposed mine — which it plans to use to develop methods for manufacturing a variety of products using the carbon from coal.