Area residents, attorneys, and employees of Ramaco gathered for a hearing before the Environmental Quality Council at the Northern Wyoming Community College in Sheridan on May 22. At a meeting of the same body on August 1, the council voted to send the permit application back to the DEQ for further work. (Andrew Graham/WyoFile)

An independent citizen council found that state regulators jumped the gun in determining that the Brook coal mine permit was complete. The permit application will be sent back to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality for further work.

Wyoming DEQ’s governing authority, the seven-member Environmental Quality Council, voted 4-1 Tuesday afternoon (two members were recused) to remand the permit application. Council members voting in favor of remanding the permit back to DEQ expressed dismay at having spent several days in hearings when the permit clearly contained serious deficiencies which could not be “conditioned” after the fact.

Several council members also expressed disappointment in DEQ and applicant Ramaco’s lack of public outreach in processing the permit, although neither is legally obligated to do so.

“Doing business in Wyoming requires that you be a good neighbor,” said council member Nick Agopian.

EQC hearing examiner David Bagley said he was particularly concerned by Ramaco’s lack of coordinating a plan with Sheridan County and the Wyoming Department of Transportation for coal haulage off the proposed mine site.

Bagley said he became more and more “irritated” at the lack of public outreach in the process.

“It’s not required, no laws have been broken. But I think common sense has been violated,” Bagley said.

The council listed several deficiencies for DEQ and Ramaco to address in reworking the permit application, including the estimated cost of reclamation, how to mitigate impacts to water wells in the area, how to mitigate subsidence and maintain a hydrological balance in the Tongue River alluvial valley.

“We appreciate the hard work the council and everybody put forth,” DEQ spokesman Keith Guille told WyoFile. “The EQC made a decision and we’ll be awaiting their order before we make our next steps.”

DEQ remained uncommitted, however, about whether it will make efforts for better public participation beyond what the agency is required to do by law. “We have to follow what’s required by our rules and regulations.”

The hearing was initiated by the Sheridan-based landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council and independently by several landowners in the area. All listed objections to shortfalls in Ramaco’s plan for minimizing mine operation impacts to neighboring landowners, agricultural operations and sensitive land and water resources.

“We are grateful for the diligent efforts by the EQC members, who sat through a seven-day hearing and concluded that the proposed permit did not adequately protect public health and safety, land and water,” Powder River Basin Resource Council board chair Bob LeResche said in a prepared statement. “This was an uphill battle for citizens, who were denied an informal hearing on the permit.”

Sheridan area landowner Joan Tellez, who also petitioned for the hearing, issued a written statement: “We are thankful the EQC made the right decision to protect our land and water. This process wasn’t easy for us, but we felt we had to make our concerns heard, and we’re glad that the EQC listened to us. We will continue working to make sure that our land and water remain preserved.”

Kentucky-based Ramaco acquired 1.1 billion tons of thermal coal reserves a few miles north of Sheridan in 2011. It filed a permit application for the Brook coal mine in 2014, and has since announced proposals for associated carbon fiber research and manufacturing facilities with mine.

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. This project was touted to produce coal for a research facility to develop non-fuel uses for coal. With low coal prices, it seems that if that were the real purpose it would make more sense to buy coal from existing mines. I have seen no information that would support the idea that non-fuel uses for coal could compete with oil or gas. I smell a rat.