Wyoming Judge Weighs Process Arguments in New Coal Mine Case
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — A review process that led to the rejection of a state permit for a proposed coal mine violated federal law, the mine developer told a judge Wednesday, while a landowner's group argued that state officials correctly followed state law in assessing the project.
Laramie County District Judge Catherine Rogers said she would rule later following the arguments in a court appeal of the rejected permit for Ramaco Carbon's Brook Mine.
Sheridan-based Ramaco Carbon wants to mine the coal to study new ways to process it into carbon-based materials such as carbon fiber. If approved, the mine north of Sheridan would be an example of rare new development amid declining production and bankruptcies in the Powder River Basin, the most productive U.S. coal region.
Local residents including a dozen members of the Powder River Basin Resource Council landowners' group worry the Brook Mine could deplete groundwater and cause ground subsidence.
The Wyoming Environmental Quality Council, a state review board, rejected the company's permit application as insufficient in 2017. Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality Director Todd Parfitt followed up with a letter to Ramaco upholding the denial.
Department staff have continued to review Ramaco's proposal and new information provided by the company while it appeals the permit rejection to state district court.
The federal Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act required the permit decision to be wholly up to the director, not the Environmental Quality Council, Ramaco attorney Patrick Day argued.
The Environmental Quality Council may hear objections to permit applications, but under the federal law it can't make decisions about issuing permits, Day told Rogers.
"SMCRA makes clear that the permit decision, finally, is made by the director of the regulatory agency," Day said in court.
State officials followed the right process under Wyoming law, Powder River Basin Resource Council attorney Shannon Anderson argued.
Ramaco was asking Rogers to "turn the Environmental Quality Council into something it's not, which is an advisory board," Anderson told the judge.
The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality has over 30 years of experience as the agency primarily responsible for implementing the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act, Anderson said.
Ramaco could take its concerns about Wyoming's implementation of the act to the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, Anderson said in court.
Attorneys for the Department of Environmental Quality; Salt Lake City, Utah-based Lighthouse Resources, which owns surface land rights on the mine site; and two nearby landowners made arguments that supported the Powder River Basin Resource Council's claims.
Rogers ruled in a separate case in April that Ramaco could mine coal beneath land owned by Lighthouse Resources subsidiary Big Horn Coal.