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Department Of Environmental Quality Denies Brook Mine Permit, Offers Another Chance


Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality has denied a proposal for a new coal mine to be built near Sheridan… for the time being. Ramaco’s proposed Brook Mine has been embroiled in controversy for the last year over what many saw as an insufficient permit application. The Environmental Quality Council, or E.Q.C., an independent board, identified deficiencies in hydrology, a blasting plan, and land subsidence, or sinking, among others. Many homeowners near the proposed site were particularly concerned about how the company’s operations would affect the community’s water, traffic, noise, and more.

The D.E.Q. is, however, giving Ramaco the opportunity to supplement their current application with renewed research to satisfy the deficiencies rather than going back to square one. Gillian Malone, a board member for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said the D.E.Q. seems be letting the Kentucky-based company off easy. 

In their letter, the agency lists the E.Q.C.’s demands, “and then after that, they say, ‘However, we have a way to make it easier for you,' is what it sounds like just reading between the lines,” Malone said.

Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality logo
Credit Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality
Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality logo

Ramaco responded to the denial saying they would meet with the D.E.Q. soon with new information and hope to move forward with the permit. Malone said she’s concerned that means the company won’t take the time to research and fix all the deficiencies from their first permit application. 

"They needed to go back and do a lot more hydrogeological research in the valley because of the delicate hydrologic balance,” she said.

For now, Malone said it’s unclear whether this is a victory, but that the fight will continue.

Below is a statement from the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

"Following up on the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality’s final decision to (DEQ) to deny Ramaco’s Brook Mine permit application as submitted, the company issued a statement focused on their intended coal projects. Powder River Basin Resource Council member Gillian Malone reminds the public that the permit in question was for a coal mine, not a research or manufacturing facility, for which no permits have been filed.

“Ramaco is putting the cart before the horse by touting the “economic enhancement and job opportunities” of their “coal/carbon, innovation, manufacturing and energy technology” when the permit application is about a coal mine. It’s important to remember that the permit application the EQC remanded as deficient on a number of grounds—including the serious risk of ongoing subsidence threatening residents, recreationists and coal miners alike, and the potential for water well failure and disruption of the delicate hydrologic balance in the Tongue River Valley—is for a coal mine, not a research center or a carbon fiber manufacturing plant. As with previously released statements, Ramaco is spinning a tale to woo the public on what are currently unfulfillable promises.”

The official decision from the DEQ came down after the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council (WY EQC) found that the permit for Ramaco’s proposed Brook Mine in the Tongue River Valley near Sheridan was deficient. There was a seven-day hearing before the WY EQC, which concluded in June with the council issuing their decision in August. They denied the permit on a 4-to-1 vote due to the permit not adequately addressing public health and safety.

During the permit hearing, Powder River and landowners presented testimony regarding legal and technical deficiencies in the permit. Powder River’s expert witnesses in subsidence and hydrology both testified in detail about the permit’s deficiencies in preventing subsidence and irreversible hydrological damage to the area. Ramaco’s permit has been denied in its present form, and the company will need to address the deficiencies outlined by the WY EQC in order to move forward.

 “We are thankful the EQC made the right decision to protect our land and water,” said Tongue River Valley resident Joan Tellez. “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.”

Below is a statement from the Ramaco’s CEO, Randy Atkins

“There is never a victory for Wyoming when the creation of high quality jobs and opportunities in coal/carbon innovation, manufacturing and energy technology for Wyoming’s current and future generations is deferred or prevented.

“After five years of working to advance carbon and coal technology in Wyoming, Ramaco Carbon is understandably disappointed that the Wyoming DEQ will now require the Brook Mine to continue the mine permit process, without a permit issuance at this time. We appreciate, however, that the DEQ will allow Ramaco Carbon to now supplement its current application. We are confident we will be able to address the mining and technical concerns raised by the EQC in a timely manner.

“Indeed, many years of rigorous technical, environmental, and engineering analysis, and comment by the professionals at DEQ went into the original application. Most of the EQC concerns raised had already been resolved to the DEQ’s satisfaction.

“We have always felt that forward looking, next generation coal projects need affirmative, reliable permitting processes and clear decisions in order to create the new jobs and private sector investments Wyoming wants to attract. Wyoming needs both more coal production and enhanced carbon technology,as well as the well-paying jobs which come with such projects. This is especially true of a project such as ours, which is not funded by scarce Wyoming tax dollars.

“We will look forward to meeting with the DEQ in the very near future to begin the process of supplementing our application in a manner which we hope will address any deficiencies and lead to a timely issuance of our mining permit. We continue to strongly believe in all aspects of this project and what it can do for economic enhancement and job opportunities in Sheridan County, the State of Wyoming, and for the future of energy and manufacturing technology that can be developed within the coal industry, while protecting Wyoming’s land, water and air resources. We also want to thank our local communities for their continued support as we navigate the regulatory process.”

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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