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Ramaco Carbon Clears Legal Hurdle Over Surface Rights

Exhibit stamp within the 2016 EQC case
Wyoming Environmental Quality Council

Coal company Ramaco Carbon is a step closer to developing a mine in Sheridan County, which plans to focus on developing coal-based products.

Ramaco Carbon owns the mineral rights to a plot of land it hopes will become the Brook Mine, but it never came to an agreement with Big Horn Coal, the previous tenants of the land, to obtain surface rights.

Ramaco attorney Tom Sansonetti said the company found a way around Big Horn Coal's consent. They would get an order in lieu of consent. Sansonetti said the company pursued that route through Wyoming's Environmental Quality Council years ago and succeeded.

"I believe there were six that ended up voting unanimously for Ramaco as they found Big Horn Coal's position unreasonable. The 1954 deed clearly says the owner of the coal has the right to extract it," he said.

Big Horn Coal, a subsidiary of Utah-based Lighthouse Resources, argued several years ago in the original case that Ramaco had submitted incomplete mine and reclamation plans. Those plans also differed from previous materials submitted. The company felt the proposed activities would inhibit their own rights.

"Instead, the EQA [Environmental Quality Act] explicitly requires that Brook's mine permit application include an instrument of consent from the surface landowner, even a non-resident or non-agricultural landowner, if different from the owner of the mineral estate," a letter reads from Big Horn Coal's attorney at the time, Lynne Boomgaarden.

After the EQC's decision back then, Big Horn Coal appealed the case to a Wyoming district court. The judge considering the case ruled in Ramaco's favor last week. Now, it will obtain surface rights where the Brook mine will be; it already owns the mineral estate. Ramaco attorney Tom Sansonetti said Big Horn Coal did not want to sell its surface rights at a fair price.

"I suppose Big Horn coal feels they have a victory in feeling they were able to stalled off Ramaco for two years by not consenting, but now we have an order in lieu of consent," Sansonetti said.

Wyoming's Department of Environment Quality is still reviewing Ramaco's revised mine permit application. Once it's returned, Sansonetti says groundwork for the mine can begin soon after.

Big Horn Coal has the opportunity to appeal the district court decision to Wyoming's Supreme Court. The company did not respond for comment.

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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