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DEQ Approves First Coal Mine Permit In Years

Part of Brook Mine Location
Cooper McKim

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has approved a long-discussed — and revised —coal mine permit application.

Ramaco bought mineral rights in Sheridan County in 2011, but the DEQ needs to provide a permit in order for the company to develop the mine and allow it to pull an estimated 17.3 million tons of thermal coal from the ground over the next 36 to 39 years. Ramaco hopes to research, develop and manufacture products using coal.

The project has been in discussion since 2011 with the first permit application filed to the DEQ in 2014. In 2017, an independent review board, the Environmental Quality Council (EQC), found the permit deficient with concerns around hydrology, blasting, and subsidence.

In March of this year, the DEQ deemed the application technically complete.

During an informal conference in May, Tongue River Valley residents reiterated hydrology, blasting, and subsidence concerns around the mine, as did experts hired by the landowners group, the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

DEQ Director Toff Parfitt said those comments, alongside others, helped the department's Land Quality Division make amendments and bring the application to its final approval.

"As a result... conditions were added to ensure the environment, the public and Wyoming's interests are appropriately protected," he said.

Those include the need to prohibit blasting on weekends and holidays, updating wildlife monitoring data, and further evaluating subsidence prior to highway mining. Brook Mining Company will also need to post a reclamation bond of about $1.36 million before they start mining.

Randy Atkins, Ramaco Carbon's Chairman and CEO, said this mine can help build a new path for the Powder River Basin by finding new uses for coal.

"By awarding this permit, the state has acknowledged our efforts to be good stewards of this area's high quality of life and environment," said Randall Atkins, Ramaco Carbon's Chairman and CEO. "It has also recognized our investment in the Sheridan area since 2011 and in the future of this state."

The principal permitting engineer called the permit the strongest environmental and quality of life protections of any coal mine permit ever considered in Wyoming.

Critics, though, felt the conditions placed on the permit by the DEQ showed there were still issues.

"The fact that the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality placed 12 conditions on the permit is an indication that the Brook Mine permit is inadequate and incomplete. Currently, we are reviewing all of the conditions to make sure that the permit will protect the health and safety of the Tongue River Valley and its inhabitants," said Marcia Westkott, Chair of the Powder River Basin Resource Council in a press release.

A nearby landowner also said that he's disappointed, but hopes the conditions will help protect landowners' health, water, safety, and property.

All documents related to the permit can be found here.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.

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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