Last year, the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) denied a coal company's permit to mine. Ramaco had sought a permit to create a mine near Sheridan to research and develop advanced coal-based products. Ramaco Carbon is now appealing the EQC decision in a Laramie County District Court by arguing there was a violation of federal law.
Tom Sansonetti, Ramaco's attorney, said the review process was flawed from the beginning. He argued that under the 1970s law, the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA), the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) should have had the final say in a permit decision.
"It's the DEQ director that has dozens of employees that are all experts in their field reviewing this permit application as opposed to the 7 lay people that do not have this background and expertise that just meet on a monthly basis," Sansonetti said.
He's referring to the EQC that voted 4 to 1 against Ramaco's initial permit application. The EQC is an independent board that reviews issues related to pollution and the preservation of Wyoming's air, water and land quality. The seven members are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate.
The permit was rejected partially due to concerns with subsidence, groundwater, and blasting.
The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners group, led the charge against the proposed mine. Jill Morrison, executive director of the group, said Ramaco's SMCRA argument came out of left field.
"I think what they realized is they couldn't win on the basis of the merits of the case, which is clearly that the permit is deficient. And so they came in with this slick argument about how it's not in compliance with the federal strip mine act," Morrison said.
She added that the company's argument doesn't hold up. The Office of Surface Mining has given Wyoming the power primacy to make SMCRA-related decisions in its own way. For instance, it's able to utilize the EQC through its state program to consider controversial permit decisions.
The District Judge Catherine Rodgers didn't make a final decision either way, but ensured a decision on Ramaco's appeal would come in short order. Rodgers didn't give a concrete timeline.
Ramaco is still going back and forth with the DEQ over a renewed mining permit application for the Brook Mine.