The First Judicial District Court in Cheyenne has sided with Brook Mining Company, LLC, ruling that the Environmental Quality Council (EQC) did not have the authority to reject a permit application in 2017. The Environmental Quality Council is an independent board that reviews issues relating to pollution and preservation of air, water, and land quality in Wyoming.
The Brook Mining Company, LLC is a subsidiary of Ramaco Carbon. That company acquired property in Sheridan in 2011 in order to start the Brook Mine. It's first permit application was submitted in 2014. The company has said it does not want to burn the mined coal, but to research value-added products like graphene, resins, and carbon nanotubes.
In August of 2017, the EQC voted to 4 to 1 against Ramaco's initial permit application and prompted the company to make revisions. It rejected the permit partially due to concerns with subsidence, groundwater, and blasting.
Now, Judge Catherine Rogers said that the EQC did not have the authority to make that decision. Under a federal law relating to surface mining, Rogers wrote the EQC decision should have been interpreted as counsel to the Department of Environmental Quality's (DEQ) director, not the final decision.
"It is best understood as the Council's input to the Director, who is free to agree or disagree with those conclusions before making his or her own independent permitting decision. The Court therefore finds the Council's procedure and decision below were in error," the Judge wrote.
Tom Sansonetti, attorney for the Brook Mining Company, said the next step will be for the DEQ to consider either its original 2017 permit or the revised version released in October of 2018. He said this decision is a big step for the coal industry.
"The decision reaches far beyond Ramaco and the Brook Mine. In my opinion, the decision puts new hope into new coal mining and future jobs in Wyoming," he said.
The DEQ said in a statement that it's in the process of reviewing the district court's decision and what it means for the Brook Mine's permit application. It's waiting to see if any party will appeal the decision before setting a new timeline.
The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners group and active respondent to the permit conservation, said it was disappointed in the ruling. Board Member Joan Tellez said in a statement the group is reviewing their options regarding next steps.
"Time has not stood still, and in the two years since the Environmental Quality Council and Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality's decision regarding the deficient coal mine permit, the process has been moving forward with further rounds of review. And in these two years, the Brook Mine permit has yet to be found complete," she wrote.
Parties have 30 days to decide on an appeal.
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