CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — Opposition from landowners and a competing company has slowed state permitting for what would be Wyoming's first major new coal mine in decades.
That's a small amount for a Wyoming coal mine, some of which produce 10 times as much. But it's a bold move given that U.S. coal production sank to an almost 40-year low last year.
Some landowners worry the Brook Mine could cause their wells to run dry and that blasting could destabilize their homes. Others express concern the partially underground highwall mine could ruin floating and other uses of the nearby Tongue River.
"I rely heavily on my Tongue River irrigation rights to grow and produce a large portion of our food," Ranchester resident Jane Buyok wrote the department in January. "Ramaco's mining operations will be very close to the Tongue River and potential pollution issues are not adequately addressed."
Meanwhile, Salt Lake City-based Lighthouse Resources subsidiary Big Horn Coal is claiming rights to mine the area. Big Horn has been litigating that issue with Ramaco in state court in Sheridan and also raised environmental concerns.
Those objecting to the Brook Mine include members of the Powder River Basin Resource Council, which Ramaco CEO Randall Atkins accused of deliberately slowing the permit even though Ramaco has completed its application.
"This is a useless delay tactic by a local environmental group trying to prevent the DEQ from doing their job and issuing the permit," Atkins said.
He added later that the company's permit application already addressed the objections raised in the letters to the satisfaction of the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality.
The department has been wrestling with how best to handle the objections as part of the permitting process.
After taking public comment on the proposed permit, Director Todd Parfitt denied a requested informal conference as unlikely to resolve concerns. Parfitt put the process before the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council, a citizen review panel, but on Tuesday the council cancelled plans for a hearing on the permit next week.
The council instead scheduled oral arguments Feb. 21 on whether the department or council should hear the case.
The Brook Mine coal would be used to fuel power plants. Ramaco also seeks to develop new metallurgical coal mines in Virginia and West Virginia to supply fuel for the steel industry and recently launched an initial public offering for that side of its business.
"We will do our part to make American coal great again," read a full-page ad in Friday's The Sheridan Press touting the IPO.