A win for landowners on Ramaco Brook Coal Mine permit

On August 1, the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council (EQC) ruled 4-to-1 in favor of Powder River Basin Resource Council and Tongue River landowners when they rejected the approval of the proposed Ramaco Brook Coal mine permit. The hearing before the Wyoming EQC was initiated when Powder River and many of their landowner members objected to the permit in January along with Mary and David Fisher and the Big Horn Coal Company.

Powder River organized local landowners and citizens and hired subsidence and hydrology experts, Dr. Gerry Marino and Mike Wireman, who spent hours reviewing the mine permit and preparing reports and testimony highlighting the inadequacies of the permit. The expert testimony about the lack of data on potential subsidence and hydrologic impacts and the landowner testimony on those issues and potential blasting impacts were integral to demonstrating the significant deficiencies in the proposed Brook Coal Mine permit.

The area’s geology is unstable from a long history of coal mining. Land in the area continues to cave in due to a lack of reclamation of old, abandoned mines. Powder River members fear that the blasting from Ramaco’s new mining could make the subsidence situation worse and also damage old stone buildings, including occupied homes. The company’s application did not provide enough information about the area’s complicated geology or its hydrology, ignoring the potential impacts to over 350 livestock wells in the area and the naturally irrigated valley floors that are crucial to agricultural production.

Dr. David Bagley, the EQC hearing officer that presided over the seven-day hearing, began the Council’s decision-making discussion on August 1 by stating that the Ramaco Brook Coal Mine had failed to meet their burden to prove the the mining operation had adequately addressed subsidence, reclamation, or demonstrated that there would not be material damage to the hydrologic balance outside the permit area. He also raised concerns about whether the proposed blasting would have reasonable limits.

Dr. Bagley concluded his remarks by expressing frustration with the lack of a public process saying, “I became more and more irritated by the lack of public input in this application process to date. I cannot find any legal requirements and none were brought forward by the parties that require more opportunities for public input. So, as far as I can tell, no laws have been broken and everything has been completely legal. But I think common sense has been violated. Instead, I found that the process was opaque to the public and evidence is not available at this time to address the deficiencies that I have identified.”

EQC members Tim Flitner, Meghan Lalley, and Deb Baumer all agreed with Bagley’s analysis and echoed the same deficiencies with the permit. Council member Nick Agopian was the one dissenting EQC member who voted in favor of granting the Brook Coal Mine permit.

Nonetheless, despite his vote to support the issuance of the permit, Agopian voiced concerns about the lack of public involvement in the permitting and said, “It’s disappointing, extremely disappointing, that the permit applicant has shown no record of public engagement for a mine site located at the base of the Big Horn Mountains within close proximity to many homes. Doing business in Wyoming requires you to be a good neighbor. And this would have been the most simple way to show the community where a large-scale mine is going in, that they are a good neighbor.”

Tongue River Valley landowners and party to the contested case hearing, David and Mary Fisher, said, “The EQC had a difficult task before them, and we applaud their tenacity in making the right decision. There is too much at stake to allow an incomplete mine plan to proceed without having sufficient data, studies, and monitoring in this historic alluvial valley to ensure its preservation and protection of its inhabitants.”

Powder River member and Tongue River Valley resident Joan Tellez said, “We are thankful the EQC made the right decision to protect our land and water. This process wasn’t easy for us, but we felt we had to make our concerns heard, and we’re glad the EQC listened to us. We will continue working to make sure that our land and water remain preserved.”

In response to this decision, Bob LeResche issued the following statement on behalf of Powder River:

“We are grateful for the diligent efforts by the EQC members, who sat through a seven-day hearing and concluded that the proposed permit did not adequately protect public health and safety, land and water. This was an uphill battle for citizens, who were denied an informal hearing on the permit. Our members were subjected to a trial-like hearing with intimidating cross examination from state and industry lawyers, and we are grateful that justice has been served. We will remain vigilant and continue our efforts to ensure that any future proposed mine meets fair standards to protect our water and our land and does not threaten our safety.”

Powder River is awaiting the written decision on the permit from the EQC and will continue to work with members and landowners to protect the scenic and historic Tongue River Valley.

In the news

The case has so far generated intense public scrutiny and media coverage:

Based on article in the Powder River Breaks, Council Rules for Landowner Protections Rejects Ramaco’s Deficient Brook Coal Mine Permit.

Sign up for WORC blogs

WORC will send you a notice of new blog posts. You can sign up here.