Wyoming is among the coal-friendliest states, but ongoing worries about how the state's first major new coal mine in decades could affect the environment and people living nearby dealt a serious setback to the project Tuesday.
A state environmental review panel, the Environmental Quality Council, voted 4-1 to send the mine permit application for the proposed Brook Mine near Sheridan back for more work by the mine developer. The council overrode the state Department of Environmental Quality, which had deemed Lexington, Kentucky-based Ramaco's application complete.
The vote is likely to delay the application by several months at least.
Council members echoed worries of many local residents, including that they could be left without well water after the mine lowered the water table. Council members also said Ramaco Resources Inc. of Kentucky hadn't done enough to allay concerns the partially underground mine could cause the ground above to subside, or slump down several feet as underground cavities collapse.
"I am concerned about the traffic generated by the mine," council member David Bagley said. "I cannot be convinced there will not be a public nuisance or a risk to public safety from the operation of this mine."
Of special concern to all five council members was Ramaco hasn't held public meetings on the project. State law and regulations don't require public meetings, but Ramaco should have done so anyway, council member Nick Agopian.
"It's disappointing — extremely disappointing — that the permit applicant has shown no record of public engagement," said Agopian. "Doing business in Wyoming requires you to be a good neighbor."
Agopian nonetheless cast the lone vote to allow the permit application to move ahead.
Ramaco attorney Jeffrey Pope declined comment. The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowner organization that raised many of the concerns shared by the council, praised the vote.
"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," Bob LeResche, chairman of the group's board, said in a statement.
Wyoming is the top coal-producing state, providing around 40 percent of the nation's coal. The vast majority of Wyoming coal is burned in power plants, but Ramaco proposes to use the coal to study new ways to develop carbon fiber and other carbon-based materials.
The research would take place at a proposed facility at the Brook Mine site. Ramaco is among several partners in a project recently awarded $3.7 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to develop technology to study production of carbon fiber from low-cost materials.
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