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Wyo. lawmakers seek to cut funding for environmental board on denied coal permit

Wyoming lawmakers are proposing to withhold funding for an environmental review board that denied a coal mining permit in Sheridan County.

The Wyoming Environmental Quality Council voted 4-1 in August 2017 against issuing a permit to Brook Mine, saying the application had a number of deficiencies including a failure to conduct subsidence, hydrologic and other tests. Neighboring landowners and environmental groups have complained that the plans for the mine are contradictory.

The House budget bill does not allocate any funding for the council in the second year of the two-year budget, a move that received strong pushback, the Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune reported Feb. 22.

Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, who proposed an amendment to reinstate the funding, called the legislature's move a "coercive tactic," while Shannon Anderson, a lawyer for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, said it is "meddling with the affairs of the agency in a really scary way for the precedent it could set for future decision making for the Environmental Quality Council," according to the newspaper. Zwonitzer's amendment failed.

Supporters of the funding cut argued that the move was not meant to abolish the council but to re-evaluate its efficiency.

"There was a ruling in the last year or so that sent a really negative vibe throughout the mining sector in particular, that maybe Wyoming isn't open for business," Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton, was quoted as saying.

Brook Mine, a subsidiary of Ramaco Carbon LLC, appealed the council's decision in October 2017.

Ramaco Carbon operates under the same umbrella as Ramaco Resources Inc.