Louisville, Kentucky — Coal producer Ramaco has won an important legal victory in Wyoming after a Wyoming District Court judge ruled that the company's proposed Brook Mining mine be allowed to extract coal beneath surface land near Sheridan.
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The surface land is owned by Big Horn Coal, a subsidiary of Utah-based coal mining company Lighthouse Resources. Big Horn had appealed a 2016 unanimous decision by the Wyoming Quality Council that it was correct to give Ramaco an "order in lieu" of consent over objections from Big Horn.
The case's legal question turned on Ramaco's property rights to use surface lands to mine its coal as set out in a 1954 deed.
Judge Catherine Rogers determined Friday that the Wyoming Quality Council had the statutory authority to determine if Kentucky-based Ramaco could mine beneath Big Horn surface land.
"Big Horn Coal does not dispute that Brook Mining owns the minerals, rather, it seems that Big Horn Coal objects to the proposed mining plan for other reasons, including the potential destruction of improvements Big Horn Coal has built on the property," she said.
Rogers added that a 1983 property release agreement "does not explicitly supersede the 1954 deed, and Brook Mining presented evidence at the contested case hearing that language to that effect was removed during negotiations. Further, the 1983 release agreement precludes Big Horn Mining from objecting to Brook Mining's application for a mining permit."
She concluded, "The court agrees with Brook Mining that based on the entire record, the Council could reasonably conclude that Brook had the legal authority to extract coal by surface mining."
Ramaco has recently submitted a revised permit application to the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality. The court's decision means the company does not have to re-obtain consent from Big Horn since all landowner consents associated with the original application carry over to the new application, according to company attorney Tom Sansonetti.
At a time when thermal coal companies are struggling, Ramaco chairman Randall Atkins said the resolution of the case is "one more positive step toward creating the vertically integrated coal mining, research and advanced manufacturing platform in Sheridan which Ramaco has been pursuing."
Ramaco's Brook mine would be the first private coal mine permitted in Wyoming in more than four decades.
Ramaco is pursuing the alternative use of coal to make advanced carbon manufactured products, rather than burning coal for electrical generation. Coal from the Brook mine would be used in Ramaco's planned iCAM research campus for coal-to-products research and development and later in manufacturing carbon products at the adjoining i-Park mine-mouth industrial park. Construction on the first phase of the iCAM research park is now underway.
Big Horn Coal officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
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