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Environmental Quality Council delays coal permit to consider company background

Coal News - Published on Fri, 24 May 2019

Image Source: Politics of Poverty
Gillette News Record reported that a state environmental review board Thursday withheld approval of a mining permit transfer until it could determine whether a sprawling web of coal companies’ environmental violations in other states should block the owner from operating in Wyoming. The seven-member Environmental Quality Council delayed approval of a mining permit transfer from Contura Energy to Blackjewel LLC, likely until early July. The board is appointed by the governor and provides oversight to the Department of Environmental Quality.

Last week’s decision came after a lawyer with the landowner group Powder River Basin Resource Council argued DEQ was falling short of its obligations to consider violations committed in other states.

The permit transfer is part of a larger deal between Contura Energy - an entity spawned by the bankruptcy of Alpha Natural Resources - and Blackjewel, owned by appalachian coal magnate Jeff Hoops. Contura is offloading the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines in the Powder River Basin. Blackjewel is already operating the mines, and has been for 18 months, under an agreement with Contura.

PRBRC objected to the mine permit transfer on the grounds that DEQ failed to properly assess Hoops’ environmental compliance record at his eastern mines. State law requires the DEQ to look at compliance records for all mines associated with a permit applicant and to not issue the permit if those violations aren’t being remedied.

Lawyers for both Contura and Blackjewel argued that though the mines’ ownership would go to Hoops, those who operate the mine in Wyoming would largely not change. Both mines have good compliance records with Wyoming regulators, with only four mine violations in the last three years, none of which were serious enough to halt mining. But the law creates a system of national accountability by ensuring a mining company can’t open a mine in one state until it’s cleaned up its messes in another, PRBRC attorney Shannon Anderson argued.

DEQ Land Quality Division manager Kyle Wendtland located 42 violations by Hoop’s companies in a national database maintained by federal regulators, Wendtland told the council. The majority of the violations were severe enough, according to Powder River Basin Resource Council, that regulators in eastern states ordered halts to some work on the mines.

Wendtland then approved the permit after the violations were moved to “conditional” status a mere two days after he alerted the permit applicants. A conditional status meant the mining companies were working with state agencies to remedy their violations. But under questioning from Anderson, Wendtland said a company could also move a violation to conditional status merely by appealing it, not rectifying the mistake or paying a fine. Wendtland did not look into the 42 violations to see if the companies — Revelation and Keystone, both owned by Hoops — had appealed the violations after being alerted by DEQ that the agency would hold permit approval until those violations’ statuses changed.

Meanwhile, an appeal would let the company move the violations to conditional, and if DEQ accepted that change, let the company take on new mining permits without rectifying its violations in eastern states.

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Posted By : Sanju Moirangthem on Fri, 24 May 2019
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