May 17, 2019
After a two-day hearing over Powder River Basin Resource Council’s (Resource Council) objections to Contura Coal West’s proposal to transfer their permits for Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte coal strip mines to Blackjewel LLC, the Wyoming Environmental Quality Council (EQC) postponed making a decision in order to gather more information regarding the process by which mine violations in other states affect and potentially block the ability for Blackjewel to receive Contura’s coal mine permits. The mine violations in question were issued to Revelation Energy, and other Appalachian coal companies owned by controversial businessman Jeff Hoops, who also owns Blackjewel. Both federal and state law requires these violations in other states to be disclosed and corrected before a permit can be issued in Wyoming.
“We want to thank the EQC for their time and attention this week, and we appreciate that they didn’t approve the mine permit transfers to Blackjewel. The council members understand the gravity of this situation and know that all legal requirements must be met before the permits are transferred from Contura to Blackjewel,” said Resource Council Chair Joyce Evans.
During the hearing, a Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) administrator admitted the agency was aware that some of Hoops’ companies have dozens of mine permit violations that have not yet been fully corrected. Thirty-six out of the 42 violations have been severe enough that regulators ordered the company to shut down part of its operations until the situations were remedied. Public records and media reports also document frequent mine safety and environmental violations issued to the Hoops companies. The Resource Council’s objections maintained that Blackjewel failed to meet state and federal criteria as a qualified operator.
“In Wyoming, we expect mine operators to take environmental violations and mine safety seriously, and Blackjewel’s owner, Jeff Hoops, has not earned the right to operate here. I appreciate the EQC taking this matter seriously, because who operates our mines really does matter,” said Stacy Page, a former DEQ regulator who worked in mine reclamation.
The Resource Council had also objected to the renewal of Contura’s Belle Ayr coal mine permit due to their usage of ranchland as collateral in guaranteeing a portion of the mine’s reclamation bond. Contura claims the value of these Campbell County land parcels is nearly $27 million; however, DEQ withheld the appraisal from the public at the company’s request. The process’s lack of transparency and other concerns about how the property was valued and whether the collateral adequately protected the interests of Wyoming taxpayers led the Resource Council to object. However, today the EQC approved the permit transfer using the real estate as collateral for the bond.
“While we thank the EQC for their attention to this matter, we are disappointed that they granted Contura’s permit renewal. We hope DEQ does what they say they will do and protect Wyoming’s taxpayers and environment. We will hold them to their word,” said Evans.
In the matter of the mine permit transfer from Contura to Blackjewel, all parties have until June 21, 2019 to present their additional information, sometime after which the EQC will reconvene to make a decision.
For more information on the objection, contact the Resource Council at 307-672-5809 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.