GILLETTE (WNE) – With more than $50 million in unpaid federal coal royalties still unsettled, a local watchdog group is objecting to an Eagle Specialty Materials application to renew state permits for the Eagle Butte mine near Gillette.

The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality next week will discuss objections filed by Sheridan-based Powder River Basin Resource Council. The objections include ESM doesn’t have legal access to the federal coal at the mine and that it must give an accurate and updated production projection.

With mining permits renewed every five years, there’s been so much change at Eagle Butte since the last time its permit was up in 2015 that the state needs to be careful to make sure everything’s in order, said Shannon Anderson, staff attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

It’s been 15 months since ESM took over operations of the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines as part of a messy Blackjewel LLC bankruptcy. Part of the deal was ESM would work with the federal Department of the Interior to satisfy $50.1 million in unpaid Blackjewel royalties. That still hasn’t happened and numerous deadlines to reach a deal have been reset.

The latest extension runs through Friday, but both the Interior Department and ESM have filed motions with the bankruptcy court to extend the deadline to March 31.

“The Debtors (Blackjewel), ESM and the U.S. Department of the Interior, after continuous negotiations, are close to reaching an agreement regarding the terms of the assignment of the Interior Department Leases to ESM,” according to a motion to extend the deadline. “The negotiations have involved several complex matters.”

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