Coal company owner works on payment plan for taxes

By Jonathan Gallardo

Gillette News Record

Via Wyoming News Exchange

GILLETTE — A coal company that owes more than $8 million in unpaid taxes had approached Campbell County about a monthly payment plan.

Blackjewel LLC, which operates the Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr mines after buying them from Contura Energy in 2017, owes the county about $8.6 million in taxes, most of it taxes for production in the first half of 2017.

Sept. 1 was the deadline for Blackjewel to pay those taxes, and the delinquency date was Nov. 10.

Deputy County Attorney Carol Seeger said a representative of the company contacted the county, asking if it could enter into a payment plan, but gave no specifics. Seeger said she asked Blackjewel for more information about its proposal but hasn’t heard back.

Blackjewel offered to pay off the $8.6 million over a period of three years: $240,000 a month for 36 months.

“I’ve not communicated with them further about it,” Seeger said.

In the meantime, Blackjewel has not been paying any of the delinquent taxes, she said.

Ultimately, the Commission and Campbell County Treasurer would have to approve the payment plan.

Blackjewel has been operating the mines since December 2017 under Contura’s permits. The two mines employ nearly 600 people.

The next payment deadline for production taxes for the second half of 2017 is Friday, and the next delinquency date is May 10.

Campbell County Treasurer Rachael Knust said Blackjewel has not paid any taxes since taking over the mines. If Friday comes and goes with no payment, Knust said Blackjewel would owe the county about $17 million in unpaid taxes, not including interest.

A bill that would have required mineral production companies pay their ad valorem taxes on a monthly basis starting in 2022 was voted down in December by the Joint Revenue Committee after representatives from the coal industry spoke out against it.

Last year, the Belle Ayr and Eagle Butte mines produced 35.6 million tons of coal, a 7.5 percent increase over the 33.1 million tons mined in 2017. That’s a significant positive performance compared to the rest of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin mines, which saw production drop 3.8 percent across the board last year.

In addition to having not paid the taxes owed to Campbell County, Blackjewel is the subject of a pending lawsuit that’s holding up the transfer of the Wyoming mining and reclamation permits from Contura to Blackjewel.

In its lawsuit filed against the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality, the Powder River Basin Resource Council claims that Blackjewel’s track record of violations in other states should preclude it from mining in Wyoming.

“We’ve objected that Blackjewel should not be an operator in Wyoming because of the company’s sketchy history, said Shannon Anderson, an attorney for the group, earlier this month.