Westmoreland Coal received preliminary permission for the proposed 64-Mt (70-million st) expansion of its Rosebud Mine in southeastern Montana from state and federal officials on Nov. 29, despite the fact that Westmoreland Coal remains tied up in bankruptcy proceedings with plans to sell the property.
Officials released an 800-page environmental study of Westmoreland Coal Co.’s expansion of the Rosebud Mine expansion that clears the way for a final decision in coming months, the Denver Post reported.
Westmoreland declared bankruptcy in October with more than $1.4 billion in debt. The Colorado-based company is one of the oldest coal companies in the U.S., with mines in Montana, Wyoming, New Mexico, Ohio, North Dakota and Texas, and a coal-fired power plant in North Carolina.
Environmental groups opposed to the expansion of the mine pressed for a delay until the fate of the mine is determined in January but a federal bankruptcy judge recently approved plans to auction Rosebud and other company assets on Jan. 22.
Regulators from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) and U.S. Department of the Interior have closely tracked the bankruptcy, but DEQ spokeswoman Kristi Ponozzo said the decision on the expansion was made independently of those proceedings.
“We can’t prejudice against the company because they are in bankruptcy,” she said. “We have to move forward with the permitting decision.”
Rosebud serves the Colstrip power plant, one of the largest coal-burning plants in the Western U.S..
The 25-km2 (10-sq-mile) expansion would extend the life of the mine by 19 years.
Environmentalists who have been seeking to close down the Colstrip plant opposed the expansion. They said burning the coal that would be mined would contribute to climate change and damage natural resources including wildlife and water supplies.
Rosebud employs about 340 people and produces roughly 9 million tons of coal annually. Since opening in 1968, it’s produced a cumulative total of almost a half-billion tons of coal.