Negotiations to lease and mine the Crow's coal took place over several years. The resulting agreement calls for Cloud Peak to lease three coal deposits in the southeast corner of the reservation near the Wyoming border for an initial five-year term.
That lease could be extended to 2035 if certain conditions are met, the tribe and Cloud peak said. If the company exercises the lease options, it would pay the tribe between 8 cents and 15 cents per ton, plus royalties and production taxes.
The money from Cloud Peak will be divided between the tribe, tribal members and reservation communities, Old Coyote said. Further details will be up to the Crow Legislature, he said.
The tribe's reserves are near Cloud Peak's Spring Creek mine and Youngs Creek coal reserves. The Big Metal project could be developed as part of a larger mining complex involving those other properties, the company said.
If Cloud Peak builds a mine, it would be the second on the reservation.
The Absaloka mine, which opened in 1974 and is owned by Westmoreland Resources Inc., produces about 6 million tons annually and employs about 80 people, according to data from the Mine Health and Safety Administration.
Another attempt in recent years to expand coal mining on the reservation called for building a $7 billion coal-to-liquids plant in partnership with an Australian company.
Tribal leaders hoped that plant would give an economic boost to the Crow's 13,000 enrolled members. But more than four years after the Many Stars coal-to-liquids project was announced, its prospects are uncertain due to financing difficulties and other problems.
Old Coyote and other tribal officials said Thursday the plans for the plant are not dead and they are in discussions to get the project going again.