BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A major new coal mine proposed for southeastern Montana has fallen more than two years behind its original permitting schedule.
State Department of Environmental Quality officials say they need more information from St. Louis-based Arch Coal Inc. to complete their environmental study of the proposed Otter Creek coal mine.
The study must be finished before Arch can get a permit to mine an estimated 1.4 billion tons of coal it has leased southeast of Ashland near the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation.
Company executives had once predicted the mine could open next year. But the permit decision date was recently bumped back from last August to late 2015. It could take years more to develop the mine and an associated rail line needed to ship the fuel out of Montana.
The company continues to work with state officials and plans to submit a revised permit application later this year, Arch spokeswoman Kim Link said. A draft environmental study is scheduled to be completed by November.
Timeline changes are not unusual for such a large project, state officials said.
Arch already has overcome initial court challenges from environmental groups who warned that burning so much coal would make climate change worse.
Yet, the delay underscores the continuing challenges faced by the coal industry as it struggles to increase export volumes in hopes of offsetting a steep decline in domestic demand for the fuel over the past several years.
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