Controversy Surrounds Highway Relocation/Mine Expansion Project

May 11, 2018

Highway 30 next to the Kemmerer Mine
Credit Cooper McKim / Wyoming Public Radio

In this past budget session, Wyoming’s state legislature funded a $30 million project that would benefit a coal mine that’s owner may soon go bankrupt. Westmoreland Coal Company is over a billion dollars in debt and has mentioned the possibility of bankruptcy in this past quarterly report. State legislators approved the sizable project, which would invest money relocating the highway U.S. 30 to accommodate a mine expansion.

$7.5 million would come from the state and the Wyoming Department of Transportation and $15 million from Westmoreland. The company wants to expand the mine to access 67 million more tons of coal.

Connie Wilbert, director of the Wyoming Sierra Club chapter, said, by the time the project is underway, the demand for the extra coal won’t be there. The mine’s primary customer plans to retire its largest coal-fired generating unit by next year.

"I sincerely hope the state will take a step back and say this may not be the best time to even be in discussions about moving this highway," Wilbert said. "Let’s wait and see what happens to the demand for coal they’re producing."

Afton Senator Dan Dockstader sponsored the capital construction bill and pushed for the expansion. He said that Pacificorps’ Naughton Power Plant isn’t the mine’s only customer.

"This mine just doesn’t alone tie in with the RMP’s operation. This has connections to the trona patch. This is high energy, low sulfur coal. This sells for a premium, nearly three times over the Powder River Coal," Dockstader said.

Dockstader added the project will bring 300 jobs and over $300 million in tax revenue over the 20-year process. The project is expected to begin in four years.