Cloud Peak Energy

Amy Martin

In south-central Montana, plans are underway to get more coal out of the ground and onto ships headed to Asia. The Crow Tribe of Montana and Cloud Peak Energy of Wyoming are partnering to develop a new coal mine on the reservation and to open a new export terminal in Washington’s Puget Sound. Although coal prices are in decline and a protest movement is growing, the Crow are undeterred. For them, coal equals survival.

Stephanie Joyce / Wyoming Public Radio

How much coal does a Wyoming coal miner mine? Quite a bit less than he used to, it turns out.

Regulations have received most of the blame for coal’s current downturn but that’s not the whole story; it’s also getting more expensive to mine in the nation’s largest coal producing state.

For the past few months, Cloud Peak Energy, one of the biggest coal miners in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, has been in the process of moving a giant machine called a dragline from one mine to another.

One of Wyoming’s largest coal producers has purchased a stake in a controversial export terminal in the Pacific Northwest. Cloud Peak Energy announced Thursday that it now owns 49 percent of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Washington.

If built, the terminal would be used to ship coal from the Powder River Basin to Asia. It's one of the few remaining terminals proposed; a number of others have been scrapped because of weak international coal prices and local opposition. 

Stephanie Joyce

The losses are continuing to mount as more coal companies report their second quarter earnings.

Cloud Peak Energy announced a $53 million loss for the quarter Wednesday, while Arch Coal reported a $168 million dollar loss Thursday, following on the heels of Peabody Energy's $1 billion loss on Monday.

Famartin / Wikimedia Commons

A reclamation expert with Cloud Peak Energy is hoping techniques developed at one of the company’s Powder River Basin coal mines can be applied across the West. Kyle Wendtland helped develop a strategy to combat cheatgrass, an invasive species that’s bad for grazing. It’s become a major problem in the West, with more than 50 million acres affected. Currently, the most common method for removing it is to apply herbicides. Cloud Peak’s approach removes the weed mechanically and then reseeds the area with native grasses. Wendtland says it’s cutting-edge.

Ambre Energy

Wyoming’s largest coal company is selling its stake in a Montana mine for less than its original asking price. In a deal announced Thursday, Cloud Peak will give up its 50 percent ownership of the Decker coal mine in exchange for Ambre Energy taking on $67 million in reclamation and lease bonding. The deal also promises Cloud Peak capacity at Ambre Energy’s proposed Millennium Bulk coal export terminal in Washington state.

Duncan Harris / Creative Commons

An unfolding court case might change how Powder River Basin coal is taxed in Montana. Last week, a Montana district court heard oral arguments in a lawsuit pitting Cloud Peak Energy against the state.

The state is asking for $3.4 million in back taxes, arguing that Cloud Peak underpaid between 2005 and 2007 by selling to an affiliated company at below-market value.