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Westmoreland coal mine

The Westmoreland coal mines near Colstrip employ about 380 people in this small town of 2,300 in southeastern Montana.

The Interior Department's announcement of approval for a large Eastern Montana coal mine expansion turned out to be false.

Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift walked back her previous announcement, reported by the Associated Press, that an expansion of Westmoreland Coal Company's Rosebud Mine near Colstrip received the green light.

"A previous statement by the Department that it had approved the expansion of the mine was incorrect and was the result of an internal miscommunication," Swift said in an email to The Gazette.

Though the expansion didn't receive final approval, a draft environmental impact statement is set to be released to the public, Swift said.

Representatives for Westmoreland didn't return calls for comment Thursday.

On Dec. 22, the Associated Press reported that the federal government approved the mine's expansion, which would add 10.5 square miles to its current 40-square-mile footprint. The added acreage was expected to produce 60 million tons.

The report cited Swift as the source of the announcement.

Westmoreland, a company that saw CEO Kevin Paprzycki resign last month amid 2017 revenue losses, enjoyed a brief improvement in the value of its stock after the Associated Press report.

The Rosebud Mine's main customer is the nearby coal-fired power plant in Colstrip, which faces closure by 2027.

Swift declined to give any more details on the internal miscommunication. An Interior Department press release on Thursday touted the year-end accomplishments of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, including the reversal of a moratorium for coal leases on federal land.

The correction of the mistaken announcement would be done through the news media, Swift said.

"The statement has all the information you're asking for and the statement to press corrects the previous statement to press," she said in an email.


General Assignment Reporter

Reporter for The Billings Gazette.