$205 million loss for Cloud Peak coal company as exports sag
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — One of the largest coal mining companies in the Western U.S. is reporting a $205 million loss for 2015 after pinning its hopes for growth on an export market in Asia that has fizzled.
The results for Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy add to the litany of bad news for an industry hit by bankruptcies, low prices and tightening pollution rules.
The company attributed $58 million of its losses to weak international coal prices.
Chief executive officer Colin Marshall says 2016 will be another difficult year for coal miners.
Cloud Peak’s coal shipments dropped 13 percent to 75 million last year. They are expected to drop to as low as 64 million tons in 2016.
Cloud Peak’s stock rose 17 percent, to $1.90 per share, in after-hours trading on Wednesday.
State Senate passes bill involving Colstrip plants
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — A bill that would authorize the state’s largest utility to create a fund to pay for the eventual shutdown of two coal-fired power plants in Montana has easily passed the Washington State Senate. Senate Bill 6248 passed by a vote of 42-7 on Wednesday and now heads to the House for consideration. The bill was amended to remove any provisions calling for the closure of two older coal-fired plants located in the company town of Colstrip, Montana. Bill sponsor Sen. Doug Erickson, R-Ferndale, said the measure now simply authorizes Puget Sound Energy to fund a “retirement account” to cover future decommissioning and remediation costs of the power plants, but only if they are closed after 2023.
Montana legislative panel suspends work on clean power plan
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — A Montana legislative subcommittee has halted its work on tracking the federal Clean Power Plan. The move follows last week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that put the plan on hold. After the high court’s stay, Gov. Steve Bullock also suspended the work of an advisory council focused on responding to coal-related directives from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA plan requires states to cut carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants, including the Colstrip plant, the second-largest west of the Mississippi River. Montana’s target emission-rate cuts are the steepest in the nation at 47 percent by 2030.
Billings police investigating suspicious death as a homicide
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Police in Billings have begun a homicide investigation into the September death of a man whose body was found in the street. Detective Mike Beckers says an autopsy determined that 39-year-old Tracy Belmarez’s death was a homicide due to the combination of electric shock from a stun gun, methamphetamine intoxication and a partially closed artery. His body was found at 3:15 a.m. on Sept. 30. His death was investigated as suspicious because of the time his body was found and because no witnesses could be located. Beckers tells The Billings Gazette that several people have been interviewed and there are persons of interest in the case, but no arrests have been made.
Anti-union group worked to influence elections in 5 states
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Newly released documents show the National Right to Work Committee worked directly with select Republican legislative candidates in five states in 2010 to boost their campaigns with a voter mailing program. Officials in Montana say that amounted to illegal contributions by a corporation and are pursuing litigation against nine state candidates who participated. Montana’s commissioner of political practice released thousands of emails, letters and mailers to The Associated Press through a public records request. They show Right to Work offered candidates a series of seven custom-written letters that would be signed with their digitally scanned signatures and mailed to thousands of voters.
State settles ex-QB’s claim rather than revive rape case
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — An attorney representing the state says the University of Montana’s investigation into rape allegations against a former quarterback was appropriate, but officials decided to settle accusations that it was mishandled rather than re-open the matter. The state will pay Jordan Johnson $245,000 to drop his claims that school officials had predetermined his guilt after the accusations were made in 2012. The out-of-court settlement was approved Tuesday by District Judge Deann Cooney of Helena. Kalispell attorney Dale Cockrell was hired to represent the state in the mediation and settlement. He says the state would have prevailed in a lawsuit over the investigation, but officials believed it was best to settle the matter.
MSUB gets funding boost for performance
(Information in the following story is from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com)
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Montana State University Billings has received the $760,000 in state funding it was initially denied after the university showed improvements to its degree completion and retention rates.
The Billings Gazette reports the university was given the performance-based funding through a Montana State University program that rewards schools for boosting enrollment, degree completion and student retention. MSUB was the state’s only university denied full funding after it failed to report the required 1 percent improvement in those areas.
MSUB Chancellor Mark Nook says the university became eligible for the funding after it factored in data from other schools where Billings students had transferred. Those students at other MUS colleges count as retained students under the funding program.
Nook says the money will go toward scholarships and helping struggling students.
Group sues to reclassify Montana bear population
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — A conservation group is suing the federal government for the second time in two years for failing to reclassify a small population of grizzly bears as endangered.
The roughly 40 grizzly bears in the Cabinet-Yaak area along the Montana-Idaho border are considered a threatened species.
The Alliance for the Wild Rockies said in a Feb. 9 lawsuit that the population is in decline because of humans killing bears. The group says at least 100 bears are needed for the area’s grizzlies to avoid extinction.
An endangered listing would require protection of the bears’ habitat.
A 2014 lawsuit from the Alliance was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Donald Molloy. Molloy said the matter was moot because of a finding that year from U.S. officials that an endangered listing was not warranted.