- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 18, 2014

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Montana’s Land Board approved an expansion of an underground coal mine north of Billings that will add nine years to the mine’s life.

The Billings Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/1kGuxwt) that Tuesday’s unanimous vote by the board that oversees state-owned property will allow Ohio-based Signal Peak Energy to double the size of its Bull Mountain mine.

The expansion plan covers about 7,160 acres. Officials said it would bring in $127.2 million from taxes and royalties on 640 acres of state coal reserves included in the expansion.

Opponents asked the board to reject the plan in part because of pollution that will be generated from burning the coal.

But board member Attorney General Tim Fox cited the mine’s positive contributions to the local economy.

“Those 325 people who work at Bull Mountain combined make about $40 million a year,” Fox said. “That’s money that is spent in local stores and is important to the economy.”

Elected officials from Musselshell County and representatives of the coal industry had urged approval.

The state Department of Environmental Quality signed off on the mine expansion last October. The federal Bureau of Land Management approved the leasing of federal coal reserves involved in the expansion in 2012.

Signal Peak produced 8.7 million tons of coal from the mine last year.

The Land Board is also composed of Gov. Steve Bullock, Fox, Secretary of State Linda McCullough, State Auditor Monica Lindeen and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com