Companies Seek to Drop Dueling Lawsuits Over Montana Coal Mine

By Beacon Staff

BILLINGS – Two companies sought to drop their dueling lawsuits over a Montana coal mine on Wednesday after a deal to sell the mine stalled over financing troubles.

Ambre Energy of Australia and Cloud Peak Energy of Wyoming co-own the Decker mine. They announced Wednesday they need more time to negotiate over Ambre’s bid to take full control, a prospect the two sides hoped would settle their legal dispute over the mine’s future.

Ambre has failed so far to come up with more than $70 million in cash to close the deal first announced in December. There have since been numerous extensions of court-ordered deadlines to settle competing legal claims from the two companies.

Cloud Peak Energy last year charged a breach of contract because it said Ambre planned to expand production outside of the formal process established by the joint management committee. Ambre countered that Cloud Peak was insisting on closing Decker because Cloud Peak owns a competing coal mine where production has been increasing.

A third of the mine’s workforce was laid off earlier this year, and at the latest count, it had about 83 remaining employees. Neither company would say Wednesday if more layoffs are anticipated.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Carolyn Ostby had ordered the two sides to settle their differences by Friday or be prepared to go to trial on Sept. 6. Dismissing the case could ease the pressure to get a deal done. It also will allow negotiations to take place outside the public arena of the courts.

Decker was once among the largest strip mines in the U.S., and produced more than 10 million tons of coal annually as recently as 2002. The mine is on track to extract just over 2 million tons of coal this year, based on production figures to date from the U.S. Department of Labor.

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