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Know the West

Latest: Arch Coal ends its pursuit of Otter Creek coal

The coal company has declared bankruptcy and is backing away from a project that sparked environmental concerns.


In 2009, Montana granted an 8,300-acre lease to Arch Coal for a proposed strip mine along Otter Creek in the southeast corner of the state. The sprawling project would have created the largest coal mine in the U.S., and built a swath of railroad through remote prairie and ranch lands. But the 10-year lease prompted a strong backlash, including a lawsuit from environmentalists, who invoked the statement in Montana’s Constitution that “a clean and healthful environment” is an inalienable right (“Clean and healthful environment,” HCN, 8/30/10).

Although a Montana district court decision eventually struck down the environmental challenge, mine opponents can breathe a sigh of relief. Citing “further deterioration in coal markets,” Arch Coal — already in the throes of bankruptcy — announced on March 10 that it would suspend its Otter Creek application. The state had already highlighted multiple deficiencies in the application, including concerns over wildlife, hydrology and reclamation.