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Westmoreland Coal Official: "We've Got Some Debt To Restructure"

Jackie Yamanaka

A Westmoreland Coal Company says its 3 Montana coal mines are profitable despite its current financial crunch and the company is working to keep its mines open.

“I can’t say more than what’s in our 10-K,” says Jesse Noel, director for environmental and regulatory affairs for Westmoreland’s U.S. operations.

Form 10-K is the annual report companies are required to file with U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Noel was part of a roundtable gathering of coal and oil industry representatives convened by Congressman Greg Gianforte, R-MT, at Lone Wolf Energy, Inc in Billings.

“We’ve got some debt to restructure and something is going to happen.  I don’t know what’s going to happen. It could be one of a number of things,” Noel says.

In Westmoreland’s 10-K filing, one option mentioned was seeking protection from creditors under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Code.

Noel says despite that, “I can tell you that those (3 Montana) mines are profitable mines. They’re good places to work. At the end of the day we all hope they’re going to be there and they should be because they’re profitable.”

Noel says the company currently employs about 500 people. He says many of the employees earn six figure salaries with benefits.

He told Gianforte Westmoreland paid last year in taxes:  $39 million to the federal government, $34 million to the state of Montana and $11 million to the Crow Tribe.

A number of factors are responsible for tough times facing the coal industry, the top being competition from cheap natural gas. Coal fired plants are also shuttering their doors.

“That’s tough for our industry,” says Noel. “But Colstrip with our mine mouth plant we’re going to try to keep continue moving on; WRI we’ve worked out agreements with the tribe we’re going to try to keep that open that open as long as we can. Our little Savage mine in Savage, Montana we’re going to keep supplying coal to the sugar beet factory and power plant over in Sidney.”

Noel says Westmoreland is “just going to keep chugging along and fight through this fight and do what we can and keep these jobs in Montana.”

Noel and Todd O’Hair of Cloud Peak Energy both told Gianforte the pressure on the coal industry has eased somewhat as the Trump Administration has been rolling back environmental and regulatory measures that they say were strangling their industry. They’re still look to sell coal to overseas customers, especially in Asia.