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Interior walks back announcement of Westmoreland coal mine expansion

Westmoreland Coal Co. has not yet received approval to expand a Montana mine, the U.S. Department of the Interior said Dec. 28, calling its earlier announcement of the approval "the result of an internal miscommunication."

The Associated Press reported Dec. 22 that the department had given the OK for a 60 million-ton expansion of Westmoreland's Rosebud mine, which serves the nearby Colstrip coal-fired power plant.

Neither the Interior Department nor the U.S. Office of Surface Mining, Reclamation and Enforcement responded to multiple requests from S&P Global Market Intelligence to confirm the AP report.

News of the approval gave a bump to Westmoreland's stock, which opened at $1.14 per share on the NYSE Dec. 22 and traded as high as $1.74 on the next trading day, Dec. 26, before closing at $1.29.

Interior press secretary Heather Swift said the statement given by the department was incorrect, but that the DOI is moving the process forward to make a draft environmental impact statement available and open a public comment period for the expansion of the permit area.

Westmoreland is struggling to calm investor concerns amid falling share prices, debt load maturing in 2018 and the resignation of CEO Kevin Paprzycki.