Coal Bankruptcy

In this March 28, 2017, file photo, a dump truck hauls coal at Contura Energy's Eagle Butte Mine near Gillette, Wyoming. Mine owner Blackjewel LLC of Milton, West Virginia, says it has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Blackjewel operates mines in Wyoming, Kentucky, Virginia and West Virginia. 

WYOMING

Coal company CEO confident bankrupt operator will rebound

The CEO of one of the nation's largest coal producers says he's confident the company will bounce back despite the shutdown of several mines after it filed for federal bankruptcy protection.

Milton-based Blackjewel LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection July 1 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court for southern West Virginia. News outlets reported the company cited at least $500 million owed in liabilities.

Blackjewel follows other major U.S. coal producers that have filed for bankruptcy protection in recent years, including Douglas County-based Westmoreland Coal Co. in October and Gillette, Wyoming-based Cloud Peak Energy in May.

Blackjewel CEO Jeff Hoops said the company and its partners had insufficient cash to operate and require additional liquidity, especially to pay employees' wages and benefits.

Two enormous, open-pit mines with about 600 workers operated in Wyoming by Blackjewel — Eagle Butte and Belle Ayr, the fourth- and sixth-most-productive U.S. coal mines — abruptly closed.

Blackjewel recently missed a $1 million tax payment owed to Campbell County.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon met after the bankruptcy with local officials and discussed the state's response to the closings, which included directing the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services to help mine workers.

Governor still hopeful Taiwan president will visit

CHEYENNE — A visit by the president of Taiwan to Wyoming remains a definite possibility despite Gov. Mark Gordon's recent skirmish with Cheyenne Mayor Marian Orr over the issue, Gordon said.

Gordon's staff members remain in contact with President Tsai Ing-wen's office about visiting during Cheyenne Frontier Days, a celebration of rodeo and Western culture held every year in late July.

Gordon's office also has been in touch with the U.S. State Department and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis about the logistics of a visit. The Taiwanese delegation would visit Wyoming by way of Colorado, Gordon said.

In a news release, Orr accused Gordon of slamming his fists on a table and yelling profanity at her during a meeting about coordinating planning for the visit.

Gordon apologized for using foul language.

Wyoming seeks to export coal and larger volumes of beef to Taiwan. The state opened a trade office in Taipei during an October visit by then-Gov. Matt Mead, state lawmakers and other Wyoming officials.

OKLAHOMA

US government seeks part of state’s $270M opioid deal

OKLAHOMA CITY — The U.S. government wants a portion of Oklahoma's $270 million settlement with Purdue Pharma that stemmed from the state's ongoing lawsuit against opioid makers.

A letter from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services regional director warns the Oklahoma Health Care Authority that failure to return a portion of the settlement money could result in the withholding of federal funds. Medicaid is jointly funded by the federal government and states.

It's not clear how much of the state's settlement the federal government is seeking or where the money would come from. Oklahoma's settlement in March with Purdue, the maker of OxyContin, and the company's controlling family called for nearly $200 million to go into a trust for the creation of a National Center for Addiction Studies and Treatment at Oklahoma State University in Tulsa. Private attorneys who handled the case for Oklahoma received about $60 million, while an additional $12.5 million was earmarked for local governments.

CMS says it is entitled to a portion of the funds under a provision of the federal Social Security Act that applies to money recovered by the state. A CMS spokesman says anytime the agency becomes aware of a settlement that might involve a Medicaid overpayment, the agency works with states to determine what portion may need to be returned to the federal government.

Witnesses for the state have suggested the cost of abating the opioid crisis in Oklahoma could be as much as $17.5 billion over the next 30 years.

NEW MEXICO

Methane rules up for debate amid drilling boom

ALBUQUERQUE — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham wants New Mexico to craft its own rules to curb methane emissions from oil and gas development as the rollback of federal regulations remains tangled in a legal fight.

The industry says it has a roadmap that will help. Environmentalists argue the proposals aren't enough.

The battle lines are being drawn as regulators prepare for what could be a rancorous process this summer in a state where government coffers ebb and flow with the pace of drilling and market prices. The current oil boom in the Permian Basin, which straddles New Mexico and Texas, has resulted in record production and a budget surplus that's expected to top $1.2 billion.

The New Mexico Oil and Gas Association has released its plan for reducing emissions, saying its members are willing to work with government to strike a balance that will allow the industry to grow while reducing emissions.

A group made up of small and large producers first gathered about a year ago to begin creating the roadmap. They considered regulations adopted in neighboring Colorado, Wyoming and elsewhere.

The industry group is recommending an annual leak detection and repair program, the replacement of pneumatic devices, new controls for storage tanks and onsite monitoring of some operations.

The state's environment and energy agencies plan to review the group's recommendations. The agencies also have scheduled three public meetings this summer to gather more comments as part of the rulemaking process.

Last fall, the Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era rule that forced energy companies to capture methane. Within hours, Democratic attorneys general in New Mexico and California filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to reinstate the previous rule.

MONTANA

US Supreme Court to review state’s school choice program

The U.S. Supreme Court will consider reviving a Montana program that gives tax credits to people who donate to private-school scholarships. The state's highest court had struck down the program because it violated the Montana constitution's ban on state aid to religious organizations.

The justices said that they will review the state court ruling, which Montana parents are challenging as a violation of their religious freedom under the U.S. Constitution.

The Montana Supreme Court ruled that the program giving tax credits of up to $150 for donations to organizations that give scholarships to private-school students amounts to indirect aid to schools controlled by churches.

The Republican-led Legislature passed the law in 2015 as an alternative to a school voucher program designed to give students who want to attend private schools the means to do so. Most private schools in Montana have religious affiliations, and more than 90 percent of the private schools that have signed up with scholarship organizations under the program are religious.

The state court ruling invalidated the entire program, for religious and secular schools alike. In urging the Supreme Court to reject the appeal, Montana said it can't be compelled to offer a scholarship program for private education. The state told the justices that the Montana court decision did not single out students at religious schools because the state court ruling struck down the entire program.

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