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Kemmerer Mine Sale Hits Snag Amidst Internal Dispute

Kemmerer Mine - Wyoming

The sale of the Kemmerer coal mine has hit a snag in bankruptcy courts. The subsidiary of Westmoreland that owns the Kemmerer mine and the new billionaire buyer named Tom Clarke are required to replace bonds to ensure the land can be reclaimed if the mine were to go under. But court documents show the two were ready to close the deal without completing the step.

Westmoreland's secured lender has filed a complaint to prevent a sale from getting finalized without the reclamation bond getting properly replaced. It's in their interest given the lender could end up footing the bill without a new bond.

Peter Morgan, senior attorney with the Sierra Club, said it looks like Westmoreland's Wyoming subsidiary and buyer Tom Clarke may be struggling to finalize that bond replacement. Morgan said it's possible the buyer Tom Clarke can't put up the collateral.

"I think the surety bond provider may have some concerns about Clarke's ability to either complete the reclamation or maybe doesn't have the collateral that they need to backstop the loan," Morgan said.

He said it's also in Wyoming Westmoreland's interest to close the sale as soon as possible in order to enter the liquidation stage.

"It does seem that one explanation is trying to get certain commitments in place without allowing either the bankruptcy court, or the regulators, or anyone else the time to kind of scrutinize those deals," he added.

A representative with Wyoming's Department of Environmental Quality said the important thing for the agency is that someone holds the reclamation bond whether its Westmoreland's secured lender or Tom Clarke's company. That ensures Wyoming and its taxpayers are protected if the mine were to fail.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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