Jan 24, 2013 The Associated Press

Crow Tribe to sign coal deal

BILLINGS, Mont. -- The Crow Tribe was expected to sign an agreement Thursday giving a Wyoming mining company options to lease an estimated 1.4 billion tons of coal beneath the tribe's southeastern Montana reservation.

The deal with Cloud Peak Energy involves more coal than the U.S. consumes annually and revives stalled efforts to expand mining on the impoverished, 2.2 million-acre reservation. It appears aimed at tapping into coal export markets that have become increasingly attractive to mining companies as the domestic demand for the fuel falters due to competition from cheap natural gas and other factors.

Cloud Peak would pay the tribe $2.25 million up front and additional payments in coming years, up to a total of $10 million for leasing and exploration rights. Approval from the Department of Interior is required before the deal can go into effect.

The tribe's coal reserves are within the Powder River Basin, which accounts for about 40 percent of U.S. coal production.

Cloud Peak and other companies have been seeking to boost exports of the region's coal through West Coast ports. They face determined resistance from environmentalists.

Cloud Peak has included the reservation's coal as part of its "export strategy" in recent presentations to company investors.

The Crow tribal legislature authorized approval of the Cloud Peak leasing arrangement on Jan. 15, paving the way for Thursday's signing of the agreement by Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote.

Flaming Gorge advisers give report

DENVER -- A task force studying issues related to proposals to divert water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Wyoming to Colorado says state leaders first need to agree on how Colorado's water needs can be met.

In a report to be presented to the Colorado Water Conservation Board, the Basin Roundtable Exploration Committee says questions that should be addressed include how Colorado can maximize its entitlements to Colorado River water without overdeveloping the river and who would finance a new water supply project.

It also lists characteristics of "good" water supply projects, which it says shouldn't reduce supplies to existing water users, for one.

The report, released Wednesday, says there is an immediate gap between the Front Range demand for water and the supply and mentions "risks of the status quo."

Bible class bill advances to House

CHEYENNE -- Wyoming lawmakers are considering changing statutes to make it clear that schools have the right to teach classes about the Bible.

The House Education Committee voted 5-4 to back the proposal Wednesday, sending it to the full House for debate.

The bill states that high schools can offer elective classes on the Bible. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Stephen Watt of Rock Springs, said the classes wouldn't advocate for or against any religion.

Some lawmakers oppose the bill because such classes are already allowed.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled several times that public schools can offer classes about the Bible but can't use it for devotional purposes.

Supporters hope the bill will reassure schools and raise awareness about their right to offer such classes.

Illness postpones horse adoption

ROCK SPRINGS -- This week's planned adoption of wild horses in Rock Springs is being postponed because a number of young horses are sick.

The Bureau of Land Management said that between 30 and 40 of the 100 horses under a year old were found to be infected with strangles during a pre-adoption checkup Wednesday. BLM veterinarian Paul Zancanella said it's a bacterial infection roughly similar to strep throat in humans. Most horses recover from it.

The BLM says canceling the adoptions will reduce stress on them.

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