A board comprised of local and federal officials gave a coal lease in southern Montana its seal of approval Wednesday, meaning the lease will soon undergo a public review process.

The Powder River Regional Coal Team — which consists of Wyoming, Montana and federal officials — voted unanimously to approve an extension to Cloud Peak Energy’s Spring Creek coal mine, which is north of Sheridan.

The Gillette-based company says the extension holds 198 million tons of coal, or enough to extend the life of the Spring Creek mine by a decade.

Cloud Peak representative Keith Walters told the team the company holds the rights to 16 years’ worth of coal. Cloud Peak hopes to start mining from the new lease area by 2024.

At least one group was upset after the decision, saying it felt its testimony hadn’t been fully considered. Jeremy Nichols, representing WildEarth Guardians, told the board it didn’t think a letter his group and others submitted was considered in the decision. The letter asked that approval of the application be delayed until more information was submitted.

“Our organization thought it might get some acknowledgement, but it didn’t seem to get any discussion,” he said. “I’m not sure why.”

The board unanimously approved the lease. The action means the board found Cloud Peak’s application suitable, and it recommended the Montana office of the federal Bureau of Land Management begin a public scoping process on the matter.

Reach energy reporter Adam Voge at 307-266-0561, or at adam.voge@trib.com. Read his blog at http://trib.com/news/opinion/blogs/boom or follow him on Twitter @vogeCST.

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