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APNewsBreak: Deal averts Montana coal mine shutdown

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - A central Montana coal mine that cut about 20 percent of its workforce last month has reached an agreement with environmentalists and state regulators that's intended to avoid a major shutdown.

Monday's deal comes as a declining coal market leaves the future of some mining companies in doubt.

A state review panel recently rejected an expansion permit granted in 2013 for the Bull Mountain Mine. That threatened to halt operations.

The agreement gives the Department of Environmental Quality six months to reanalyze the expansion and whether it would harm area water supplies.

The agency had been faulted for limiting its analysis to 50 years and not looking at potential water contamination beyond that period.

Montana's Board of Environmental Review must approve the deal and will consider it Tuesday.


Woman killed in crash on Interstate 80 near Pine Bluffs

PINE BLUFFS, Wyo. (AP) - Authorities say a woman is dead after she rear-ended a commercial truck on Interstate 80 west of Pine Bluffs.

Sgt. David Wagener says 32-year-old Randi Amen, of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, crashed into the truck early Sunday morning and died later at a hospital.

Investigators say Amen was traveling at a high rate of speed before the crash, and alcohol might have played a role.

The two people in the commercial truck, which was pulling a trailer, were not injured.

The crash marked the second highway fatality in Wyoming this year. There were seven fatalities by this time last year.


Powerful replacement for Wyoming climate-modeling computer

CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) - One of the world's most powerful computers used for earth-science research, including studies involving climate change, is scheduled to be replaced by an even faster machine.

The National Center for Atmospheric Research has been running the Yellowstone supercomputer near Cheyenne since 2012. Scientists use Yellowstone for a wide range of research including modeling of air pollution, ocean currents and weather.

On Monday, NCAR officials announced plans to replace Yellowstone with a supercomputer named Cheyenne next year.

Yellowstone ranks among the world's 60 top fastest supercomputers. The new Cheyenne supercomputer will be two-and-a-half times more powerful, capable of 5.3 quadrillion calculations per second.

That's about 100,000 times faster than a typical home computer. NCAR officials say such speeds make it possible to model regional effects of climate change.


Federal officials consider protections for cat-like predator

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Federal wildlife officials are considering new protections for a small, fanged predator that lives in remote, old-growth forests in the Northern Rockies.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Monday that it will conduct a 12-month review to determine if the Northern Rockies fisher should be protected under the Endangered Species Act.

The agency rejected protections for the cat-like animals in 2011. Officials changed course after receiving new details on the accidental trapping of fishers in a 2013 petition from advocacy groups.

Wildlife advocates say the species historically occupied a Western range that stretched across parts Washington, Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. They're now limited to an area along the Montana-Idaho border.

The fisher remains relatively abundant in parts of the Midwest and New England.


Yellowstone chief: bison slaughters to continue for now

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - Large numbers of migrating Yellowstone National Park bison are likely to face slaughter for at least the next couple of winters as officials weigh changes to a 15-year-old agreement that drives the practice.

Most of the bison removed from America's first national park are captured and sent to slaughter over concerns they may transmit disease to Montana livestock.

Yellowstone Superintendent Dan Wenk told The Associated Press he's hopeful the slaughters eventually will be phased out and replaced by hunting.

Wenk says that's not feasible in the short term with a near-record population of about 4,900 park bison.

Montana State University wildlife researcher Robert Garrott says Yellowstone's bison recovered dramatically from near-extinction over the past century. But Garrott says that success is overshadowed by the widely-criticized slaughters used to control bison numbers.


Bank holding companies in Wyoming, Nebraska plan to merge

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - The holding company for Wyoming State Bank is planning to merge with a Nebraska holding company in the first half of this year.

The Star-Tribune reports that the Boards of Directors for First Wyoming Bancorporation and First Express of Nebraska, Inc., have unanimously approved the deal.

First Express of Nebraska is the holding company for Valley Bank and Trust Co. and Western States Bank.

Under the terms, the three combined banks would total $57 million in equity and $525 million in assets. The transaction is subject to regulatory approval.

The banks will operate under the name Western States Bank. The First Wyoming Bancorporation charter will remain in Laramie.