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At more than 22-feet high, dump trucks at the Spring Creek Mine in Montana have a ramp that drivers can use to get in and out of the cab. The V-16, 2,500-horsepower trucks can haul 244 tons of coal per load.
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Mule deer wander a restored area at Spring Creek Mine in Montana. Mined-out land is contoured and replanted with native vegetation to meet federal reclamation requirements.
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Spring Creek control-room operator Pat Patterson loads each coal car, then sprays polymer sealants atop the coal headed for Vancouver, Brithish Columbia. He can tell within 50-pounds how much coal is in each car.
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Art Hayes raises cattle and alfalfa on his ranch near Birney in southeast Montana. Hayes is against proposed coal mining he fears would increase the salinity content of the Tongue River.
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Puget Sound Energy owns almost one-third of this coal-fired plant in Colstrip, Montana. All of the plant's units, at peak production, can power 1,500,000 homes. Its energy serves the greater Puget Sound Region and Western Washington. Critics of coal and this plant say it's the dirtiest coal plant in the West, while PSE says it operates more efficiently than older plants and ahead of compliance.
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Markers scattered on the Little Bighorn Battlefield, near Crow Agency, Montana, indicate where George Custer, his soldiers and Indian scouts fell during the Little Bighorn battle in 1876. In the distance is the river and the valley where coal trains now head toward the West Coast.
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A BNSF train with 125 cars loaded at the Spring Creek mine in southeastern Montana heads through Washington state to British Columbia. The coal will be shipped to power plants in Asia.
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The power plant in Colstrip, Mont., is the second-largest coal-powered plant west of the Mississippi River. Because of a large coal deposit in the area, ranchers are battling energy policy that would put in a coal mine, as well as railroad lines to carry it out.
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Each train car has its load shaped, and then sprayed with polymer sealants. These "surfactants" create a crust over the coal to minimize dust and loss of product.