MATT GOURAS Associated Press Writer HELENA (AP)
Executives with a Chinese company are meeting with the governor and his staff this week, discussing the possibility of building a coal plant in Montana. Gov. Brian Schweitzer's chief economic development aide Evan Barrett said discussions with the Yankuang Group was not focused on a specific project. "They're kicking tires," Barrett said. Executives from the company met with Schweitzer's staff on Monday to learn more about the state in general. They were scheduled to tour Montana coal fields today before meeting with regulatory staff on Wednesday to learn about the process of getting permits in Montana. The governor's office said YanKuang controls China's second- largest coal company, Yan Zhou Coal. "It's a large company, and through intermediaries we understand they have an interest in the United States in advanced coal development," Barrett said. "We made contact and worked to get this set up." He said the company is interested in building a coal-to-liquids plant, touted as the next generation of clean coal technology, and a staple of Schweitzer's agenda. Supporters of the technology say it has the potential to reduce greenhouse gases and curb imported fuels. Even though the technology has been around for decades, critics say it is not economically feasible to build such a coal plant. Montana does not have such a plant, although the topic is a favorite of state and national policy leaders. Barrett said the Yankuang Group, which is based in eastern China's Shandong province, is one of many coal operations the governor's office is wooing. He said it takes a number of conversations with various players before the state can hope to finalize plans for a project that is sure to cost more than a billion dollars. "We are pleased that we have a company here substantial enough to do something if they want," Barrett said. One proposed coal-to-liquids plant touted by Schweitzer recently suffered a setback when a state environmental official struck down an air quality permit for backers of the Bull Mountain plant.