Federal and state officials will weigh in this week on a Wyoming company's application to lease 198 million tons of coal adjacent to a southeastern Montana mine.
Cloud Peak Energy is seeking to expand its lease at the Spring Creek Mine near Decker by more than 1,600 acres.
Wednesday's initial decision on the application comes on the heels of an Inspector General's report that said the Interior Department is potentially losing tens of millions of dollars by undervaluing coal from public lands.
Environmentalists want a moratorium on new leases. The coal industry says its critics are ignoring billions of dollars in government revenues from mining.
The Bureau of Land Management said Monday that it would be several years before a value was placed on the lease sought by Cloud Peak.