ST. LOUIS (AP) -- Patriot Coal Corp. says it's still on pace to emerge from bankruptcy by the end of the year now that a judge has given it the go-ahead to send its reorganization plan to creditors for a vote.

The terms approved Wednesday by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kathy Surratt-States include a previously announced deal with former Patriot corporate parent Peabody Coal Corp. that settled a drawn-out legal dispute over health care benefits for thousands of Patriot retirees.

It was not immediately clear how soon creditors may vote on the reorganization plan. But Patriot's president and CEO, Bennett Hatfield, called Wednesday's court action an important milestone in the St. Louis-based company's quest to emerge for bankruptcy next month.

Peabody spun off Patriot in 2007, and Patriot filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last year.

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