Archive for the ‘Coal’ Category

by jhwygirl

I’ve seen way more than just 40 coal trains heading west on the Burlington Northern to Seattle where the toxic mercury and arsenic laden coal will be exported to China…and that number is sure to increase with the impending approval of the Youngs Creek railroad which will move a significant amount of Wyoming’s more higher quality coal through Montana on it’s way to China.

Missoulians are concerned about this carcinogenic coal moving through their backyards. In March the Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council gathered over 100 people along with economists, government officials and railroad representative for a two-day conference which discussed the impacts of this coal traffic…while Yellowstone County Commissioners refused to discuss the impacts.

Tomorrow, the Northern Plains Resource Council will host a public meeting and panel to discuss the impacts of the increased coal train traffic traveling through Bozeman. At 7 p.m., in Bozeman’s gorgeous and recently remodeled Public Library’s large conference room, four Montana residents and energy experts will gather and offer their insight into the issue:
– Beth Kaeding, Northern Plains Resource Council: overview of the situation.
– Clint McRae, landowner near Colstrip: impacts to the land and agriculture.
– Dr. Richard Damon, retired physician: health issues and concerns.
– John Vincent, Public Service Commissioner: alternative energy options and solutions.

China has notoriously dangerous and dirty mines. Just as exploitation of workers here in the U.S. in the late 1800’s resulted in unionization and regulation of the industry, Chinese workers are demanding higher pay and greater regulation. Instead, what is China doing? Seeking their coal here, at a time that the market for coal has declined in the United States. U.S. coal companies are planning to export more coal to lucrative Asian markets from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming. The most direct route is by rail to the West Coast. Across Montana.

From Beth Kaeding: “With up to 40 additional coal trains, full and empty, passing through Bozeman each day, it’s time for the community to come together to discuss what this will mean to our lives. There will be increased traffic congestion and noise as well as public safety and public health concerns that we need to understand.”

The Northern Plains Resource Council is a fine grassroots group that is comprised of ranchers and resource managers working to effectively balance economic resource development and the Montana natural resources that are the world’s treasures.

When I ask “What is Montana without i’s water?” I know that NPRC is working to ensure that none of us ever have to contemplate a Montana whose rivers aren’t something our children couldn’t enjoy.

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by jhwygirl

Got a press release from Northern Plains Resource Council yesterday announcing Forest Mars, Jr.’s buy-in to the Tongue River railroad, which is needed to transport the dirty filthy coal of Otter Creek from Montana to China.

Later, I went and read my favorite supermontanareporter John S. Adams’ blog MT Lowdown and found a thorough report – with handouts – on the Mars/Warren Buffett/Arch Coal purchase deal on the dirty coal railroad.

Seems Mars – who had been fighting the railroad across his lands in the Tongue River – has purchased 1/3 into the railroad with a deal that would re-route it across Montanans to the east.

Mars had been one of the highest profile landowners fighting the impending eminent domain proceedings to place that railroad.

Of course – and you have to read MT Lowdown – Forrest Mars, Jr. is framing himself the saviour of the Tongue River Valley and he’s notified Northern Plains Resource Council of his decision to cease funding of legal challenges to the railroad.

Nice.

What I find in life is that karma is hard to avoid. So while Mars thinks he’s bought his freedom from that railroad crossing his ranch, his ranch lies in the path of the connection Wyoming needs to cheaply take their coal to china. And as state Attorney General laid out in his “NAY” vote to Otter Creek, Wyoming is all too eager to move their coal through to Montana to get it on the main BN line on its way to China.

Read Bullock’s words carefully. Understand the poor economic decisions made by leasing Otter Creek at a hugely discounted pro-coal industry price. the corporate welfare give-away that it is. Wyoming producers are not going to let go of $100 million a year in savings by saying bye-bye to a railroad that would save them that much money. Each year.

~~~~
I’m going to have to start a new category here. Something like “Colonization of Montana”. I just went and looked at some of our previous posts on Otter Creek and eminent domain. Should make anyone sick to their stomach.

I said this back when the Governor signed that eminent domain bill into law back in May – It is the rise of the ghosts of the Copper Kings. It will be a turning point in our history, just as the sale of Montana Power..

Remember that Montanans. We appear to have forgotten our history. I assure you, the next few years and court battles will remind us how fateful that misstep was.

by jhwygirl

Otter Creek is never going to get mined. All Arch Coal wants is to be able to run a railroad through it, to get it to the port it owns a third of. to export the stuff to China.

That is, please note, the second port agreement for Arch is less than a month.

If that isn’t colonialism, I don’t know what is.

We’re waving traffic flags for $10/hour for Korean-built drilling equipment for China….and we’re condemning state federal and private property for a railroad to get it there.

Nice.

State Attorney General Steve Bullock talked about the economics of the bonus payment in relation to the amount of money that Arch will save immediately by shipping its coal across Montana with the railroad it’d be building (via eminent domain) in the Tongue River Basin. His staff researched that information pretty thoroughly.

How is that for an example of fine government coal subsidy on the backs of the taxpayers of Montana?

And keep in mind that Montana’s coal isn’t the quality of stuff that Wyoming has. That’s fact.

That $80 million so-called “bonus bid”? Nothing more than shush money to members of both parties for paving the way to a situation that has brought about ridiculous destructive environmental legislation in the name of “jobs”.

What’s even more hilarious is that the feds are complicit in this – the federal Surface Transportation Board has already approved the route and has told Montana (translate, so no one misses it: State’s Rights) Fish Wildlife & Parks to figure things out over the route that crosses a federally-funded sturgeon fishery.

Someone’s getting rich. It won’t be Montanan’s, you can bet on it.

Follow the money.

by jhwygirl

The latest meme from our bloviating Governor Brian Schweitzer is that the Canadian tar sands – slated for expansion – are (get this) “conflict free”:

“I would say this is conflict-free oil and I don’t want to send one more son or daughter from Montana to defend an oil supply from one of these dictators and become dependent on that energy supply,” he said in an interview with the Canadian Press from his office in Helena.

Really?

There are Canadiansordinary citizens, doctors and Fort Chipewyan tribal members – that would disagree with you.

Does the fact that they don’t have bombs and guns make it conflict free? Because I don’t agree with that. I know I’m not the only one.

Hypocrisy and ignorance barely begins to describe the irony behind Schweitzer’s comments to the Canadian press this past week. Governor Schweitzer is a guy who doesn’t want to see the Flathead mined, yet approved a coal mine next to a Class 1 air shed (tromping on Crow tribal rights) and an alluvial floodplain right in Montana’s Tongue River valley.

Governor Schweitzer is a guy – born in Montana – who doesn’t seem to know his history, or even the higher cancer rates we saw right here in the upper Clark Fork basin because of the rape and pillage by the Anaconda Copper Mining Company (think Atlas Shrugs by Ayn Rand) that polluted everything near it from Butte to Missoula and beyond.

Schweitzer’s comments were made all the more pornographic given they occurred 30 years from when corporate irresponsibility suffocated Anaconda Montana.

Maybe The Brian should read Anaconda native Patrick Duganz’s words?

If they aren’t enough to expose him to the conflict of corporate irresponsibility, perhaps he should try and learn the lessons so many others haven’t forgotten of the dirty filth that mining has layed upon our lands.

Schweitzer sure is oblivious to this stuff isn’t he – and consider he’s got 130 million or so dollars of Natural Resource Damage Protection Program funds to spend to try and buy back lands to mitigate that environmental disaster thrust upon our state 100 years ago.

Maybe he forgot where that money came from?

Schweitzer is spouting off his newest talking point of “conflict free” as pressure mounts, nationwide, to stop the transport of the Korean-built Kearl modules up and over the Montana-Idaho border, adjacent to the Clearwater and Lochsa River, adjacent to Lolo Creek…through Missoula and next to the Blackfoot A-River-Runs-Through-It River, then up and over another mountain pass and on to the tar sands in Alberta.

Movie director and producer James Cameron? This Montanan thanks you.

Our Governor feigns to respect tribal peoples – yet the Nez Pierce, over who’s native lands these modules will travel – have objected to the modules.

Scientific journals are confirming high levels of carcinogens, mutagens, and teratogens such as mercury, arsenic, lead, and cadmium being thrust upon the native peoples of Canada. The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America has published a paper explaining the pornography of the situation.

Discover Magazine has a pedestrian-friendly article on the issue.

Governor Schweitzer? You call yourself a scientist, don’t you? If cancer was reigning down in your watershed, would you call that “conflict free”?

Did Montana call that conflict free when it happened here?

by Pete Talbot

Apparently, our President isn’t really that committed to combating climate change.

According to Environment and Energy Daily, the Obama administration is urging the U.S. Supreme Court to toss out an appeals court decision that would allow lawsuits against major greenhouse gas emitters for their contributions to global warming.

(Here’s a link to the publication but unfortunately you need to subscribe to read the story. Trial subscriptions are available. I’ve reproduced the story below the fold.)

The case centers on what’s known as “public nuisance” lawsuits and the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs — a coalition of states, environmental groups and New York City. The plaintiffs are filing a lawsuit that seeks to force several of the nation’s largest coal-fired utilities to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmentalists were shocked with the administration siding with the big coal companies. From the story:

Matt Pawa, an attorney representing plaintiffs in the case, said he and his colleagues expected the White House to stay out of the matter. During a meeting with more than 30 administration lawyers at the solicitor general’s office on June 24, it seemed they had “a lot of friends in the room,” he said.

“We feel stabbed in the back,” Pawa said. “This was really a dastardly move by an administration that said it was a friend of the environment. With friends like this, who needs enemies?”

I’m feeling a little back-stabbed, too.

Continue Reading »

by jhwygirl

That’s what many said to the State Land Board (and to 3 of its 5 members, Governor Schweitzer, Secretary of State Linda McDulloch and Auditor Monica Lindeen) before then went ahead anyway and approved the Otter Creek coal leases.

Not before – let’s not forget – a poorly orchestrated show between Governor Schweitzer and Linda McCulloch, who first added a bonus bid of 15 cents/ton. Four of ’em played along in that one (with State Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau casting the lone dissenting vote), but in the end, even Attorney General Steve Bullock changed his mind, seeing through the corporate welfare that was, eventually, approved – a 40% drop in price (and let’s not feign that this was in any way a “bid” given that only one entity could competitively bid on it, given the land-locked nature of the state lands involved and the fact that the bidder is the one that land-locks the land) along with a $57 million instant subsidy of the coal corporate giants.

Can’t forget, either, that a railroad that will also need to be condemned through Montana’s eminent domain laws – that’s condemnation of private land in the interest of a private corporate entity, folks – a railroad that will save that private corporate entity well in the range of $100 million a year in hauling costs from Wyoming’s extensive coal fields down south.

Don’t try and tell me that coal isn’t subsidized – a industry as old as the world is still gaining both federal and state subsidy to operate. Ridiculous.

Oh, yeah – there was more. The votes were disappointing (Schweitzer, McCulloch and Monica I-campaigned-on-a-biodiesel-bus Lindeen). Even Button Valley was getting an overload of it, as was I, as Governor Brian Schweitizer headed out around the state pushing on communities to sign a oath to coal in order to get their legislatively appropriated stimulus money.

An illegal transgression that was largely overlooked – as was the stashing of that Otter Creek bid money in this year’s general budget instead of going to schools as it is legally obligated to do (along with that whole the-legislature-is-the-only-lawful-appropriator-of-money thing). It’s something that is coming home to roost, those illegal transgressions, and quickly becoming a private joke amongst many of us who railed against both of these things when they were occurring.

But we’ll leave that for another post, and the real journalists who are already asking the questions. Enable once, shame on you..enable twice, shame again…but sure as hell don’t get indignant about it the third time around…

Enter now Northern Plains Resource Council, the Wildlife Federation, Montana Environmental Information Center and the Sierra Club, who collectively filed two lawsuits this week challenging the Otter Creek coal lease approval.

NPRC and WF said that the state land board failed to adequately analyze the environmental effects of the project. MEIC and SC challenged on the basis of the economic and global warming effects of the project.

There are a myriad of problems with Otter Creek. I’m mystified as to the embracing – in a state that seems to champion individual property rights – of a project that will railroad over the private property rights of individuals (pun intended).

I’m also mystified that a state – in a time of general budget distress not only internally, but nationwide – would dish out such corporate welfare to the detriment of our very own children’s education funding.

What’s the real shame is that Montana’s citizens – and its very worthy non-profits – have to sue to get the state to meet its constitutional obligations outlined in what is known in our state constitution as the Montana Environmental Policy Act.

This can not and should not be taken lightly. I don’t care how many laws that the legislature passes or tries to pass attacking it. This is a constitutional guarantee. Guarantee. And this word can not be overemphasized enough. This isn’t some old state constitution. It is a modern document, with words that were carefully chosen, discussed and debated in modern many-remember-them times. Guarantee was not a word chosen or placed lightly, and it leaves little room for discussion.

It is the law of the land. Our state agencies, our land board and our Governor all have the obligation to make sure that guarantee is met each and every day. Shame on them for having to be sued to comply with constitutional obligations.

by jhwygirl

A timely post, given that the corporate welfare 15 cent bid (or bids) for the Otter Creek coal tracts were announced late Monday.

Below are Attorney General Steve Bullock’s comments at the February hearing where the Land Board (in a 3-2 vote, with Bullock and Superintendent of the Office of Public Instruction Denise Juneau voting no) lowered the bid price from 25 cent/ton to 15 cent/ton, a 40% reduction.

Governor, my colleagues – this is certainly a decision that’s received its share of attention and I think that often the loss of the arguments both for and against – and it always doesn’t fit into a two-minute news story – are the requirements that the Constitution imposes upon us as Land Board members.

This isn’t a policy decision like a legislator can make for or against continued development of coal. And it’s not like the decision to sell off a piece of surplus property. Montana Supreme Court has said that we have a duty to the public that goes beyond that of the ordinary business man. The courts have also said that the Land Board must get full market value – the largest measure of legitimate advantage – for any property that we lease or sell.

When I voted in December to lease Otter Creek I said that I’ll support the project if it’s done right…and doing it in a manner consistent with our Constitutional duties carries with it in my mind at least three considerations: First, the coal must be leased and developed in a way that follows our environmental laws and includes continued oversight by this board. Second, the lease must maximize the benefit to the trust as the Constitution requires, and third – that Montana taxpayers shouldn’t be footing the bill for a railroad that benefits coal and power companies.

I don’t believe that lowering the bid price to 15 cents per ton or monkeying with royalty payments fulfills that obligation to maximize the benefit to the state treasury. And I think it’s easy to think that all we’re talking about today when we’re talking about the difference between 25 cents and 15 cents per ton for a bonus bid is one thin dime.

The drop in our bonus bid of 10 cents will cost the state $57 million. That’s $57 million dollars.

This 10 cent reduction will cost the treasury about the amount generated by every timber sale this board approved over the last 5 years.

Even in these tough times, Montana’s budget is in a stronger position than just about every other state because we’ve been fiscally conservative. Unloading the coal with a bonus bid that’s a fraction of what our neighbors are charging isn’t’ consistent with that fiscal responsibility that we’ve shown.

And it certainly, in my estimation, doesn’t meet the Constitutional obligations to maximize the amount of money we return to the state treasury.

And as the board is looking and considering to lower the bidder royalty to make this more attractive for the coal developers I don’t think that we can do that without acknowledging that we will be funding the Tongue River Railroad. I’ve said since the beginning that what I don’t want to see is Montana taxpayers footing the bill for a railroad to get coal and energy companies a windfall. And I’ve also said that were the railroad in place I think everyone would agree that we’d be getting more for this lease than what Arch has so-far signaled that it is willing to pay.

I’ve asked rail economists to independently analyze this..and provided that to the Board and they concluded that the Wyoming-originated coal will save $2.83/ton in shipping costs if this railroad is completed.

While we’re debating whether to reduce our bonus bid by another 10 cents a ton, Wyoming shippers will be getting a discount of 28 times that if the railroad is completed. And while we’re talking about reducing the amount to our treasury by $57 million, this review shows that a railroad in the Tongue River can save existing coal mines and power companies potentially well over $100 million each and every year.

I just don’t think that in these tough economic times Montana taxpayers should be asked to effectively be bailing out multi-national coal and energy companies. That’s not the state’s role.

Now – there will be a time when this project makes sense and I think there will be a bidder that will be willing to pay full market value for the right to develop this resource. And as members of the Land Board that at that time we do have a Constitutional obligation to lease that land. Until then, I don’t think that we need to have a fire sale. I will be voting against the motion to reduce the bonus bid from 25 to 15 cents.

After which the room broke out in applause.

Bullock’s decision was not easy. It showed. Saying the things he said contradicts much of what the proponents of the leases (on both sides of the table) had said.

Doing the right thing should not be so hard. Insider politics makes doing the right thing hard. I hope Bullock has seen the support that has stuck to him his decision to do the right thing.

I know I will remember. Thank you Denise – Thank you Steve.

by jhwygirl

Eight Democratic Senators can’t come to term with the facts that too much CO2 can kill you. That it’s unhealthy and dirty and increasing levels are killing us.

Montana Senator Max Baucus is on that list.

And yeah, you can darn well bet there’s a bevy of Republicans there too.

Over a year ago, the EPA came down with a ruling that CO2 should not be exempted in Clean Air Act review related to coal-fired plants. Conveniently, it has done so for….ever.

When you think about it, that’s probably why it isn’t clean…there’s been absolutely no incentive to clean the stuff.

I won’t harp any further on coal. It’s even getting old for a tenacious curmudgeon like me, so I’ll give it a rest (wherein I hear a “whew” from way beyond the hills.)

Here’s what those eight U.S. senators are trying to tell the EPA: “Yeah – of course there’s the Clean Air Act…and I know you have to regulate for it. It’s just that to regulate carbon, well, that’s a problem. So we want you to exempt carbon from that regulation.”

Translate: We want you to do what we want you to do. Clean Air Act? What’s that?

~~~~~
When will we have an America like this. Where we have the vision for the unseen? The guts to go for the dream? To be great?

{sigh}

by jhwygirl

In a 3 – 2 vote (Schweitzer, McCulloch and Lindeen voting yes), the Land Board voted to lower the minimum bid price on the Otter Creek tracts from .25/ton to .15/ton.

I’ve yet to stomach a viewing of the entire hearing – but thanks to my DVR (and since the Land Board doesn’t archive its audio and video like the legislature has been able to do for quite a number of years), I’ll be watching it tonight.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau and Attorney General Steve Bullock both voted against the project. For that, I am deeply grateful.

I hope to transcribe the testimony and comments of at least two individuals from today’s hearing. AG Bullock spoke to the corporate welfare that he saw about to be dispensed. Another opponent spoke to the corporate money of Arch Coal – where they put it and the return they would get if the leases were approved.

Those words – like Juneau’s “no” vote in December – need to be out there so that people can be reminded of precisely what was at stake when Otter Creek becomes the disaster that will be.

And make no mistake, those that voted yes were keenly aware of that impending disaster. Lee reporter Mike Dennison captured that awareness by referencing Governor Schweitzer’s promises to Montana’s water resources prior to the yes vote by he and Lindeen and McCulloch. I’ve gone ahead and transcribed them word for word. Read them and ponder why the taxpayers must forego $5 million in coal revenues to the general fund or to the school trust (he didn’t say where he planned to take that $5 million) to protect Montana’s water resources.

I’m going to instruct my budget director, to put in my budget that we take to the legislature, $5 million so that every high school in Montana will either have solar panels or a wind turbine at their school and in order for them to receive this money – which is approximately $32,000 per school – they’ll have to sign a contract with the Department of Commerce that they will spend a minimum of 5 hours teaching time in each of those classrooms with every high school student in Montana explaining to them how this alternative energy works and how it is the energy of the future. I’m also going to instruct the budget director to put $5 million in the budget to protect those that live in Otter Creek and their water. I don’t know who the director of DEQ will be 8 years, 12 years, 20 years from now. I’ve no idea who will be seated on this land board…who will be responsible at the DNRC. We can’t control that – the people of Montana will elect those positions, and the rest of ’em will be appointed. So that’s why whether the DEQ or the DNRC has the fortitude to make sure that the mining companies are protecting the water assets of the people that live there and farm there and ranch there and raise children will not be in doubt – because there will be $5 million put aside. And those monies – $5 million and $5 million – would come from this bonus bid.

While the “people that live there and farm there and ranch there and raise children” can’t take that $5 million to the bank – only the legislature can appropriate – what they can take to the bank is proof, given to us today by the 3 yes votes, that corporate coal money reigns supreme over their water, their lives, their farms, their ranches and their children.

“We, as students from Big Sky High School, do not want our school funding to come from coal,” said Allison Lawrence, one of the protesters at the rally. “We would rather live with old books than get blood money for shiny new computers.”

by JC

This came across my email via the Missoula Community News listserve:

Via KPAX:

MISSOULA – Several dozen Big Sky High School seniors took their opposition to an eastern Montana coal mining project to the next level by walking out of class to protest.

As many as 100 students left class before the end of school on Tuesday to protest the State Land Board’s recent decision to lease the Otter Creek coal tracts.

The grassroots environmental group Northern Rockies Rising Tide took pictures as the students carried home-made signs and marched down South Avenue to Reserve Street.

Protesters say that money from the Otter Creek leases is supposed to support public schools but it’s “unclear” whether the money will be directly used that way.

Go Big Sky High!!!

by jhwygirl

If coal creates such awesome tax revenue and 1,000’s of high paying jobs and all that good stuff, why is there a severance tax that provides direct funding to communities directly affected by the impacts of coal mining and its industry-run-amok practices?

I mean, shouldn’t the jobs and increased tax revenues that come with all those high paying jobs and investments in infrastructure of said coal operations? Why does there have to be an extra tax that takes care of the basics – things like firetrucks and police cars and wastewater system improvements?

What other communities around the state get bonus tax dollars from their major industries?

By God, does the free market exist? You’d think on of the oldest industries here in the U.S. would be viable enough that it generated enough jobs and tax revenue for the communities it runs roughshod over?

I’m shocked.

Did the western states miss out on a timber severance tax? We should try and grab that up. I’m sure Libby and Thompson Falls and Dillon and Darby and Deer Lodge can all use a little extra cash for pothole repair or police cars.

(jhwygirl) Public comment for the proposed leasing of the state’s Otter Creek coal closes soon. A public hearing, continued from last month, is next Monday. I question our state’s commitment to green energy. You don’t pull a billion tons of coal out of the ground to look at it. Coal is filthy. Someone’s burning it somewhere. Ironically, Otter Creek is an area identified as viable for wind energy. The Button Valley Bugle (who has been on a roll lately) reminds us that some dogs are best left sleeping.

Anne Millbrooke, of Bozeman, has done a lovely job at touching at the myriad of issues surrounding the decision on whether to lease the coal tracts. I thank Anne for sharing her letter to our State Land Board, which is comprised of Governor Schweitzer, Superintendent of Public Instruction Denise Juneau, Attorney General Steve Bullock, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, and State Auditor Monica Lindeen:

Dear Montana Land Board:

As the state’s website says, the Montana Land Board oversees more than five million acres of school trust lands in order to generate revenue for the trust — for schools in the state. But the task is not simply economic. Inherent in public education are responsibilities for the health and well being of the students and the future of the students. That is why the Land Board should carefully consider all decisions about coal lands.

The environmental damage and health consequences of mining and burning coal are enormous, and the projected 40-year life of the proposed Otter Creek mines means any contemporary decision to lease coal lands binds the future to a dirty-energy infrastructure.

Otter Creek is the decision at hand. There are options for revenue that do not required strip mining the land and polluting air, land, and water, and the associated negative impacts on the health and well-being of children. Coal is not clean, coal power is not clean, and coal mining is not clean: step by step, decision by decision, we should be going green.

Furthermore, Otter Creek is not about jobs, nor the economic health of Montana families. According to the coal companies’ own Montana Coal Council website, the five big strip mines and the new underground mine in the state employ a total of only 1008 people. The state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation estimated in its June fact sheet that two proposed mines on Otter Creek lands would employ fewer than 500 people. Coal mining is highly mechanized. It is not labor intensive. The poorest counties in the poor state of West Virginia have coal mines: corporate coal takes the local resources to enrich distant stakeholders.

In the big picture, Otter Creek is not really even about revenue. The nearly $6 million coal revenue reported for 2008 is helpful, but it is a very small percent of the school funding in Montana. Coal mining is not funding our schools, and not mining will not financially break our schools.

By treaty and ethics, the State of Montana has responsibility for the young people of the indigenous tribes of Montana. A few jobs will not compensate for the negative impacts on Native Americans and their lands. Coal’s negative impacts on Native Americans are fact, as recorded in the documentary film “Power Paths” about the Navajo experience with coal.

Montana’s state lands are held in trust, for perpetuity, not for a limited revenue stream. There is a responsibility to protect the land in trust. Yet reclamation remains more promise than reality in lands already disturbed by coal mining, and much of the restoration done has not been to natural habitat.

The out-of-state corporation that holds an in-state railroad monopoly and the out-of-state coal corporation that wants Otter Creek coal could take the educational, economic, environmental viability and sustainability of coal development beyond state’s borders and perhaps beyond the state’s control and regulation.

There is even a question whether development would happen, or whether the coal corporation simply wants to acquire the rights as a immediate tax maneuver and for possible development someday in the future under the financial and regulatory terms of this depressed economy. According to the Trust Land Management Division’s 2008 Annual Report, there are currently 29 coal leases, but only four producing leases. I think the coal industry has plenty of reserves on hold without acquiring the leases to more state lands.

Coal need not be developed at Otter Creek, where the wind blows mightily; for example, the school trust lands could become fields of wind turbines. Now is the time to transition away from coal, not the the time to expand the dirty-energy infrastructure in Montana. Mining Otter Creek coal — with current technology — would not teach our children well about living in an economically and environmentally sustainable manner, and it would harm the health of school children near the mines as well as downstream and downwind of the mines and coal-fired plants burning the coal.

Building new dirty-energy infrastructure designed to operate for 40 years is not in Montana’s interest in terms of the health and education of school children, the sustainability of local economies, clean air and water, and respect for downstream and downwind neighbors of the mines and the coal-fired plants to be fueled by Montana coal.

Please understand that Otter Creek has potential beyond coal and that coal lands should not be leased lightly. High environmental standards for any coal operations in Montana are necessary. Regulation and enforcement are necessary. But coal development is not necessary.

Yes, coal is a reality in our existing energy structure. Any new coal mining to support the existing infrastructure during our transition to clean-energy technologies, and any coal burning, should require CO2 sequestration. Coal seams sequester CO2 naturally. Mining and burning coal releases the CO2. The cost of developing and using new sequestration techniques will be offset by savings in terms of the health and in terms of the environment. Any plant burning Montana coal should be sequestering CO2 — by terms of contract as required by the State of Montana.

It is time to move beyond our historical reliance upon coal. In a popular and accurate analogy, we live in a global coal mine. We have since the 19th century. Now the “canaries” are dying: frog, bee, and bat populations are plummeting around the world, and those deaths are but symptoms of the larger problem of polluting our planet, our state, our homes. It’s time to clean-up our act, step by step, decision by decision.

Montana’s students need a clean, healthy environment in which to live and learn. They need a sustainable economy in which some day to work. They need to grow and learn in a setting with sustainable energy more than they need royalties from another coal lease. Please remember this as you consider appropriate use of Otter Creek and other trust lands.

by jhwygirl

In this previous post, there is commentator that apparently thinks that the only factor important in deciding what to do with Otter Creek is how much tax revenue it will generate for a school district. The assumption has a number of flaws, not the least which is drawing out an example based upon two completely different tax-structured states.

There are other factors that have been listed here, and I won’t bore you with a rehashing of them.

What I will offer is a story that is repeated over and over throughout the United States in communities where mining occurs. The story I offer though, is here in Montana.

Montana and the Land Board should not forget the $25 million payout settlement to 57 plaintiffs in Colstrip that had their water poisoned and their wells ruined. By an industry and a corporation that refused to acknowledge its transgression up until the bitter end of a judge’s gavel. By and industry and a corporation that stood by denial because they could and because they knew that they had far more money than the plaintiffs and no matter what it cost them to fight it, it was worth the odds of doing so because they could outgun the plaintiffs (Montana citizens) and hope that they’d either die off of run out of $?

Is Montana for sale to the highest bidder (and that’s not really what we are talking about here given that there is only the adjacent landowner bidding on this coal)? Are Montana’s citizens on their own to deal with the aftermath? Because it doesn’t appear much was done upfront to protect Colstrip from the damage? They had to find their own attorney? What exactly were the criminal penalties for damaging a whole town’s water?

Because that is the question here: How much of Montana is for sale? Our heart and soul? And water and environment? And how little will we sell it off for in an unknown and bloated coal market?

by jhwygirl

This is in follow-up to a previous post.

Somewhat surprisingly if only for who made the motion, the State Land Board voted to delay decision on the Arch Coal Inc. leases of the state’s Otter Creek coal holdings for 30 days to allow for additional time for public comment regarding the leases.

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch made the motion. McCulloch has been a vocal supporter of the Otter Creek coal project since her days as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Does this signal weakening support for the leases? At least from what any local citizen can see here at either the city or county level, when approval is expected to go south, elected who support a project will often make a motion to return the thing back to committee rather than face a death-knelling vote. Delaying the vote is usually a last ditch effort to try and solidify an affirmative vote.

Was McCulloch sensing the vote heading south? Time will tell.

Lee Newspapers Mike Dennison first story on the vote made mention of the massive amounts of carbon dioxide that will be released into atmosphere should the 1.3 billion tons of coal be burned. His second story on the vote provided information from the two counties that provided proponent testimony on the project, which included Powder River County Commissioner Don McDowell – who is also listed as Treasure of the Montana Association of Coal and Gas Counties.

Given there are 30 more days, those interested might want to go back to my previous post which links to many great resources on the subject of Otter Creek. For some related stuff around these parts, you can search “Tongue River” “coal” and “sequestration” for additional information concerning issues of Otter Creek, coal production and the water quality and quantity degradation that it brings to Montana and the residents of the Tongue River.

If coal could be shown to be clean, I’d be fine with it. It’s not, though. The EPA, until recently, exempted carbon dioxide from NEPA analysis when permitting coal-fired plants. Montana’s CO2 output is increasing.

With less of a market for coal and with rising CO2 outputs in the state – and aren’t we supposed to be going green or something? Isn’t would that what the Good Governor campaigned on back in 2004? – why would we facilitate the extraction and consumption of more coal and CO2? Isn’t that bass ackwards considering that it is 2009 and “renewable” and “sustainable” are the names of the game now?

There are many factors here where public comment and testimony depart from the economic analysis done last fall (prior to the EPA decision regarding coal-fired plants). The leases are based upon that older analysis that is in dispute. Certainly, given that this is one of the largest leases ever put out by the state ever, a thorough, accurate and timely analysis is in order.

Let’s hope that the additional 30 days provides all with sufficient time to more thoroughly look at all factors surrounding the Otter tract leases to determine whether it is what proponents are saying it’s going to be.

by Pete Talbot

Buried in an AP story on climate change was Sen. Max Baucus saying he had “serious reservations” with a modest effort to cut carbon emissions over the next decade.

What a tool.

The bill being considered by a Senate environmental panel calls for a 20 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. The bill might stave off catastrophic global warming … or at least it’s a start.

Here are some more choice quotes from our senior Senator:

“We cannot afford a first step that takes us further away from an achievable consensus on commonsense climate change legislation.”

There’s Max, trying to build that “achievable consensus” again. He sure did a fine job on health care. And Max, please explain “commonsense climate change legislation” to me. Would that be no legislation?

“Montana can’t afford the unmitigated impacts of climate change, but we also cannot afford the unmitigated effects of climate change legislation,” Baucus added.

Christ, I’m so sick of Max’s double talk I could puke slugs.

Compare Max’s quotes to those of the bill’s author, Sen. John Kerry. From the AP story:

… Kerry acknowledged that the bill would raise energy prices, but said the savings from reducing energy and the money to be made in new technologies were far greater.

“Are there some costs? Yes, sir, there are some costs,” he said and added that while an array of studies show restricting greenhouse gases will lead to higher energy prices, “none of them factor in the cost of doing nothing.”

Well said, John.

I’m surprised that Max stuck his neck out so far on this one. After all, his campaign contributions from the energy industry pale in comparison to the dollars he gets from the health care/insurance industry. Still, there are few Democrats out there who are as capable as Max of doing the wrong thing.

By JC

Jay over at LitW opens up today with a rift between Ms. Palin’s and Paul Krugman’s ideas on cap & trade:

“it appears Palin thinks cap-and-trade legislation’s primary goal is about achieving energy independence…”

It’s not surprising that Palin would do so, given that Alaska is totally dependent on oil development. And Krugman took a stab at looking at the political implications of passing a cap & trade policy through Congress in his Monday column:

And while a major environmental bill has passed the House… the bill fell well short of what the planet really needs…

What makes the apparent paralysis of policy especially alarming is that so little is happening when the political situation seems, on the surface, to be so favorable to action…

And let’s be clear: both the president and the party’s Congressional leadership understand the economic and environmental issues perfectly well. So if we can’t get action to head off disaster now, what would it take?

What makes this all so, well, predictable, is that the argument has been reduced to one of: to cap & trade or not? If it weren’t for the competing proposal of a carbon tax, one might think that cap & trade is the progressive position. Much like with the health care debate, and the jettisoning of single payer as a point by which to begin the discussion, the carbon tax has been ignored as being too radical of a notion.

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