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Otter Disaster

To those of you who wrote to the State Land Board to let them know how you feel about leasing the Otter Creek coal tracts: Thank you and take heart, I think they may be beginning to hear tiny voices in their ears. The board decided yesterday to delay a decision on leasing the state-owned tracts for at least another month. Don’t, however, begin to think that the board has seen the light. Remember, Governor “Coal Cowboy” Schweitzer has made using this coal a priority.

Mining more than a billion tons of coal in the Tongue River valley, destroying 10,000 acres of “trust” land, building a stupid, unneeded railroad to subsidize coal from Wyoming and possibly building an extremely dirty coal-to-liquids plant while we are trying to reduce greenhouse gases, remains one of the most ill-conceived plans yet devised for Montana. Arch Coal, the second largest provider of U.S. coal, right behind Peabody, has signed a lease agreement with Great Northern Properties to strip mine almost 10,000 acres in the checkerboard Otter Creek lands. They will need a lot of cooperation (read “tax dollars”) from Montana if they are to get that coal mined. A lot of hard pressure will be applied to the state to cooperate with Arch and to lease our state-owned coal. The decision to delay action was likely only made to give the Arch deal time to play out and give the board more time to listen to propaganda and deal-makers from leasing proponents.

The coal at Otter Creek is a high-sodium, high-pollution product that will only serve to displace coal currently produced by other Montana mines for power production in the northeastern states. The market for all coal is currently severely depressed. The only way to move the coal is to build a $1 billion ecological disaster called the Tongue River Railroad through the Tongue River Valley. The railroad is almost universally opposed by valley landowners. The current appraisal for the coal tracts is woefully out of date and according to a review by economist Tom Power, “is incomplete, lacks foundation, contains major conceptual and factual errors, and has been outdated by changed economic circumstances. It cannot be relied on as a basis to structure the leasing of the Otter Creek Tracts.The Button Valley Bugle has covered this subject numerous times. 4&20 Blackbirds has had a couple of good recent articles as well, here and here.

For those and many other reasons, we cannot let up. We need to continue to let the members of the Land Board know that mining this coal at this time is a really dumb idea. Montana school trust lands generated over $70 million last year in support of the education of our children. How can we justify supporting our children by destroying thousands of acres of Montana to support a technology that kills millions of people every year? We must keep up the pressure. Please continue to call or write to members of the Land Board and let them know that a mortgage on our future and the future of our children is not worth a few million dollars.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer — (406) 444-3111, governor@mt.gov

Superintendent of Public Instruction, Denise Juneau — In-State Toll-Free 1-888-231-9393, Local (406) 444-3095 OPISupt@mt.gov

Attorney General Steve Bullock – (406) 444-2026 contact doj@mt.gov

State Auditor Monica Lindeen – (406) 444-2040 mlindeen@mt.gov

Secretary of State Linda McCulloch – (406) 444-2034 sos.mt.gov

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