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Oro y Plata y Coal

I guess I don’t remember the big celebration, but in 2008 Montana surpassed Texas to become the 5th largest coal producing state in the Union. We also rank third in the nation in number of craft breweries per capita although I don’t know if there’s a connection. Mining is now such a big contributor to our economy that it provides 7% of our gross state product. Of course health care provides 9% and is expected to grow to 19% by 2020. Retail trade is about 10%, but hey, coal money if free. As long as you don’t include the human costs.

A West Virginia University study found that coal mining provides more than $8 billion to the West Virginia economy.  Of course they also found that it costs the state just over $50 billion for the 1,736 to 2,889 in “excess annual deaths in mining areas“. The conclusion? “The human cost of the
Appalachian coal mining economy outweighs its economic benefits.
” But of course people are cheap and, did I mention, coal money is free?

Disregarding Governor Schweitzer’s incoherent argument that if we don’t mine Otter Creek coal, we will loose our entire white bread supply, I think it may be time to rethink some state policies. In 2007, Schweitzer wrote a letter to eight Western governors and Canadian premiers to say that “Montana wishes to become a full partner of the Western Climate Initiative“. Your governor said “I have been hard at work for several years promoting nationally the importance of moving America too a new energy economy.” Evidently that hard work now includes mining as much filthy coal just as fast as we can. Among the accomplishments cited by the governor were,

  • Economic incentives for the development of low-carbon energy strategies, signed into law in 2007.
  • The formation of a state Climate Change Advisory Council to study ways in which the state can reduce emissions.
  • The adoption of a renewable portfolio standard that sets a target of 15% renewable energy by 2015, signed into law in 2005.
  • A state government energy efficiency initiative targeting a 20% reduction by 2010.

I think it would only be approriate for Governor Schweitzer to send a letter of apology to the Western leaders once the Otter Creek coal is sold. The addendum to his 2007 letter might go something like this;

Sorry Guys,

We thought it over and it looks like Montana is going to have to renege on all that clean energy rhetoric that I spewed a couple of years ago. You see, Montana has decided to sell a billion tons of some of the worst quality coal you can imagine. That coal will add around a couple billion more tons of CO2 to the atmosphere. It looks now like we will be responsible for killing thousands of your citizens and destroying the health and welfare of people around the world. We would really, really, like to make the world a better place to live, but we will get several million dollars for our coal. We feel that we are being forced to take this money to save America’s white bread industry. Of course you can expect that we will use most, if not all of that money, to clean up the mess made by the gigantic coal mines in southeastern Montana, but if there is any money left over, you can be sure that we will donate a couple of million to the rest of you who will be suffering the consequences of our decision.


Brian Schweitzer, Governor, The Saudi Arabia of Coal.

p.s. If you guys come up with any other keen ideas like the Western Climate Initiative, be sure to let me know.

Colorado school trust fund to drop by $21 million after coal production decline

DENVER (AP) — A drop in coal production is part of the reason Colorado’s school land trust is expected to decline by $21 million by June. The Denver Post reports that the falling revenues are forcing the State Land Board to reevaluate how [much] the trust gets in revenue. The trust fund has relied on mineral revenues in the last decade and that has become about 80 percent of its source of revenue…


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