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Value of school children plummets

“Of course there is value in mining the coal, potentially a lot of money over the next 40-50 years, but there is also value in keeping Montana ‘Montana.’” Denise Juneau,Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction

They held a bid opening last week for the Otter Creek state coal tracts and nobody came. Arch Coal sent a polite note saying that they sure would like to mine that coal, they just don’t want to pay for it. Sorry kids, nobody bid on your coal so we’ll just have to give it away to the lowest bidder. At the last meeting of the State Land Board there was much talk of “fiduciary responsibility“. You see it is up to the Board to see that a maximum profit flows from state trust lands to the state General Fund. If that’s not possible, well we’ll just keep lowering the price until the coal companies get what they want. The value of our school children is now measured in in a few cents per ton.

Arch Coal has no problem paying for coal a hundred miles away in Wyoming, but when it comes to Montana… well we all know those folks aren’t as smart as Wyoming. The real purpose in opening up the Otter Creek tracts is to build the Tongue River Railroad to move the more valuable Wyoming coal to northern markets. Big Coal really, really wants that railroad. Destroying the Tongue River Valley and stripping hundreds of feet of soil off of 20,000 acres in Montana is secondary.

Nominally, the purpose of destroying state trust lands is to fund public education. Of course, in reality that’s not how it works. State trust lands provide only about 10% of funding for Montana schools. The General Fund chips in about another 60%. Getting more revenue from trust lands doesn’t mean that more money goes to schools. It just means that the amount used from the General Fund goes down and overall school funding remains the same. Kids don’t want to be used as the pea in this shell game. On Tuesday, about 100 students from Big Sky High School walked out of class “to send a message to the Land Board that students do not want coal mined in their names.” The kids get it, the Land Board doesn’t. At the last board meeting, many of the folks who testified against the leasing were students upset at some warped idea of “fiduciary responsibility” for children being used as justification.

A recent study concluded that coal emissions contribute to 10,000 premature deaths in the United States each year. In West Virginia, a study found that it costs the state just over $50 billion for the 1,736 to 2,889 in “excess annual deaths in mining areas“. Burning Otter Creek coal will more than double the CO2 output of the State of Montana for the next ten years. Fine particle pollution from U.S. power plants cuts short the lives of nearly 24,000 people each year, including 2800 from lung cancer.

The Land Board must also look at the main source of income for Montana: agriculture. Agriculture in the Tongue River Valley will be severely impacted by development of Otter Creek, which would be the largest coal strip mine in Montana, and the TRR. The Tongue River will take a severe beating when the 20,000 tons of sediment from building the TRR below the Tongue River Dam gets into the river (this is the figure given in the environmental impact statement on the TRR). The 5,000 to 10,000 tons of sediment that is projected to go into the river every year after construction will continue to impair the Tongue River for decades to come.

Since 1980, the Montana DNRC Abandoned Mine Reclamation Bureau (now the Mine Waste Cleanup Bureau) has completed reclamation at 408 coal mine sites located in 33 eastern Montana counties and at an additional 38 hardrock mine sites located in 17 western Montana counties for a total of 446 sites reclaimed in 43 counties. Who pays? Not Arch Coal!

EPA request for Superfund listing for Black Eagle smelter area expected in March. Do you figure Anaconda Copper is going to help us out with this one?

Do we really want to blame this tragic legacy on our school children? Denise Juneau understands the value of our children and she certainly understands the value of education. She also understands that “Montana’s future economy and the sustainable value to the school trust lands could very well be in preserving the land for future beneficiaries”

Once more into the breach dear friends. The Montana State Land Board meets next Tuesday, Feb. 16 to consider lowering the price of the Otter Creek coal to a level acceptable to coal giant Arch Coal. Please contact the members of the Board and let them know that we are not willing to give away the health and welfare of Montana citizens so Arch Coal can gain a nickel less per ton.

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

One Response

  1. […] just listen to me – read Button Valley’s 2 most recent Otter Creek-related posts: Value of school children plummets and “If not now, when? If not us, who?”. You can also search the term “otter” over […]

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