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The Continuing Cost of Crappy Coal

Yesterday I send a polite note to the Governor whacking him over the head for requiring Montana communities to sign loyalty oaths to King Coal before he would release promised stimulus funds. Today, I received a nice, personal “Dear Constituent” missive from Brian explaining what a windfall the Otter Creek money will be for Montana. The man just don’t get it.

He started off with a little history: “Since Montana became a state in 1889, we have mined approximately 1.5 billion tons of coal” and then he went on to explain why it would be a good idea to double that number in the next few years. His main argument seems to be that everybody else is doing it, so it must be okay. “This coal will be used—resulting in the same carbon emissions or captured carbon—whether the coal is mined in Wyoming, Illinois, or Montana.” Dude! Once again, you’ve missed the point entirely!

Montana will get rich. Well, kinda: “Assuming a projected 25-year life of the mine, it is estimated that $5.34 billion in tax revenues and royalties will be paid to the state treasury.” (This assumes a price of $20/ton. It’s more like $10/ton now.) So, like, we can expect to see what? Maybe 4-5% more revenue a year? For that we will send a billion tons of crappy quality coal to China for them to burn in inefficient power plants and send back as pollution? Let me explain this one more time real slow so maybe even a hobby rancher can understand.

It ain’t about a few more bucks in the treasury. Sure, times are tough and it would be nice to see a little more revenue tomorrow, but at what cost?

  • For each TerraWatt hour of electricity generated by coal, 24.5 deaths are expected in addition to 225 serious illnesses and 13,288 minor illnesses. [those numbers are higher for crappy lignite, like from Otter Creek.]
  • If these estimates are applied to the U.S., as many as 50,000 deaths per year may be attributable to burning coal.
  • Coal pollutants affect all major body organ systems and contribute to four of the five leading causes of mortality in the U.S.: heart disease, cancer, stroke, and chronic lower respiratory diseases.
  • Coal pollutants are involved in asthma, pulmonary disease, stunted lung development in children, infant mortality, lung cancer, heart problems, congestive heart failure, stroke, mental retardation in infants and children, etc. etc. etc.
  • Coal is THE major player in climate change which has a whole ‘nother raft of health issues.

But, it’s okay. People are going to get sick anyway. What difference does it make if they get sick from Montana coal or Wyoming coal? There’s a high ground here Governor. Response? “I have long recognized that carbon emissions are a serious concern, and have encouraged the development of new, cleaner coal technologies, alternative energy sources, and energy conservation. Accckk! Here we are again, talking about “clean coal” technologies that don’t exist anywhere on the planet today and surely won’t exist at commercial capacities during the life of this mine. Here’s the Guv again,

What is critical is that any coal mined in Montana meets our environmental standards, and that the land is reclaimed after mining.  The Montana Constitution requires it, and our experience with existing mines in the past thirty five years demonstrates that proper reclamation can return the land to long term productivity for the people who ranch and farm these areas.

Ummm, well, maybe you had better walk down the street and talk to the nice DEQ folks at the Mine Waste Cleanup Bureau, where:

Since the program’s inception in 1980, the 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 for the reclamation of 408 abandoned coal mines? Not Arch Coal. Or this, Mine waste cleanup to curb watershed pollution by Monarch A small mess costing only $5-6 million. Oh, but that’s yesterdays news, literally. Or, again from yesterdays paper, E.P.A. to Limit Water Pollution From Mountain Top Removal Mining. Good thing the E.P.A. works for free. So, Governor, what do we figure is the net from the $5.3 billion once we pay the health costs, the environmental costs, the climate costs and the cleanup costs? “I believe the Land Board has crafted the Otter Creek lease in a manner that ensures any eventual mining will be done in a responsible manner, and that we will receive a better-than-fair-market rate for our coal.” Like I said, the “Coal Cowboy” just don’t get it. With all that coal money for schools, we’ll have a lot of really smart, really sick kids, but they can look forward to high-paying jobs in one of our most dangerous industries.


3 Responses

  1. Meant to mention this link.

    A Tennessee Republican wanting to ban mining in Tennessee?

  2. He thinks he can say one thing yet do another. He miscalculated.

    I also seem to think that he believes one right corrects a wrong – i.e., I approved a wind mill site, so I’m not bad for approving coal?

    I seriously hope this whole focus on the $ is not an indicator of what is to be for the next 3 years of his administration. Selling off state lands at this kind of cost should not be anyone’s idea of funding.

    • We can only wish we knew what the Guv is thinking. It always seems to be about the money. I’m not complaining about trying to increase revenues. Fiscal responsibility is a good thing, but when it’s done at the expense of the health and welfare of Montana, somebody is deluded. The way he’s headed he’s going to be getting a lot more of these and they won’t come from out-of-state crackpots.

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