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Otter Control Costs

I don’t want to talk more about Otter Creek. I’m burned out, but they won’t leave me alone. I’m not sure why the members of the State Land Board who voted to destroy the Tongue River Valley and sicken and kill their neighbors want to keep justifying their decision to me, but they do. I just got an over-long absolution note from Secretary of State Linda McCulloch explaining her vote.

McCulloch: “If Otter Creek coal is not mined and burned, some other coal somewhere else will be burned and mined in its place.

I’m really sick and tired of this “all-the-other-kids-are-doing-it” justification. My Mom always had the same reply to that argument. “If everybody decided to jump off a cliff, would you just follow them?” But, the best reply came from Dr. Steve Running in pleading for the Land Board to lead by example. “If not now, when? If not us, who?” If we don’t kill our citizens, someone else will.

McCulloch: “The sole purpose of mining the Otter Creek coal was for the benefit of Montana schools.

And then, a few lines later she answers her own statement in talking about the bonus bid money. “The state should receive this money in about a month and the next Legislature will determine how this money will be spent.” Sure, here’s how it works. The Legislature will put the coal money into the school trust fund and in the next breath, turn right around and remove the same amount of General Fund money leaving no net gain for schools and instead spend the money debating whether or not human sperm should be allowed to vote.

McColluch: “At the peak of mine production, budget estimates project the state will be receiving approximately $500 million per biennium, not counting what local governments will receive.

By my calculation that amounts to about 4-5% of the annual budget. What does this money really cost the State of Montana? A study by West Virginia University found that:

Looking at statistics from 2005 (the latest for which mortality rates are available) the researchers found that though coal mining brought in about $8 billion to the state coffers of Appalachian states, the costs of the shorter life-spans associated with coal mining operations were nearly $17 billion to $84.5 billion.

Coal mining areas in Appalachia were found to have nearly 11,000 more deaths each year than other places in the nation, with 2,300 of those attributable to environmental factors such as air and water pollution.

A study by the American Journal of Public Health notes that “in the 14 counties where the biggest coal mining operations are located residents reported higher rates of cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, diabetes, and lung and kidney disease.” People living near coal mines do not pay more only in taxes.

Those who are falling ill and dying are not just the coal miners. Everyone who lives near the mines or processing plants or transportation centers is affected by chronic socioeconomic weakness that takes a toll on longevity and health.

McCulloch:  “There are other economic benefits to the state, like many good-paying jobs over the estimated 40-year life of the mine.

Hendryx makes the leap to policy prescription and says that coal companies and government try to tell people that the coal industry brings needed jobs to these regions, but that just isn’t the case. Rather, areas without coal mining in fact do far better as they develop alternative industries that don’t have the negative health and socioeconomic effects so clearly linked with coal mining.

We already have an alternative industry in the Tongue River Valley. It’s something called agriculture and people down that way seem to be pretty happy with how it has worked so far. Oh sure, coal mining jobs have been declining due to mechanization and, 12,000 coal miners died of injuries between 1972 and 2002. Black lung disease is on the rise. And of course, West Virginia coal mine death toll now at 25. But hey, these are “good-paying jobs”.

And finally, McCulloch: “Good reclamation can and will occur on any Otter Creek tracts that are mined.

Two words: Libby, Butte. Since 1980, the good taxpayers of Montana have paid to clean up 408 abandoned coal mines in eastern Montana. For the extra 4-5% of the budget that the Otter Creek coal will bring in, it is likely that Montana taxpayers will pick up many times that amount in paying for health costs, climate costs, environmental damage and cleaning up the mess. It’s not only about the money. “If not now, when? If not us, who?

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2 Responses

  1. […] 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 […]

  2. I, like you, would like to let it go but they just won’t let us, I agree.

    Good think I didn’t get the McCulloch Dispatch, because I took the time (since it kept banging around in my head) to check out the closing statements from McCulloch at the December and then the March Land Board.

    In the December Land Board she added the bonus 15 cents (later cut by 2/3) saying that she was going to make sure that the bonus portion went directly to the schools, over and above – extra funding. (Which she couldn’t legally do anyways…but still.)

    Then in March, when she accepted the corporate welfare (stated so by Bulloch) she finished up by tossing the obligation of seeing that the money went to schools to the taxpayers – it’s now the taxpayers obligation to make sure the legislature appropriates this money to schools.

    The only thing that was missing with that statement was her swiping her hands together, signaling “all finished.”

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