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The Montana to China Railroad

On Wednesday the federal Surface Transportation Board, acting in its role as an arm of the railroad industry, rejected an attempt by environmental groups to obtain further review of the Tongue River Railroad project in Montana. For twenty years, developer Mike Gustafson has been trying to rip apart ranches, destroy lives and pollute the Tongue River Valley. Prior to coal giant Arch Mineral bribing the state of Montana with $80 million for coal from Otter Creek there was no particular reason for the railroad other than to move Wyoming coal more easily to west coast ports for export to Asia.

The board rejected claims by the Northern Plains Resource Council that global warming is a bad thing and that cheap, crappy Montana coal burned in China will only add to the problem. The price of coal in the U.S. has fallen for several years due to decreased demand and increased awareness of the true cost of burning fossil fuels for Hot Yoga salons. Montana already has a corner on the crappy coal market in the U.S. and there is no reliable market for the low quality carbon fuel from the Otter Creek tracts near Ashland. Alas, there is a market for the highly polluting rocks in Asia. China has no problem with burning high-sulfur coal as long as they can get it cheap and Arch Coal will sell cheap if they can mine and ship the coal using government subsidies. Think Progress, reports that in 2009 Arch Coal “netted over $42 million, yet was able to use tax loopholes and gimmicks to avoid contributing anything in corporate income taxes.” I guess I never got the thank you note.

Currently, western coal producers have to ship their coal east through a port way up in Vancouver, B.C. That increases the cost to producers so, why not build a deep-water port on the Columbia at taxpayer expense? Two Oregon ports are currently engaged in secret talks with coal producers about becoming lucrative shipping hubs for Wyoming and Montana coal.

Community activists in Longview and Bellingham — including Bellingham’s mayor — say they worry about coal dust and increased train traffic. Environmental groups also note that both Washington and Oregon are phasing out their only coal-fired power plants to reduce pollution and carbon emissions, and argue that the emissions shouldn’t simply be shifted to China, India and other Asian countries.

Sending subsidized Montana coal to China will result in large profits for energy corporations, higher bonus payments for already overpaid CEOs and near-total destruction of the Tongue River Valley. What else do we get? Being downwind, Montana will receive the full benefit of the increase in mercury and PCB pollution from Asian power plants. Our snow will melt even earlier, our forests will burn with more vigor and our cancer rate will increase. According to the American Lung Association, 75 percent of voters support EPA setting stricter limits on smog, 65 percent say that stricter standards on air pollution will not damage our economic recovery, with 54 percent believing that updates are likely to create more jobs, not less. Of course, EPA regulation doesn’t apply if the coal is burned in China, does it? According to Northern Plains;

“Asian power plants, such as in China, have very few pollution controls. The Tongue River Railroad will be built to serve Asia, not the U.S. Why destroy our land and ship our coal to Asia not only to help their economies but to increase the release of mercury and greenhouse gases. The Surface Transportation Board is serving the interests of Asia and ignoring the people who live along the route all the way to the ports on the West Coast.”

When If the Tongue River Railroad is built, it will provide a cheap and easy route to move coal from Wyoming and Montana to the new west coast ports. The losers will be the people of Montana, our environment, our wildlife, our waters, our air and our health. An appeal of the Tongue River Railroad approval goes to oral arguments in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals next month. Hopefully, the court will allow arguments that will benefit the people of Montana and not just those that benefit corporate profits. Watch, listen and learn.

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One Response

  1. […] Valley recently threw down on the economic realities of Arch Coal, one of Montana’s newest raider of taxpayer-owned natural resources. Poor Arch Coal. Thank […]

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