Citizens Hold Up Coal Trains, Reclaim Right-of-Way from Coal Industry


Credit: Derek Brouwer/ Independent Record

On Sunday, 14 people of assorted ages peacefully shut down the main rail line used to transport coal through Montana, by occupying the railroad right-of-way in an attempt to reclaim the space from the coal industry.  Employees of Montana Rail Link, the company that owns the tracks, were unwilling to move trains through until all 14 people were removed, meaning no coal trains were able to pass for the duration of the sit-in.  The action was a preview of the kind of peaceful resistance state officials should expect if they permit the proposed Otter Creek coal export mine to move forward.

“If they approve this rail line and the development of the Otter Creek mine, I and many other citizens will be ready to put our bodies on the line in order to stop the exportation of coal from Montana,” Lee Metzgar a participant in the sit-in, told the Helena Independent Record.  Metzgar is a grandparent and resident of Missoula, MT.  “I’m here on behalf of my grandchildren, because if the coal from the Powder River and Otter Creek is burned, then my grandchildren and their grandchildren face a very grim future.”


Credit: David Schaad

Sunday’s action was organized by the Blue Skies Campaign, 350 Missoula, and other groups working to protect Montana communities from coal exports.  Especially at issue is Arch Coal’s Otter Creek Mine, one of the largest new coal mines proposed in North America.  Mining Otter Creek would damage precious aquifers and permanently degrade agricultural land, while open-top trains carrying coal from the mine would pollute towns from Montana to the West Coast.  When burned overseas, the coal would add to pollution problems in China and nearby countries, while worsening climate change around the globe.  In other words, the Otter Creek Mine is an extraction project with dire international implications.

Though the issues at stake are no laughing matter, the mood at Sunday’s action was cheerful.  Before the civil disobedience, some 60 people rallied at Helena’s Hill Park, and then marched to the site of the site of the direct action to cheer on those risking arrest.  People seemed happy to be standing up to the coal industry, and relieved to have the opportunity to take action.  When the marchers reached the railroad tracks, fourteen stepped past a “No Trespassing” sign on the railroad right-of-way, while the rest of the group watched from nearby.


Credit: David Schaad

Most sit-in participants – a group that included 20-somethings, grandparents, and ages in between – were risking arrest for the first time.  Though all were prepared to be taken to jail, police made the decision to cite and release all fourteen, instructing them to appear in court the next day.

Sunday’s action represents an escalation in the growing movement to stop Montana coal exports.  It’s the second large civil disobedience against coal to take place in Montana in just over a year, following on the heels of last year’s weeklong August sit-in at the Montana Sate Capitol.  Though the movement’s first direct action on railroad property is now over, resistance to the coal industry’s dangerous export plans can only be expected to grow.  There’s a new kind of movement brewing in Montana – and it won’t stop until our communities are safe from the threat of Big Coal’s export plans.

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A Message from Rick Bass

Rick Bass speaking at last year's Coal Export Action

Rick Bass speaking at last year’s Coal Export Action

Rick Bass, one of Montana’s best known environmental writers,  was arrested at last year’s sit-in at the State Capitol, the first large scale civil disobedience against coal exports in Montana.  Below, Rick explains why stopping the Otter Creek Mine is so important, and why you should sign up for this year’s September Showdown Against Coal Exports.  Sign up to join the action here!

Once every few generations, civil rights and social justice issues that have long been buried, tamped down, emerge; the pressure of the injustice below becomes greater than the overburden that has previously been suppressing that wrong. Such is the case now with the United States’ relationship to dirty coal and global warming. A moral decision is upon us, one which we will either engage or ignore.

In Montana, we find ourselves gatekeepers to nothing less than the future of the world’s weather. We did not ask for this responsibility but we have been tasked with it, by virtue of our amazing good fortune to be residents of this incredible state.

Previous efforts at traditional dialogue—meetings, phone calls, e-mails—do not appear to have moved the Montana Land Board toward making the correct decision regarding the proposed Otter Creek dirty coal mine—coal so dirty that only China will burn it, and which we are only too happy for China to burn—and the issue and looming consequences are too dire to gamble on any tack other than giving our all. Montana is the gate through which the entire world’s climate future passes. We must do everything we can to guard that gate and make wise choices—not just for ourselves, but for others who are unable to participate in this defense.

Selling the toxic coal from Otter Creek to China (below cost) causes vast new dirty coal power plants to be built there, where that subsidized demand then summons ever-more coal from all around the world. The plan is to use cheap dirty Otter Creek coal to prime this pump of global warming that will occur at a pace beyond any ability to mitigate or defend against.  The plan proposes to pass through one tiny gate, the billion-plus tons of dirty coal at Otter Creek. If we can defend that one gate, we get to keep hoping. We must defend that one gate.

The folks at Blue Skies are asking for your calm, dignified, peaceful resistance, via the time-honored American tradition of civil disobedience. Being arrested is essentially a necessary communication skill, at this point. The Land Board is not hearing—or not understanding—and it is therefore necessary to try a different form of communication.

The issue is far too important to all of us to leave any possible effort unutilized. Blue Skies volunteers will help walk you through this incredibly noble and empowering experience, one that is helping change the dialogue and discussion on whether Montana will be the leader in converting the world to a coal-based economy, or the moral leader in preventing that planned conversion, of which the proposed Otter Creek sale is the first critical piece in an insidious and complicated and world-devastating business plan.

Please sign up to resist calmly, with great civility and pride. In addition to feeling good about doing your best to protect what you love and believe in, you won’t believe how much fun it is, too. It’s a great way to spend a few hours. Thank you.

Written by Rick Bass

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Announcing: September’s Showdown Against Coal Exports

Last summer, 23 people were arrested protesting coal exports at the Montana State Capitol, in the largest act of climate and energy-related civil disobedience in Montana history.  That action was a big step toward the kind of powerful, people-driven movement we need to stop the world’s biggest coal companies from turning Montana into an energy resource colony.  But at Coal Export Action, we’ve always known this fight would be a long one – and lately we’ve been hearing from more and more people asking, “When will it be time to put our bodies on the line again?”

Today, we’re excited to announce the next big phase in our effort to harness the power of peaceful, disciplined, nonviolent civil disobedience.  This year we’re again inviting those concerned about Montana coal exports to use direct action to take our movement to the next level.  And, yes, it will once again involve ordinary people risking arrest.  Here’s the plan:

At 12:00pm on Sunday, September 15th, people from across Montana will converge in Helena for another large-scale direct action, designed to reclaim our state’s lines of commerce from the coal export industry.  The action will include a family-friendly rally at Hill Park that all are invited to – and a nonviolent direct action for those who are ready for civil disobedience.  Then, on Monday morning, we’ll go to the State Capitol building and bring our message straight to members of the State Land Board.

Those of us participating in Sunday’s direct action will risk arrest for trespass, as with dignity and discipline we drive home the seriousness of our message.  It isn’t lightly that we ask you to seriously consider taking this step.  The truth is, though, that there’s far too much at stake for us not to take every peaceful step to stop Montana coal exports.  Peaceful, disciplined civil disobedience is the best way we know to convey the seriousness of the situation, and show our willingness to do what it takes to stop the coal export disaster.

The fact is, communities in Montana and elsewhere are already suffering from the effects of coal exports.  Uncovered trains carrying coal to the existing export terminals in Canada are polluting rail line communities with toxic coal dust and diesel fumes.  In Eastern Montana, existing coal mine operations have depleted aquifers and threaten agriculture where farmers and ranchers have lived off the land for generations.  These local side effects of coal mining and transport endanger people’s health and livelihoods, and would be reason enough to be deeply concerned about coal exports.

Just weeks ago, Montana and much of the rest of the West was engulfed by a record-setting heat wave of the type scientists say we can expect to see more of with climate change.  In the last few years, warming global temperatures have led to worse droughts and longer fire seasons in Montana, combined with reduced snow pack and decreased precipitation.  These kinds of climate-related disasters threaten people’s lives, livelihoods, and entire sectors of our economy.

Unfortunately, rather than responding to climate change and the human health impacts of coal, Montana decision makers are bent on leasing even more land to the coal industry.  The State of Montana, in the guise of the new Bullock administration, is now reviewing Arch Coal’s plan to mine Eastern Montana’s Otter Creek tracts.  The Otter Creek Mine is meant to feed proposed new coal export terminals on the coasts of Washington and Oregon, which are also going through the permitting stages.

The final decision on Otter Creek – which, if built, would be one of the largest coal mines in North America – will be made by Montana’s State Land Board, possibly as soon as this fall.  While we remain hopeful that the mine can be stopped, our frank assessment is that if the vote came today, the Land Board would approve Arch’s permit.

That’s where you come in.  To change the politics of coal leasing in Montana, we need an outpouring of citizen activism.  And while civil disobedience isn’t the only tool at our disposal, it’s certainly one of the most important.  We’re hoping this year’s direct action will prove to be even more powerful than last year’s sit-in at the Capitol.  Combined with other efforts to put pressure on state decision makers, we hope it will be enough to stop Arch Coal from getting its permit to mine Otter Creek.

We don’t have much time to spare.  If you’re ready to join us this September, please let us know.

If you can donate to help make the action a success, please pitch in what you can here.


The Coal Export Action Team

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A Fearless Summer of Climate Activism

On Monday, I joined three other participants in last summer’s Coal Export Action, as we appeared at the municipal courthouse in Helena, Montana to describe why we and 19 others joined the largest act of climate-related civil disobedience in Montana history last year.  It felt great to stand up in court and explain why the urgency of climate change and other social and environmental issues connected with fossil fuel extraction necessitates people taking matters into their own hands.  As Linda Kenoyer, a grandmother from Livingston, Montana who participated in the third day of the Coal Export Action sit-in said:

“I committed this act of civil disobedience because nothing else could be done to bring sufficient attention to the danger and moral outrage of leasing our state lands for the expansion of coal exports from this state.  In taking part in this civil disobedience, I was hoping that seeing a respectable grandmother being arrested and spending a night in jail to try to stop this from happening, enough people would be startled out of their complacence to consider what is being done in their name, and to speak up to demand a stop to the coal exports.”

Participants in last summer’s sit-in at the Montana State Capitol included grandparents, students, working people, and residents of front line communities.  It was just one example of how people across the country are rising up to challenge some of the world’s most powerful industries, and the politicians who do their bidding at the expense of our health and planetary safety.  And as time goes on, I’m convinced we’ll see even more examples of this kind of action.

Indeed, even as those of us who participated in last year’s sit-in wrap up the last of our court appearances, people across the country are getting organized for a summer of truly exciting climate activism.  It’s called Fearless Summer, and it kicks off next week, with a coordinated week of action around the country.  If you’re in Missoula, please join our Missoula Fearless Summer rally on Tuesday, June 25th.  You can see a list of other actions across the country here.

Next week, we’ll call for bold action to stop climate change and the extraction of fossil fuels. Then, over the course of the summer, we’ll escalate our tactics by organizing more and more powerful actions.  We’ll also be coordinating with groups like and Rainforest Action Network, which are organizing powerful actions of their own.

Many of this summer’s larger mass actions will take place in big cities like Chicago and San Francisco, which makes sense.  But I can tell you right now Montana won’t get left out of the action.  Though the details are still falling into place, there will almost certainly be another large-scale civil disobedience in Montana later this year.  To be the first to hear about the details when they emerge, join the Coal Export Action email list.

As Lowell Chandler, a Missoula resident who lives next to the tracks used by Burlington-Northern Santa Fe’s coal trains says:

“The Fearless Summer actions represent a broad and growing network of citizens concerned about what is at stake when it comes to our land, air, water, climate and rights as people.  Current coal exports in the Northwest already gravely affect my quality of life and those around me by polluting the air we breathe everyday with thick toxic diesel fumes and coal dust.  I refuse to let these coal export proposals transform my life and the beautiful Northwest into a conveyor belt for the dirtiest energy in the world.”

We’ve got a long road ahead of us, as we fight to stop coal export mining in Montana, and other fossil fuel extraction projects across the country.  But this summer has the potential to be a turning point in our movement.  Stay tuned.

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Peaceful Protesters, Impacted Community Members Turned Away from Mars Headquarters

998_0270Yesterday, residents of Montana, Washington, DC, and the larger Chesapeake area took the demand that Forrest Mars Jr. divest from coal exports directly to Mars, Inc headquarters in McLean, Virginia.  The action was a collaborative effort organized by Chesapeake Earth First!, Climate First!, and the Montana-based Blue Skies Campaign.  Participants met in McLean Central Park, then walked to Mars headquarters, where they asked to speak to a Mars executive about Forrest Mars’ financial support for the Tongue River Railroad coal project.

“Coal train traffic already impacts cities like Missoula, Montana,” said Lowell Chandler, a Missoula resident who lives across the street from the railroad tracks, and who participated in yesterday’s protest.  “Locomotive diesel fumes are frequently so thick you can taste the gases, black dust and grime cakes our outdoor furniture and garden soil, and coupling of empty coal cars every day and night produce bangs so loud they resonate as bombs and shake your home. If the Tongue River Railroad was built it would open the floodgates for coal exports and the culture of Missoula and the Northwest would be altered forever.”

Unfortunately (though not surprisingly), Mars executives weren’t eager to engage in conversation with the people affected by Forrest Mars’ dirty investment.  Here, you can see how they responded to peaceful protesters’ request for a meeting:

Mars employees declined to even accept a letter about the impacts of investing in coal exports.  Rather than support clean, sustainable energy sources, Mars is turning a blind eye to the fact that its partial owner is using money made from selling M&M’s and other candy to invest in one of the world’s dirtiest industries.

The good news is, communities from Montana to Virginia are coming together in new ways to unite against coal industry attacks on our communities.  “Coal production, transport, and use harms communities, no matter where it occurs,” said Richelle Brown of Chesapeake Earth First!.  ”We’re here in McLean to point out the direct line of responsibility between the Mars brand and the widespread and irreversible damage that would occur if this project goes forward. What happens in Montana matters in Virginia.”

There are plenty of opportunities to put pressure on Mars in ways the company can’t ignore.  You can help.  Organize a Mars stickering action in your community, to let shoppers know about the link between Mars candy and coal finance.  You can also sign our new petition to Rosauers Supermarkets, a Northwest-based company with many customers who will be directly impacted by coal exports, and ask Rosauers to pressure Mars to divest from coal.

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Day of Action Against Mars Coal Money a Success

Virginia ActionThis week, just in time for the Easter weekend, activists in communities from Washington State to Montana to North Carolina mobilized against one of the major (and strangest) financiers of coal exports: the Mars candy fortune.

Mars Inc, one of the world’s largest candy companies, claims to be a socially responsible corporation.  The company’s web site states that Mars Inc has “set targets to source 100% of several key raw materials using more sustainable approaches.”  But Forrest Mars Jr – who along with other members of the Mars family, controls the privately owned company – has a major investment in one of the least sustainable corporate schemes imaginable: exporting US coal to be burned in overseas power plants.

NC1Forrest Mars Jr owns a one-third stake in the Tongue River Railroad, a proposed project whose sole purpose is to make vast coal fields in Montana accessible to coal mining and export.  Mars Jr made his fortune by selling iconic candy brands like M&M’s, Milky Way, and Snickers.  His investment in coal exports now means that if you buy Mars products, you may be helping to finance one of the worst fossil fuel projects in the country.

Fortunately, on Thursday Easter shoppers at stores in eight different states were alerted to Mars’ dirty coal connection.  Participants in a national “day of stickering action” left removable warning labels on candy packages on store shelves, to make sure conscientious consumers know how the proceeds from their purchase may be used.

Thursday’s day of action marked the launch of a new effort to put public pressure on Mars Jr and the global company he helped shape.  Now, you can help take this campaign even further.  Here are two important ways to take action:

NC121) Hold a stickering action in your community.  Stickering is a creative form of direct action that draws consumer attention to the true social impacts of a product.  Find out how to hold a successful stickering action at a store near you.

2) Sign and share the petition to Forrest Mars Jr.  We’ve created a petition on that will send an email to Mars Inc every time someone signs it.  Sign the petition, and then share it with others.

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Join the Day of Action Against the TRR!

3rr36oLast summer, Coal Export Action organized the largest climate-related civil disobedience in Montana history. Earlier this month, Montanans delivered 2,000 public comments on the Otter Creek Mine to the DEQ in Helena. It’s now time to take on the coal industry from yet another angle: cutting off the funding that allows them to push projects like the Otter Creek Mine and Tongue River Railroad.

On March 28th, volunteers across the country will hold actions to target candy billionaire Forrest Mars Jr’s (think M&M’s) investment in the Tongue River Railroad. You can help by organizing an action in your community: sign up now!

Here’s the background: In 2011, Forrest Mars Jr. of Mars Inc. bought a stake in the Tongue River Railroad (TRR) project in Montana.  If built, the TRR threatens to open up huge reserves of buried carbon to development, facilitating construction of the Otter Creek Mine.

For years, Forrest Mars opposed the railroad, because it would cut through his ranch in Southeast Montana.  Until, that is, he bought a share of the railroad and used his influence to re-route it around his land.  Now Mars is one of three investors in the TRR, along with Arch Coal and Berkshire Hathaway.  He’s using a fortune largely built by selling kids candy to finance a project that will destroy those kids’ future.

That’s where we come in.  On March 28th, in communities across the country, volunteer activists will visit stores that sell Mars products, to re-label candy packages with removable stickers that let shoppers know what their purchase may be paying for.  Here’s what it looks like:



You can help by holding a stickering action in your community.  By targeting the Mars brand, and convincing Mars Inc that it’s bad business to be associated with coal, we can pressure Forrest Mars to drop his investment in the Tongue River Railroad.  It’s the first step toward getting the money out of coal in the Powder River Basin.

Ready to take action?  Read more about how to hold a successful stickering action, or sign up to hold an action in your community right now!

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Breaking: 2,000 Public Comments Delivered to Montana DEQ

2,000 Comments DeliveredOn Wednesday, activists from Missoula and Helena delivered approximately 2,000 comments from Montanans concerned about the toxic effects of coal mining and transportation to the Department of Environmental Quality, on the final day of a DEQ’s public comment period on the Otter Creek Mine.

“As a fifth generation Montanan, my interests are in long term, sustainable development that does not compromise the health of local communities,” said Dylan DeRosier of Missoula in his comment, which was delivered with hundreds of others on Wednesday.  “For this reason I do not support the Otter Creek Mine.”

Arch Coal submitted its application to build the Otter Creek Mine last summer, and the application is now undergoing review by the Montana DEQ.  During the first stage of the review process, the scoping period, the DEQ will decide how far-reaching the Environmental Impact Statement for the project should be.  Traditionally, agencies like the DEQ have tended to confine their review to only the most immediate, local impacts of extraction projects – but to be complete, any review of the Otter Creek project must include coal mining’s effects on increased train traffic in rail line communities, climate change, and other big-picture issues.

“Our town is split by the railroad,” said Margarita McLarty, of Livingston, in her comment.  “When the costs of disruption to local transportation, pollution, and negative impacts on public health are taken into consideration, we can easily conclude that mining Otter Creek coal is a poor choice.”

“As a Missoula resident, I will be directly impacted by the proposed increase in coal trains,” said Mary LaPorte, of Missoula, in another comment.  “On a larger scale I oppose carbon emissions, which contribute to climate change at the expense of people and the planet.”

On Wednesday afternoon, four volunteers from Missoula and Helena dropped off all 2,000 comments to the DEQ office, hand delivering the box of comments to Krisit Ponozzo, the DEQ’s environmental review coordinator.   Groups that collected comments for the drop-off include the Blue Skies Campaign, Montana Elders for a Livable Tomorrow, Montana Women For, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, University of Montana Climate Action Now, Montana State University Network of Environmentally Conscious Organizations, CREDO Action,, and Greenpeace.

“With the damage from climate change continuing to wreak havoc across the country, the last thing we should be doing is moving forward with the dirty Otter Creek Coal Mine,” said Josh Nelson, a campaign manager with CREDO Action. “The DEQ should not let dirty coal companies profit at the expense of Montana communities’ health.”

Want to help win this fight?  Though this first comment period for the Otter Creek is now over, there are plenty of other opportunities.  Check out other opportunities to take action here.

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Deadline Approaching: Tell Montana’s DEQ to Stop Coal Exports!

Important Update: At the request of Montana environmental groups, the DEQ has extended the comment deadline to March 6th.  We’re moving our comment drop-off date to the 6th as well.  If you haven’t already done so, please submit a comment below!

Last August, 23 people were arrested at the Montana Capitol protesting coal export projects.  We’ve put our bodies on the line, and we’ll probably need to do it again before this fight is over.

Today though, we need people – especially Montana folks – to take action another way: by submitting a public comment to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, about Arch Coal’s Otter Creek Mine.

The Montana DEQ and Department of Natural Resources and Conservation are about to start writing an Environmental Impact Statement for Arch Coal’s mining plan.  As part of this process, they’re required to accept public comments on what environmental impacts they should take into account (I bet you have a few ideas).  The deadline for comments is March 6th, and we need to collect as many comments as possible between now and then.  That’s where you come in.

Here’s how it works: you can add your name to the list of comments we’re collecting for delivery to the DEQ and DNRC, using this online form.  Once you hit the “submit” button, your name and any additional comments will appear on the list we’re collecting.  Towards the end of the comment period, we’ll print out all the names and comments we’ve received, and deliver them to the DEQ all at once.  If we get enough comments, we’ll deliver them in some really creative, publicity-generating way.

To be clear, at Coal Export Action we’re under no illusion that writing comments to the DEQ will stop coal mining by itself.  After all, we organized the largest climate-related civil disobedience in Montana history last August, building a movement against just this type of project.  That sort of direct action will almost certainly be needed again, to really stop Big Coal.

But if we flood the DEQ with comments, it will send a strong public message that people care about this issue.  And that will put us in an even better position, going into the next big direct action.  Some days we really do need to take advantage of official comment periods, and this is one of those days.

At some point down the line, we’ll invite you to take direct action again.  But for now the action at hand is much simpler.  Please take a moment to submit a comment to the DEQ, and help build the groundswell of public opposition we need to stop coal exports.

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Help Us Put Big Coal on Trial

The Coal Export Action sit-in was the largest act of climate-related civil disobedience Montana has ever seen.  Over the course of a week, 23 people were arrested for trespass at the Montana Capitol, in an act of civil disobedience designed to raise the stakes in the fight against coal exports.

Now the “Coal Export Action 23″ begin a long legal battle.  At a recent court hearing, several announced their intent to ask for a jury trial, arguing a Necessity Defense.  This means our legal team will argue that civil disobedience is legally justified when done with the intention of righting a much greater wrong.

If we’re successful with this case, it will set a great precedent for civil disobedience.  But to move forward, we need to know we’ve got funds to push ahead with a jury trial.  Please consider donating to our Coal Export Action Legal Defense Fund, to help cover the costs of a trial.

Though our legal team is defending activists for minimal pay, our lawyers do need some compensation.  There are also other expenses associated with a jury trial.  So we’ve set a goal of raising $10,000 as quickly as possible, to cover legal costs and trial expenses.

We don’t like asking for money, but we’ve got to raise these funds to in order to put coal exports on trial.  If you donate, your support will go a long way.  The donation will be processed by Montana Women For, a registered nonprofit, which means it is tax deductible.

This handy online tool makes it easy to donate to the Legal Defense Fund.  If you’re able, please consider giving whatever you can:

Donate to our Legal Defense Fund

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