2,000 Montanans Raise Concerns About Coal

HELENA – On Wednesday, March 6th, volunteers from the Blue Skies Campaign will deliver 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 public comment period on Arch Coal’s proposed 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,” says Dylan DeRosier of Missoula, whose comment will be delivered with hundreds of others on Wednesday.  “For this reason I do not support the Otter Creek Mine.”

The main incentive to mine Otter Creek is to supply coal for overseas exports.  This means increasing coal train traffic through towns like Billings, Bozeman, Helena, and Missoula, as trains travel to proposed export terminals on the West Coast.  Coal trains would cause local air pollution and road congestion in affected towns, while eventual overseas coal combustion would also add to climate change, contributing to droughts and wildfires in Montana.

“Our town is split by the railroad,” says 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.”

Montanans worried about coal train traffic and climate change want the DEQ to consider these big-picture impacts, as the agency prepares to craft an Environmental Impact Statement for the Otter Creek project.  They say it is impossible to gauge the full environmental effects of the mine, without considering the results of coal’s transportation and combustion.  Many comments to be submitted Wednesday urge the DEQ to look at these larger impacts.

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

 Groups involved in the Wednesday drop-off include the Blue Skies Campaign, Montana Environmental Information Center, 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.”

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Determined Anti-Coal Activists Occupy Capitol

Day one: Week of protest actions planned to halt coal exports

HELENA—In a bold action against coal exports, today 100 chanting climate activists marched inside Montana’s Capitol to deliver letters and launch an eight-day protest to prevent coal mining and international coal exports from Montana’s Powder River Basin. After a rally that featured Montana author and poet, Rick Bass, the group marched into the Capitol and announced plans to occupy the public space to draw attention to the issue.

The Coal Export Action protests, sponsored by the Montana-based Blue Skies Campaign, will stretch from today until August 20 and end with a Citizens’ Land Board meeting. The group intends to prevent the Montana Land Board from offering final approval to mine Otter Creek coal tracts, which would require the construction of the Tongue River Railroad (Tongue River 1) and prepare the region for further coal extraction. Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) expects a permit application this month from Arch Coal, leaseholder for the Otter Creek tracts, near Ashland.

“Today we are here to demonstrate mass citizen opposition to big coal corporations’ dirty plan to export millions of tons of Powder River basin coal each year to the international energy market,” said Lowell Chandler, a construction worker and volunteer with Blue Skies Campaign. “We’re here to pressure the state Land Board to stand with us against these massive coal export proposals.”

The economic, health and environmental impacts of coal exports from Montana have been the subject of recent controversy across the west, as new international terminals in Oregon and Washington would have to be built to accommodate the global energy trading scheme. As coal-fired power plants in the United States continue to be retired by the dozens each year, the demand for coal in the U.S. is in decline. Major coal companies like Arch Coal have indicated intentions to develop future markets in China, far outside of U.S. environmental regulations.

“As Montanan’s we have to ask ourselves what the future holds for the Last Best Place. We’ve already gone down the path of blind resource extraction, just look at Butte,” said Chandler. “We don’t want to be an Asian coal colony so the biggest coal companies in the world can reap massive profits.”

“We are confident that once the full environmental, health and long-term economic effects of coal exports are assessed, the negatives will far outweigh the positives,” said Nick Engelfried, an organizer with the Blue Skies Campaign. “Some Land Board members have voiced their support for the coal export developments before this review process has even began.”

The bold actions in Helena this week have attracted the support of several international rights groups, including, Rainforest Action Network, Rising Tide North America and Greenpeace. The groups understand that new coal mining operations in the Powder River Basin could open the floodgates to massive coal exports, which threaten water, public health, and climate stability.

“There are a few crucial chokepoints on this planet, where we have some cance of staunching the endless flow of carbon into the atmosphere,” said Bill McKibben, founder of  “And on that list, none may be more important than Montana.”

Each of the eight days of action will highlight and inform the public by focusing on individual issue areas, spanning from regional economic impacts to public process and alternatives to coal energy for the future.

For more details, please contact Kerul Dyer at [email protected] or call (415) 866-0005.


Summer Coal Export Action to Pressure State Land Board 

Health, Climate, and Green Energy Groups Press Land Board to Reject Coal

On Wednesday, June 27th, climate, health, and social justice groups called for a summer mobilization to protect Montana from coal export mining.  Groups including the Blue Skies Campaign,, and Occupy Missoula invited Montanans to join a multiday sit-in at the State Capitol this August, to pressure State Land Board members to reject Arch Coal’s Otter Creek export mine.

“We are not going to sacrifice our health, our land and water, our private property, and our pride to become a coal colony for Asia,” said Lowell Chandler of the Blue Skies Campaign.  “It is time to protect the Last Best Place from the horrific effects of coal exports.”

With US coal demand declining, companies like Arch Coal are looking to develop new mines in eastern Montana, with an eye toward exporting abroad.  In 2010, the State Land Board granted Arch a lease to the Otter Creek coal tracts.  But the Board still needs to sign off on a mining plan before coal mining can start.

“Over the last few years, countless Montanans have submitted comments, turned out to hearings, and done whatever we could to get the Land Board to stand up to Big Coal,” said Chandler.  “Now it’s time to take the next step.”

The sit-in, called the Coal Export Action, is supported by the Blue Skies Campaign, Rising Tide, Montana Women For,, and others groups, and will take place in the Montana Capitol from August 13th through 20th, around the time Arch is expected to submit its mining application.  On the 20th, the Land Board will hold a public meeting.

Once submitted, Arch’s application will be reviewed by the Department of Environmental Quality, and then needs a stamp of approval from the Land Board.  The Board, currently composed of Governor Brian Schweitzer, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, Attorney General Steve Bullock, State Auditor Monica Lindeen, and Superintendent of Instruction Denise Juneau, is expected to make its decision later this year, or in early 2013.

If the mine is approved, coal train traffic through rail line towns will increase severalfold.  This has some residents worried.  “Pollutants from coal trains will cause emergency room visits to go up,” said Dr. Amy Haynes, a naturopathic physician who has practiced in Missoula for the last twenty-eight years.  “Everybody who breaths will basically be at risk.”

“Think of all the children who live along the rail line,” said Becca Titus, a member of Occupy Missoula.  “The health of all of them will be affected by this proposal.”

Corey Bressler, from the grassroots climate group, said increased coal mining and burning will also make climate change worse.  “A warming, drying climate has already lengthened the western fire season by 78 days,” Bressler said.  “Dryer, hotter summers will seriously damage Montana’s recreational, tourism, and agricultural industries.”

Groups involved in the Coal Export Action hope hundreds of Montanans will participate in the peaceful sit-in, and that it will be among the largest actions of its kind in recent Montana history.  Those interested can sign up, and learn more, at

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On Saturday, as part of the international Connect the Dots day of action organized by, activists in Missoula, MT highlighted the connection between dirty money, government, and climate change.  At the Missoula Farmers Market, organizers from the Blue Skies Campaign, Occupy Missoula, and other local groups enacted a creative street theater routine to draw attention to the Montana Land Board’s support for Arch Coal at the expense of ordinary people and the climate.

In 2010, the Montana Land Board voted 3-2 to lease coal tracts in the Otter Creek area to Arch Coal.  Developing Otter Creek for coal mining would set off one of the largest carbon bombs in the world, facilitating construction of the Tongue River Railroad, and the opening of vast additional tracts of land to mining.  With a quarter of US coal reserves sitting under Montana soil, this is truly one of the most important fights on the planet.

Fortunately, Land Board members – all of whom are statewide elected officials – still can stop mining at Otter Creek.  It will take massive public pressure to make them do so, though.  The ones who can really diffuse this bomb are the Montana people.

Thus the inspiration for Saturday’s street theater, which showed what it will take to keep Montana’s largest coal reserves underground.  During a tug-of-war match between the people of Montana and pro-coal members of the Land Board, climate activists discovered pro-coal politicians couldn’t be budged as long as they remain tied to the coal industry by dirty money.

In the theater skit, the people of Montana eventually solved the dilemma by cutting a rope tying Land Board members to an immovable rock representing Arch Coal (meanwhile, an Arch Coal lobbyist offered Governor Brian Schweitzer and other Land Board members coal).  And though this creative action was all in good fun, the message is deadly serious: we really do need to cut the link between state politics and giant energy companies.

Later this year, we have a chance to do just this at the Coal Export Action, a weeklong sit-in at the Montana Capitol.  People from communities throughout the region affected by mining, transportation, and export of Montana coal will peacefully risk arrest to convey the moral seriousness of our demand.  Together, we will steer Montana and the Northwest toward a prosperous, clean energy future – and keep Montana’s coal reserves safely in the ground.



Following a lively teach-in, three activists with the Cascade Climate Network and Portland Rising Tide occupied a billboard at the corner of SE 12th and Sandy Blvd. Sunday afternoon to protest proposals for coal export terminals across the Northwest. The activists altered the billboard with a giant banner that listed four potential coal export sites along the Oregon and Washington coast, while around forty protestors gathered below and spelled “no coal exports” with oversized letters.

Coal corporations including Peabody and Arch Energy are seeking to export up to 100 million tons of coal annually from six separate sites in Oregon and Washington. Last month, with minimal public input, the Port of St Helens approved an option to lease the port to coal companies Ambre Energy and Kinder Morgan. This comes nearly a year after Millennium Bulk Logistics temporarily withdrew an application to export coal from Longview, Washington after internal documents revealed inconsistent figures regarding
the intended volume of coal for export.

“Big coal knowingly poisons our land, water and communities for the sake of their bottom line. Coal is the biggest contributor to global climate change, and as we teeter on the threshold of climate chaos we must reject all coal infrastructure,” said Chelsea Thaw, an activist with Cascade Climate Network.

This event was part of a regional day of coordinated action against Northwest Coal Exports. Actions occurred across Oregon and Washington near sites of proposed export and in Montana near the coal fields of the Powder River Basin. Portland Rising Tide has staged numerous protests against coal export throughout the past year including several at coal financing banks.

(Re-posted from Portland Rising Tide)