Anti-coal protesters tongue-lash Montana Land Board over rescheduling

2012-08-04T08:15:00Z 2012-08-04T08:57:22Z Anti-coal protesters tongue-lash Montana Land Board over reschedulingBy MIKE DENNISON Missoulian State Bureau

HELENA – The state Land Board, accused by anti-coal activists of rescheduling its August meeting on Friday to avoid a weeklong protest in Helena later this month, quickly voted to advance a proposed state coal lease for an eastern Montana mine.

The board’s action Friday sets up a 30-day public comment period on Signal Peak Energy’s $3.6 million bid to lease coal under state land, as part of an expansion of its underground mine south of Roundup.

The board, composed of the top five elected state officials, will decide at its Sept. 15 meeting whether to give final approval to the lease.

State officials said the lease, if approved, will generate an estimated $15 million for the state over a 10-year period. Signal Peak Energy would pay the $3.6 billion bonus amount, a three-cents-per-acre annual lease, and a 10 percent royalty on the value of the coal mined from state land.

Friday’s meeting had been set for Aug. 20, which is the final day of a scheduled eight-day protest and sit-in the state Capitol organized by Blue Skies Campaign, a Missoula-based group opposing further coal development in Montana.

A half-dozen of its members showed up for Friday’s Land Board meeting at the Helena College-University of Montana campus, and said the change in schedule appears designed to dodge the protesters who planned to be at the Aug. 20 meeting.

“Giving the public a three-to-four-day notice, instead of weeks in advance of the previously announced date, is no way to do this,” said Corey Bressler, a Blue Skies organizer and environmental studies student at the University of Montana in Missoula.

Blues Skies organizers said the anti-coal sit-in and protest, which will begin Aug. 13 at the Capitol in Helena, had been planned to run until the scheduled Aug. 20 Land Board meeting, which was to be in the Capitol as well.

The protest will go forward as planned, they said, beginning with a rally in the Capitol Rotunda.

Mary Sexton, director of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, said Friday’s meeting served as the Land Board’s July-August meeting, after its monthly meeting in July had been canceled.

Board members wanted to move up the Aug. 20 date because they had scheduling conflicts and because other issues before the board needed timely action, she said.

For example, the board wanted to approve easement agreements with several pipeline companies crossing state land, so the companies could start construction on the eastern Montana pipelines and beat the end of the construction season, Sexton said.

Gov. Brian Schweitzer, the chair of the Land Board, also told Blue Skies members Friday that the board was not trying to discourage public comment on the coal proposal.

Written public comment on the proposed Signal Peak Energy lease will be accepted until Sept. 4, and the public also can speak at the Sept. 15 Land Board meeting.

Signal Peak Energy is the only company to bid on the tract of state coal, which is within the mine’s planned expansion area.

Bryan Nickerson of Missoula, another Blue Skies member, said the group is raising the alarm against expanded or new coal mines in Montana, particularly the proposed Otter Creek project south of Miles City.

The coal, intended primarily for export to the Orient, will accelerate pollution and climate change and will clog Montana’s railroad system, raising the cost of shipping grain and other products in Montana, he said.

“We’re fighting for a renewable, sustainable economy, as opposed to the boom-and-bust society we have now,” he said.

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(7) Comments

  1. GaryTinkSanders
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    GaryTinkSanders - August 06, 2012 9:46 am
    Any business, school, university or nonprofit receiving govt money should not have a political agenda because it's interest becomes biased and skewed. The choice is to either give up the activist agenda or the govt funds.
  2. DonaldM
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    DonaldM - August 04, 2012 8:01 pm
    It is the former. And has allied with the J School to spread the activist gospel.
  3. David1
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    David1 - August 04, 2012 11:30 am
    The question is, How much industrialization does Montana want? None, as the Blue Skies Campaign wants, or all, as supporters of the recent Imperial Oil proposal to truck oil field equipment through Western MT to Canada wanted?

    This is why we have a state land board, which, I'm sure, weighs both extremes. We know enough, by now, that there must be a balance between unlimited industrialization and complete preservation of the environment. It cannot be one or the other. Montana cannot afford either choice. It must find a balance: some industrialization, some preservation of the environment.

    I do not believe the Land Board's entertaining a proposal from Signal Peak is a bad thing. Signal Peak's proposal is nowhere near the outlandish proposal of Imperial Oil to make Western MT an industrial transportation corridor.

    Say, I say to Blue Skies Campaign, "Shut up and sit down." That you are, as the story points out, a product of the Environmental Studies Program at UM has me wondering whether the ESP at UM is really a political group with an agenda or an educational group with no agenda. I tend toward the former, with this organized protest you now mount.

  4. logger
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    logger - August 04, 2012 11:02 am
    love the headline. "toungue lashing." One might get the impression there was a roomfull of angry protesters...instead we find its half a dozen college kids on "summer Vacation. from MSU. Maybe at the next protest, the proffesors could drive more of them over. Don't worry kids, Coal is dead, until the next nat. gas price spike. And maybe throw in a couple blackouts down the road.
  5. Stan Reck
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    Stan Reck - August 04, 2012 7:21 am
    Boo hoo....
  6. walter12
    Report Abuse
    walter12 - August 04, 2012 7:20 am
    With all the huge problems this nation has now and faces in the future, and these fools are protesting coal, what idiocy. What the heck is wrong with coal?
  7. GaryTinkSanders
    Report Abuse
    GaryTinkSanders - August 03, 2012 11:28 pm
    Where do these blue skyers come up with these idiotic statements, coal is not a boom or bust industry since it started in the 1880 and has ran consistently until present time (132 years of coal production is not boom or bust, it is steady industry that families for generations can count on). The rail systems being clogged! Who do you think is in charge of the rail system, it surely isn't the mayor and the city council of Missoula, they could clog anything. If you blue skies don't like the pollution then you should have thought about it before you ran the resources out of this country where we have guidelines and regulations to a country with none and no morals. Their pollution is a direct result of your actions.
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