AG should seek more facts on coal, not fewer

2013-12-10T07:18:00Z AG should seek more facts on coal, not fewerGuest column by STEVE CHARTER missoulian.com
December 10, 2013 7:18 am  • 

Just who is Tim Fox working for anyway? Recently, Montana’s Attorney General sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the state of Washington urging them not to study a proposed coal port’s impacts on Montana. The proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal at Longview, Wash., would ship about 48 million tons of Wyoming and Montana coal to Asia each year.

Northern Plains Resource Council is disappointed that our Attorney General – who is supposed to represent Montana’s citizens and communities – has taken such a position before all the facts are known about what increased coal export train traffic will mean to us. Fox’s letter is in sharp contrast to the comments sent by several Montana towns, state legislators, public health boards, and more than 1,000 Montanans who asked that the impacts this coal port would have on Montana be included. In sending his letter, Fox has sided with coal companies against Montana communities and Montana citizens.

Asia gets the energy, we pay the costs

Increased coal train traffic that would result from the Longview coal port would cause significant consequences all the way back through Montana to the coal mines. Billings, Columbus, Livingston, Bozeman, Helena, Missoula, Great Falls, Shelby, Whitefish, and all the smaller towns and communities in between will experience the impacts. If the coal companies’ export plans ramp up to what they are projecting, Montana could see a doubling (or more) of the number of coal trains passing through our communities each day. This increase in coal train traffic will create financial costs to citizens and communities, and affect health, public safety and day-to-day life.

While coal exports to Asia would generate billions in profits for coal and railroad companies, it is local tax dollars that will have to be spent to upgrade crossings and other infrastructure in communities that face increased coal traffic. Unless something changes, we – not the railroads – will be the ones paying for overpasses and quiet zones.

Montanans shouldn’t be forced to subsidize coal exports to Asia by funding these projects, but that is exactly what would happen if Fox gets his way.

Coal’s toll on land and water

Northern Plains and other Montanans have real concerns about increased coal strip mining.

The destruction of land – often productive agricultural land – is obvious. Less obvious is the damage to aquifers. Coal seams are filled with water, but strip mining tears open these aquifers, drying up springs and wells, damaging agriculture and wildlife. And coal strip mines have a dismal record when it comes to reclaiming the land and water they disturb. In a 2011 report, Montana’s Department of Environmental Quality listed only 12,412 acres of land surface reclaimed to pre-mining soil and vegetative conditions out of the 38,561 acres that have been strip mined. Even more disturbing, complete reclamation – meaning restoration of aquifers – has only been achieved on 57 acres – or 0.1 percent of the mined land.

To make it worse, the ill-conceived Tongue River Railroad will condemn and tear apart good Montana ranchland – people’s private property – as it starts that coal on the long journey to Asia.

Why has Fox hired an out-of-state consultant (at taxpayer expense) to lobby for this coal-to-Asia scheme while disregarding Montanans he was elected to represent?

Consistent with the coal industry’s history, this entire boondoggle rests upon shoving costs onto the public. So why is Fox advocating for it? Exports would only give coal companies the profits, Asia the energy, and leave Montanans paying the costs. Our state deserves better.

Steve Charter of Shepherd ranches above an underground coal mine in Montana’s Bull Mountains, and is the newly elected chair of Northern Plains Resource Council.

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(3) Comments

  1. BobbyT
    Report Abuse
    BobbyT - December 12, 2013 1:48 pm
    Fox is working for Montanans, and if I lived in Helena I'd go to his office and shake his hand for doing so.

    "Our state deserves better" the author says. Actually, we deserve to know who's funding the Northern Plains Resource Council and the Montana Environmental Information Center. More dark money at work, I'll bet.
  2. Dubs
    Report Abuse
    Dubs - December 11, 2013 10:20 am
    NPRC is well know for costing jobs and spending a lot of money. Tim Fox always looks out for Montanans, and will occasionally step on the toes of groups like yours. NPEC, Sierra Club, Earth First and your other associates all have one agenda--eliminate people from the equation and save everything for animals. Sorry pal.
  3. jus wundrin
    Report Abuse
    jus wundrin - December 10, 2013 2:49 pm
    "Just who is Tim Fox working for anyway?"

    The folks that voted him to office, and not your good paying job obstructionist group.Think about that next time your group holds Montanans hostage from moving forward to prosperity.
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