Archive for the ‘ Otter Creek ’ Category

Like we said, Otter Creek funds will not support Montana schools

So here it is. After months of public comment in opposition to the Otter Creek coal lease, after public protests from every corner of the state, and even after five activists tried to halt the ‘yes’ vote to lease coal in the State capital building less than a month ago, the Montana State Land Board still leased Otter Creek. Because of the actions of various organizations and individuals opposed to the lease, Otter Creek gained increasing national attention, and in many ways the coal fight waged in Appalachia has begun to move west. But let’s settle for a moment on a more local issue that persisted throughout the Otter Creek sale.

The issue was the awkward shift in Schweitzer’s and the Land Board’s rhetoric regarding how the lease money would be spent. The shift regards Montana’s public schools.

Both Brian Schweitzer and Linda McCulloch, in an effort to move public opinion in favor of the lease, “promised” that the money would be used to support Montana’s public schools, institutions that certainly need all the financial help they can get right now. In fact, according to Article X, Section 5 of the Montana State Constitution, 95 percent of the revenue generated from such a sale should be apportioned to the public school system with the remaining five percent headed for the permanent trust. However, the law has been interpreted by state policy makers over the years in such a way that schools see almost no benefit from the sale of public lands. When money from leases goes into the school pot, the same amount of money is taken out of the part of the general fund that also supports public education. The result for Montana schools in terms of an increase in funding? Zero.

Governor Schweitzer knew this. So, when high school students and teachers began talking about this very slippery and possibly unconstitutional loophole months ago, certain members of the Land Board shut their mouths and song and danced their way off the education funding stage. The theater they turned to next, however, was the Land Board meetings themselves, where the Governor promised money to anybody and everybody that could make him, and his dirty coal lease, look good.

Now, much of the money that was promised on that public stage was, and is, desperately needed by those groups, but in many ways Schweitzer had no real ability to promise Otter Creek coal cash to fund them. His only real decision in the matter was whether or not to cut funding to those groups in this time of financial crisis. It is the role of the 2011 legislature to decide how the $85 million from the Otter Creek lease, or rather the $85 million in relieved general funds, should be spent, not the Governor’s.

So, what was all that brouhaha about promised funds for disabled benefits and teachers and schools across the state? Theater. It was the stage of public relations upon which the façade of public support was erected.

Schweitzer needed this sale to look good, and in many ways the recent blackmailing of public officials was just an attempt to pick up the fallen PR pieces from the sale itself. But, the blackmailing backfired and we were given another round to wage the fight against the leasing of Otter Creek resulting in the retraction of the letter requirement amidst national negative attention for the Governor.

So in the end, schools probably won’t get their money, and many of those who were promised funds by the Governor might not see a dime either. But, if they do, it won’t be Schweitzer’s fault.

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Northern Rockies Rising Tide Blackmails the Governor

Members of Northern Rockies Rising Tide and several members of the Missoula community hit the streets during last night’s First Friday to give Brian Schweitzer a taste of his own medicine. That being, of course, blackmail–or rather, black mail. In response to Schweitzer’s request that community leaders write letters of approval regarding his decision to lease the Otter Creek coal tracts to Arch Coal Inc. before he will release frozen Stimulus funds, NRRT passed out over 400 envelopes addressed to the governor, each literally containing a piece of black mail, and urged community members to affix their own return address and mail them in.

Schweitzer’s decision to lease Otter Creek has been faced with widespread opposition from environmental advocates, high schoolers, ranchers, and other Montana citizens. His reasoning, that he doesn’t want “any community to use coal money that didn’t want to use coal money,” is obviously a thinly veiled attempt to bolster his approval ratings, and apparently, Schweitzer would rather twist the arms of Montana’s communities than face the reality that his decision is an unpopular one.

Breaking News: Governor Schweitzer a Total Scheisser

Montana’s Coal Cowboy Attempts to Blackmail Local Officials to Support Coal Mine.

Governor Schweitzer–in what is very likely a violation of the Montana State Constitution and most certainly a violation of what most nice, respectable people consider to be civil and decent–is attempting to coerce county governments to proclaim their support for the State Land Board’s recent decision to undersell 572 million tons of coal reserves in the Otter Creek valley to mining giant Arch Coal.

Schweitzer, apparently, sees it as a grave injustice to allow communities that do not support coal development (“whether because they don’t live near hydrocarbon production or other reasons,” in the words of the infinitely wise and eloquent governor himself) to receive state money garnered from said development.

Aside from the blatant illegality of withholding state stimulus funds from local officials until they pay Schweitzer his desired ransom (namely, their dignity), the point that the governor is trying to make (“if you don’t like America, you should move your ungrateful commie ass back to Russia,” essentially) is also problematic. It is this very logic which has, throughout the years, guided the Coal Cowboy in his myopic and asinine political crusade on behalf of the fossil fuels industry.

The issue of Otter Creek coal, however, is not: If we don’t strip mine our last remaining hydrocarbon resources, then we won’t have any money for roads, education, disability services, etc. That’s a ruse, a false dichotomy.

Rather, the actual and utterly exigent problem we face today, right now, here in the real world, runs more along these lines: if we don’t make immediate and dramatic reductions in carbon emissions (from coal and other fossil fuels) then we will continue to see an increase in global-warming caused natural disasters, eventually resulting in an unstoppable positive feedback loop of catastrophic proportions–a total global calamity who’s victims will be (and already are) the people who have contributed the least to its cause.

For more on this, check out:

George Ochenski’s perspicacious observations in the Missoula Independent

The New York Times out-of-state-take on the issue.

The Missoulian’s philosophy on the subject

The Governor’s blackmail letter to the Missoula County Commissioners.

Northern Rockies RT Shuts Down Land Board Meeting!

Five activists with Northern Rockies Rising Tide (NRRT) shut down a meeting of the Montana State Land Board in Helena, MT last Thursday, temporarily halting the leasing of 572 million tons of state-owned coal reserves. Following over two hours of public comment regarding the leasing of the Otter Creek Coal Tracts and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch’s move to accept the bid, the five activists staged a sit-in, disrupting the meeting as they chanted “You’re not listening! Hands off Otter Creek!” Rushing the front of the Land Board meeting room and locked down to each, the activists refused to leave until the decision to accept the bid was tabled indefinitely (or they were arrested). After halting the bidding process for nearly an hour all five were finally arrested and taken to the Lewis and Clark County Jail with charges of disorderly conduct. All five posted bail and were released Thursday evening.

Unfortunately, after the sit-in was broken up by the police the Land Board proceeded to award the lease to mine the Otter Creek coal tracts to Ark Land Company, a subsidiary of mining industry giant Arch Coal Inc., for just under $86 million, or 15 cents per ton of coal.

After spending months submitting public comments, writing letters to the editor, testifying in front of the Land Board, and taking all possible action within official channels, opponents of the lease (ranchers, high school students, environmental justice advocates, and other Montana citizens) realized what they had suspected all along: the supposedly democratic process for leasing state lands in Montana is far from democratic.

From every corner of the state Montanans have overwhelmingly vocalized their opposition to the lease (including high school walkouts and other public demonstrations), but three of the five members of the Land Board–Governor Schweitzer, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, and State Auditor Monica Lindeen–have refused to stand up to the pressures of “King Coal.” In particular, the NRRT activists complained that the impact of Otter Creek coal on climate change was not taken into account. In fact, at one of the Land Board hearings Gov. Schweitzer refused to allow activists to talk about climate change because he said that the issue of the Otter Creek Coal Tracts is not about coal burning but is strictly about coal mining. Unless he’s going to turn coal into freakin’ chocolate brownies it’s hard to see his logic there. What else do you do with coal but burn it (well, liquefy it, but that’s not Arch’s plan, nor is it a solution to the climate crisis)?

The Otter Creek coal tracts are located in southeastern Montana in the northern Powder River Basin. They are arranged in a “checkerboard” land ownership pattern whereby the state of Montana owns half of the tracts and Great Northern Properties owns the other rest. Great Northern Properties’ portion of the tracts were leased to Arch Coal in November. Overall the Otter Creek tracts contain about 1.3 billion tons of coal.

Otter Creek opponents also believe that the development of the Otter Creek tracts is sending Montana down a slippery slope of coal development that will lead to a windfall of strip mining operations in the region, replete with the usual environmental and social catastrophes. Currently, there is very little railroad infrastructure in the northern Powder River Basin. By leasing the Otter Creek tracts the Montana state government has guaranteed that the Tongue River Railroad will be built, which will open up the northern

Powder River Basin to massive coal development. The northern Powder River Basin alone (not including Wyoming’s portion of the Powder River Basin) contains approximately 9% of the entire world’s coal reserves.

Leasing the Otter Creek coal tracts would not only devastate the communities through which the Tongue River Railroad would pass, but, as we all now know, we must immediately stop burning coal and other hydrocarbons if we are to avert a total global disaster. According to Nobel laureate and University of Montana professor Steve Running, “This is where the rubber meets the road,” in terms of climate change.

When the coal from the Otter Creek Tracts is burned in coal fired power plants it will release approximately 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The burning of this coal will most likely not be in the U.S. In November, when Arch Coal leased Great Northern Properties’ coal, they said as much: Faced with the possibility of national climate legislation and carbon caps, Arch, as always, is on the forefront of innovative corporate solutions–they’ll just ship their coal to Asian markets where they won’t have to worry about such progressive restraints on the free market.

The land that contains the Otter Creek coal reserves belongs to the Montana State School Trust. The state of Montana owns 6 million acres of such land and leases out this land for various ventures such as resource extraction projects, cattle grazing allotments, and even a few wind farms. The money from these projects funds the K-12 school system. The Otter Creek Coal mine will be the largest single project ever on School Trust Land and will ensure that Montana’s school system will be funded by dirty coal money for years to come. In February, outrage over the leasing of Otter Creek grew among high school students to the point that there were a series of high school walkouts in which Montana’s students stated loud and clear “no dirty coal money for textbooks and computers!”

Ironically on the same day the Otter Creek Coal Tracts were leased, Federal District Judge Malloy in Missoula, MT suspended 38,000 acres of oil and gas leases on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land in Montana as a result of a law suit brought by the Montana Environmental Information Center, the Oil and Gas Accountability Project and Wild Earth Guardians. The environmental groups sued the BLM on the grounds that the oil and gas drilling process releases too much methane into the air. Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas then carbon dioxide and approximately 23% of all U.S. methane emissions are from oil and gas leasing projects. Another major source of methane is from coalbed methane, and is released during the process of coal mining. Given that most of the coal in the Powder River Basin is on public land owned by the federal government, as well as MT and WY state governments, it will be interesting to see in the coming years if this will also become a strategy to stop coal mines on public lands.

The fight to stop the Otter Creek coal mine is just beginning, and we’re not going to stop until we win. Hands off Otter Creek!

New York Times

Politics News

Billings Gazette

It’s Getting Hot In Here Blog

Land Board decides to lease Otter Creek Coal tracts! (Tomorrow!!!)

Come to Helena tomorrow to tell the Land Board Hands Off Otter Creek Coal!

This is it folks…our last chance to tell the Land Board to not develop any new coal on our State School Trust Lands.  Tomorrow at 9am at the State Capitol Building in Helena the MT State Land Board will make a decision that will effect the future of our climate.  The Land Board will vote on whether or not to accept a bid submitted yesterday by Ark Land Co. (a subsidiary of the world’s second largest coal mining company Arch Coal) of nearly $86 million on the 572 million tons of state owned coal in the Otter Creek Coal Tracts.
Arch Coal has already won a contract to lease the privately owned portion of Otter Creek which makes for a grand total of 1.3 BILLION tons of coal to be mined.  This will produce 2.6 BILLION tons of CO2 emissions when the coal is burned.  And to make matters worse Arch coal has said that most of this coal will be sent to China and India to be burned making this coal exempt from pending climate legislation in the U.S.
This is our last chance to publicly speak out to the Land Board!

Come with us tomorrow and give the Land Board an earful about how mining and burning that much coal just plain sucks.  After all, the only way to truly sequester carbon is to LEAVE IT IN THE GROUND!
Contact us for rideshare information.

Statewide Day of Action Against Otter Creek Coal

On, Tuesday, March 16  citizens from around the state marched against the Land Board’s proposal to Lease Otter Creek. The statewide

Mr. Kins if you please
Statewide day of action again Otter Creek Coal Lease

day of action was held to urge the remaining members of the Land Board to nix the project to lease 1.3 billion tons of coal beneath Otter Creek to mining giant Ark Land Co., a subsidiary of Arch Coal Inc.

Montana currently boasts only a few small coal mines within the state boarders, but some of the biggest reserves in the country. And, just over the line in Wyoming at the largest coal strip mines in the country, industry tears at the land, poisons the water, and disregards the rights of locals, which is exactly what is now being proposed for Montana. Arch Coal has just recently integrated itself into the largest mine in the Powder River Basin through the purchase of the Jacobson Ranch, and they are looking to expand their reach into Montana markets. The company has also stated publicly that they intend to sell the coal they mine at Otter Creek to expanding Asian markets, thereby circumventing any possibility of strong climate legislation on the national level.

From all ends of the state, Montanan’s have vocally opposed the lease proposal through rallies, written comments, public testimony periods, and actions. This Thursday (Tomorrow!) the Land Board will decide whether to lease the coal once and for all, deciding the fate not only of those who live in Otter Creek, but of all Montanans.

Otter Creek Catering Co. Serves Land Board Just Desserts

“This stuff is just so versatile, I can’t believe people can’t eat it!”
-Brian Schweitzer
Chairman of Otter Creek Catering Co.

Menu

Otter Creek Catering Co. Menu

Saturday evening, March 13th, Democrats from around the state gathered to preform their ceremonial duties of boozing, schmoozing, and chewing at the annual Mansfield-Metcalf Dinner in Helena. Per the special request of the three remaining Land Board members still intent on leasing the Otter Creek coal tracts (Brian Schweitzer, Linda McCulluch, and Monica Lineen), the Otter Creek Catering Company was invited to provide appetizers and entrées for the event.

The Catering Company, chaired by the venerable Governor Schweitzer, offered Democrats generous helpings of the only thing the Land Board deems fit to come from Otter Creek: coal.

In addition to serving entering Democrats delectable dishes of bitumen (slow roasted in a subtle but succulent sulfur-thorium seasoning, suggesting undertones of mercury), the Catering Co. also provided dinner guests with menus detailing the Company’s other exquisite options for the evening. Among the most popular dishes of the night were the Open Pit Roast, the Fly Ash Salad, the Strip Mine Steak, and for dessert, Settling Pond-ue and Dead Mousse.

In addition to giving the Otter Creek Catering Co. the contract for Saturday’s event,  Schweitzer, McCulloch, and Lindeen, being such friends of coal, invited coal himslef to the dinner. Mr. Otter Crick, a representative from the northern Powder River Basin, was selected by the governor himself to greet the dinner guests on behalf of all Montana bitu-men.

Otter Creek Catering Co.

Otter Creek Catering Company: Serving the Land Board just desserts

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