Posts Tagged ‘ Mining ’

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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Land Board waffles, Hellgate High School students protest Otter Creek lease

On Tuesday, February 16, the Montana State Land Board once again made a mockery of the “democratic process,” ignoring the solid and heartfelt arguments of the public as it moved to give Otter Creek away for a pittance, caving under pressure from mega-corporation Arch Coal. At the previous meeting of the Board, a bonus bid of 25 cents per ton was set as a supposed minimum sale price to avoid subsidizing controversial aspects of the Otter Creek mining proposal, such as the Tongue River Railroad. However, a majority of the board members are apparently so desperate to destroy the pristine alluvial Otter Creek valley in southeastern Montana that when no companies accepted the already undervalued price by the February 9 bidding deadline, they voted 3-2 to lower the asking price and try again.

February 16th Mt Land Board meeting

Environmentalists, Northern Cheyenne tribal members, educators, students, ranchers, business people, and Northern Rockies Rising Tide attended the meeting to tell the land board to stop the proposed ecocide at Otter Creek. Gov. Brian Schweitzer received particular attention from the public commenters as he was confronted about his corrupt business affairs such as the $100,000 campaign contribution he reportedly received from Arch Coal Co., the primary corporate interest in Otter Creek.

The only response the land board received by the February 9 bidding deadline was a letter from Ark Land Co., an Arch Coal subsidiary, asking for the price to be lowered. Arch Coal already holds the lease on adjoining coal tracts owned by Houston-based Great Northern Properties. As the state and private lands are positioned in checkerboard fashion, it is widely accepted that the coal could not be feasibly mined by Arch without access to both the Great Northern and Montana School Trust Lands at Otter Creek.

As opponents to mining at Otter Creek faced an increased number of comments by mining proponents, primarily paid union officials pontificating to the all-democrat Land Board about job creation, the meeting took on a more contentious tone than previous ones. Testimony included more direct verbal attacks on the land board members themselves, particularly the Governor. One protester breifly shouted down Gov. Schweitzer about ten minutes into the his twenty minute speech justifying the leasing of Otter Creek (a speech so full of strange non sequiters, including a very bizarre metaphor comparing democracy to a grapefruit, that many of the Governor’s listeners walked away more confused than convinced). As Schweitzer was rambling on about coal bid prices and other purposely convoluted economic rhetoric, the person in the “peanut gallery” yelled out “Your three minutes are up, Governor!” referring to the three minute time-limit set on public comments.

Hellgate students at the courthouse

Students from Hellgate high School in Missoula, MT march against the leasing of the Otter Creek Coal Tracts

Only Denise Juneau, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Steve Bullock, Montana Attorney General, voted against lowering the bid price.

Later in the afternoon on February 16, students from Hellgate High School in Missoula marched with chants and picket signs from their school, across the Higgins Street Bridge on the Clark Fork River, to the Missoula County courthouse in protest of the Land Board’s plans to give away Otter Creek to be mined. This is the second protest by high school students in as many weeks about Otter Creek. One week prior, on February 9, students from nearby Big Sky High School left class early in a similar protest.

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Watch the Video:

See our VIDEOS page for full testimonials from Helena.

No bids on Otter Creek, students stage walkout.

The Montana State Land Board received no bids for Otter Creek coal by the 5pm deadline Monday, February 8th.  Though four of the five members of the Land Board voted to receive bids from companies to mine 616 million tons of coal at Otter Creek, near Ashland, MT, the only response submitted was a letter from Ark Land Co. saying that the price was too high.  Ark, a subsidiary of St. Louis based Arch Coal Co., and infamous for swindling property owners out of their families’ lands in Appalachia for King Coal’s war on mountain tops, is reported to have stated that the royalty price of 12.5 percent was more than Ark is willing to pay.  Though no alternative royalty rate appears to have been suggested, state law requires a minimum of 10.5 percent for coal mined from any state-owned land in Montana.

The Land Board convenes next Tuesday, February 16th, in Helena to discuss their next course of action.  They have the option of lowering either the royalty or bonus bid prices in hopes of winning over some bidders.  They could also decide to stay true to some board members’ December 21, 2009 affirmations that the state will not subsidize Otter Creek development through rock-bottom prices.

“The State of Montana will not subsidize the Tongue River Railroad,” said Gov. Schweitzer during the December 21st meeting, referring to the rail line proposed to provide easy access for Otter Creek coal to the national rail system.  The railroad has been opposed by area property owners and ranchers for over three decades due to excessive ecological, social and economic impacts it would impose on the Tongue River area.

Big Sky students rally against Otter Creek coal.

In Missoula on Tuesday, February 9th, about 100 students from Big Sky High School walked out of class early to protest the proposed leasing of Otter Creek coal, and to send a message to the Land Board that students do not want coal mined in their names.  The Otter Creek coal tracts are located under state school-trust lands, which means all income the state receives from exploitation of those lands should be used to fund the state’s education system.  After leaving classes in defiance of Big Sky administrators’ efforts to enforce school authority, many students then marched about a mile to the busy intersection of South & Reserve where they held a rally, chanting slogans such as “No blood for money!  We gotta keep Otter Creek!”

“We, as students from Big Sky High School, do not want our school funding to come from coal,” said Allison Lawrence, one of the protesters at the rally.  “We would rather live with old books than get blood money for shiny new computers.”

Students walking out of class in protest.

On Thursday, February 11, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation will submit its official recommendation to the Land Board about a next course of action to be taken at the February 16 meeting.  It is worth mentioning that the only member of the Land Board to vote against leasing Otter Creek at the last meeting is Denise Juneau, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the very institution that would supposedly benefit financially from mining Otter Creek!  If other members who voted for leasing the coal tracts only on the condition of getting maximum income from the lease stay true to their words, then next week’s meeting could result in an end to this whole misguided attempt to destroy pristine Montana land.  A refusal to lower the bid and royalty prices may effectively protect Otter Creek… for now.

Join Northern Rockies Rising Tide and others at the next Land Board meeting, 9:00am on Tuesday, February 16, 2010 at the Montana State Capitol in Helena.  Help us make sure that Montana’s top politicians know that their attempts to mine Otter Creek are lacking the consent of Montanans!

Otter Creek: We’re not done yet.

On December 21st the Montana State Land Board opened the bidding process to lease the coal beneath Otter Creek. All bids are due by the end of the day on February 8th. By the 9th we should know what kind of bids were recieved. At the next Land Board meeting, on February 16th, the decision to accept or reject a bid will be made. Three things could happen:

1. The Land Board recieves the full asking bid of $.25/ton of coal and approves (or rejects) the lease right then and there.

2. The Land Board recieves a bid of less than the asking price, under $.25/ton. They then debate whether to reduce the price and accept (or reject) the under-bid.

3. The Land Board recieves no bid at all. They then debate whether to lower the asking price or reject leasing Otter Creek altogether.

Through all this, there is one important thing to remember: the Land Board made the decision to open the bidding process thinking that Montanans didn’t care about Otter Creek, that it wasn’t important to us.  On December 21st the Land Board heard more public testimony in opposition to the Otter Creek lease proposal than it had for any other single issue…ever.

After the meeting, their decision received widespread media attention which catalyzed a steady flow of calls to the LB, letters to the editor, and public pressure all touting the danger of leasing Otter Creek. This pressure has had an effect, and we need to keep it up. Call the Land Board and tell them what you think about Otter Creek, write a letter to the editor supporting Denise Juneau and asking the rest to follow her example, and check back here for upcoming actions, protests, and media events.

Background on Otter Creek and the proposal can be found here

If you want to be a part of the planning process for any of this, please stop by our weekly meetings.

Background on the Otter Creek Coal Tracts

photo courtesy of the Billings Gazette

The Montana State Land Board, consisting of the five top elected officials in the state and chaired by the Governor, “manages” the use of state-owned land as a source of revenue, most notably to fund schools with.  Any exploitation of public lands bodes well for these politicians, all democrats, because it “benefits the children of Montana”.  The State stands to earn a couple hundred million dollars over the course of several decades by allowing Arch Coal to dig up 1.3 billion tons of coal from under the Otter Creek Valley.

If the 1.3 billion tons of coal are extracted, this will result in 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), the primary climate-change causing greenhouse gas, being emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere either during the mining and transport process or when the coal is burned.  This will effectively double or triple the rate of carbon emissions for the state of Montana over the three decades that Otter Creek coal is expected to last if it is mined.

The coal under Otter Creek is rather high in sodium, as coal-ore goes.  There are currently only a few coal-fired power plants in the United States designed to handle this type of coal, so the market for it will likely not even be in the U.S.  Not a problem for Arch Coal, which has already admitted that it plans to ship the coal overseas if that is what it takes to find buyers.

The plan for transporting the coal to market involves construction of the Tongue River Railroad, which would carry the coal approximately 120 miles north to link into the national rail system.  This rail would potentially destroy cultural and archeological sites important to many Northern Cheyenne families who have current and former homesteads along the river as well as cut across many settlers’ pasture lands, fracturing their ranches into two, restricting free access to all parts of their range and restricting livestock and wildlife free access to the river for drinking.  The ranchers would need to install expensive and inefficient irrigation systems to sustain their stock.  The railroad would add toxins and sediments to the Tongue River, threatening the ecological stability of the river, as well as two managed fisheries in particular.  And the traffic from repeated trains passing through settlements, including within feet of an elementary school, would cause extensive and unnecessary hardship on communities.

Many rivers around the globe have already been pronounced “biologically dead” due to release of mine waste (called tailings) containing rocks, metals and poisons into lakes and waterways.  Aquatic plant and animal life are choked with toxic sediment.  Surface mining of coal completely eliminates existing vegetation and destroys biological soil structure, creating a biological vacuum for noxious weeds to take over after the mining ends.  This loss of biological diversity extends to animal life also.

So called “clean coal technology” is a myth, because all other arguments aside, coal is always dirty at the point of extraction.  Blasting of soil and exhaust from machinery degrades air quality near mines.  Sedimentation and runoff of industrial chemicals and acid rock drainage degrade water quality.  And blasting, digging, bulldozing and other mine activities, as well as chemicals and heavy metals left as waste degrade soil quality.  Methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than CO2, may be released by mining.

Short-term jobs created by this developement would be overshadowed by the long-term effects on the land, air, water, climate and social health of Montana’s and the whole Earth’s communities.  Financial benefits to Montana’s students have even been snubbed by some of the students themselves, preferring to have an inhabitable planet instead.

On December 21, 2009, the State Land Board voted on whether to lease the public portions of the Otter Creek checkerboard area for coal mining.  Despite heavy public opposition and testimony, the board voted 4 to 1 to lease the land.  Denise Juneau, Superintendent of Public Instruction (the very department which stood to gain directly from mining Otter Creek), was the lone dissenter.  In her statement of opposition she said, “We could sell every parcel of state land and log every tree on state lands, but we don’t. We don’t because we want to sustain Montana’s lands for the future beneficial use. That is sound stewardship.”

Denise Juneau votes in favor of future generations

Denise Juneau, Montana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, showed courage and wisdom in her comments explaining why she voted against the leasing of the Otter Creek Coal Tracts on December 21.  She was the only member of the five person State Land Board to do so.

This is a huge issue for many Montanans. I know we have all heard many arguments, both pro and con, from hundreds of citizens all across this state. I appreciated our public hearings in Miles City and Lame Deer, in addition to all the public comment at our meetings here in Helena. I value all of the input and advice that poured in from many different fronts, tribal, county, business, environmental, political, and industry. This decision is not easy, and I know each of us spent hours reading, discussing, and meeting about this issue and I respect every board member’s vote Monday. After weighing every component and factor, I have come to the conclusion that I must vote “no” on going forward to lease the Otter Creek tracts.

Those who support development might say that I am not meeting my fiduciary responsibility by refusing a simple “yes” vote. A “yes” vote might result in bonus bid funds to off-set general fund obligations of the legislature. It is not that simple, however. A “yes” vote would not necessarily be in the best interests of the school trust beneficiaries. It is time for us to be visionary. We cannot vote as if we have blinders on and only see our present economic picture. We must take lessons from the past 7 generations and also look forward and provide for the interests of the next 7 generations.

Of course there is value in mining the coal, potentially a lot of money over the next 40-50 years, but there is also value in keeping Montana “Montana.” A large part of Montana’s economic history is from extracting non-renewable resources. We are all familiar with Berkley Pit, the mining consequences at the Milltown Dam, and the physical and financial repercussions of the vermiculite mine in Libby.

There is an argument that the immediate value gained in extracting this finite resource might be lost in other, tangible costs to the state and its people, including school children. Montana’s future economy and the sustainable value to the school trust lands could very well be in preserving the land for future beneficiaries. Whether for other purposes or future development, technology continues to advance. The coal is not going anywhere. It is entirely possible that these lands will only become more valuable.

Critics might also say a “no” vote means I don’t support our schools. That is just silly, of course I support our schools. I support our schools so much that I ran for the office that oversees all of our public schools. We need to remember the amount of funding going to our schools is a decision for the legislature, and is not based on this vote. I am not turning my back on money for schools. I am upholding my duty and my responsibility to the children of this great state and saying that the greatest value and the best use of that land should not be determined by this board Monday.

The land board has been diligent in its development of resources and leasing of lands all across this state. We could sell every parcel of state land and log every tree on state lands, but we don’t. We don’t because we want to sustain Montana’s lands for the future beneficial use. That is sound stewardship.

In this case, development is a one shot deal. The determination of the real value of this land should not hinge on this vote. I cannot in good faith vote to disregard the future potential of these lands.

Thank you Governor for allowing me this explanation of my vote Monday.

Montana Land Board opens the door for coal extraction.

  

A protestor on the capitol steps.

 

Helena, MT – The Montana State Land Board, which overseas the use of state lands as sources of revenue for Montana’s schools, paved the way for climate change and environmental destruction in a show of blatant contempt for the democratic process on this winter solstice.  In a “public” meeting at the state capitol the Board, comprised of the state’s top elected officials, including Governor Schweitzer, heard testimony from about thirty citizens opposed to the proposal that the Board allow a checkerboard of public lands in southeastern Montana known as the Otter Creek Coal Tracts to be destroyed by the highest bidder.  Commentors included ranchers who implored the board not to let the ranchers’ lands be cut in two by the Tongue River Railroad (a key component of mine developement plans at Otter Creek), high school students and teachers who flatly stated that they would rather go unfunded than accept money from coal exploitation, environmental groups and individuals.  Northern Rockies Rising Tide was among the attendees. 

A student tells the land board that she doesn’t want their coal money.

Following a short rally on the capitol steps, opponents of the mining plan filled the hearing room with people, banners and picket signs, leading Governor Schweitzer to condescendingly compare the scene to that at a football game and dubbed it “festive”.  It was not a game to the protestors, some of whom looked the Board members in the eyes and went on public record calling mining of Otter Creek “ecocide” and the revenue from it “blood money”. 

After pretending to listen to all the testimony and patronizingly complimenting the youngest of the speakers for participating in the “democratic” process, the Board members read their pre-written statements of support for the motion and cast their votes in favor of mining Otter Creek.  The only dissenter was Denise Juneau, Superintendent of Public Instruction, the official in charge of the very institution which stood to gain financially from Otter Creek Coal.  While the other Board members hid behind the cover of “responsibility”, saying that the constitution required them to take the money, Juneau took the approach of “accountability” to the students she oversees, choosing instead to try to protect their futures. 

The fight to save Otter Creek is only just beginning.  With this unfortunate first vote, the process of taking bids from coal companies seeking “rights” to the lands is underway.  The highest bidder is expected to be Arch Coal, Inc.  For more mainstream perspective click here

Two Rising Tide activists hold up a banner where it could not be ignored.

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