Coal Export Action Media: Determined Anti-Coal Activists Occupy Montana Capitol

Determined Anti-Coal Activists Occupy Montana 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 350.org, 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 350.org.  “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 kdyer@ran.org or call (415) 866-0005.

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