Montana Environmental Information Center

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Montana Coal Exports

Montana Coal Exports

Coal train passing under the Missoula North Side Pedestrian Bridge. Photo by Chad Harder.

As demand for coal in the United States slowly but steadily wanes with the recognition that burning coal is extremely costly for public health and the environment, coal developers are increasingly looking towards Montana Coal Exports to feed the booming Asian economy and maintain their profit levels. Currently, the volume of U.S. coal exports is fairly minimal, but with increased rail capacity and established shipping terminals, coal exports could increase to 140 million tons per year. Coal developers have stated publicly that they are looking to Asia for customers, and there are several active proposals in different stages for establishing West Coast Shipping Terminals to increase export capabilities.

Impacts on Montana Communities

The impacts of increased Montana coal exports to Montana communities will primarily be felt through a heavy increase in train traffic.

Montana coal exports also ignores the offshore impacts of toxic air pollution and climate change that will continue to pollute and degrade Montana’s environment. Quit simply, we can export the coal, but we cannot export the problem.

Montana Coal Exports: The Tongue River Railroad

On December 17, 2012, two months after submitting an application for a new rail line, and after all of the public hearings, the Tongue River Railroad submitted a new application to the Surface Transportation Board. The new application makes it perfectly clear, this coal is intended to go through the proposed west coast terminals and off to Asian markets.The newest route would build the railroad from Otter Creek to existing rail lines in Colstrip. MEIC and EarthJustice Comments on new route.

Tongue River Valley, site of proposed Tongue River Railroad.

The proposed Tongue River Railroad and Otter Creek Mine are dependent on each other. Arch Coal leased 1.3 billion tons of coal in the Otter Creek area. It has told the state it wants a permit for an even larger area, over 18,000 acres in total. If that coal is dug up and hauled off, the inevitable burning of the coal will result in over 2.6 billion tons of greenhouse gases going into an already overloaded atmosphere.

Who Owns the Tongue River Railroad? Burlington Northern, Arch Coal, and billionaire Forrest Mars, Jr. Forrest Mars, Jr., who fought the railroad to protect his ranch but once he acquired an ownership interest in the railroad, and protected his land, he supported the railroad and is willing to risk other landowner’s property and livelihoods — landowners who have actually been on the land for multiple generations.