Otter Creek Coal Tracts
When the State Land Board leased Montana’s share of the 1.3 billion tons of coal at Otter Creek, Montana, it failed miserably in weighing the environmental and economic consequences of the lease or to consider any alternatives that might be more beneficial to the State. MEIC and Sierra Club, represented by Earthjustice, have filed suit against the Land Board over that failure.
The leasing of the Otter Creek Coal Tracts has set in motion a series of events that will have profound impacts on local farmers and ranchers, ground and surface water resources, and the abundant wildlife in the area. It will also have a tremendous impact on the State’s economy. Many of those impacts will not be as positive as suggested by the pro-mining land board members. The short-term revenues may be welcome in the struggling economy, but the long-term impacts of adding 2.5 billion tons of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere when the coal is burned will have extremely negative impacts on the global climate and Montana’s economy.
The Land Board should have answered several questions prior to approving the lease for developing the Otter Creek Coal Tracts:
- Is it really in Montana’s best interest to lease all of its coal at one time, or could it have gained more income by leasing it in stages?
- Should the State government spur the development of the Tongue River Railroad, thereby opening up even more coal to mining?
- Should Montana coal be shipped to Asian markets?
- Are the environmental and economic impacts of climate change on agriculture, water resources, wildlife, and national security worth the short-term revenue?
The leased lands are Montana school trust lands, which the Land Board is constitutionally mandated to manage for present and future generations. Without first answering these questions, the Land Board could not possibly make a reasoned decision in the long-term best interest of the State. MEIC and Sierra Club believe the failure to consider these issues is a breach of the Board’s duty to manage School Trust Lands in perpetuity. It is, therefore, not just short-sighted, but also illegal.
MEIC and Sierra Club will continue to to make sure our court system understands the significance of the proposed mine and the devastating impacts of developing the Otter Creek Coal Tracts.