by Anne Hedges

The truth lies 180 degrees in the opposite direction
This new Montana Coal Export Report is Pure Fiction.

Otter Creek Montana. New Montana Coal Export Report is Pure Fiction. Photo by Kestrel Aerial Services, Inc.

The Otter Creek coal mine in southeast Montana will mine twice as much coal each year as the Montana DEQ says. Proposed expansions at Montana’s Spring Creek and Signal Peak coal mines will pay each new worker $523,257 and $483,740 respectively, while each existing worker at those mines only receive $88,857 and $75,763 respectively. All infrastructure needs from increased rail traffic for trains shipping coal to Asian markets can be paid for with state bonding and grant programs.

Say what?

These are just some of the absurd findings of a recent study touted by the coal industry.  Coal proponents say this study proves that mining more of Montana’s coal and sending it by rail through our communities to Asian markets will be good for Montana. They use the fact that the report is posted on the Montana Department of Transportation’s website as proof of the conclusions reached.

The real story is a high school kid could have done a better job on this study. The study was contracted by the Schweitzer administration in its waning days. It was prepared for the Railroad Competition Council within the Montana Department of Transportation. That Council just happens to contain a discredited coal mining executive, whose company exports coal, and who was recently accused of misrepresenting his college credentials. Oops.

In fact the document is a draft, not a final report. It provides no citations for its wild projections and conclusions. And its conclusions are rich.

But it’s not the absurd findings of the report that are so outrageous. The industry press releases appeared to be reporting on a completely different study. For example, one industry press release said, “the infrastructure improvements that would be paid for with revenue from increased coal production would benefit agriculture and other industries that want to export.”

Contrary to that claim, the report didn’t even address agriculture. In fact agriculture’s one mention in the report came in the “Overview” section that simply said Montana is rich in natural resources like timber and agriculture. To say it concluded that agriculture would benefit from increased coal exports is just a fib.

The truth about coal exports could not be more different than the industry gloss. A report released yesterday found that worldwide financial markets are overly invested in fossil fuel based companies. If temperatures are to stay below a 2 degree Celsius increase by mid-century – as agreed upon in the Cancun Agreement – most of the fossil fuels in investment portfolios need to stay in the ground. Unfortunately, world financial markets are currently based on the assumption those carbon fuels will be burned and therefore have value. In fact, to meet international obligations and to avert climate catastrophe, those fuels cannot be burned. International markets are incredibly vulnerable and suffering from the same intentional ignorance as during the lead up to the housing crisis. Over reliance on assets that have no real value is a dangerous thing for the financial markets.

Relying on China’s coal appetite to provide value to hollow assets is irresponsible, especially when China said it intends to decrease its reliance on coal in coming years. In February it even announced plans to implement a carbon tax.

Instead of chasing after coal companies like Arch Coal, whose stock has been tanking, it’s high time to chase after the emerging solar industry, which claims to have more workers in the U.S. than the coal mining industry, or the booming wind industry which in benefiting communities and farmers across Montana. If we don’t change directions, we will continue to chase ice.

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