It is unfortunate that Rick Hill decided to use the tragedy in Japan to push another form of dirty energy (see “An occasion for coal,” March 24, 2011). As someone who lives and works in eastern Montana under the stacks of a coal-fired power plant, I take issue with several of Hill’s statements about America’s deadliest source of electricity: coal.
Hill was right about one thing. If we continue the push toward developing more coal, things are about to heat up in a big way. It’s not politics I’m talking about, however; it’s our climate. When not organizing for the Sierra Club, I run a small ranch. There are a few things you learn quickly when raising livestock. You need clean air, clean water and predictable weather patterns to be successful. Montana faces huge challenges as our climate changes. We cannot afford to lose our water and our agricultural lands to more coalmines, nor can we afford to let an industry continue to change the earth’s climate in order to fatten their bottom line. It’s simply robbing Peter to pay Paul. Arch Coal, a notorious union-busting coal company that owns the rights to mine the Otter Creek coal tracts in southeastern Montana, saw its 2009 profits triple to $159 million in 2010.
Coal not only threatens Montana’s agricultural economy, it’s also downright dangerous. According to a recent study conducted by the Clean Air Task Force, particulate matter from coal plants like Colstrip and J.E Corrette in Billings kills approximately 24,000 Americans annually. Add to that the 2,000 miners who die annually from black lung disease and the tremendous effects of coal on America’s health becomes clear. It’s no wonder the Environmental Protection Agency is implementing common-sense emission standards to protect public health with the support of the American Lung Association.
Montana’s coal-producing counties have yet to see the endless prosperity that Hill and other snake oil salesmen have promised. In fact, all of Montana’s coal-producing counties have poverty rates above the state average, according to the most recent census data. Hucksters like Hill have long preyed on rural, poverty-stricken areas to benefit corporate powers like Arch Coal, leaving behind polluted water, moon-like landscapes and even more poverty. Otter Creek would be no different.
Real progress and prosperity for Montana lies in the clean energy potential of our state and a diversified economy that includes stable industries like agriculture, hunting and angling and manufacturing. A recent poll indicated that 62 percent of Montanans support state incentives for renewable energy and conservation. Basing our economy on extracting our raw natural resources will turn Montana into a commodity colony. It’s time to take a stand. We must not allow obstructionists like Hill to deny Montanans our place in the economy of tomorrow.