Candy lovers be advised: According to environmental advocates, some of your favorite brandsfrom M&M's and Three Musketeers to Snickers and Twixare behind the effort to ship coal from eastern Montana strip mines to power plants in Asia.
On Thursday, March 28, local activists with Coal Export Action, a group that opposes coal extraction, swept through the Albertson's on East Broadway and affixed stickers to a variety of candy products sold by Mars, Inc. The stickers read: "Warning: This Candy Finances Dirty Coal Energy." It was one of 12 such protests in eight different states around the country.
Mars, Inc., a leading candy manufacturer, drew the ire of anti-coal activists when its owner and namesake, Forrest Mars Jr., put his financial support behind the Tongue River Railroad. If built, the rail line would carry coal from the proposed Otter Creek strip mine in Montana's Powder River Basin to ports in Oregon and Washington, cutting across public and private land on its way west. The coal would be sent to developing nations like China.
Mars has accumulated a vast fortune from his ownership share of Mars, Inc. Activists claim that linking his candy company to coal extraction will pressure him to reconsider his stake in the railroad.
"Forrest Mars, who helped make Mars, Inc. what it is today, is financing a key element of a fossil fuel project that will cement our world's reliance on dirty coal energy," says Nick Engelfried of Coal Export Action. "We want Mars to divest himself from the Tongue River Railroad, and if he divests it will pressure other financiers to either put up more money or drop the project altogether."
Mars originally opposed development of the railroad because it would have cut across his vacation ranch in eastern Montana. However, he bought an ownership stake in the railroad and used his influence to redirect its route, which now avoids his ranch altogether.
"He did take a minority ownership position in the company that owns the Tongue River rail line development permits," says Kelly McGrail, a spokesperson for Mars, Inc. and Forrest Mars Jr. "This gave him the opportunity to protect 700 square miles of the Tongue River Valley ... without standing in the way of economic development that may benefit the citizens of Montana."
Coal Export Action activists dispute the claim that Mars' ownership stake in the railroad was meant to protect anything but his own property. They say they will continue to "rebrand" Mars, Inc. products until Mars divests from the project.