Nick Triolo stood on the steps of the Missoula County Courthouse on Feb. 22 and explained to a crowd of about 200 why it was so important to make a statement that snowy afternoon.
"I strongly believe we are ... doing the most important thing that we could be doing today," said Triolo, a University of Montana graduate student and member of the Blue Skies Campaign. "I don't know what is more important than this."
Triolo was joined by activists and organizers from across the state, including members of the Montana Sierra Club, 350.org, the Blue Skies Campaign, Indian People's Action and other groups, who want to stop increased coal train traffic through Missoula and halt the development of the Otter Creek mine in eastern Montana.
"We have some huge decisions that are to be made this year about the Otter Creek mine ... and the Tongue River Railroad that would connect these mines to the rail system," Triolo explained. "We are already seeing tons and tons of coal coming through our communities on its way to being exported overseas. This has contributed to a wide range of health complications, both for the land and humans, as a result of coal dust, toxic fumes, noise pollution, not to mention climate change."
Five more speakers energized the audience before the crowd hit the streets and headed toward the train tracks in what event organizers said was one of the largest anti-coal marches ever in Missoula. The march marked the first in a series of demonstrations that the Blue Skies Campaign and its allies are organizing across the state this year.
"We will have events in quite a few communities and that will be an important way to show decision-makers that people all over the state care about climate issues and coal exports," says Nick Engelfried, another Blue Skies organizer.
The rally came nearly two weeks after another small victory for local coal opponents. On Feb. 12, the Washington Department of Ecology announced that it would include Montana coal train traffic in its environmental review of the proposed Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview, Wash. Coal companies want to use the terminal to ship coal from the Powder River Basin to Asia. Environmentalists across the Pacific Northwest are trying to prevent the terminal's construction.