The recent district court ruling on the Otter Creek coal tracts lease expressed faith in the capacity of state agencies to effectively and objectively go through the permitting and regulatory process for that proposed mine. I fear that the court’s faith may be misplaced.
The state of Montana is Arch Coal’s business partner and the Land Board’s lease was just the first step in that business relationship. Frankly, the state’s strong financial interest in seeing that the Otter Creek coal is mined creates a conflict of interest.
It’s naïve of the court to assume that the Land Board could say “no” to a permit for the mine if it ever moves forward. Having leased the coal, the Land Board has started the wheels in motion for bringing money into state coffers. There’s little chance the Land Board would refuse a permit or even put restrictive conditions onto it. Montanans would be left dealing with the impacts when most of the coal will be sold to Asian customers.
Experience has taught us that getting state agencies to enforce safeguards can be a big enough challenge. How can we seriously expect the state to also be an effective enforcer of the laws protecting our land and water and air when it is exercising oversight over its own business partner?