Neither Montana nor the world needs more new coal (see “Coal coaxing,” Jan. 13, 2011). In difficult economic times, when political officials look for ways to garner votes, create jobs and balance budgets, they promise new coal as a quick fix, and they tend to believe lobbyists who say coal developers need tax and regulatory breaks. However, it is irresponsible to encourage these companies to mine here, because they destroy the environment and don’t restore the land to its original use.
During the Otter Creek coal hearings, the Land Board said state agencies will “protect us from bad coal development.” Hogwash. Because politicians gut the regulations and cut the funding, state agencies have neither the institutional and political will, nor the funds to “protect” Montana from industrial abuse. More than 37,000 acres have been disturbed by coal mining in Montana and only about 50 acres—only about a tenth of one percent—have come close to full reclamation. Ask folks around Colstrip about aquifers that have been ruined by leaking coal ash storage ponds, and ranches with dead cows and poisoned wells. You will hear from them that for the last 30 years, state agencies have simply protected industry.
Politicians and industry continue the hollow cry of “we need these jobs” to excuse misuse of our natural resources. Coal is a short-term industry that leaves us with polluted water and damaged landscapes. The money these companies make tearing up Montana goes to their shareholders, not to our local economy, and Montana is left with huge bills to fix the messes.
In contrast, farming and ranching, tourism and alternative energy all provide sustainable and reliable sources of jobs and financial security. However, they also depend on a clean and healthful Montana.
Tell your legislators and the governor not to gut our environmental laws. Ask them to protect Montana, not big coal!