Montanans Stage Multi-Day Sit-in to Oppose Arch Coal Export Mine
Climate, health and social justice groups are calling for a summer mobilization to protect Montana from coal export mining.
Groups including the Blue Skies Campaign, 350.org and Occupy Missoula invite Montanans to join a multi-day sit-in beginning Aug. 13 at the State Capitol to pressure State Land Board members to reject Arch Coal’s Otter Creek export mine.
“We are not going to sacrifice our health, our land and water, our private property and our pride to become a coal colony for Asia,” said Lowell Chandler of the Blue Skies Campaign. “It is time to protect the last best place from the horrific effects of coal exports.”
With U.S. coal demand declining, companies like Arch Coal are looking to develop new mines in eastern Montana, with an eye toward exporting abroad. In 2010, the State Land Board granted Arch a lease to the Otter Creek coal tracts, but the board still needs to sign off on a mining plan before coal mining can start.
Currently, at least six coal port proposals are being considered in Washington and Oregon, which together would be capable of sending 150 million tons or more annually to Asian markets. In addition to the devastating local impacts of projects such as the proposed Arch Coal mine, new mines will only exacerbate existing coal exports, creating a trail of pollution through the U.S. and overseas. A recent analysis of Appalachian coal mine data shows that coal exports have exploded over the last few years, with some mines exporting 100 percent of their coal abroad.
“Over the last few years, countless Montanans have submitted comments, turned out to hearings and done whatever we could to get the land board to stand up to Big Coal,” said Chandler. “Now it’s time to take the next step.”
The sit-in, called the Coal Export Action, is supported by the Blue Skies Campaign, Rising Tide, Montana Women For, 350.org and other groups, and was initially supposed to take place around the time Arch was expected to submit its mining application on Aug. 20.
The land board must have got wind of the mass peaceful protests, because on July 30, with only four days’ advance notice, the board announced its August meeting was being rescheduled from Aug. 20 to Aug. 3. It looks an awful lot like the board moved its meeting to avoid holding it during the Coal Export Action, when they know their actions related to coal mining will be subject to heightened public scrutiny.
This isn’t in keeping with good governance. Montana’s state code requires “adequate notice” be given to “assist public participation before a final agency action is taken that is of significant interest to the public.” The land board hasn’t violated the letter of the law—the code doesn’t specify what “adequate notice” means—but rescheduling a meeting date posted months in advance, with only four days’ notice, is hardly in keeping with a spirit of encouraging public input.
The Coal Export Action is now more important than ever. When a public process is rigged against the public, we must turn to massive, peaceful protest to get the attention of decision-makers. Fortunately, it’s just this type of large-scale direct action that’s planned for the Coal Export Action later this month.
In the past, land board members ignored hundreds of Montanans who submitted comments turned out to hearings and signed petitions opposing the Otter Creek Mine. Now they appear to be trying to minimize the opportunity for public input. But starting Aug. 13, our sit-in at the Capitol rotunda, between the offices of land board members Gov. Brian Schweitzer and Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, will make our demand for a clean energy future free of coal impossible to ignore any longer.
Since the land board moved its meeting date to Aug. 3, the Aug. 20 meeting—which would have fallen right at the end of the Coal Export Action—will no longer take place. That won’t stop Arch Coal from moving forward with plans to submit its mining application, which it’s expected to do late this summer. Once submitted, Arch’s application will be reviewed by the Department of Environmental Quality, and then needs a stamp of approval from the land board. The board, currently composed of Gov. Brian Schweitzer, Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, Attorney General Steve Bullock, State Auditor Monica Lindeen and Superintendent of Instruction Denise Juneau, is expected to make its decision later this year, or in early 2013.
This isn’t just about coal anymore: it’s about holding government bodies accountable when they fail to practice good government. You can help us succeed.
If the mine is approved, coal train traffic through rail line towns will increase severalfold. This has many residents worried.
“Pollutants from coal trains will cause emergency room visits to go up,” said Dr. Amy Haynes, a naturopathic physician who has practiced in Missoula for the last 28years. “Everybody who breaths will basically be at risk.”
“Think of all the children who live along the rail line,” said Becca Titus, a member of Occupy Missoula. “The health of all of them will be affected by this proposal.”
Corey Bressler, from the grassroots climate group 350.org, said increased coal mining and burning will also make climate change worse. “A warming, drying climate has already lengthened the western fire season by 78 days,” Bressler said. “Dryer, hotter summers will seriously damage Montana’s recreational, tourism and agricultural industries.”
Groups involved in the Coal Export Action hope hundreds of Montanans will participate in the peaceful sit-in, and that it will be among the largest actions of its kind in recent Montana history. Those interested can sign up and learn more by clicking here.
By Karen L. Smith-Janssen
Colette Pichon Battle gave a December 2019 TEDWomen Talk on the stark realities of climate change displacement, and people took notice. The video racked up a million views in about two weeks. The attorney, founder, and executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy (GCCLP) advocates for climate justice in communities of color. Confronted with evidence showing how her own South Louisiana coastal home of Bayou Liberty will be lost to flooding in coming years, the 2019 Obama Fellow dedicates herself to helping others still reeling from the impacts of Katrina face the heavy toll that climate change has taken—and will take—on their lives and homelands. Her work focuses on strengthening multiracial coalitions, advocating for federal, state, and local disaster mitigation measures, and redirecting resources toward Black communities across the Gulf South.
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"These are not just wildfires, they are climate fires," Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington State, said as he stood amid the charred remains of the town of Malden west of Seattle earlier this month. "This is not an act of God," he added. "This has happened because we have changed the climate of the state of Washington in dramatic ways."
'These Aren't Wildfires'<p>Sam Ricketts, who led climate policy and strategy for Governor Jay Inslee's 2020 presidential campaign, tweeted on September 11 that "These aren't wildfires. These are #climatefires, driven by fossil fuel pollution."</p><p>"The rate and the strength and the devastation wrought by these disasters are fueled by climate change," Ricketts told DW of fires that have burnt well over 5 million acres across California, Oregon, Washington State, and into neighboring Idaho. </p><p>In a two-day period in early September, Ricketts notes that more of Washington State burned than in almost any entire fire season until now, apart from 2015. </p><p>California, meanwhile, was a tinderbox after its hottest summer on record, with temperatures in Death Valley reaching nearly 130 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. It has been reported as the hottest temperature ever measured on Earth.</p>
<div id="29ad9" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="8346fe7350e1371d400097cd48bf45a2"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1306969603180879872" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">Drought-parched wetlands in South America have been burning for weeks. https://t.co/pjAKdFcKPg #Pantanal https://t.co/ImN2C5vwcp</div> — NASA Earth (@NASA Earth)<a href="https://twitter.com/NASAEarth/statuses/1306969603180879872">1600440810.0</a></blockquote></div><p>As evidenced by Australia's apocalyptic Black Summer of 2019-2020, fires are burning bigger and for longer, with new records set year-on-year. Right now, Brazil's vast and highly biodiverse Pantanal wetlands are suffering from catastrophic fires.</p>
#climatefires Started in Australia<p>Governor Inslee this month invoked the phrase climate fires for arguably the first time in the U.S., according to Ricketts.</p><p>But the term was also used as fires burnt out of control in Australia in late 2019. In the face of a 2000km (more than 1,200 miles) fire front, and government officials and media who <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/trump-climate-change-denial-emissions-environment-germany-fake-heartland-seibt/a-52688933" target="_blank">played down the link to climate change</a>, Greens Party Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and a friend decided that reference to bushfires was inadequate. </p><p>"We both just said, we've got to start calling them climate fires, that's what they are," the Australian Senator told DW.</p><p>Hanson-Young says scientists have been warning for decades that these would be the effects of global heating. "We've been told these kinds of extreme weather events and destruction is what climate change would look like, and it's right here on our doorstep," she said from her home state of South Australia — where by early September fire warnings had already been issued.</p><p>"Calling them climate fires was making it absolutely crystal clear. It is essential that there's no ambiguity," she said </p><p>Having deliberately invoked the term, Hanson-Young soon started to push it on social media via a #climatefires hashtag. </p>
How to Talk About the Urgency of Global Heating<p>The need to use more explicit language when talking about extreme weather events linked to climate change is part of a broader push to express the urgency of global heating. In 2019, activist Greta Thunberg tweeted that the term "climate change" did not reflect the seriousness of the situation. </p><p>"Can we all now please stop saying 'climate change' and instead call it what it is: climate breakdown, climate crisis, climate emergency, ecological breakdown, ecological crisis and ecological emergency?" she wrote. </p><p>"Climate change has for a long time been talked about as something that is a danger in the future," said Hansen-Young. "But the consequences are already here. When people hear the word crisis, they understand that something has to happen, that action has to be taken."</p><p><span></span>Some terms are now used in public policy, with state and national governments, and indeed the EU Parliament, declaring an official climate emergency in the last year. </p>
Words That Reflect the Science<p>But while the West Coast governors all fervently link the fires to an unfolding climate crisis, U.S. President Donald Trump continues to avoid any reference to climate. In a briefing about the fires, he responded to overtures by Wade Crowfoot, California's Natural Resources Secretary, to work with the states on the climate crisis by stating: "It'll start getting cooler. You just watch." Crowfoot replied by saying that scientists disagreed. Trump rejoined with "I don't think science knows, actually." </p><p>It was reminiscent of the anti-science approach to the coronavirus pandemic within the Trump administration, <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/donald-trump-admits-playing-down-coronavirus-risks/a-54874350" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at least publicly</a>. Fossil fuel companies are also benefiting from his disavowal of climate science, with the Trump administration having <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/opinion-trumps-paris-climate-accord-exit-isnt-really-a-problem/a-51124958" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pulled out of the Paris Agreement</a> and reopened fossil fuel infrastructure like the Keystone XL pipeline. </p><p>But the science community has responded, with Scientific American magazine endorsing Trump's Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden, the first presidential endorsement in its 175-year history. </p><p>Hanson-Young says the use of explicit language like climate fires has also been important in Australia due to the climate denialism of politicians and the press, especially in publications owned by Rupert Murdoch. As fires burnt out much of Australia's southeast coast, they were commonly blamed on arson — a tactic also recently used in the U.S.</p>
Climate Rhetoric Could Help Decide Election<p>The language of climate has begun to influence the U.S. presidential election campaign, with Democratic nominee Joe Biden labelling President Trump a "climate arsonist."</p><p>Biden is touting a robust climate plan that includes a 2050 zero emissions target and a return to the Paris Agreement. Though lacking the ambition of The New Green Deal, it has been front and center of his policy platform in recent days, at a time when five hurricanes are battering the U.S. Gulf Coast while smoke blanketing the West Coast spreads all the way to the East. </p><p>People are experiencing the climate crisis in a visceral way and almost universally relate to the language of an emergency, says Ricketts. "They know something is wrong."</p>
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