Help Keep Montana Coal In the Ground: Tongue River Railroad

Coal Protesters

Coal Protesters on a cold Montana day

A chapter in Missoula, Montana is asking for our help!

A federal agency, the Surface Transportation Board, is taking public comments from all Americans on the cumulative environmental impacts of a new 45-mile railroad spur line, the Tongue River Railroad, from the proposed Otter Creek coal mine in southeastern Montana to the main line at Miles City. 

If this railroad is built, we will have even more coal export projects to stop! Let’s help keep Montana’s coal IN THE GROUND!

Deadline for comments is AUGUST 24.

Comments can be submitted electronically here: Submit Comments Here (opens new tab)

Use your own words, but here are some talking points you could include in your comments:

1. You prefer the NO ACTION ALTERNATIVE.

2. The Board’s conclusion that there are no impacts on our climate from the new railroad opening up a new 1.5 billion ton coal mine at Otter Creek is fatally flawed. The Board’s draft environmental impact statement does recognize that “greenhouse gas emissions have a uniform impact on global warming regardless of where emissions occur.” But its conclusion that, “Tongue River coal would displace other Powder River coal that otherwise would have been exported rather than incrementally adding to the total tonnage of coal exported,” is not based on adequate, contemporary market data. The Board’s economic analysis contradicts the study done by University of Montana economist, Tom Power, Ph.D., and other economists.

Coal TrainOtter Creek coal is high-sulfur coal and is shunned by eastern coal plants. Electricity generation by coal is losing market share to natural gas generators and cheaper wind, solar, and hydroelectric energy. Coal power plants are closing all over the country. As a result, there is no domestic market for Otter Creek coal. Instead, Dr. Power and others conclude that the Tongue River Railroad will connect Otter Creek to the main line for exporting coal to Asia.

Therefore, the Surface Transportation Board must analyze the cumulative environmental impacts when 1.5 billion tons of Otter Creek coal is burned. This includes the impacts on our climate when more than 2.5 billion tons ofnew carbon dioxide enter our atmosphere. Of primary importance is an analysis of whether this new “carbon bomb” will trigger what the International Panel of Climate Change terms “abrupt or irreversible” tipping points.

It is an immoral act to ignore a new “carbon bomb” that will lead to disaster for our children and grandchildren.

3. The Board’s EIS did not analyze the environmental impacts of increased coal export on rail traffic in Montana and the Northwest. The Tongue River Railroad will dramatically increase coal train traffic through hundreds of communities along the 1,000-mile route to West Coast ports. Thousands of these new 125-unit coal trains will share the rails with highly explosive Bakken oil trains, expose millions of Americans to the health affects of increased pollution, endanger the water quality of thousands of the Northwest’s rivers and streams, and increase safety hazards in towns and at rural rail crossings.

4. At a time when our nation should be rapidly transitioning to carbon-free renewable energy, the special interests want to keep us locked into coal dependence for the next several decades. Indeed, the Surface Transportation Board must consider the safety and welfare of ordinary Americans rather than tailor its EIS to further the interests of lobbyists and the three investors in the Tongue River Railroad: the Arch Coal Company, billionaire Warren Buffet (who owns the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad), and the heir to the Mars Candy fortune, Forrest Mars, Jr.

5. Even if we assume the Board’s economic analysis is correct— Otter Creek coal will “displace” other coal in nearby mines—the Board must then analyze the effects on labor. Is the Board advocating that existing union jobs in the Powder River Basin be “displaced” by new jobs provided by the vehemently anti-union Arch Coal Company when the railroad opens the new mine? It would be better if the Board would compare the jobs created by this railroad to those created by a comparable investment in renewable energy such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric generation.

Want to learn more about 350 Missoula? Visit their website here!