It is obvious Big Coal is on the ropes.
This week, both Arch Coal and Alpha Natural Resources posted losses. St. Louis based Patriot Coal, mainly operating in Appalachia, filed for bankruptcy. In Appalachia and the interior West, front groups like the Friends of Coal stirred up miners and their families with so much hate and fear that their rhetoric and actions reminds us of Alabama and Mississippi at the height of desegregation.
Big Coal’s last hope is coal exports. With environmental regulations and environmental groups closing coal plants and the cost of natural gas dropping, domestic markets for coal are being battered. But they have a new strategy: ship it to India, China and Japan.
The Obama Administration has opened up large tracts of Wyoming land to produce 758 million tons of coal. The industry has six proposals to open up ports on the Oregon and Washington coasts for shipping it to overseas markets. If they fail there, they plan also to export it through Gulf Coast states like Texas, Louisiana and Alabama.
Coal exports from mountaintop removal strip mining have been growing at alarming rates as well.
In Montana, Arch Coal has proposed opening up a new mine called Otter Creek in Montana’s Powder River Basin. Arch wants to mine the 616 million tons of coal and ship it out to overseas markets. The decision to open up Otter Creek rests with Montana’s state Land Board led by Montana’s “Clean Coal” governor Brian Schweitzer. Schweitzer has worked to open up Montana’s coal reserves for everything from coal exports to coal to liquids technology. A new mine at Otter Creek would be a big step forward for Schweitzer’s agenda and another saving grace for the coal industry.
Unfortunately for the industry and Schweitzer, it’s been decided to start shipping coal from some of the most environmentally conscious parts of North America. Oregon and Washington are known for fierce campaigns around logging. In the 1990’s Idaho and Montana saw the Cove/Mallard campaign which resulted in tens of thousands of saved national forests. Already coalitions of national, regional, local and grassroots groups have formed to fight coal exports along the rail lines and in the ports.
Now grassroots climate and student activists along with Montana, Oregon and Washington residents in have called for a series of rolling sit-ins, known as the Coal Exports Action, in the state capital building in Helena, MT. Their goal is to influence the land board’s decision and raise awareness about coal exports. It begins on Aug. 13 (next Monday) and goes for a week. The land board has already reacted to it by moving its meeting up by several weeks, but that won’t deter the Coal Exports Action. If anything, its actions gained wider attention by blinking in the face of certain protest and action.
The Coal Export Action is part of a wider movement based effort called the “Climate Summer of Solidarity.” All over the country, actions have been popping up against dirty energy like coal, fracking and tar sand oil. While struggles against mountaintop removal, tar sands and fracking have been going on for a while, the struggle against coal exports is just beginning and this will be one of the first big actions on the issue.