Mont. ranchers take stand against coal

Posted: May 1, 2013

Written by

Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times/GW
Otter Creek

A battle is brewing over the future of energy development in a Montana region laced with coal.

A consortium headed by BNSF Railway Co. plans to build a rail line to take some of that Montana coal to market. But the Tongue River Railroad and a proposed coal mine at Otter Creek have concerned some ranchers in the southeast Montana region, who worry the plan puts the land and their livelihoods at risk for an energy venture that primarily benefits Asia.

"It's going to cross our land, wreak havoc with our water, go through our towns," rancher Clint McRae said. But McRae and other ranchers in opposition to the plan are in the minority.

Since the 1970s, coal has generated $2.6 billion in tax revenues for Montana, and the Otter Creek Mine would provide more, along with 2,000 construction jobs and 350 mining positions.

"Otter Creek is probably the biggest development opportunity our state will see in our lifetime," said Jim Atchison, director of Southeastern Montana Development, an economic advocacy group. "So even though people may be complaining about coal development and how dirty rotten bad it is, it pays a lot of bills in the state of Montana."

The McRae family asserts that the largest costs are hidden, such as the underwater aquifers that already have been contaminated with coal ash.

Several city councils have passed resolutions asking for studies on how the region may be affected.

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