The Seattle Times, April 29, 2013
By Hal Bernton
A push for more Montana coal exports to Asia — and a pushback over fears about air pollution and global warming — could turn into the Northwest’s biggest environmental battle in years.
DECKER, Mont. — At Spring Creek Mine, a broad black seam of coal, reaching depths of 80 feet, runs like a subterranean river through arid, sagebrush-covered hills.
This is a world-class seam formed from the remnants of ferns, grasses and other plants that flourished here more than 50 million years ago, when this part of Montana was a humid marsh.
Cloud Peak Energy, operators of this mine, and other companies have proposals that could eventually double the state’s coal production — part of the push for a big expansion of U.S. coal exports.
“There has been more activity in Montana in the last three years than there has been in a generation,” said Todd O’Hair, a senior manager at Cloud Peak.
Standing on the knoll where George Armstrong Custer made his last stand, you can watch the coal trains that already rumble north en route to British Columbia, where coal is now shipped to South Korea, Taiwan and Japan. To boost overseas sales, Cloud Peak also has secured rights to ship coal through Washington terminals proposed for Cherry Point near Bellingham and for Longview.
The industry’s export push has put Montana on the front lines of what is shaping up as one of the Northwest’s biggest environmental battles in a decade.
With coal-burning power plants a major contributor to global warming and ocean acidification, environmental groups and their allies have mounted a major campaign to try to restrict shipping coal overseas.