Reaction to Arch Coal’s suspension of Otter Creek Coal mine permit
At 10 a.m. Thursday, Arch Coal posted a news release on its website announcing that it is suspending efforts to secure a mining permit for the proposed Otter Creek Mine. Otter Creek was the largest proposed new coal strip mine in the nation; it would have stripped 8,300 acres of productive ranch land in southeastern Montana to export coal to Asian electricity markets.
“The writing was on the wall,” said Dawson Dunning, a Northern Plains member whose family has ranched on Otter Creek for over a century. “It was only a matter of time before this project collapsed. All of us in Montana are fortunate that it collapsed before this gigantic mine opened up and a productive ranching valley was destroyed.”
An Arch Coal subsidiary secured a lease of the Otter Creek coal tracts in 2010, and has been working since then to obtain a mine permit. The company submitted applications for a mine permit in 2012 and in 2014. Both of those applications were found deficient by the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. The agency has been awaiting another revised permit application for approximately one year.
Local ranchers and members of Northern Plains Resource Council, a Montana grassroots family agriculture organization based in Montana, have opposed the project for years over fears that the project would threaten precious water resources in the semi-arid west.
A related project, the Tongue River Railroad, would have condemned 42 miles of family ranch land in southeastern Montana to haul Otter Creek coal to the main BNSF line for shipment to West Coast ports.
Clint McRae, a Northern Plains member and rancher whose land would be condemned by the proposed Tongue River Railroad, said, “This proves what we have said all along: that the Otter Creek mine and the Tongue River Railroad are pure speculation and were never a public need. The Tongue River Railroad would have crossed several miles of our place, and has forced us to live under the threat of federal condemnation of our land for over 30 years. The whole proposal was a speculative project in search of a purpose.”
Shortly after the lease was sold to Arch in 2010, it became clear that the company’s plans for Otter Creek coal included export to Asian economies via proposed Pacific Northwest export terminals. Arch Coal owns a 38% interest in the proposed Millennium Bulk Logistics coal export facility in Longview, Wash., approximately enough to match the proposed output of the Otter Creek mine. The market for Powder River Basin coal in Asia has cratered since that time, leaving Arch and other major coal mining companies struggling to cover debts from bets made on Asian exports.
“Montana has a long history with mining companies walking away,” said Kate French, Chair of landowner group Northern Plains Resource Council, which has opposed the project since it was first proposed. “We should count our lucky stars that Arch Coal walked away before this project was built, and before it wrecked the Otter Creek valley.”
–Northern Plains Resource Council