Montana found itself in the center of national news earlier this year when the Supreme Court ruled on Montana's rejection of Citizen's United. Once again, we were neck-deep in some newsworthy happenings. The Otter Creek project is the first new coal project proposed in decades. While coal use is down dramatically across the US (coal was responsible for 33% of US electricity in May of 2012, down from 50% just 10 years ago) projects like Otter Creek are alluring to Asian markets. But the determined environmental community doesn’t plan on letting this dirty energy project happen.
On Wednesday morning after getting a jump for my surprise dead battery, I hopped in my car. I picked up Nick and Diana, two fellow Bozemanites, and headed off on the hour-and-a-half journey to Helena, our state capital, to join the Coal Export Action.
Diana, Nick and I had never met each other, and were drawn to the coal action for different reasons. Nick is a neurobiologist who's become obsessed with climate change – or rather, with doing something to stop it. Diana is a grandmother who lives in Manhattan (Montana that is) a town of about 1,300 just west of Bozeman.
Environmental activists protest dirty coal projects in Montana. Left to right: Diana, Kristi and Nick in Helena
Diana lives a block from the train tracks, which currently carries around 15 trains per day. If the Otter Creek coal project goes through, she and her town could experience up to 30 mile-long coal trains each day. Already, she keeps her windows shuts because of the whistle noise, but she's really concerned that if the project passes, she'll being dealing with something even worse: coal dust.
She told me she's constantly wandering around her house, screwing in light bulbs that rattle loose from trains rumbling by.
The 30-degree temperature drop from Tuesday's high in the 90s had Nick and I shivering, but Diana was prepared with a blanket, a fringy leather jacket, and a pretty fancy cowboy hat. She was definitely the best-dressed protester I'd ever met.
Once we arrived in Helena, we hooked up with the Coal Export Action team, who were camped out at a church. We then headed down to the jail to give a little support to the two people who'd spent the night there, for attending a sit-in at the capital.
While we got familiar with everyone, partook in a little oatmeal and quiche, and awaited the activists' release, I met up with more than one familiar face from my years of environmental work. I don't know many activists here in Montana, so I totally appreciated getting to see friends from Rainforest Action Network, Epoch, Rising Tide, and other great organizations. It felt like a taste of home (for me, that's California) had come out this way.
Then, we caravanned to the capital. While people gathered to write protest songs, get educated on the issue, and plan the afternoon's action, I joined Karul from Rainforest Action Network down in the capital basement to do a little media work.
I wish I'd taken a picture of the three doors I faced for hours from my seat: "TV media", "Print media", "Custodial".
The energy of a group of like-minded folks, determined to stop yet another dirty energy project, was an incredible thing to experience. ForestEthics has endorsed the Coal Export Action because fighting outdated and carbon-intensive projects is our bread and butter. We're working hard to stop Canada's tar sands, located just above Montana - the source of some of the dirtiest energy on earth. Like coal in Montana, tar sands in Canada are desirable to Asia. Industry is pushing for big development projects—a pipeline here, a new train there—to get these dirty resources to our west coast, where they can be shipped East.
From the mountains of Montana to the bays of Bellingham, Washington—where ForestEthics is based and where Montana's coal is headed if this project is approved—we're fighting for a clean energy future!