Today, Greenpeace took to the skies in Billings, Montana, as part of the Magic City Balloon Festival, to highlight the risks of coal exports and mining in the Western United States.
Montana is at the center of a make or break fight for the climate. As coal consumption declines in the US, companies like Ambre Energy, Cloud Peak, Arch, and Peabody are attempting to boost exports of publicly-owned coal overseas, with massive climate consequences. Much of that coal would come from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, where coal is largely owned by the federal government and mandated to be managed in the “best interests of the nation.”
Instead, the Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management has been giving this coal away for less than a dollar a ton, while ignoring the coal industry’s export ambitions. A report released yesterday from the Sightline Institute, “Unfair Market Value: By Ignoring Exports, BLM Underprices Federal Coal,” detailed the specific mines and companies that are taking advantage of the broken federal coal leasing program.
The report discusses several coal mines in Montana such as the Decker, Signal Peak, and Spring Creek mines. And for good reason, these mines are pillars of the coal industry’s strategy to sell US coal overseas.
Cloud Peak is already exporting millions of tons of coal each year from its Spring Creek mine and is asking for an additional 198 million tons of publicly-owned coal from the Department of Interior. From the Sightline Report:
Cloud Peak’s executives have touted Spring Creek’s advantages in the Asian export markets… More recently, the company’s executives have pinned their company’s entire growth strategy on exporting coal from Spring Creek and adjacent mines. In the company’s third quarter 2013 investor conference call, for example, Barrett stated: “[W]hat we want to do is to try and build on our position around the Spring Creek Complex…so that we can actually then look to build our exports, which we believe [offers] strong growing demand and potentially good margin through the cycle.”
Ambre Energy, the main proponent of two of the three remaining proposed coal export terminals on the West Coast, is asking for a lease modification for its Decker mine that would open up another 40 million tons of public coal for overseas sales. Ambre Energy is explicit that its business plan is to “Take competitive advantage of an undervalued US coal market” according to its June 2013 presentation to the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority Breakfast.
Ambre Energy hoped to sneak through this Lease Modification, but over 30,000 people called on the Montana Bureau of Land Management office to deny Ambre’s request and BLM has not yet given the modification a green light. We’ll be watching this lease carefully, and continuing to call on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to put a moratorium on all federal coal leasing so companies like Ambre aren’t able to take advantage of taxpayers while hastening the climate crisis.
Coal fuels climate change, whether it is burned in Billings or Beijing. And if we want any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, we have to stop subsidizing, extracting, and burning the dirtiest fuels on the planet. Without subsidized federal coal, mines, and coal export infrastructure, US coal companies are stuck in a shrinking domestic market, where communities, governments, and corporations are increasingly saying no to coal and embracing a clean energy revolution.