I set my alarm for 4:30 in the morning and was standing in a damp field just miles from Decker Coal mine by 6 am. As we prepared the airship for flight, we watched a perfect pink and purple sunrise light up the surrounding bluffs.
Decker Coal Mine in southern Montana is owned by Ambre Energy, an Australian company seeking to expand its operation as part of its controversial proposal to start exporting coal through Oregon and Washington. If Ambre gets its way, it would get access to another 40 million tons of our coal, to be loaded on to trains, shipped through the Pacific Northwest, and sold overseas.
The decision to increase this coal export mine will ultimately fall to the Federal government, specifically the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The BLM’s coal leasing program has come under recent scrutiny from members of Congress and the public alike, and was the focus of both an Inspector General and Government Accountability Office investigation earlier this year. Both reports found major flaws with the coal leasing program, specifically the BLM’s failure to accurately account for fair market value when coal is slated for export.
Despite increased pressure on the BLM and their mismanaged coal leasing program, nothing has changed. And the decision on Decker looms near.
Interior Department Secretary Sally Jewell, who oversees the BLM, has the power to stop both the Decker mine expansion and the flawed coal leasing program. Although Secretary Jewell has been outspoken about our need to address climate change, she has not taken any steps to address the Federal Government’s own role in unlocking billions of tons of carbon pollution through their coal leasing program.
Which brings us to a field in Montana…
Once the airship was ready for flight, I hopped in and we slowly made our way towards Decker. To see the coal mine in-person – its large drag line in operation even in that early hour – and to know that this mine could spread into the surrounding hills and plateaus elicited a powerful feeling. These are our public lands and we should have a say in how they are managed. We can choose to keep this coal in the ground.
Although several workers at the mine saw our banners as we floated by, our message is truly directed at Secretary Sally Jewell – stop leasing our public lands and resources for the coal industry’s benefit.