Letter: Walker ought to check facts on coal, economy – Billings Gazette, Aug. 22, 2012

August 23, 2012

Categories: Coal, Letters, News


According to Sen. Ed Walker (Aug. 17 guest opinion), we’ve been invaded by a troop of “out-of-state” environmentalists who are trying to stop expanded production and export (to China) of Montana coal. The result, Walker claims, will be to turn down a “huge” economic opportunity that can have a “transformative effect” on the state’s economy. It would be, Walker says, “like tearing up a jackpot lottery ticket.”

Walker is apparently deeply impressed by the contention that the proposed Otter Creek mine would create, between mining itself and its ripple effect on other industries like services and retail trade, a total of 2,000 jobs. Actually that figure is a little high: according to a study supported by Arch Coal, an out-of-state corporation that will run the mine, the total number of jobs created when Otter Creek is up and running will be about 1,750, with just 300 at the mine itself. Let’s assume 1,750 is correct. It sounds like a big number, but placed in the context of the Montana economy, it’s a drop in the bucket — a little less than one third of one percent of all the jobs in the state. And between 2000 and 2008, those relatively normal years before the onset of the Great Recession, Montana added an average of about 875 jobs every month, despite the fact that natural resources employment was essentially flat. In other words, if and when these 1,750 Otter Creek jobs ever materialize, we will be about where we would have been in another two months without them. 1,750 jobs are certainly not negligible, but judge for yourself if they are “huge” or “transformative.”

Walker also argues that putting a lid on Montana coal development will have no impact on carbon emissions because the Chinese can always get their coal somewhere else. If that’s true, it sounds like China doesn’t really need us and Walker is advocating an economic development strategy that is highly dependent on the good will of China as it works out its own trade, energy and climate change policies.

Dick Barrett
House District 93


220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154