Press release: Embattled coal-hauling railroad challenged before STB – Jan. 10, 2011

January 10, 2013

Categories: Agriculture, Coal, Landowner Rights, News, Northern Plains Resource Council

By Northern Plains Resource Council

An 11th-hour route change by the Tongue River Railroad Company (TRR) proposed for southeastern Montana has led the Northern Plains Resource Council to challenge that change before the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB). Joined by the Rocker 6 Cattle Company near Colstrip, Montana, Northern Plains filed a petition before the STB on January 7 to revoke an application that the TRR filed in December of 2012.

The Tongue River Railroad received a federal permit in 1986, but was never built. The 9th Circuit Court ruled in late 2011 that the company had to go back to the drawing  board and file a new application which it did in October of 2012 and then amended in December. Much of TRR’s  application is based on its original application filed in 1984. Northern Plains argues in its petition that the railroad proposal is so different from the line approved in 1986 that any further proceedings under this application “are, frankly, an attempt by TRR and BNSF [1/3 owner of the TRR] to perpetrate a farce upon the public.”

It now proposes a railroad that is so fundamentally different than the one approved in 1986 that to proceed as though it is simply a “supplement” to the TRR’s old application is to “perpetrate a farce upon the public.” Most of the coal in the 2012 application will be shipped west for export instead of east for domestic consumption. Opponents of the railroad have dubbed it the “coal to China railroad.”

Under the December change announced by TRR, the miles of track crossing the Rocker 6 cattle ranch, operated by Wally McRae and his son Clint, would more than double and seriously diminish the productivity and value of the ranch.  “There is something inherently wrong for a private, for-profit corporation using federal eminent domain to condemn our property so coal can be exported to China,” said Clint McRae. “I seriously question that this is in the best interest of the public. This is an agricultural issue, a private property rights issue, and is one more example of how Montana landowners are under attack by energy interests. All this to fuel China’s economy?”

The route change moves westward, consistent with the railroad’s plans to ship coal from the proposed Otter Creek mine to markets in China and other Asian countries. While the TRR’s original permit was for shipping coal to power plants in the Midwest, that part of the coal industry has withered in recent years. The industry now is focused on shipping coal to Asia. The Application barely mentions this fundamental difference in the nature of the project.

Northern Plains The Northern Plains filing adds: “This proposal will create a suite of environmental and transportation problems that neither this Board, nor the public, have ever considered… the Supplemental Application is so fraught with procedural defects, vague representations, and inaccuracies that it cannot serve as the basis for this Board to make an informed decision.”

Northern Plains Resource Council is a Montana conservation and family agriculture group that organizes citizens to protect water quality, family farms and ranches, and the quality of life in Montana. Its members have challenged Tongue River Railroad proposals for 30 years because of the damage the railroad would cause to ranchland and property values along its route.

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