Press release: Ranchers oppose new permit for coal-to-China railroad – Oct. 17, 2012

October 17, 2012

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

PERMIT: Access to the permit application can be found on the U.S. Surface Transportation Board website:  FD_30186_0 filed on 10/16/12

By Northern Plains Resource Council

BILLINGS, Mont. – Owners of the proposed Tongue River Railroad (TRR) on Tuesday applied for a new permit with the federal Surface Transportation Board (STB) for an 89-mile railroad that would haul coal from the isolated Otter Creek valley near Ashland, Montana, down the agricultural Tongue River Valley to the main rail line at Miles City.

Because of decreasing demand for coal in the United States, Otter Creek coal tracts developer Arch Coal has said the strip-mined coal will be shipped overseas to power-hungry markets in China, India, and other Asian countries. TRR is owned by Arch Coal of St. Louis, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, and billionaire Forrest Mars, who previously bought one-third interest in the railroad to prevent it from crossing his ranch near the Wyoming border.

“This application represents this ill-conceived railroad’s intent to destroy and industrialize private Montana ranchland in order to send cheap coal to China,” said Clint McRae, a Tongue River rancher and Co-Chair of the Northern Plains Resource Council’s Tongue River Railroad Task Force. “Nearly 90 miles of agricultural land could be condemned, cut in half, and devalued just to help private developers export this coal to Asia. This is a private corporation that has the power of federal condemnation to take our private land so they can export coal to a foreign country, and that’s not American.”

“The coal will go to China, the profits will go to the coal and railroad companies, and Montana will be left to pay the costs,” said Mark Fix, a Northern Plains member whose cattle ranch would be bisected by the proposed rail line. “We will fight this railroad to a standstill because not everyone in eastern Montana looks forward to having their homes and ranches turned into an international sacrifice zone for China.”

McRae and Fix said TRR contractors have been caught coming onto private and state lands without permission in the past month doing surveying and geo-tech work even before TRR had applied for the permit.

“This is just a small sample of how these people treat landowners,” Fix said.

The STB next must announce a public comment period, and the company must complete an environmental impact statement before the permit is approved.

In June, STB ordered TRR to reapply for a permit because the old permit was based on outdated information and a different route. Last December, the Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled, in a case filed by the Northern Plains Resource Council and Native Action, that the environmental impact statement for the TRR fell short of the law’s requirements, partly because much of the field data was decades old, and partly because much field data had simply never been gathered.

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