This past Sunday, September 15th, Montana protesters took a stand against coal mine railroads and the, possible, construction of one of the largest coal mines in the country. Coal Export Action, a progressive activist group, are rallying against Montana’s coal mining processes, in an attempt to save agricultural lands, aquifers, wildlife, and cap the trains carrying coal, exposing Montana and other parts of the Midwest from dangerous toxins coal trains are responsible for exposing. Sunday’s rally started at Helena’s Hill Park, where 60 members of Blue Skies Campaign, 350 Missoula, and other organizations, marched to Montana Rail Link’s coal transportation railroads. Fourteen people then crossed the do not enter line and sat, peacefully, to the side of the tracks.
In an exclusive interview with Liberal America, Coal Export Action and Blue Skies Campaign representative, Nick Engelfried described the day, and explained the cause.
First, I want to thank you for taking time to speak with Liberal America. What actions did your group take this last Sunday?
?On Sunday, September 15th, 14 people peacefully shut down the main rail line used to transport coal from Montana to the West Coast, by holding a sit-in on the railroad right-of-way in Helena.? This section of track is operated by Montana Rail Link (MRL).? Though participants in the sit in were not actually on or touching the railroad tracks themselves, MRL decided not to move trains through the area until the protest was over, meaning no coal trains could get through.? About 60 people marched from Helena’s Hill Park to the site of the direct action, to support the 14 risking arrest.”
What was your main reasoning behind this sit in, besides the known dangers of coal?
?The action was designed to temporarily reclaim this railroad right-of-way from the coal industry, which wants to use the line to transport coal to the West Coast for export to overseas markets.? The action also drew attention to citizen opposition to Arch Coal’s proposed Otter Creek Mine.? Montana state officials will likely make a decision about whether to approve Arch’s mining plan sometime in the next several months.?
Tell me about Otter Creek. What are the possible implications of this proposal?
?If built, the Otter Creek Mine would be one of the largest coal mines in North America.? Trains delivering coal from the mine to proposed export terminals on the West Coast would pass through towns in Montana, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon, exposing affected communities to pollution from coal dust and diesel fumes.? If all the coal from Otter Creek were eventually burned in overseas power plants, it would add over two billion tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.?
What was local law enforcement reaction to your rally?
?All 14 participants in Sunday’s sit-in were cited for trespass by Helena police, and then released.? They appeared in court the next day, and will eventually have to pay a fine.? Blue Skies Campaign, a Missoula-based organization, is working to raise funds to help those for whom this is a financial hardship cover their fines. Most participants in the sit-in on railroad property were participating in civil disobedience for the first time, and had never been arrested before.? Participants included University of Montana students, working people, retirees, and grandparents.?
The Montana movement against coal mining and transport is growing ever larger by the day. This sit-in represents the second largest civil rally in just a year. As the time grows closer to the acceptance or rejection for the Otter Creek coal mine on Wednesday, the community is planning to continue standing against dangerous, coal mining in the Midwest. There is no current word on which way the government officials are swaying on the Otter Creek decision, but it is very apparent which way the community leans.? Check back with Liberal America for updates on coal mining in Montana and the Otter Creek decision.
Edited and published by SB