Arch Coal’s Otter Creek Mine Proposal Is Officially Dead, Keeping More Than 2 Billion Tons of Carbon Pollution in the Ground

by Kelly Mitchell

March 10, 2016

After decades of organizing and opposition from landowners, ranchers, and tribal communities in Montana, the Otter Creek coal mine proposal is officially, finally, dead.

©Trip Jennings/Greenpeace

Today, Arch Coal announced that it has asked Montana to suspend all work on the permit application for its Otter Creek coal mine proposal. The company has pursued this site for years in the hopes of mining more than 1.3 billion tons of coal, largely for export to Asian markets. 

The news was immediately hailed has a victory by many groups that had come together to organize against the mine project.

“[This is] a major victory for our homelands, the people and future generations,” said Vanessa Braided Hair, Northern Cheyenne and co-founder of the grassroots organization ecoCheyenne. “Arch Coal’s permanent removal of their permit application means there is hope, hope for our people and our Cheyenne way of life. At this time, with deep appreciation and gratitude we reflect on all the hard work and prayers for our homelands and Cheyenne people.”

“The writing was on the wall,” added Dawson Dunning, a Northern Plains member whose family has ranched on Otter Creek for over a century. “It was only a matter of time before this project collapsed. All of us in Montana are fortunate that it collapsed before this gigantic mine opened up and a productive ranching valley was destroyed.”

In addition to helping ensure that the Otter Creek Valley won’t be devastated by a massive coal strip mine, this news has big implications for controversial coal export proposals in the Pacific Northwest, and efforts to address climate change.

If it had been approved, the 1.3 billion tons of coal contained in the proposed Otter Creek mine would have unlocked over 2 billion tons of carbon pollution.

For perspective, that’s way more than the annual emissions of all the passenger vehicles in the United States.

The end of the Otter Creek coal mine proposal also raises further doubts about controversial coal export proposals in the Pacific Northwest. The Otter Creek coal proposal was a key part of Arch Coal’s export strategy, along with its stake in the Millennium Bulk coal export proposal in Longview, Washington.

In its announcement, Arch Coal pointed to “capital constraints, near-term weakness in coal markets and an extended and uncertain permitting outlook.” The company faces a similar uphill battle in finalizing the Millennium Bulk Terminal proposal, including widespread public opposition from Washington state communities and indigenous leaders, as well as a structural decline in global coal markets that has forced the better positioned Cloud Peak Energy to suspend exports.

This Spring, the state of Washington is anticipated to hold a series of public hearings to review the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Millennium Bulk Terminal coal export proposal. Strong public turnout is anticipated, as hundreds of thousands of people have already voiced concern over everything from toxic coal train pollution to global climate impacts.

In light of Arch Coal’s financial collapse and inability to secure permitting for its flagship export-oriented mine, it’s hard to imagine how Washington state regulators could find Millennium Bulk Terminals in the best interest of local communities or ecosystems.

“Arch Coal and Millennium are dragging down our industrial waterfront with a coal export project that’s never going to happen. It’s been six years and all we’ve seen from the coal industry is company lies and bankruptcy. Arch Coal and Millennium are standing in the way of real economic progress for Longview.” said Les Anderson, Vice President of Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community in Longview, Washington.

The Otter Creek cancellation comes just months after Arch Coal declared bankruptcy and President Obama’s Interior Department issued a moratorium and review of the entire federal coal leasing program. But what’s bad news for the declining U.S. coal industry is excellent news for those of us who care about a green and peaceful future, so we say keep the hits coming.

We’re closer than ever to shutting down the U.S. coal industry for good. Take action to do the same for ALL fossil fuels!

Kelly Mitchell

By Kelly Mitchell

Kelly Mitchell is the Climate and Energy Campaign Director for Greenpeace, based in Chicago. Since 2006, she has worked with activists and organizations across the country to confront corporate polluters and transform U.S. energy policy. She currently leads Greenpeace's campaign for an economy powered by 100 percent renewable energy, pushing some of the largest companies in the world to embrace wind and solar and working alongside communities to develop a just and democratic energy system.

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