Greenpeace airship flies Montana’s skies: Coal exports fuel climate change, Keep our coal in the ground

by Kelly Mitchell

July 25, 2014

Today, Greenpeace took to the skies in Billings, Montana, as part of the Magic City Balloon Festival, to highlight the risks of coal exports and mining in the Western United States.

Montana is at the center of a make or break fight for the climate. As coal consumption declines in the US, companies like Ambre Energy, Cloud Peak, Arch, and Peabody are attempting to boost exports of publicly-owned coal overseas, with massive climate consequences. Much of that coal would come from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana, where coal is largely owned by the federal government and mandated to be managed in the best interests of the nation.

Instead, the Department of Interior and Bureau of Land Management has been giving this coal away for less than a dollar a ton, while ignoring the coal industrys export ambitions. A report released yesterday from the Sightline Institute, Unfair Market Value: By Ignoring Exports, BLM Underprices Federal Coal, detailed the specific mines and companies that are taking advantage of the broken federal coal leasing program.

The report discusses several coal mines in Montana such as the Decker, Signal Peak, and Spring Creek mines. And for good reason, these mines are pillars of the coal industrys strategy to sell US coal overseas.

Cloud Peak is already exporting millions of tons of coal each year from its Spring Creek mine and is asking for an additional 198 million tons of publicly-owned coal from the Department of Interior. From the Sightline Report:

Cloud Peaks executives have touted Spring Creeks advantages in the Asian export markets More recently, the companys executives have pinned their companys entire growth strategy on exporting coal from Spring Creek and adjacent mines. In the companys third quarter 2013 investor conference call, for example, Barrett stated: [W]hat we want to do is to try and build on our position around the Spring Creek Complexso that we can actually then look to build our exports, which we believe [offers] strong growing demand and potentially good margin through the cycle.

Ambre Energy, the main proponent of two of the three remaining proposed coal export terminals on the West Coast, is asking for a lease modification for its Decker mine that would open up another 40 million tons of public coal for overseas sales. Ambre Energy is explicit that its business plan is to Take competitive advantage of an undervalued US coal market according to its June 2013 presentation to the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority Breakfast.

Ambre Energy hoped to sneak through this Lease Modification, but over 30,000 people called on the Montana Bureau of Land Management office to deny Ambres request and BLM has not yet given the modification a green light. Well be watching this lease carefully, and continuing to call on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to put a moratorium on all federal coal leasing so companies like Ambre arent able to take advantage of taxpayers while hastening the climate crisis.

Coal fuels climate change, whether it is burned in Billings or Beijing. And if we want any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, we have to stop subsidizing, extracting, and burning the dirtiest fuels on the planet. Without subsidized federal coal, mines, and coal export infrastructure, US coal companies are stuck in a shrinking domestic market, where communities, governments, and corporations are increasingly saying no to coal and embracing a clean energy revolution.

Airship Over Billings, Montana in Balloon Rally

See more photos from today’s airship flight.

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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