Helena, MT - The Montana State Land Board, which overseas the use of state lands as sources of revenue for Montana's schools, paved the way for climate change and environmental destruction in a show of blatant contempt for the democratic process on this winter solstice. In a "public" meeting at the state capitol the Board, comprised of the state's top elected officials, including Governor Schweitzer, heard testimony from about thirty citizens opposed to the proposal that the Board allow a checkerboard of public lands in southeastern Montana known as the Otter Creek Coal Tracts to be destroyed by the highest bidder. Commentors included ranchers who implored the board not to let the ranchers' lands be cut in two by the Tongue River Railroad (a key component of mine developement plans at Otter Creek), high school students and teachers who flatly stated that they would rather go unfunded than accept money from coal exploitation, environmental groups and individuals. Northern Rockies Rising Tide was among the attendees.
Following a short rally on the capitol steps, opponents of the mining plan filled the hearing room with people, banners and picket signs, leading Governor Schweitzer to condescendingly compare the scene to that at a football game and dubbed it "festive". It was not a game to the protestors, some of whom looked the Board members in the eyes and went on public record calling mining of Otter Creek "ecocide" and the revenue from it "blood money".
After pretending to listen to all the testimony and patronizingly complimenting the youngest of the speakers for participating in the "democratic" process, the Board members read their pre-written statements of support for the motion and cast their votes in favor of mining Otter Creek. The only dissenter was Denise Juneau, Superintendent of Public Instruction, the official in charge of the very institution which stood to gain financially from Otter Creek Coal. While the other Board members hid behind the cover of "responsibility", saying that the constitution required them to take the money, Juneau took the approach of "accountability" to the students she oversees, choosing instead to try to protect their futures.
The fight to save Otter Creek is only just beginning. With this unfortunate first vote, the process of taking bids from coal companies seeking "rights" to the lands is underway. The highest bidder is expected to be Arch Coal, Inc.