Sept 4, 2013
ALONG THE TONGUE RIVER, Montana — A short distance from Mark Fix’s weathered ranch house on the Tongue River in southeastern Montana, a wide overgrown trench cuts through part of his property. Dating to the 1920s, it’s a relic of a long-ago plan to construct a railroad along the river, an effort that foundered on the shoals of the Great Depression.
Nearly a century later, that railway dream has been revived, in order to link a proposed, and very controversial, coal mine south of Fix’s ranch to a main rail line to the north. The prospect of the new mine and railroad is one of the sparks igniting a bitter fight over exporting coal, to China and other Asian nations, that spreads from the ranch country here all the way to Washington and Oregon, where three new coal export facilities — the first on the U.S. West Coast — have been proposed.
The stakes in this fight are huge, not just for local community concerns centered on traffic disruptions from increased coal traffic and possible health impacts, but for the U.S. as a whole and its commitment to fighting climate change.
As Fix said about a prospective surge in coal exports to Asia during a recent tour of his ranch, “It makes absolutely no sense. For every ton of coal we send to China they send two tons of CO2 back.”