Montana - Otter Creek - Proposed Coal Mine

State: Montana
Region: Southeastern Montana

In March 2016, Arch Coal announced it would suspend its application for the Otter Creek coal mine, citing a weak coal market, lack of capital and uncertainty about the permitting outlook. In April, givin the recent bankruptcy of Arch Coal, the federal Surface Transportation Board decided to deny the proposed railroad that would have been needed to haul coal from the mine, and the lease was canceled.

Together with other coal leases amassed in the area, the proposed Otter Creek Mine would have become one of the largest strip mines in North America.

The Otter Creek area, located in southeastern Montana, contains trophy quality whitetail and mule deer, growing herds of prairie elk and 250 species of birds in the Tongue River Valley, including 137 species of songbirds. The Otter Creek area has historically been inhabited by several Native American tribes, including the Northern Cheyenne and Crow. Rock art, tipi rings and petroglyphs have been found and some rock landforms are considered sacred sites.

In March 2010, the state of Montana leased 572 million tons of coal for strip mining at Otter Creek to Arch Coal, the nation's second largest coal producer. The leases were approved without doing an Environmental Impact Statement. The decision was challenged by groups concerned about social, health and economic impacts. The Northern Plains Resource Council opposed the Otter Creek mine and the proposed Tongue River railroad which would have been built to ship coal from isolated Otter Creek to markets in the Midwest and the Pacific Coast and Aisa.

The mine would have directly damaged land, water, and wildlife habitat in Montana. It would necessitate the construction of destructive infrastructure projects that would have condemned private property and taken agricultural land out of production. Eventually, that coal would be burned would emit at least 2.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide.