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Extraction, Extremism, Insurrection: Impacts on Government Employees

Coal Mine Cleanup Works: A Look at the Potential Employment Needs for Mine Reclamation in the West

By Kate French - Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC), July 2020

The collapse of the coal industry is devastating small communities across the Western United States, but reclaiming these mined lands quickly could create up to 4,800 full-time equivalent jobs per year in the critical two to three year period after mine closure according to our new report, Coal Mine Cleanup Works. The report estimates potential reclamation job creation for four Western coal states (Colorado, Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming) and provides recommendations for decision makers to ensure cleanup is fully funded and employs the local workforce. 

These findings offer a rare bright light of opportunity for coal communities that are facing massive lay-offs and lost revenue as the coal industry crumbles. Reclamation is one of the few immediately available job opportunities for local workers after a mine shuts down, and the report finds that these jobs are ideally suited for current or former miners.

Coal Mine Cleanup Works key findings include:

  • Surface coal mine reclamation could create up to 4,800 full-time equivalent jobs per year in the critical two to three year period after mine closure. These potential yearly jobs represent up to 65% of the current surface mining workforce in the four-state region. 
  • Reclamation is one of the few immediately available job opportunities for local workers after a mine shut down, and the report finds that these jobs are ideally suited for current or former miners.
  • An important component of a just economic transition is having some immediate job creation solutions, like cleanup jobs, paired with longer-term job solutions.
  • Delayed and underfunded reclamation are the biggest hurdles to getting laid-off miners back on the job doing cleanup work.

Read the text (PDF).

Doing It Right: Colstrip's Bright Future With Cleanup

By staff - Northern Plains Research Council and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1638, July 2018

In 2018, Northern Plains Research Council partnered with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local union 1638 to conduct a research study into the job creation potential of coal ash pond cleanup in Colstrip, Montana.

Because coal ash pond closure and associated groundwater remediation is only now becoming a priority for power plants, there are many unanswered questions about the size and nature of the workforce needed to do it right. This study aims to shed light on some of the cleanup work being done now around the country and what that might mean for the Colstrip workforce and community.

From the executive summary: Coal ash waste is polluting the groundwater in Colstrip, but cleaning it up could provide many jobs and other economic benefits while protecting community health.

This study was conducted to analyze the job-creation potential of cleaning up the groundwater in Colstrip, Montana, that has been severely contaminated from leaking impoundments meant to store the coal ash from the power plants (Colstrip Units 1, 2, 3 and 4). Unless remediated, this contamination poses a major threat to public health, livestock operations, and the environment for decades.

Communities benefit from coal ash pond cleanup but the positive impacts of cleanup can vary widely depending on the remediation approach followed. Certain strategies like excavating coal ash ponds and actively treating wastewater lead to more jobs, stabilized property values, and effective groundwater cleanup while others accomplish only the bare minimum for legal compliance.

This study demonstrates that, with the right cleanup strategies, job creation and environmental protection can go hand-in-hand, securing the future of the community as a whole.

Read the text (PDF).

What caused the Eagle Creek fire?

By Hanna Eid, Samantha Clarke and Ben Riley - Socialist Worker, September 12, 2017

AS A fire raged through Oregon's Eagle Creek last week and workers struggled to save people stranded in the popular hiking destination, the media were busy placing blame on anyone they could--including a 15-year-old boy--rather than the conditions that laid the basis for the devastation.

On Saturday, September 2, the Eagle Creek fire was reported in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, about 45 miles from Portland, Oregon. By the next morning, the fire had grown to over 3,000 acres and began to move west through the gorge toward the 2.3 million-person Portland metropolitan area.

Over the next three days, temperatures soared into the mid-90s, and winds began to gust, fanning the flames of the once-tame blaze into a 31,000-acre force of nature, capable of threatening the massive population in its path.

The effects from the fire began to be felt by Portland residents on Monday, as smoke filled the air and ash began to rain from the sky. "It's so hard to breathe" became a common sentiment of frustration from people all over the city. Many compared the thick layer of ash coating everything in sight to the eruption of Mount St. Helens in 1980, which spread ash all the way around the globe.

On Tuesday, as the air quality worsened--reaching peaks deemed "very unhealthy" by the afternoon--and the fire drew closer, the city posted evacuation notices for many residents in Portland's eastern suburbs, and set up emergency shelters for displaced residents.

The fire joins others sweeping across Oregon, as well as Montana, California and Idaho, in one of the hottest, driest summers on record. The five hottest summers in Oregon history have all been within the last 13 years, causing the easy and rapid spread of forest fires, whether from human or natural causes.

The annual budget for fire suppression hit $1 billion for the first time in 2000, and only 15 years later hit $2 billion in 2015. The fires have continued to grow bigger and more frequent, even as we spend more money to suppress them.

Yet when both liberal and conservative media outlets chimed in about the Eagle Creek fire, their narrative was focused on retribution and personal accountability. An especially grotesque account from CNN villainized teenagers who were accused of using fireworks that ignited the fire.

But blaming kids for a fire of this magnitude is a misdirection of what is otherwise rightful frustration and anger with unsafe conditions, poor air quality and the destruction of both public and private land.

To prevent devastation like this in the future, we need to address the real causes of this massive fire as well as the others: climate change, the logging industry and the root of both--capitalism.

Can Coal Make a Comeback?

By Trevor Houser, Jason Bordoff, and Peter Marsters - Columbia Center on Global Energy Policy, School of International and Public Affairs, and the Rhodium Group, April 2017

From the introduction: Six years ago, the US coal industry was thriving, with demand recovering from the Great Recession, and global coal prices at record highs along with the stock prices of US coal companies. By the end of 2015, however, the industry had collapsed, with three of the four largest US miners filing for bankruptcy along with many other smaller companies. While coal mining employment has been on the decline for decades – from a peak of more than 800,000 in the 1920s to 130,000 in 2011 – the pace of job loss over the past six years has been particularly dramatic. After campaigning on a promise to end what he called his predecessor’s “War on Coal,” President Donald Trump signed an Executive Order in March 2017 ordering agencies to review or rescind a raft of Obama-era environmental regulations, telling coal miners they would be “going back to work.”

This paper offers an empirical diagnosis of what caused the coal collapse, and then examines the prospects for a recovery of US coal production and employment by modeling the impact of President Trump’s executive order and assessing the global coal market outlook. In short, the paper finds:

  • US electricity demand contracted in the wake of the Great Recession, and has yet to recover due to energy efficiency improvements in buildings, lighting and appliances. A surge in US natural gas production due to the shale revolution has driven down prices and made coal increasingly uncompetitive in US electricity markets. Coal has also faced growing competition from renewable energy, with solar costs falling 85 percent between 2008 and 2016 and wind costs falling 36 percent.
  • Increased competition from cheap natural gas is responsible for 49 percent of the decline in domestic US coal consumption. Lower-than-expected demand is responsible for 26 percent, and the growth in renewable energy is responsible for 18 percent. Environmental regulations have played a role in the switch from coal to natural gas and renewables in US electricity supply by accelerating coal plant retirements, but were a significantly smaller factor than recent natural gas and renewable energy cost reductions.
  • Changes in the global coal market have played a far greater role in the collapse of the US coal industry than is generally understood. A slow-down in Chinese coal demand, especially for metallurgical coal, depressed coal prices around the world and reduced the market for US exports. More than half of the decline in US coal company revenue between 2011 and 2015 was due to international factors.
  • Implementing all the actions in President Trump’s executive order to roll back Obama-era environmental regulations could stem the recent decline in US coal consumption, but only if natural gas prices increase going forward. If natural gas prices remain at or near current levels or renewable costs fall more quickly than expected, US coal consumption will continue its decline despite Trump’s aggressive rollback of Obama-era regulations.
  • While global coal markets have recovered slightly over the past few months due to supply restrictions in China and flooding in Australia, we expect this rally to be short-lived. Slower economic growth and structural adjustment in China will continue to put downward pressure on global coal prices and limit the market opportunities for US exports. Indian coal demand will likely grow in the years ahead, but not enough to make up for the slow-down in China. The same is true for other emerging economies, many of whom are negatively impacted by decelerating Chinese commodities demand themselves.
  • Under the best case scenario for US coal producers, our modeling projects a modest recovery to 2013 levels of just under 1 billion tons a year. Under the worst case scenario, output falls to 600 million tons a year. A plausible range of US coal mining employment in these scenarios ranges from 70,000 to 90,000 in 2020, and 64,000 to 94,000 in 2025 and 2030 -- lower than anything the US experienced before 2015.

These findings indicate that President Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental regulations will not materially improve economic conditions in America’s coal communities. As such, the paper concludes with recommendations for steps that the federal government can take to safeguard the pension and health security of current and retired miners and dependents and support economic diversification. Attracting new sources of economic activity and job creation will not be easy, and even at its most successful will not return coal country to peak levels of past prosperity.

But responsible policymakers should be honest about what’s going on in the US coal sector—including the causes of coal’s decline and unlikeliness of its resurgence—rather than offer false hope that the glory days can be revived. And then support those in America’s coal communities working hard to build a new economic future.

Read the text (PDF).

Going to Extremes: The Anti-Government Extremism Behind the Growing Movement to Seize America’s Public Lands

By staff - Center for Western Priorities, July 7, 2016

The 2016 armed standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon provided the American public with a ringside seat to a disturbing trend on U.S. public lands: extremist and militia groups using America’s national forests, parks, monuments, and wildlife refuges to advance their anti-government beliefs.

But these far right-wing organizations are not operating in a vacuum. To the contrary, the armed insurrection in Oregon and Nevada before—led by Ammon Bundy and the Bundy family—share the same foundations as land transfer schemes promoted by some elected leaders in states throughout the West. Both rely upon a philosophy based in vehement anti-government ideologies, both have connections to organizations that espouse armed resistance, both employ pseudo-legal theories to justify their actions, and both use scholarly support from conspiracy theorists and discredited academics.

Our nation’s parks and network of public lands are one of our finest democratic achievements. Americans see management of public lands as one of the things our government does best. But over the last four years, politicians and special interest groups in 11 Western states and in Congress have tried to seize many of these places and turn them over to state and private control.

The elected officials supporting state seizure of U.S. public lands couch their arguments carefully, but our research shows their close associations to extreme individuals, groups, and ideology characterized by antigovernment paranoia and a pseudo-legal approach to the Constitution.

Since the beginning of 2015, 54 land seizure bills have been introduced into Western states, including Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. At least 22 state legislators with direct connections to anti-government ideologies or extremist groups were the primary sponsors on 29 of those bills.

Sitting at the hub of the movement and functioning as the bridge between extremism and the mainstream political debate are Utah Rep. Ken Ivory, Montana Sen. Jennifer Fielder, and their non-profit, the American Lands Council. A close analysis of Rep. Ivory and Sen. Fielder’s activities, and those of other active land seizure proponents at the state level, shows how these efforts are a functional part of an aggressive anti-government movement that will grow more potent if reasonable Americans don’t take action.

Read the report (PDF).

Frank Little: The man that was hung

From the International Socialist Review - Reposted to Libcom.org by Jaun Conatz, March 27, 2015

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

Libcom.org Editor's Note: [Here follows a] 1917 article from the International Socialist Review about the murder of Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) organizer, Frank Little. We do not approve of the offensive reference to Native Americans but reproduce this text in its entirety for historical accuracy.

Well, they got Frank Little. No wireless message ever sped faster than these five words thru the .world of labor. For on the first morning of this month an agitator was hung in Butte, Montana.

A social war has been going on in that hell hole of labor since the 12th of June. On the one side are the few mine owning capitalists represented by their henchmen and an army of 600 Standard Oil gunmen. On the other side are 17,000 unarmed striking copper miners with their Metal Mine Workers' Union.

Came Frank Little, a fellow unionist, with a message of good cheer and solidarity from the miners of the southwest. He told them that their real enemy was the industrial kings and copper barons of America.

He repeated his words to Ex-Governor Hunt of Arizona: "Governor, I don't care what you are fighting for, but we, the Industrial Workers of the World, are fighting for Industrial Democracy." And the miners of Butte cheered his words.

The copper barons replied by sending six of their gunmen to "get" the damn agitator, who championed the cause of hated labor; who made war upon capitalism and the wage system, who advocated industrial democracy. The story of the assassination and what followed is told in the Montana Socialist.

"Driven to desperation by the peaceful, non-resisting strike of the Metal Mine Workers, the company has played its last trump—murder.

Warren Buffett's Coal Problem : To run his coal trains, the billionaire investor needs to seize land from a bunch of Montana cowboys; That's not going over very well

By Marc Gunther - Sierra, May & June, 2013

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are not the official position of the IWW (or even the IWW’s EUC) and do not necessarily represent the views of anyone but the author’s.

It's easy to see why Warren Buffet is called America's most admired investor. The 82-year-old chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway has made gobs of money—$53.5 billion, at last count—and has pledged to give away 99 percent of it. Despite his wealth, Buffett is folksy, unpretentious, and grateful for what he describes as his good luck. He lives in the modest Omaha, Nebraska, home that he bought in 1958 for $31,500 and eats at the local Dairy Queen. (He owns the chain.)

Buffett also gets favorable attention—and deservedly so—for Berkshire's large investments in solar power, wind farms, and the Chinese electric car company BYD. When Berkshire's Iowa-based MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company bought a 579-megawatt solar photovoltaic project in California's Antelope Valley in January, the headlines read, "Warren Buffett in $2 Billion Solar Deal" and "Warren Buffett Continues His Solar Buying Spree." So influential is Buffett as an investor that solar stocks surged on the news. MidAmerican's renewable energy unit also owns a 550-megawatt solar project in San Luis Obispo County, California, and a 49 percent stake in a 290-megawatt solar plant in Yuma County, Arizona. Those are among the biggest solar projects in the world.

A subsidiary of MidAmerican, called MidAmerican Energy Company, a regulated utility with customers in Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota, and Nebraska, has helped build Iowa's thriving wind power industry. Thirty percent of its portfolio is wind-powered generation. "It has been a great and low-key leader," says Bruce Nilles, senior director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.

But Buffett has a problem—a coal problem. In addition to its solar and wind operations, MidAmerican Energy Holdings relies on coal for roughly half of its 18,000-megawatt generating capacity. Buffett's Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) Railway Company derives a quarter of its $20 billion in annual revenues from transporting coal, and it lobbies aggressively on the industry's behalf. Berkshire Hathaway is one of the very few major U.S. companies that don't disclose their greenhouse gas emissions, and it has opposed shareholders who ask it to do so.

Nowhere is Buffett's green reputation taking more of a beating, though, than in a remote and sparsely populated corner of southeastern Montana. Ranchers, Native Americans, and Amish farmers there are fighting to preserve their livelihoods and landscapes, which are threatened by what, if developed, would be one of the biggest coal strip mines in the West. And shipping all that coal to West Coast ports would be Warren Buffett's BNSF Railway.

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