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In Montana, ranchers line up against coal

A proposed mine — and a railway extension to carry it out — would put their land at risk for an energy plan that mainly benefits Asia, ranchers say. But they're in the minority.

April 26, 2013|By Kim Murphy, Los Angeles Times

"If you do the math, it's somewhere in the magnitude of three or four times as much rail traffic as we're experiencing now," said Ed Gulick, a Billings architect who has worked with the Northern Plains Resource Council to block the coal shipments.

The federal Surface Transportation Board said it would study the full environmental impacts of delivering the coal at Otter Creek to market. Arch Coal, the developer at Otter Creek, has said it's too early to say where any coal will be sold.

Clint McRae traveled to Seattle in December to testify at an Army Corps of Engineers hearing. Much of the crowd was adorned in the usual green get-ups: A man was dressed as a polar bear, and several people hoisted a giant inflated asthma inhaler. Then came a tall, somber man in boots and a Silverbelly cowboy hat.

"My name is Clint McRae. I have a ranch just south of Colstrip, Mont. My family's lived on this ranch and ranched in that valley for 125 years," he said, his long frame bending over to reach the microphone. "I want to make it absolutely clear: I am vehemently opposed for a private, for-profit corporation to use eminent domain to condemn my private land for a rail line to export coal to China."

The hall erupted in cheers.

Wallace McRae said he had no intention of staying quiet if it meant losing part of his ranch. "The Corps of Engineers didn't even have a hearing in Montana, though the only place they will condemn land for that railroad is right here," he said. "Because they knew they were going to run through a buzz saw of people like me."


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