Arrested (Mining) Development in Montana

by JOSHUA FRANK

Scott Parkin is a climate change activist associated with Rising Tide North America and Rainforest Action Network, where he works as a Senior Campaigner on the group’s Global Finance Campaign. Scott has organized numerous non-violent protests across the United States. Most recently participated with other individuals in protesting coal mining in Montana, where he and others were arrested during their sit-in. Recently, CounterPunch’s Joshua Frank spoke with Scott about the protests, the Democrats’ culpability and what’s next for the climate change movement.

Joshua Frank: Scott, why take the fight against coal exports to Montana?

Scott Parkin: Coal exports is a preventable human, environmental and climate catastrophe. Last year, the Obama Administration opened up over 700 million tons of coal reserves in Wyoming to export to Asian energy markets. Now Arch Coal has proposed another mine called Otter Creek in Montana’s Powder River Basin to export another 600 million tons. The social and environmental impacts will be enormous. The Montana Land Board, led by MT Gov. Brian Schweitzer, will be deciding on Arch’s proposal later this year. It only makes sense that we take the fight stop coal exports at the source in Montana.

Joshua Frank: Talk a little about the sit-in that took place last month in Helena. What groups were involved and what outcome were you hoping to obtain? 

Scott Parkin: It’s was series of rolling civil disobediences aimed at members of the Montana Land Board with offices the state capital. We occupied the rotunda during the day with a core group sitting in after we were asked to leave by police. Groups working on the project included the Blue Skies Campaign, 350.org, Rainforest Action Network, Rising Tide North America and Greenpeace. More importantly a diverse group of activists from around the region have converged to make this action a reality.

Joshua Frank: How did the media handle the protests? What was the reaction from Montanans in general? 

Scott Parkin: The media response was surface level. We had a couple of good Associated Press stories about the protests, and Arch’s filing for the permit to mine Otter Creek. But they’ve been more “breaking news” than deeper coverage. Coal exports is an emerging issue which will cause catastrophic human and ecological disasters, but the media, as usual, ignores the bigger environmental and climate story.

Montanans that we encountered were supportive. We’ve had many conversations with people along the rail lines who realize the impact coal exports will have on their daily life. Every day, Montanans are sitting in at
the statehouse with us and being taken to jail. A group of ladies from “Montana Women For” sat in with us. It’s a critical issue that has local and global ramifications and Montanans realize that.

Mid-way through our protests the director of the Montana Dept. of Environmental Quality, Richard Opper, met us as we picketed his agency’s headquarters to accept our “Non-Mining Permit” and have a conversation about Otter Creek. He stated that he agreed with us, but said he was bound by laws and regulations that barred him from stopping coal exports outright. He also admitted that he started his work initially because he was concerned about the “sacrifice zone” that was planned for the coal extractive eastern part of Montana.

Joshua Frank: Can you talk a bit about the broader climate change movement for a moment? What significant things are happening elsewhere in the U.S. as well as internationally? 

Scott Parkin: The coal movement has hit a critical juncture. Due to increased regulation, litigation, successful community led campaigns and the rising cost of natural gas, the coal industry is in a bit of trouble. In Appalachia, activists have stepped up their game to end mountaintop removal. Rainforest Action Network has taken the largest funder of coal, Bank of America, to task around its funding of the industry. Environmentalists and communities are also preparing for coal’s next step which is to open up exports on the Gulf Coast.

Globally, we’re seeing a lot of activity in Australia resisting the coal industry there. and in China, they’ve had tens of thousands of people riot and shut down operating coal plants.

Joshua Frank: Like West Virginia and other coal states, most of Montana’s Democrats, with Gov. Schweitzer front and center, appear to be in the pocket of the coal industry. Not all environmentalists are critical of Democrats the same way they are critical of Republicans. How should the climate change movement approach these situations? 

Scott Parkin: In order to address fossil fuel extraction issues and climate change we need to defend communities impacted by both. The climate movement also needs to adapt a systemic critique of the issues. The country is run by elites from both parties. Those elites benefit one way or another from the fossil fuel industry. People in Appalachia and Montana fighting extraction have had it figured out for years because they’ve been sold out numerous times by Democrats like Brian Schweitzer and West Virginia’s chief lobbyist for the coal industry Sen. Joe Manchin.

In order to fight the horrendous coal extraction going on in different parts of the country, environmentalists and climate fighters need to realize that the Democratic Party is not their friend. Instead of looking for them to come around and do “the right thing” the climate movement needs to organize more anti-corporate campaigns, build and empower networks and movements led by frontline communities and use non-violent direct action to confront the root causes of some of our problems instead of giving our power away to elected officials who aren’t working in our best interest anyway.

Joshua Frank: What’s next? What can regular folks that are concerned about climate change do to help support the sorts of actions taking place in Montana? 

In Montana they can join the Missoula, Montana based Blue Skies Campaign or Northern Rockies Rising Tide. Nationally, they can get involved with groups like Rainforest Action Network and Rising Tide North America. There is much more to come.

Joshua Frank is author of Left Out! How Liberals Helped Reelect George W. Bush (Common Courage Press, 2005), and along with Jeffrey St. Clair, the editor of Red State Rebels: Tales of Grassroots Resistance in the Heartland, and of Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, published by AK Press. Hopeless is now available in Kindle format He can be reached at brickburner@gmail.com.

Like What You’ve Read? Support CounterPunch
August 03, 2015
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Atomic Era Turns 70, as Nuclear Hazards Endure
Nelson Valdes
An Internet Legend: the Pope, Fidel and the Black President
Robert Hunziker
The Perfectly Nasty Ocean Storm
Jack Dresser
The Case of Alison Weir: Two Palestinian Solidarity Organizations Borrow from Joe McCarthy’s Playbook
Ahmad Moussa
Incinerating Palestinian Children
Greg Felton
Greece Succumbs to Imperialist Banksterism
Binoy Kampmark
Stalling the Trans-Pacific Partnership: the Failure of the Hawai’i Talks
Ted Rall
My Letter to Nick Goldberg of the LA Times
Mark Weisbrot
New Greek Bailout Increases the Possibility of Grexit
Jose Martinez
Black/Hispanic/Women: a Leadership Crisis
Victor Grossman
German Know-Nothings Today
Patrick Walker
We’re Not Sandernistas: Reinventing the Wheels of Bernie’s Bandwagon
Norman Pollack
Moral Consequences of War: America’s Hegemonic Thirst
Ralph Nader
Republicans Support Massive Tax Evasion by Starving IRS Budget
Alexander Reid Ross
Colonial Pride and the Killing of Cecil the Lion
Suhayb Ahmed
What’s Happening in Britain: Jeremy Corbyn and the Future of the Labour Party
Weekend Edition
July 31-33, 2015
Jeffrey St. Clair
Bernie and the Sandernistas: Into the Void
John Pilger
Julian Assange: the Untold Story of an Epic Struggle for Justice
Roberto J. González – David Price
Remaking the Human Terrain: The US Military’s Continuing Quest to Commandeer Culture
Lawrence Ware
Bernie Sanders’ Race Problem
Andrew Levine
The Logic of Illlogic: Narrow Self-Interest Keeps Israel’s “Existential Threats” Alive
ANDRE VLTCHEK
Kos, Bodrum, Desperate Refugees and a Dying Child
Paul Street
“That’s Politics”: the Sandernistas on the Master’s Schedule
Ted Rall
How the LAPD Conspired to Get Me Fired from the LA Times
Mike Whitney
Power-Mad Erdogan Launches War in Attempt to Become Turkey’s Supreme Leader
Ellen Brown
The Greek Coup: Liquidity as a Weapon of Coercion
Stephen Lendman
Russia Challenges America’s Orwellian NED
Will Parrish
The Politics of California’s Water System
John Wight
The Murder of Ali Saad Dawabsha, a Palestinian Infant Burned Alive by Israeli Terrorists
Jeffrey Blankfort
Leading Bibi’s Army in the War for Washington
Mary Lou Singleton
Gender, Patriarchy, and All That Jazz
Robert Fantina
Israeli Missteps Take a Toll
Pete Dolack
Speculators Circling Puerto Rico Latest Mode of Colonialism
Ron Jacobs
Spying on Black Writers: the FB Eye Blues
Paul Buhle
The Leftwing Seventies?
Binoy Kampmark
The TPP Trade Deal: of Sovereignty and Secrecy
David Swanson
Vietnam, Fifty Years After Defeating the US
Robert Hunziker
Human-Made Evolution
Shamus Cooke
Why Obama’s “Safe Zone” in Syria Will Inflame the War Zone
David Rosen
Hillary Clinton: Learn From Your Sisters
Sam Husseini
How #AllLivesMatter and #BlackLivesMatter Can Devalue Life
Shepherd Bliss
Why I Support Bernie Sanders for President
Louis Proyect
Manufacturing Denial
Howard Lisnoff
The Wrong Argument
Tracey Harris
Living Tiny: a Richer and More Sustainable Future