Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Arrested (Mining) Development in Montana


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,, 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

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book is Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, co-edited with Jeffrey St. Clair and published by AK Press. He can be reached at You can follow him on Twitter @joshua__frank

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 27, 2016
Paul Street
An Identity-Politicized Election and World Series Lakefront Liberals Can Love
Matthew Stevenson
Sex and the Presidential City
Jim Kavanagh
Tom Hayden’s Haunting
CJ Hopkins
The Pathologization of Dissent
Mike Merryman-Lotze
The Inherent Violence of Israel’s Gaza Blockade
Robert Fisk
Is Yemen Too Much for the World to Take?
Shamus Cooke
Stopping Hillary’s Coming War on Syria
Jan Oberg
Security Politics and the Closing of the Open Society
Ramzy Baroud
The War on UNESCO: Al-Aqsa Mosque is Palestinian and East Jerusalem is Illegally Occupied
Colin Todhunter
Lower Yields and Agropoisons: What is the Point of GM Mustard in India?
Norman Pollack
The Election: Does It Matter Who Wins?
Nyla Ali Khan
The Political and Cultural Richness of Kashmiriyat
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“It’s Only a Car!”
October 26, 2016
John W. Whitehead
A Deep State of Mind: America’s Shadow Government and Its Silent Coup
Eric Draitser
Dear Liberals: Trump is Right
Anthony Tarrant
On the Unbearable Lightness of Whiteness
Mark Weisbrot
The Most Dangerous Place in the World: US Pours in Money, as Blood Flows in Honduras
Chris Welzenbach
The Establishment and the Chattering Hack: a Response to Nicholas Lemann
Luke O'Brien
The Churchill Thing: Some Big Words About Trump and Some Other Chap
Sabia Rigby
In the “Jungle:” Report from the Refugee Camp in Calais, France
Linn Washington Jr.
Pot Decriminalization Yields $9-million in Savings for Philadelphia
Pepe Escobar
“America has lost” in the Philippines
Pauline Murphy
Political Feminism: the Legacy of Victoria Woodhull
Lizzie Maldonado
The Burdens of World War III
David Swanson
Slavery Was Abolished
Thomas Mountain
Preventing Cultural Genocide with the Mother Tongue Policy in Eritrea
Colin Todhunter
Agrochemicals And The Cesspool Of Corruption: Dr. Mason Writes To The US EPA
October 25, 2016
David Swanson
Halloween Is Coming, Vladimir Putin Isn’t
Hiroyuki Hamada
Fear Laundering: an Elaborate Psychological Diversion and Bid for Power
Priti Gulati Cox
President Obama: Before the Empire Falls, Free Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal
Kathy Deacon
Plus ça Change: Regime Change 1917-1920
Robin Goodman
Appetite for Destruction: America’s War Against Itself
Richard Moser
On Power, Privilege, and Passage: a Letter to My Nephew
Rev. William Alberts
The Epicenter of the Moral Universe is Our Common Humanity, Not Religion
Dan Bacher
Inspector General says Reclamation Wasted $32.2 Million on Klamath irrigators
David Mattson
A Recipe for Killing: the “Trust Us” Argument of State Grizzly Bear Managers
Derek Royden
The Tragedy in Yemen
Ralph Nader
Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think
Norman Pollack
Centrist Fascism: Lurching Forward
Guillermo R. Gil
Cell to Cell Communication: On How to Become Governor of Puerto Rico
Mateo Pimentel
You, Me, and the Trolley Make Three
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases