FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

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, 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.

More articles by:

JOSHUA FRANK is managing editor of CounterPunch. His most recent book, co-authored with Jeffrey St. Clair, is Big Heat: Earth on the Brink. He can be reached at joshua@counterpunch.org. You can troll him on Twitter @joshua__frank

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

April 25, 2019
Marc Levy
All My Vexes Are in Texas
Jim Kavanagh
Avoiding Assange
Michael D. Yates
The Road Beckons
Julian Vigo
Notre Dame Shows the Unifying Force of Culture, Grenfell Reveals the Corruption of Government
Ted Rall
Democratic Refusal to Impeach Could Be Disastrous
Tracey Harris
Lessons Learned From the Tiny House Movement
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Human Flourishing (Eudaimonia): an Antidote to Extinction?
Dana Johnson
Buyer Beware: Hovercraft Ruling Deals a Major Blow to Land Conservation in Alaska
Norman Solomon
Joe Biden: Puffery vs. Reality
Jen Marlowe
The Palestine Marathon
Binoy Kampmark
Lethal Bungling: Sri Lanka’s Easter Bombings
Michael Slager
“Where’s Your Plan?” Legalized Bribery and Climate Change
Jesse Jackson
Trump Plunges the US Deeper Into Forgotten Wars
George Wuerthner
BLM Grazing Decision Will Damage the Owyhee Canyonlands Wilderness
April 24, 2019
Susan Babbitt
Disdain and Dignity: An Old (Anti-Imperialist) Story
Adam Jonas Horowitz
Letter to the Emperor
Lawrence Davidson
A Decisive Struggle For Our Future
John Steppling
The Mandate for Israel: Keep the Arabs Down
Victor Grossman
Many Feet
Cira Pascual Marquina
The Commune is the Supreme Expression of Participatory Democracy: a Conversation with Anacaona Marin of El Panal Commune
Binoy Kampmark
Failed States and Militias: General Khalifa Haftar Moves on Tripoli
Dean Baker
Payments to Hospitals Aren’t Going to Hospital Buildings
Alvaro Huerta
Top Ten List in Defense of MEChA
Colin Todhunter
As the 2019 Indian General Election Takes Place, Are the Nation’s Farmers Being Dealt a Knock-Out Blow?
Charlie Gers
Trump’s Transgender Troops Ban is un-American and Inhumane
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Just Another Spring in Progress?
Thomas Knapp
On Obstruction, the Mueller Report is Clintonesque
Elliot Sperber
Every Truck’s a Garbage Truck
April 23, 2019
Peter Bolton
The Monroe Doctrine is Back, and as the Latest US Attack on Cuba Shows, Its Purpose is to Serve the Neoliberal Order
David Schultz
The Mueller Report: Trump Too Inept to Obstruct Justice
Geoff Beckman
Crazy Uncle Joe and the Can’t We All Just Get Along Democrats
Medea Benjamin
Activists Protect DC Venezuelan Embassy from US-supported Coup
Patrick Cockburn
What Revolutionaries in the Middle East Have Learned Since the Arab Spring
Jim Goodman
Don’t Fall for the Hype of Free Trade Agreements
Lance Olsen
Climate and Forests: Land Managers Must Adapt, and Conservationists, Too
William Minter
The Coming Ebola Epidemic
Tony McKenna
Stephen King’s IT: a 2019 Retrospective
David Swanson
Pentagon Claims 1,100 High Schools Bar Recruiters; Peace Activists Offer $1,000 Award If Any Such School Can Be Found
Gary Olson
A Few Comments on the recent PBS Series: Reconstruction: America After the Civil War
April 22, 2019
Melvin Goodman
The NYTs Tries to Rehabilitate Bloody Gina Haspel
Robert Fisk
After ISIS, a Divided Iraq, Wounded and Grief-Stricken
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange as Neuroses
John Laforge
Chernobyl’s Deadly Effects Estimates Vary
Kenneth Surin
Mueller Time? Not for Now
Cesar Chelala
Yemen: The Triumph of Barbarism
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail