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Is Montana Being Guided Back To A Dickensian Future?

Goat rancher Alexis Bonogofsky pens a letter to Montana's secretary of state 'congratulating' him for his position on coal

The high plains around Otter Creek, Montana, site of proposed expanded coal mining. Photo courtesy Alexis Bonogofsky
The high plains around Otter Creek, Montana, site of proposed expanded coal mining. Photo courtesy Alexis Bonogofsky
Alexis Bonogofsky, founder of the photojournalism website "East of Billings," penned this "open letter of 'thanks' to Montana's Secretary of State Corey Stapleton for traveling back in time to try to save the Otter Creek coal mine." Bonogofsky is a fourth-generation Montanan, goat rancher, hunter and award-winning professional photographer who lives along the Yellowstone River east of Billings in the heart of cattle country. Her letter is reprinted with permission. —MoJo Eds

Dear Corey,

Six days ago you sent me a message from the past. You traveled back in time to try to save the Otter Creek coal mine from its future, or I guess to be more accurate, the lack thereof.

Your brilliantly-crafted email was an argument to encourage the Montana State Land Board to lease the Otter Creek coal tracts.

[Well, we really can’t call it an argument now can we Corey? It was more like you decided to write down a fleeting thought you had without any real evidence or facts to back you up, but that’s not important now days right? We just say whatever we feel like even if it doesn’t make sense or is an outright lie. But that's not important, the important thing is your unwavering and illogical commitment to the Otter Creek project.]

To be honest Corey, I didn’t think you had it in you.

In the limited spare time you have from your day job as Montana’s Secretary of State spending taxpayer dollars searching for non-existent voter fraud, you managed to somehow build a small time machine in order to travel back in time and try to save an expensive coal mine project that the surrounding community didn’t want and there was no market for.

What you did is courageous. Really.
Another scene near Otter Creek where some would like to open additional coal tracts to open pit extraction. Photo courtesy Alexis Bonogofsky.
Another scene near Otter Creek where some would like to open additional coal tracts to open pit extraction. Photo courtesy Alexis Bonogofsky.
From the past, you wrote,

“The Otter Creek coal tracts will bring economic activity of $5 billion to Montana. Billion. Billion. Billion.”
 
Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion.

[Oops, sorry, I got distracted writing the word billion over and over again for no apparent reason.]

Are you still there? Have you managed to stop natural gas drilling and save the coal markets?

Wow. Corey. I just re-read the email and realized that you didn’t travel back in time. The email was dated March 2018, not March 2008.

I am really disappointed. You’re not the time traveling hero I thought you were.

And, now that I know you are writing from the present, there are some sentences that I’m really confused by. 

You write: “The current land board is dinking around.”

Alexis Bonogofsky
Alexis Bonogofsky
Correct me if I’m wrong Corey, but the current 2018 Land Board is made up of four Republicans and only one Democrat, Governor Bullock. I guess what you are saying is that the Republicans are failing at their job but the Democrats did their job in 2010 when the Land Board, made up of five Democrats, leased the Otter Creek coal tracts to Arch Coal.

Well, if that’s the way you feel about it, that’s the way you feel about it.

And then you wrote this, which makes me think you really were speaking to me from the past.

“Coal will be America’s primary source of energy for the coming decades. That is a fact.”
 
I think it’s time someone had this talk with you and it should have happened a long time ago. It’s my fault, really. I never expected you would make it this far. I guess I should have though because when you keep running for different elected offices over and over again, sooner or later you're bound to make it.

Here it is. There is a government organization called the U.S. Energy Information Administration or EIA for short. EIA collects, analyzes, and disseminates independent and impartial energy information to promote sound policymaking, efficient markets, and public understanding of energy and its interaction with the economy and the environment. They have a website with information on it, where you can do something called research.

If you go to EIA’s website, you can read that coal is not our largest source of energy. In 2016, natural gas was 34% of U.S. electricity generation and coal was 30%. The coal percentage is expected to keep declining over the next couple of decades.

There are so many gems in your email but like you said in your email, I have go make hay while the sun is shining, so just one more thing.

In the last paragraph you wrote,

“Let’s provide leadership from the Land Board and develop the Otter Creek tracts. The revenue to Montana from this single act will dwarf all other Land Board activities combined.”
 
I know this might be hard for you to hear so you should probably sit down.

In order for the State of Montana to make new money off the Otter Creek coal tracts, there would have to be a company that wanted to lease them. Arch Coal spent quite a bit of money the first time they were leased and failed pretty spectacularly. There is no coal company with enough capital to invest in a mine and a railroad that no one wants and no one needs.

A coal company would have to have billions of dollars to lease the coal, build the mine and build a railroad. Billions of dollars they don’t have.

Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion. Billion.

Oh yeah, and they’d have to have someone that wants to buy the coal. It's called a market. And there isn't one.

So keep tilting at windmills man, I’m sure it’s a good use of our taxpayer dollars.

Sincerely,

Alexis

EDITOR'S NOTE TO MOJO READERS: If you (including Secretary of State Corey Stapleton) would like to offer a rebuttal stating with evidence why you believe coal will remain a key economic driver for the states of Montana and Wyoming for decades to come, we will publish it. 

Alexis Bonogofsky
About Alexis Bonogofsky

Alexis Bonogofsky, founder of the photojournalism website East of Billings, is a fourth-generation Montanan, goat rancher, hunter and award-winning professional photographer who lives along the Yellowstone River east of Billings in the heart of cattle country.
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