Pearl River – Sometimes what goes around, comes around, and then should be stopped cold and not allowed to move another inch, and I’m talking about the continued environmental and community degradation allowed to persist in Montana and perpetuated by coal and energy companies. Almost fifty years ago, I was sitting in an old, drafty house in Billings, Montana, working with young Montana organizers and activists on organizing strategies, tactics, and the application of the ACORN model in their organizing and issue campaigns to stop coal mining that was tearing up the land, water and peoples’ lives.
These early organizers were part of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a community-based outfit of ranchers and farmers fighting to protect the land and their way of life. They called the place the Bozo House, and somehow it fit. Steve Charter was one of young folks there. His father, Boyd, and some fellow ranchers had founded a group in the Bull Mountains and seeded the development of NPRC. He had assigned his son Steve to help get it going that summer, along with some other ranchers’ children, and they had recruited other folks onto the staff as well. The Youth Project’s western office, run by Drummond Pike, was funding some of their work and the training that had me there, and for several years brought me back in various seasons to work with the NPRC staff. All of which made me not at all surprised to see an article on the front page of the New York Times with pictures of Steve on what is now his ranch in the thick of another fight with a scofflaw coal company tearing up the Bull Mountains and his land.
This campaign by the Bull Mountain Land Alliance is so outrageous that it would seem impossible for Steve and the ranchers not to win, but surprisingly, it’s still operating. Ten people connected to Signal Peak Energy, the mining company, have already either been indicted or already convicted and jailed, including one dude who admitted embezzling $40 million and faked his own kidnapping, as his scheme unraveled. The mine has been fined one-million-dollars by Montana and the feds for not following regulations and damaging water sources. The pictures of Steve have him standing next to a seam opened up on his land by an excavator and some of the miners’ careless work. The company is canceling water rights contracts that ranchers have had for a hundred years. Negotiations with them were likened by Steve to “dealing with the mob”. Add to all of this mischief and mayhem the fact that the main owners are FirstEnergy, based in Ohio, which recently had to pay $230 million in a bribery settlement, a controversial billionaire Wayne Boich, and the Gunvor Group, whose history includes Treasury Department sanctions as a Russian funnel of cash to Putin.
This shouldn’t be seen as just one of those quaint and zany Western tales unique to Montana, Wyoming, and the rest. This is all “lawless” and outrageous. There should only be one response from any state and federal agency to the Signal Peak mine, and that’s shut it down.