| Ochenski and Peaks, and Valleys both have excellent posts up on the recent "revelation" that the Otter Creek coal tracts are worth $1.4 billion to the state in land-lease revenue, all of which would go to Montana's school system:
A new appraisal of vast state-owned coal reserves in southeastern Montana finds the state would reap $1.4 billion in royalty payments over the next four decades if it leases the property for mining.
Development of the Otter Creek tracts - more than a billion tons of coal co-owned by the state and Great Northern Properties - could open the door to a dramatic expansion of the region's coal industry. It also could facilitate construction of a long-delayed rail line, the Tongue River Railroad.
Ochenski has the history of the coal tracts, and you should read it to see how Montana ended up owning land with the coal. But the important detail is this: the state and Great Northern own "checkerboard" sections of land where the coal is. And it's Great Northern that's pushing development. And the report released on the potential revenue for the state was issued by Northwest Corp, a consultant to the mining and energy industry. That's really all you need to know to figure out that this latest round of news is probably orchestrated propaganda to pressure the state land board to lease the land for coal development.
And, of course, there's the ugly little detail that a rail line will have be put through the Tongue River valley. And Tongue River Valley ranchers don't want a rail line. And the Northern Cheyenne would essentially have to agree to development, too. Both of which means that a lot of political and financial capital will likely have to be spent to get this project going.
PPV opines that development of the Otter Creek tracts will happen, and under Democratic watch:
...It's not about if they get developed, or even where, or how, they get developed, but when. Ideally, these developments occur at a time that's late enough to capitalize on spiking energy prices and peaked demand in the market. One also needs to secure the Montana State Land Board, comprised of the state's top five elected officials who make most of the decisions on these things; the Democrats have done that. They also need a democratic operative running the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation, which oversees oil and gas leases on state lands... someone like Director Democrat Mary Sexton... Check.
It's also about squeezing-out potential enviros or certain GOP legislators from gaining major leadership positions in the state legislature that could spearhead legislative efforts to curb or stall this growth... Check.
[Roy Brown (R-Billings) and Michele Reinhart (D-Missoula) nod bitterly in agreement as author types. Squeeze-out indeed.]
The when question also gets to Schweitzer's last term in office at sky-high approval ratings following a major splash performance at the DNC's national convention along with key political insiders being positioned in places like the White House and the U.S. Senate. Messina. Baucus. Tester... Check.
With all the checks lined-up, the political capital from this will be huge. Tapping those reserves at the right time allows Schweitzer, as well as the other Demo Land Board members-A.G. Steve Bullock, O.P.I. head Denise Juneau, Auditor Monica Lindeen, and S.O.S. Linda McCullough-to claim billions supporting public education, landmark energy development, and a vital piece of their political resume.
For Schweitzer, it's the final piece of everything he needs to go national-a shining emblematic example of the kind of domestic energy development national policy-makers and the industrial interests behind them want to see.
We will miss Jag.
I'm not as...optimistic?...as PPV. The Otter Creek tracts seem more politically useful undeveloped. State Democrats can blame "radical" enviros for blocking development, earning their "moderate" and "centrist" reputations, state Republicans can hold the tracts up as evidence that they need to be in office to develop that coal. Meanwhile, the Otter Creek coal is suspended like a pinata stuffed with one-point-four billion dollar bills over the heads of the eager, blindfolded electorate.
Agree to develop the tracts? You've got years of litigation featuring the trampled-on property rights of Montana ranchers to look forward to, as well as a future of diminishing returns on the coal as (hopefully) the nation greens and requires less of the filthy fuel. That ain't sexy. Tho' to be fair to the Good Guv, he'll be long gone when the sh*t hits the fan. Not so the Land Board members, tho...
Public comment kicked off on the issue.