The main beneficiaries of leasing Otter Creek coal won't be coal miners or schools or the Northern Cheyenne or the residents of Powder River County. It will be coal speculators and the proposed Tongue River Railroad.

The appraisal of that coal done for the state of Montana is primarily aimed at persuading the Montana Land Board to go ahead and issue a coal lease that:

• Is full of factual errors, calculation errors and outdated information, and fails to analyze how markets really work.

• Assumes all this high-sodium coal can be dumped into an already limited market and prices would somehow stay high.

• Ignores the fact that those markets are already largely supplied by Montana coal, meaning that existing Montana coal production would be displaced by Otter Creek coal production.

• Ignores the impact on landowners of 120 miles of land condemnation for a railroad and estimates the railroad would cost $187 million when the railroad's own developers estimate the cost at $600 million.

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These and other errors create a fantasy of wealth for Montana. The Land Board is being asked to proceed with leasing the Otter Creek coal without so much as an environmental study.

Land Board members would do well to carefully review Tom Power's independent analysis of the appraisal.

With all the political pressure to go ahead and lease, it will not be easy for Land Board members to call a halt to this train wreck. Nevertheless, I ask them to look at the big picture and do what is best for Montana by stepping away from leasing Otter Creek coal.

Bill and Judy Musgrave


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