It wasn't <I>environmental racism</I>

  Dear HCN,
A recent High Country News article about the Northern Cheyenne tribe’s battles over coal (HCN, 1/20/03: A breath of fresh air) includes an allegation by Gail Small that the settlement of the New World Mine battle near Yellowstone National Park several years ago was an example of “environmental racism” because the conservation groups “signed off on the Otter Creek” coal deal.

The state of Montana demanded federal coal leases in eastern Montana as ransom for stopping the proposed mine. The conservation community strongly opposed this proposal, as did the Clinton administration.

Despite our opposition, a deal was cut by Republican leaders in a meeting behind closed doors, in a congressional subcommittee that instructed the secretary of Interior to find federal coal lands in eastern Montana to compensate the state. If the state and the Interior Department could not agree on a land trade, the Otter Creek tracts would automatically transfer to the state at the end of the Clinton administration’s term. Then-President Clinton line-item vetoed the Otter Creek provision at the urging of conservationists. It was only when the line-item veto power granted to the president by the Congress was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court that the Otter Creek provision became law.

Ironically, given the state’s claim that it deserved compensation, the Otter Creek tracts are unlikely to be developed due to their distance from existing coal mines, power lines or adequate transportation facilities.

We sought out the Crow Tribe in this battle as an important ally due to the fact that the mine site was located within their historic territories. Our failure to involve the Northern Cheyenne, in hindsight, may have been an oversight, but it hardly constitutes an act of environmental racism. If we had thought that our efforts would have had a direct impact on Northern Cheyenne lands and communities, we would have sought their involvement in the battle as valuable allies.

Michael Scott
Bozeman, Montana

The writer is executive director of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition.
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