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It may not be surprising that the Montana Land Board’s recent 3-2 vote to approve leasing 570 million tons of state-owned coal for development in the Otter Creek Valley has proven controversial.

After all, protesters were arrested and removed from the board’s meeting room on the day of the vote.

The lease gives Arch Coal of St. Louis a 10-year window to develop the coal field — which lies in a pristine valley about 150 miles east of Billings — along with its lease of another 730 million tons of privately owned coal, which is interspersed with the state coal.

It included a nearly $86 million up front bid to pay for that window, amounting to 15 cents per ton.

Proponents say the mine would generate $5 billion in tax revenue and royalties over the life of a mine and approximately $250 million a year once the mine is operating.

That money would help schools and generate jobs, they say, and the upfront bid will help prevent cuts in the state’s tight budget.

Opponents counter that the mine would despoil a beautiful area and damage its water resources and add to air pollution and global warming. Some also say the state could have gotten more money for the bid; it had initially asked for 25 cents per ton.

We asked readers’ opinion in our Question of the Week:

“Do you agree with the Land Board’s decision to approve leasing 570 million tons of state-owned coal for development into a mine in southeastern Montana’s Otter Creek Valley for 15 centers per ton?

Seventy-five percent of the responses, 248 of them, were “no.” The other 25 percent of the responses to the unscientific poll, 84 votes, were “yes.”

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Here are some of the responses we received:

- No. This was a giveaway to the company wanting to “buy” our natural resources. The current going rate is around 25 cents per ton, and our governor sold it for a mere 15 cents per ton.

This is a very short-sighted deal, playing on the immediate gratifications of some constituents who want no cuts in their line items, while ignoring the long term environmental, aesthetic and health-related factors that surround coal abstraction.

- We should be glad there’s a chance in this day and age for good jobs and some money going into the (state) budget.

- Not one square inch of beautiful Montana for coal development. This is short sighted. There is no proven technique to sequester CO2. We ship our coal to brown sky China and India? Dumb. The longer we put off alternative energy development, the greater and quicker the damage to the planet and ourselves.

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