Barack Obama has joined the list of prominent state and federal officials who oppose a proposed coal mine in the Canadian Flathead Valley.
On May 29, Obama’s Montana campaign manager Matt Chandler sent an e-mail to Will Hammerquist of the National Parks Conservation Association announcing the presidential candidate’s opposition to a plan by the Cline Mining Corporation to begin an open-pit coal mine in the headwaters of the Canadian Flathead River drainage.
Hammerquist said the e-mail was a surprise, but a pleasant one. He has been a vocal opponent against the mine, which he and others, including scientists, believe would harm downriver water quality in Glacier Park and Montana’s Flathead Valley. The Flathead River system is reputed to have excellent water quality.
Obama’s announcement was widely publicized in Canada, which Hammerquist believes is an important step.
“It’s tremendously significant,” Hammerquist said. “I think one of the biggest ways we’ve seen (the impact) is that Sen. Obama’s statement got the attention of British Columbia.”
The mine has long been a contentious issue in Montana and especially in the Flathead, picking up a host of formidable opponents, including both Montana senators and its representative, Gov. Schweitzer, President Bush and now Obama.
Earlier this year, the British Columbia government rejected a proposal by British Petroleum to extract coal-bed methane in the Canadian Flathead basin. Cline’s open-pit plan, however, is still on the table, calling for the removal of 40 million tons of coal over a 20-year period in an area 25 miles north of the border.
Hammerquist, who is based in Whitefish, met Obama in April when the presidential candidate was speaking in Missoula. He only got a few minutes with the senator, just enough time to brief him on the Cline mine situation. The next month he received the e-mail, which he said is more likely the result of the efforts by Sens. Jon Tester and Max Baucus than his little chat with Obama.
“It really shows he’s been paying attention to Montana,” Hammerquist said.
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