George Mason Law School

Beyond the Burg: Environmental activists protest selling state creek

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March 23, 2010

2:27 AM

Two University of Montana students were arrested for their participation in a sit-in protest at the state capitol Thursday over the decision to sell coal from Otter Creek, Mont. to Arch Coal, Inc., a St. Louis, Mo.-based coal mining company.

Three other non-UM students also joined the protest, voicing opposition to a decision which would sell the coal, valued at $570 million, for $85.8 million.

Genevieve Schroeder, Mary Rosette, Max Granger, Michael Phelps and Shelby Cunliffe were affiliated with Northern Rockies Rising Tide, a Montana-based environmental activism group. Granger and Schroeder are both University of Montana students.

The group was arrested after disrupting a state Land Board meeting. During the meeting, the board heard public testimony and comments both for and against the plan for nearly two hours. Afterward, Montana Secretary of State Linda McCulloch initiated a motion to oppose the proposed deal.

The five protestors then entered the room, linked arms and sat down, chanting “Hands off Otter Creek!”
Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer was forced to call a recess in order for law enforcement officers to come in and remove the protesters for their disorderly conduct.

The five were arrested without any demonstration of resistance. Several Helena, Mont. Police officials spoke with the students before handcuffing them and leading them out of the Land Board meeting.

Cunliffe, a Montana graduate, said that the group members anticipated their arrest. She was the first person taken into custody and stated that the protesters complied with police officials during their detainment.

The activists spent eight hours in two separate jail cells, one for the men and one for the women. They are scheduled for a court appearance Friday in Helena.

After the removal of the protestors, the Land Board voted in favor of leasing Otter Creek to Arch Coal, Inc.
Cunliffe was later interviewed by the Missoula Independent and asked what the group hoped to accomplish.

“We went into it knowing that the tracts were going to be leased,” she said. “My main goal was just to bring it to the public’s attention, not just the Montana public, but at a national level. For us to make media was the most important thing. No one really actually knew about it, and they probably still don’t know much about it. We made the LA Times, the New York Times, the Miami Herald. It’s all over the place now.”

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