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The Rundown with Beth Saboe

The Future of Colstrip (No. 101)

Colstrip runs on coal, but what happens when that industry faces an uncertain future?

The Rundown

The Future of Colstrip

Rating: TV-G

Colstrip runs on coal, but what happens when that industry faces an uncertain future?

Beth Saboe
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Colstrip, MT is a town that coal built. But what happens to a community when the very industry that created it is facing an uncertain future? This 30-minute documentary by MontanaPBS explores the struggle between locals who say they’re fighting a war on coal and those who say they’re fighting to save the planet.

Colstrip was established in 1924 by Northern Pacific Railway as a company town to mine coal to power the railroad’s steam locomotives. In 1959, Montana Power Company bought the rights to the mine and the town and later built four coal-fired plants to produce electricity. Today the ownership of the plants is more complicated and adds to the uncertainty surrounding its future. A total of six different companies share ownership and only one, NorthWestern Energy, is in Montana.

The Colstrip Generating Station is the second-largest coal-fired power facility west of the Mississippi but it’s also one of the country’s biggest producers of greenhouse gasses, emitting 13.5 million metric tons each year, according to the EPA. Under the federal Clean Power Plan, Montana would have to cut emissions by 47 percent, which could spell the end of the plants and possibly the coal mine in Colstrip. Residents say they feel like they are under attack, by the federal government and environmentalists, who want to see coal-fired power replaced with renewable energy.

A little more than 2,200 people live in this small Eastern Montana town and over 700 of them work at either the coal mine or the electrical plants. This film examines how locals are uniting in their battle for survival and how laws passed in other states and at the federal level could impact Colstrip.