University of Montana's Objectivity Questioned Over Coal Study


To help better examine the issues of the day, citizens turn to institutions of higher learning for studies or research to help craft a better, and often blanced, rationale. But some regional environmentalists are pushing bak against the Unviersity of Montana, saying its research is too closely tied to the coal industry and lacks independence in its analysis.

This morning's Missoulian reports that the the U of M's Bureau of Business and Economic Research recently unveiled research that touts the economic benefits of coal production.

Boise Weekly has been tracking regional protests, urging rejection of a controversial proposal to haul coal—via train—from Montana, through Idaho's panhandle and Washington state before being shipped overseas. If approved, some of the globe's biggest mining companies could haul hundreds of millions of tons of coal through the Northwest.

The Unviersity of Montana recently reported that continued production at the Spring Creek mine, in eastern Montana, would add $55 million to the state's tax base by 2018.

"These guys keep putting out fundamentally flawed ‘economic studies’ that are just PR pieces for the coal industry,” Anne Hedges, program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center, told the Missoulian. “If they’re going to do these studies, I want to see the other side of the story, but they’re not offering it.”

But a university spokesman said the study did not ask "what's good or bad about coal."

"We're simply asking the 'what if' question,'" said Patrick Barkey, BBER research director. "This is a view from 30,000 feet. it's not an attempt to give the whole scorecard."

But environmentalists point to the fact that business interests have funded the university studies, bringing into question the fairness of the findings.