"For 40 years the citizens of southeast Montana have been repeatedly asked to absorb the impacts of natural resource extraction. We have done our part. We have sacrificed the loss of water, land, property, and quality of life for others to enjoy electricity at the flick of a switch. We have given enough, and the time has come to say no more."
Things of Intrinsic Worth is a feature-length documentary film about the future of energy development, democracy, and the American West.
ABOUT THE FILM
Who are the McRaes? The McRae family settled in southeastern Montana among the sandstone bluffs and fields of prairie grass in the 1880's because it was a good place to raise cattle. There was plenty of clean water from the Rosebud Creek and the Tongue River that flowed through the unspoiled Tongue River Valley. Wally McRae and his son Clint continue the family tradition, raising cattle in the same unspoiled valley as their grandfathers and great-grandfathers did before. The McRaes are deeply devoted to this land and they carry on a tradition here of living by certain core principles: Protect and respect land and water. Help your neighbors and community. Live your life not solely to make profits. Make decisions knowing that the effects of your actions will be passed on to the next generation. Forces that lie in direct contrast to these principles are now threatening the McRaes and their neighbors, the American West, and the future of the climate.
There are fewer and fewer people like Clint and Wally McRae, who live a life inextricably tied to the health of the land and water and therefore must protect them. The McRaes are not only embodiments of an important culture that is disappearing, but are also powerful voices that convey what is true and beautiful about the American West.
What are the issues? The McRae's Rocker Six Ranch sits on the northern edge of the Powder River Basin: a region of family ranches, Native American homelands, abundant wildlife and pristine wilderness. This region is also home to one of the largest coal deposits in the world. Just to the east of Clint and Wally McRae's ranch, proposals to develop a massive coal mine in the Otter Creek Valley and a railroad to transport the coal through the Tongue River Valley has sparked a bitter debate not only in Montana, but across the country.
If the mine is approved, Otter Creek coal would be transported by the as-yet-unbuilt Tongue River Railroad, its route cutting through the middle of ranches on its way to the newly proposed coal export ports in Oregon and Washington. The coal would then be loaded onto ships bound for power plants in Asia. Owners of the proposed Tongue River Railroad (Arch Coal, Warren Buffet’s BNSF Railway, and candy billionaire Forest Mars Jr who joined in to prevent the railroad from crossing his own ranch in the area) are now asking the government to grant them eminent domain so that they can build the new railroad through farms and ranches along the Tongue River Valley. The Tongue River Railroad would slice through the heart of the McRae's ranch, cutting their cattle off from water, bringing increased risk of fires, and polluting the water and air. The coal trains would then carry up to 33 millions tons of coal a year through communities across Montana, Idaho, Oregon and Washington before arriving at the proposed ports. Burning this coal would release 2.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over the life of the Otter Creek mine.
Proponents argue that the Otter Creek coal mine, which would be one of the largest strip mines in the West, is a huge economic development opportunity with the potential to create jobs and revenue for the state of Montana. But, the McRaes and their neighbors, Native American tribes, citizens across the West, and people concerned about the implications for the climate believe that the negative impacts are too great. They say that the profits will go to the coal and railroad companies, while the pollution will effect us all and exacerbate climate change, and communities from Montana to the Pacific Northwest will be left to pay the price with damaged water, air, wildlife habitats, sacred cultural sites, landscapes, and livelihoods. With 10% of the world's coal reserves sitting under Montana and a proposal that could lead to Montana serving as a coal colony for Asia, the stakes are high.
While Clint and Wally McRae are battling to stop corporations from forcibly taking their land in the name of exporting coal to Asia, another danger from coal production is also threatening their ranch. Just to the north of the McRaes sits the Colstrip power plant, and the West's largest coal ash facility that has been contaminating groundwater for 30 years. Coal ash is the hazardous waste left after coal is burned and contains concentrated amounts of heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury and lead. A plume of toxic groundwater has already poisoned wells, sickened residents in nearby Colstrip, and led to a $25 million dollar settlement with the owner of the power plant. Despite the lawsuit, the contamination continues and the plume of poisonous water, capable of killing cattle and the McRae’s livelihood, is now nearing their ranch.
Things of Intrinsic Worth follows the McRaes as they struggle to save their ranch and the Tongue River Valley amidst the encroaching forces of coal production. The McRae's ranch sits in the epicenter of a battle over the power of corporations, government's role in protecting citizens and the environment, and the future of the climate. The film weaves together a story that travels from the grasslands of Montana, to the Pacific Northwest, to energy hungry Asia and explores the questions:
- What is being lost in the American West?
- What are the global implications if the Otter Creek mine is developed?
- Who does our government serve: corporations or its citizens?
- What do we stand for now as a country?
WHY WE ARE MAKING THIS FILM
We first met Clint and Wally McRae a year and a half ago while we were producing a series of short films about the environmental and health impacts of coal ash across the United States. We were struck by their uncommon integrity and their unwavering determination to stand up for what they believe in, as well as the beauty of the Tongue River Valley that they call home. The video above is from this series and aims to introduce you to the McRaes, the rugged beauty of southeastern Montana, and to some of the issues that will be expanded upon in Things of Intrinsic Worth. The title of the film (also the title of the short film above) comes from one of Wally McRae's poems. Wally is a renowned cowboy poet and has served on the National Council of the Arts and has received a National Endowment of the Arts' National Heritage Award.
While filming with the McRaes, we learned about the proposed Otter Creek coal mine and what it would mean not only for the McRaes and their neighbors, but also for Montana and beyond. We are making this film because we believe that what is at stake in Montana, is also at stake for everyone.
WHY WE NEED YOUR SUPPORT
Simply put, we are asking for your support because without your help, this film won't be made. Every donation, big or small, helps us bring this film to life and we are very grateful to have your support. Another great way to help us meet our funding goal is to spread the word about our Kickstarter campaign via Twitter and Facebook (there are links to both below the video at the top of the page). With your help, we can reach our funding goal and be able to begin filming in September. These funds will take us all the way through production and into post-production. Our goal is to have the film completed in December 2014, but our official release date will depend on film festival scheduling. Thank you for helping us reach our funding goal!
HOW KICKSTARTER WORKS
Kickstarter is the world's largest funding platform for creative projects. It allows individuals to actively support projects they believe in.
How do I pledge and become a "backer" of Things of Intrinsic Worth?
1) Click the large green "back this project" button to the right of the video at the top of this page.
2) Enter your pledge amount and follow the steps to enter your payment information on Amazon Payments. (You can give as little as you want or as much as you want. Every pledge helps us reach our funding goal.)
Please Note: Kickstarter operates on an all-or-nothing model. This means we must meet our entire funding goal in order to be able to produce Things of Intrinsic Worth. Your pledged amount will only be deducted from your credit or debit card after we meet our funding goal and our Kickstarter campaign has ended.
Thank you for your support!
Carly Calhoun and Sam Despeaux