The naked, murdered body of an unknown black man is discovered on the muddy banks of Beaver Creek by a young mother, Gail, who's returning from an evening of her affair with Clinton Foster. Clinton, a government agent who defected from the service to return to his roots, is foreman on the WEBY/U ranch. W. Ebert Bellwether, the owner, a rabid Republican billionaire, buys up hundreds of thousands of acres of open rangeland -- which Clinton believes to be a tax write-off.
With the help of the US Bureau of Land Management and the administration in Washington, Bellwether acquires mineral rights on his own land as well as on adjoining ranches. His secret goal: methane gas. Priceless wilderness areas will be raped and New Mexico's Coal County's water table reduced to mud -- a replay of the Jonah Field / Powder River fiasco in Wyoming. When the truth breaks, Clinton is accused by Gail of duplicity.
The local "godfather," Valentino Peggler -- silent owner of the bank, radio station, newspaper and most rentals in the town of Radiant, the seat of Coal County -- finds his fiefdom threatened. Calling in old debts from his days in organized crime, he sends a man into Bellwether's fortified mansion outside the nation's capital. In addition to copying Bellwether's files pertaining to Coal County, Peggler's agent videotapes W. Ebert, his wife and a number of Washington's top leaders in group sexual practices. Peggler keeps the DVD in silence.
Gail, unaware of Valentino's secret knowledge, is horrified at the thought of the fragile New Mexico landscape being destroyed by coal-bed methane drilling rigs. Planting seeds of revolution, Gail enlists the help of Tony Mangino, an old Italian rancher and Valentino's long time friend. Kate Dawson, a demolition expert during the first Iraqi war, Desert Storm, joins the ranks. Clinton, furious with himself for being taken in by Bellwether, finds he's also being tailed by agents he once worked with. His life, like the life of the murdered black man, is in imminent danger. He joins Gail's cause.
An old-time range war ensues: western-style shootouts, stampeding longhorns and exploding coal-bed methane wells all join the montage of old-fashioned frontier justice, murder and mayhem. At its conclusion Valentino confronts Bellwether with the DVD: blackmail works on the high plains of New Mexico as well as in Washington. The revolution is won on the explosive early morning of the Fourth of July, 2007.