Tribes prevail, kill proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sided with Northwest tribes Monday in a decision to block the largest proposed bulk-shipping terminal in North America at Cherry Point.


Lummi hereditary chief Bill James, on the beach at Cherry Point, says saving it is to preserve "the tribe's very way of life." It's the site of an ancient Lummi village. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)
Lummi hereditary chief Bill James, on the beach at Cherry Point, says saving it is to preserve “the tribe’s very way of life.” It’s the site of an ancient Lummi village. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times)


By Linda V. Mapes, Seattle Times 

The Lummi Nation has prevailed in its fight to block the largest coal port ever proposed in North America, at Cherry Point.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency reviewing permits for the deep water port project, agreed with the tribe Monday that it could not grant a permit for a project that would infringe on the Lummi Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights.

The 34-page decision was celebrated by community groups and tribes all over the Northwest that opposed the coal port.

The developer, SSA Marine of Seattle, declared the decision “inconceivable” and political, rather than fact-based. Bob Watters, SSA senior vice president and director of business development, said the company was “considering all action alternatives.”

But legal experts said far from outlandish, the decisionfollowed federal obligation to protect tribal treaty rights and the habitat that makes those reserved rights meaningful.

“This is based on a long line of precedent,” said Robert Anderson, director of the Native American Law Center at the University of Washington School of Law. “You can’t have a right to fish without a decent environment.”

Lummi fishing rights and the associated habitat are property rights protected against interference by states, the federal government and private parties, Anderson noted.

Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council called the decision “a big win for Lummi and for treaty rights and for Indian Country.” The tribe argued the project was a killer for its crab fishery and would thwart rebuilding the herring run that was once the prize of Puget Sound.

The terminal would have brought some of the largest ships afloat into the usual and accustomed fishing waters of the Lummi up to 487 times a year to load and unload bulk commodities, principally coal, bound for Asian ports.

The project touched a nerve on both sides of the border among communities fighting coal and oil transport projects — none larger than the port proposed for Cherry Point, the last undeveloped bit of shore on a deep-water cove, between a smelter and two oil refineries.

The Lummi fought the project from the start. The tribe was opposed not only to increased vessel traffic and risk of pollution from the project, but any disturbance of the site of one of its oldest and largest villages and burial grounds, upland from the proposed shipping terminal.

Promises by the developer to minimize and scale back the landside footprint of the project did not interest the Lummi, who argued the project could not be mitigated.

While SSA voiced shock at the decision, some industry analysts said it merely put a project that was never going to be economically viable out of its misery.

“This is like cutting the head off a zombie; it stopped making economic sense years ago, and now it’s officially dead,” said Clark Williams-Derry, director of energy finance at the Sightline Institute in Seattle. With coal prices in a long slide and no recovery in sight, the project had no financial future, Williams-Derry said.

“They have no market for the coal,” agreed Tom Sanzillow, based in New York as the director of finance for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, a nonprofit think tank. Coal-export projects are “wasting a lot of investor capital and people’s time,” he said.

The campaign against the project was hard-fought and its foes implacable. Brian Cladoosby, president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community in La Conner, called coal “black death,” and vowed tribes would fight the project to the end.

Cladoosby said Monday, “Today was a victory not only for tribes but for everyone in the Salish Sea. I hope we are reversing a 100-year trend of a pollution-based economy, one victory at a time.”

Tribal opposition to the project from around the region was good news for citizens from Seattle to Bellingham and beyond, noted Cesia Kearns, based in Portland as deputy regional director of the Beyond Coal campaign for the Sierra Club. “Protecting treaty rights also protects everyone who calls the Salish Sea home. I feel just an incredible amount of gratitude,” she said.

Mel Sheldon, chairman of the board of directors for the Tulalip Tribes, which also have treaty-reserved fishing rights at Cherry Point, said the port would have taken away a way of life not only for those who fish, but for tribal and nontribal residents who treasure the environment. “This is a journey we are all on.”

The decision was made by the Seattle District commander, Cmdr. Col. John Buck. If in the future the Lummi withdrew their opposition, SSA Marine can restart the permitting process, the corps noted.

But Ballew made it clear that is not on the table.

“We have always made our treaty rights and protection of the Ancient Ones our first priority,” Ballew said. “And we always will.”




Cities, counties and tribes seek limits on oil and coal shipping

By Chris Winters, The Herald


EVERETT — Oil train explosions might grab headlines, but there are a number of other issues surrounding the shipment of fossil fuels that are bringing a diverse group of local leaders together.

SELA, the Safe Energy Leadership Alliance, is providing a forum for local leaders to work together to protect their communities from the negative effects of rising shipments of oil and coal.

More than 150 public officials are listed as members, including mayors and city council members from many Pacific Northwest cities that lie on major rail lines, such as Edmonds, Mukilteo, Everett and Marysville.

SELA’s latest meeting, the sixth since the group was established, included several tribal leaders, uniting native and non-native leaders around a common interest.

“I think this is one of the first initiatives that brings us all together,” said Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon Jr., who attended the Feb. 4 meeting at Everett Community College.

King County Executive Dow Constantine organized SELA a year and a half ago, and the group’s influence now extends into Oregon, Idaho, Montana and British Columbia.

A regional organization is needed to counter the power that international oil, coal and railroad companies have, he said.

“Local elected officials acting individually won’t be able to have an impact on the global or national issues,” Constantine said.

And yet, local communities bear the effects of those same industries, whether it’s the risk of oil spills or fires, coal dust blowing out of passing hoppers, or even traffic jams in cities such a Marysville with a high number of at-grade crossings.

For Tim Ballew, chairman of the Lummi Nation, the issue hit home when SSA Marine applied to build the new Gateway Pacific coal terminal at Cherry Point, close to the Lummi Reservation.

The Lummi were joined by several other tribes, including Tulalip and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, in opposing the project.

Ballew told the SELA attendees that effects of increased shipping on native fishing grounds as well as the development of the terminal in an area of spiritual and archaeological significance present a challenge to the tribe’s treaty rights.

“At the heart of the issue, with all of these negative impacts that will come to our community and compromise the integrity of the place we live in, the benefits won’t really go to the people,” Ballew said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is expected to issue a ruling soon on the project’s permit.

Keeping the focus on a single issue has allowed SELA to transcend partisan boundaries, too, Constantine said.

Tribes seek to protect their treaty rights, cities fear derailments and traffic blockages, and rural communities find that fossil fuels are taking up more rail capacity and squeezing out agricultural products.

One 2012 study by the Western Organization of Resource Councils predicted that rail traffic of wheat, corn and soybeans will have to compete with coal and oil for space on trains, resulting in longer delays in getting to market. There were 38.3 million tons of agricultural products shipped to Asia through Pacific Northwest terminals in 2010.

“Farming and ranching and orchards are tough enough businesses without piling on the added burden of getting goods to market,” Constantine said.

David Browneagle, vice chairman of the Spokane Tribe of Indians, pointed out that pollution ultimately doesn’t discriminate who it affects.

“Coal dust will go into all our lungs together,” Browneagle said. “It’s not going to come off the train and say ‘Hmm, that’s an Indian, so I’ll go in him.’ ”

He added his great-great grandfather tried and failed to prevent the railroads from arriving in Indian Country, but that it’s a good thing that this group was doing something now to push back.

Megan Smith, director of Climate and Energy Initiatives in Constantine’s office, has been tracking progress and the public comment windows of new terminal projects in the northwest, as well as coordinating those comments from a large number of local officials.

So far, SELA members have sponsored successful legislation in Olympia, in the form of tougher safety regulations on oil trainsas well as in Oregon, which has enacted a similar law, Smith said.

The work won’t stop at Cherry Point or with a few state laws. Another proposal, the Tesoro Savage oil terminal in Vancouver, Washington, will enter the environmental review stage possibly by the end of the year, said Beth Doglio, the campaign director of the environmental nonprofit Climate Solutions.

Tesoro Savage could become the largest terminal on the West Coast, Doglio said. The oil and coal boom is fueling interest in other projects all over the country.

“We are definitely a movement together that has been very strong, very clear in the message that this is not what we want in the state of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota,” Doglio said.

Tulalip Chairman Sheldon said SELA is helping different groups learn to work together and trust each other. That may lead to identifying other common interests.

“When you get leaders coming together with good issues, issues that bond us together, that to me really is the formula for success,” he said.

Eight Tribes to Protest Coal Terminals During D.C. Conference

Courtesy Gateway Pacific TerminalMap of the proposed project at Cherry Point in Washington, close to Lummi Nation sacred sites.
Courtesy Gateway Pacific Terminal
Map of the proposed project at Cherry Point in Washington, close to Lummi Nation sacred sites.

Leaders and members of the Lummi Nation and other Washington State tribes opposed to coal terminals in the Pacific Northwest are bringing their concerns to the other Washington, the U.S. capital, on Thursday November 5.

Eight tribes in total will call on Congress to honor treaties that safeguard both the environment and tribal members’ ability to fish and conduct other cultural and sustenance activities that would be compromised by proposed industrial development. They plan to speak on the issue at the Ronald Reagan Building courtyard during the White House Tribal Nations Summit, to be held

“Tribal treaty rights are being threatened by corporate interests and congressional interference,” said the tribes in a media release announcing the event. “As Lummi Nation fights to protect its fishing areas from North America’s largest coal terminal, other tribes have faced their own development pressures and stand united with Lummi against the terminal and the erosion of treaty rights.”

The Lummi have vociferously opposed the projects and have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review and reject the proposal for a coal rail terminal at Cherry Point, the ancestral village site of Xwe’chi’eXen.

RELATED: Lummi Nation Asks Army Corps to Deny Permit for Coal Export Terminal

The statement is signed by Lummi Nation Chair Tim Ballew II; Swinomish Indian Tribal Community Chair Brian Cladoosby (also president of the National Congress of American Indians, a post to which he was recently reelected); Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe Chair Frances Charles; Tulalip Nation Chair Melvin Sheldon Jr.; Yakima Nation Chair JoDe Goudy; Hoopa Valley Tribe Chair Ryan Jackson; Spokane Tribe Chair David Brown Eagle, and Quinault Tribe Vice President Tyson Johnston.

RELATED: Lummi Chairman: We Will Fight Coal Terminal ‘By All Means Necessary’

“Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) has led efforts in Congress to prevent the U.S. Army Corps from reviewing the impact of the terminal on the Lummi Nation’s treaty fishing rights—a central tenet of its trust responsibility,” the leaders said in the statement. “If successful, it could set a dangerous precedent for other projects in Indian country.”



Sacred Lands vs. King Coal

BY STEPHEN QUIRKE, Earth Island Journal


Indigenous struggles against resource extraction are gathering strength in the Pacific Northwest


Under the breaking waves of Lummi Bay in northwest Washington, salmon, clams, geoducks and oysters are washed in rhythmic cascades from the Pacific Ocean. Just north of here is Cherry Point, home for three intimately related threatened and endangered species: herring, Chinook salmon, and orcas. It is also the home of the Lummi Nation, who call themselves the Lhaq’temish (LOCK-tuh-mish), or the People of the Sea. The Lummi have gone to incredible lengths to protect the health of this marine life, and to uphold the fishing traditions that make their livelihood inseparable from the life of the sea — continuing a bond that has connected them to the salmon for more than 175 generations.


cheery point beach

Photo by Nicholas Quinlan/Photographers for Social ChangeThe Lummi Nation is currently fighting a proposal to build the largest coal export terminal on the continent at Cherry Point.



The Lummi Nation is currently fighting the largest proposed coal export terminal on the continent (read “Feeding the Tiger,” EIJ Winter 2013). If completed, the Gateway Pacific Terminal would move up to 54 million tons of coal from Cherry Point to Asian markets every year. The transport company BNSF Railway plans to enable the terminal by adding adjacent rail infrastructure, installing a second track along the six-mile Custer Spur to make room for coal trains.

The project is one of many coal export facilities proposed across the US by the coal extraction and transportation industry. In the face of falling domestic demand for the highly polluting fossil fuel, the industry is pinning its survival on exporting coal to power hungry Asia, especially China.

The Gateway proposal has sparked massive opposition from the Lummi, who say it will interfere with their fishing fleet, harm marine life, and trample on an ancient village site that has been occupied by the Lummi for 3,500 years. The village, Xwe’chieXen (pronounced Coo-chee-ah-chin) is the resting place of Lummi ancestors, and contains numerous sacred sites that the Lummi assert a sacred obligation to protect. The Lummi’s connection to their first foods, and to the village site that holds their ancestors’ remains, goes the very heart of who they are as a people, and the Nation has pledged to protect both “by any means necessary”.

The Lummi are no strangers to stopping harmful development. In the mid-1990s they managed to stop a fish farm in the bay; in 1967 they fought back a magnesium-oxide plant on Lummi Bay that would have turned the bay lifeless with industrial waste.

This article is part of our series examining the Indigenous movement of resistance and restoration.

The new threat to the Lummi Nation is being proposed by the global shipping giant SSA Marine. The coal would be supplied by Peabody Energy and Cloud Peak Energy — companies that mine in Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. It was also backed by Goldman Sachs until January 2014, when the company pulled its substantial investment from the project.

Jay Julius, a fisherman and Lummi Nation council member had attended the firm’s annual shareholders meeting back in 2013 and urged it to “take a look at the risk” of their investment.

Another coal export proposal of similar scale has been proposed in Longview, Washington about 235 miles south from Cherry Point. This has been opposed by the Cowlitz Tribe, who object to the impacts that coal would bring to the air and water quality along the Columbia River. This terminal would also create serious harm to another Native tribe at the point of extraction, 1,200 miles away in the Powder River Basin.

The Millennium Bulk Terminal in Longview is a joint proposal from the Australia-based Ambre Energy and Arch Coal, the US’ second largest coal producer after Peabody.

The terminal, which would export up to 48.5 million tons of coal annually, would be supported by Arch Coal’s proposed Otter Creek Mine in southeastern Montana (bordering Wyoming). If built, the mine could produce an estimated 1.3 billion tons of coal, and would span 7,639 acres along the eastern border of the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. This would be the largest mine ever in the United States.


loaded coal trains

Photo by Mike Danneman Coal trains operated by BNSF would haul coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana to a series of proposed export terminals along the Pacific Northwest coast.


To connect the proposed mine to West Coast ports, Arch Coal and BNSF Railway want to build a new 42-mile railroad — called the Tongue River Railroad — through the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. Members of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and their allies have pledged fierce resistance if regulators approve the mine and the railroad, which they say, would have significant impacts on public health and the environment. According to BNSF, anywhere from 500 pounds to 1 ton of coal can escape from a single loaded rail car – on trains pulling 125 cars.

At a June hearing on the railroad organized by the US Surface Transportation Board, federal regulators heard nothing but fierce opposition to the proposed mine and its enabling railroad. A significant proportion of the Lame Deer community from the Northern Cheyenne Reservation turned out to the hearing. Their opposition to the project was echoed by local ranchers.

One rancher told the officials that they needed to understand the importance of history when they propose such unprecedented projects. “Northern Cheyenne history is very sad –  it’s tragic – and they have fought with blood to be where they are tonight.”

“My ancestors have only been buried here for about four or five generations,” he said, but “we know of lithic scatters, we know of buffalo jumps, we know of stone circles, camp sites, vision quest sites… and it is my obligation as a land owner, even though I am not a member of this Nation, that we protect what is there.”

One tribal member, Sonny Braided Hair, was more explicit in his history lesson. “Let us heal,” he said, “or we’ll show you the true meaning of staking ourselves to this land.” He was referring to the Cheyenne warrior society known as the Dog Soldiers, who became legendary in the mid-1800s for holding their ground in battle by staking themselves to the earth with a rope tied at the waist.

Such concerns about sacred sites are too often validated. In July of 2011, before applying for any permits, SSA Marine began construction at a designated archeological site in the ancient Lummi village at Cherry Point, where the Lummi have warned of numerous sacred sites, and where 3,000 year-old human remains have been found.

Pacific International Terminals had earlier promised the Army Corps of Engineers that this site would not be disturbed, and that the Lummi Nation would be consulted before any construction began nearby. They also acknowledged their legal obligation to have an archaeologist on staff when working within 200 feet of the site, along with a pre-made “inadvertent discovery” plan if any protected items were disturbed. Despite all of these assurances, the company illegally sent in survey crews to make way for their terminal, where they drilled about 70 boreholes, built 4 miles of roads, cleared 9 acres of forest, and drained about 3 acres of wetlands.

In August, Whatcom County, Washington, (where Cherry Point is located) issued a Notice of Violation to Pacific International Terminals, and the Department of Natural Resources documented numerous violations of the state Forest Practices Act. The total fines and penalties, however, added up to only about $5,000.

That’s a small price to pay for early geotechnical information, says Philip S. Lanterman, a leading expert on construction management for such projects. According to Lanterman, the information provided by those illegal boreholes was probably a huge economic benefit to the planned project. Needless to say, the meager fines don’t come close to discouraging the behavior. For opponents this incident is just a taste of things to come, and one resounding reason to never trust King Coal.

In the face of such blatant violations of their treaty rights, several Native tribes in North America — from the Powder River Basin, through the Columbia River to the Salish Sea —have banded together and declared that it is their sacred duty to protect their ancestral territories, sacred sites, and natural resources.

In May 2013, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians (ATNI) unanimously adopted a resolutionopposing fossil fuel extraction and export projects in the Pacific NorthwestIn the resolution, the 57 ATNI Tribes of Oregon, Idaho, Washington, southeast Alaska, Northern California, Nevada and Western Montana voiced, “unified opposition” to investors and transporters and exporters of fossil fuel energy, “who are proposing projects in the ancestral territories of ATNI Tribes.” The resolution specifically calls for protection of the Lummi Nation’s treaty-protected fishing rights, and the sacred places that would be affected by the Cherry Point project.

Indigenous resistance to these projects has been bolstered by allies in the environmental movement who have been fighting the export of US coal to foreign markets in the East. Of 15 recent proposals to build major new coal export facilities across the US, all but four (including Gateway and Millennium) have been defeated or canceled within the past two years.

In January this year, the Lummi Nation asked the Army Corps to immediately abandon the environmental review for Gateway Pacific and the Custer Spur rail expansion, stating that the project violates their reserved and treaty-protected fishing rights. If the environmental review is abandoned, the Army Corps would have effectively cancelled the project. In response to this letter the Army Corps gave SSA Marine until May 10 to respond, but later extended the deadline by another 90 days. Environmental reviews of the terminal and BNSF’s Custer Spur rail expansion are due in mid-2016, but it appears likely that the Army Corps will have rejected the Gateway Pacific terminal by then, rendering any rail expansion redundant.


people gathered around a totem pole

Photo courtesy of Sierra ClubIn 2013, James launched a totem pole journey to build solidarity for Indigenous-led struggles against fossil fuels, including the struggle to protect Xwe’chieXen. Pictured here, ranchers, environmentalists, and members of the Northern Cheyenne totem pole blessing ceremony in Billings, Montana.


In order to keep the pressure on, leaders from nine Native American tribes gathered in Seattle on May 14 to urge the Army Corps to deny permits for SSA Marine. “The Lummi Nation is proud to stand with other tribes who are drawing a line in the sand to say no to development that interferes with our treaty rights and desecrates sacred sites,” said Tim Ballew II, Chair of the Lummi Indian Business Council. “The Corps has a responsibility to deny the permit request and uphold our treaty.”

The Lummi have clearly had important successes in stopping harmful development in the past. But with so much on the line for coal companies, can they really use treaty rights to stop a coal terminal of this size? “Without question,” says Gabe S. Galanda, a practicing attorney specializing in tribal law in Washington State. “Indian Treaties are the supreme law of the land under the United States Constitution, and Lummi’s Treaty-guaranteed rights to fish are paramount at Cherry Point.” If the Army Corps decides to deny their permit, Galanda says that coal developers would find it “very difficult if not impossible” to successfully challenge them. By contrast, he says, “the Lummi Nation would have very strong grounds to attack and invalidate” any approval that the Army Corps might grant to the coal exporters.

In a similar case last year, Oregon’s Department of State Lands denied a key building permit for Ambre Energy’s coal export terminal project in Boardman, Oregon. The terminal was planned directly on top of a traditional fishing site of the Yakama Nation. In both Boardman and Cherry Point, the coal companies have implied that the protected Indigenous sites that would be harmed by their projects either do not exist, or that the tribes using them are too incompetent to know their true location.

Just two years after filing paperwork with Whatcom County admitting that they had “disturbed items of Native American archeological significance”, Bob Watters of SSA marine wrote “Claims that our project will disturb sacred burial sites are absolutely incorrect and fabricated by project opponents.”

One of the Cherry Point Terminal’s most fierce opponents is the diplomat, land defender and master carver Jewell Praying Wolf James. James is the head of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers, and has created a tradition out of carving and delivering totem poles to places that are in need of hope and healing.

In 2013, James launched a totem pole journey to build solidarity for Indigenous-led struggles against fossil fuels, including the struggle to protect Xwe’chieXen. James traveled 1,200 miles with his totem pole in 2013 — from the Powder River Basin to the Tsleil Waututh Nation across the Canadian border. In 2014, he launched another 6,000-mile totem pole journey in honor of revered tribal leader Billy Frank Jr, a Nisqually tribal member and hero of the fishing rights struggle. Frank passed away on May 5, 2014 — the same day he published his final piece condemning coal and oil trains.

These totem pole journeys have gained international attention as pilgrimages of hope, healing, decolonization, and Native resistance to the extractive industries.

At the end of August, James concluded his third regional totem pole journey against fossil fuels, carrying the banner of resistance to many tribes who are standing up as fossil fuel projects get knocked down. He held blessing ceremonies in Boardman and Portland where coal and propane projects were recently shot down, passed through the Lummi Nation and Longview where coal has yet to be defeated, and ended in the Northern Cheyenne Nation at Lame Deer, where the community has rallied in opposition to a mine whose devastation would reverberate from Montana, down the Columbia River, and up to Cherry Point.

“There are many of us who are joining, from the Lakota all the way to the West Coast, to the Lummi, south to the Apache, up to the Canadian tribes,” said Northern Cheyenne organizer Vanessa Braided Hair at a recent Tongue River Railroad hearing. “We’re gonna fight, and we’re not gonna stop.”



Power Plants on Indian Reservations Get No Break on Emissions Rules

Four of the dirtiest plants, which sit on Native American soil, were expecting more lenient goals under the Clean Power Plan, but the EPA shifted gears.

By Naveena Sadasivam, Insideclimate News

The Navajo Generating Station is one of the country's dirtiest power plants. Credit: Wikipedia.
The Navajo Generating Station is one of the country’s dirtiest power plants. Credit: Wikipedia.

Four Western power plants that emit more carbon dioxide than the 20 fossil-fuel-fired plants in Massachusetts thought they would be getting a break under the Obama administration’s new carbon regulations––until the final rule ended up treating them just like all the other plants in the country.

The plants are located on Native American reservations, and under an earlier proposal, they were required to reduce emissions by less than 5 percent. But the final version of the rule, released earlier this month, has set a reduction target of about 20 percent.

A majority of the reductions are to come from two mammoth coal plants on the Navajo reservation in Arizona and New Mexico—the Navajo Generating Station and the Four Corners Power Plant. They provide power to half a million homes and have been pinpointed by the Environmental Protection Agency as a major source of pollution––and a cause for reduced visibility in the Grand Canyon.

These two plants alone emit more than 28 million tons of carbon dioxide each year, triple the emissions from facilities in Washington state, fueling a vicious cycle of drought and worsening climate change. The two other power plants are on the Fort Mojave Reservation in Arizona and the Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation in Utah.

Environmental groups have charged  that the Navajo plants are responsible for premature deaths, hundreds of asthma attacks and hundreds of millions of dollars of annual health costs. The plants, which are owned by public utilities and the federal government, export a majority of the power out of the reservation to serve homes and businesses as far away as Las Vegas and help deliver Arizona’s share of the Colorado River water to Tucson and Phoenix. Meanwhile, a third of Navajo Nation residents remain without electricity in their homes.


Tribal leaders contend that power plants on Indian land deserve special consideration.

“The Navajo Nation is a uniquely disadvantaged people and their unique situation justified some accommodation,” Ben Shelly, president of the Navajo Nation, wrote in a letter to the EPA. He contends that the region’s underdeveloped economy, high unemployment rates and reliance on coal are the result of policies enacted by the federal government over several decades. If the coal plants decrease power production to meet emissions targets, Navajos will lose jobs and its  government will receive less revenue, he said.

Many local groups, however, disagree.

“I don’t think we need special treatment,” said Colleen Cooley of the grassroots nonprofit Diné CARE. “We should be held to the same standards as the rest of the country.” (Diné means “the people” in Navajo, and CARE is an abbreviation for Citizens Against Ruining our Environment.)

Cooley’s Diné CARE and other grassroots groups say the Navajo leaders are not serving the best interest of the community. The Navajo lands have been mined for coal and uranium for decades, Cooley said, resulting in contamination of water sources and air pollution. She said it’s time to shift to new, less damaging power sources such as wind and solar.

The Obama administration’s carbon regulations for power plants aim to reduce emissions nationwide 32 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels. In its final version of the rule, the EPA set uniform standards for all fossil-fueled power plants in the country. A coal plant on tribal land is now expected to achieve the same emissions reductions as a coal plant in Kentucky or New York, a move that the EPA sees as more equitable. The result is that coal plants on tribal lands—and in coal heavy states such as Kentucky and West Virginia—are facing much more stringent targets than they expected.

The EPA has taken special efforts to ensure that the power plant rules don’t disproportionately affect minorities, including indigenous people. Because dirty power plants often exist in low-income communities, the EPA has laid out tools to assess how changes to the operation of the plants will affect emission levels in neighborhoods nearby. The EPA will also be assessing compliance plans to ensure the regulations do not increase air pollution in those communities.

The tribes do not have an ownership stake in any of the facilities, but they are allowed to coordinate a plan to reduce emissions while minimizing the impact on their economies. Tribes that want to submit a compliance plan must first apply for treatment as a state. If the EPA doesn’t approve, or the tribes decide not to submit a plan, the EPA will impose one.

Zinke attempts to block plans to increase royalties on public coal

U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, left, laughs with Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of Montana’s Crow Tribe, during Thursday’s announcement in Billings of a proposal to make permanent a tax break for coal mined from reserves owned by American Indian tribes. Westmoreland Coal Company produced 6.5 million tons of coal last year from the Absaloka mine on the Crow’s southeastern Montana reservation. Photo/ AP
U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, left, laughs with Darrin Old Coyote, chairman of Montana’s Crow Tribe, during Thursday’s announcement in Billings of a proposal to make permanent a tax break for coal mined from reserves owned by American Indian tribes. Westmoreland Coal Company produced 6.5 million tons of coal last year from the Absaloka mine on the Crow’s southeastern Montana reservation.
Photo/ AP

By Tom Lutey, The Montana Standard

U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont., is attempting to block federal government plans to increase royalties that companies pay for coal, oil and gas taken from public lands.

Zinke, citing concerns about the coal economy and prosperity on Montana’s Crow Indian Reservation, proposed blocking funding to the U.S. Department of Interior, the agency charged with making sure the public receives a fair price for its coal.

Interior has been working on a possible increase in royalties collected. Zinke’s proposal, introduced Tuesday night as an amendment to the Department of Interior budget, would prohibit DOI from continuing to spend money on its royalty work. His concern with DOI’s proposal is that it will discourage future coal mining.

“In my home state of Montana, the Crow Nation suffers from unemployment rates as high as 50 percent — despite having over a billion dollars in coal reserves,” Zinke said on the House floor. “Similar situations play out in communities across America. This administration has waged a war against coal. In the words of Crow Chairman Old Coyote, ‘A war on coal is a war on the Crow people.’”

Battle lines over coal royalties in Montana were drawn months ago when the Department of Interior first suggested that Americans weren’t getting a fair price for coal mined from public land.

The federal royalty rate on coal from open pit mines on public land is 12.5 percent. States where mines are located receive half of what’s collected. Concerned that the public wasn’t getting its full share from those sales, DOI’s Office of Natural Resources Revenue began scrutinizing payments in 2007. It concluded that coal royalty rules, which hadn’t been updated since 1989, were due for revision in part to “provide early certainty to industry and ONRR that companies have paid every dollar due.”

Groups like Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics say the public has been shorted $850 million under the current royalty scheme.

Those who believe coal companies aren’t paying a fair price for public coal say companies have created subsidiaries to sell coal to at low prices in order to keep royalty payments down. Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., made that point Tuesday night, urging House lawmakers to reject Zinke’s amendment. McCollum said royalties need to be based not on sales to subsidiaries but rather independent buyers who pay considerably more for coal. This is particularly a concern when coal is sold for export, McCollum said.

“It’s now been three years since it was first reported that coal companies were skirting federal royalty payments by selling coal to sister companies,” McCollum said. “These low royalty evaluations especially hurt Native Americans who depend on these royalties for their income.”

Currently, royalties are assessed when the coal is sold at the mine. That method works when coal companies are in fact selling to other companies, but sometimes the buyer at the mine gate is a subsidiary of the mining company. The coal company is essentially selling coal to itself, and its subsidiary ultimately resells the coal for a higher price.

Asian buyers from Japan and South Korea don’t purchase coal at the mine gate but rather at Pacific Northwest seaports. The DOI would like to see royalties determined at the port sale.

Coal companies counter that coal prices are higher at port because of the costs associated with delivering the coal from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming and Montana. A royalty based on that sales price would be a tax on the coal subsidiary’s transportation costs, as well.

Interior officials would like to set the royalty amount by default if one can’t easily be determined. That proposal worries coal companies — and Zinke. Both say the default amounts will be too arbitrary and costly.

Both Republican and Democratic officials from Wyoming and Montana have expressed concern about changing the current royalty scheme. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, a Democrat, wrote Interior months ago about the risk of creating too much uncertainty by changing the royalty scheme.

Pro-coal Montana tribe weighs in on Cherry Point terminal

Representatives of Cloud Peak Energy and Montana's Crow Tribe sign an agreement Thursday Jan. 24, 2013, that gives the mining company leasing options on 1.4 billion tons of coal beneath the Crow Indian Reservation, in Billings, Mont. Pictured from left are Cloud Peak legal counsel Amy Stefonick, company chief executive Colin Marshall, Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and Tribal Executive Secretary Alvin Not Afraid. The deal would expand mining on the reservation with the coal likely to be exported overseas. MATTHEW BROWN — AP
Representatives of Cloud Peak Energy and Montana’s Crow Tribe sign an agreement Thursday Jan. 24, 2013, that gives the mining company leasing options on 1.4 billion tons of coal beneath the Crow Indian Reservation, in Billings, Mont. Pictured from left are Cloud Peak legal counsel Amy Stefonick, company chief executive Colin Marshall, Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and Tribal Executive Secretary Alvin Not Afraid. The deal would expand mining on the reservation with the coal likely to be exported overseas. MATTHEW BROWN — AP


BY RALPH SCHWARTZ, The Bellingham Herald


Lummi Nation, which has fished the waters off Cherry Point for centuries, and Crow Nation, a tribe in Montana sitting on billions of tons of coal, have taken opposite stances on a proposed coal terminal on the Lummis’ historic fishing grounds.

Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote wrote the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Jan. 20, asking the federal agency to bring the two tribes together to discuss Gateway Pacific Terminal.  The Crow letter was in response to request on Jan. 5 from Lummi Nation to the Corps, asking the agency to reject the terminal because it interfered with the Lummis’ ancient fishing practices, which were reinforced in U.S. law by an 1855 treaty.

The terminal is currently under environmental review.

“We are concerned about recent news reports that Lummi is asking the (Corps) to stop the environmental review process based on perceived impacts to their treaty fishing rights,” Old Coyote wrote.

In its  response, dated March 10, the Corps said it would not organize meetings between the tribes. The agency suggested the Crow ask the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“The Corps wouldn’t be the appropriate agency to facilitate such a meeting,” Corps spokeswoman Patricia Graesser said on Friday, March 20, in an email to The Bellingham Herald.

Leaders at Crow Nation were not available for comment on Friday.

The Corps said it would meet a different request from the Crow, to keep the tribe informed about the Corps’ review of Gateway Pacific Terminal and to include in that review, when appropriate, the Montana tribe’s position.

What’s at stake for Crow Nation is the 2013 agreement between the tribe and Cloud Peak Energy that would allow the mining company to extract 1.4 billion tons of coal from Crow land. The deal has already enriched the Crow by at least $3.75 million and would be worth millions of dollars more, depending on the amount of coal mined.

That, in turn, could depend on whether Gateway Pacific Terminal is built. Coal that would pass through the Cherry Point terminal would come from Montana and Wyoming.

“The Gateway Pacific Terminal project will ensure access to markets for Crow coal,” the tribal chairman’s letter said. Old Coyote has said in media reports that two-thirds of the Crow’s budget comes from coal revenue.

The Lummis have hosted the Crow at Cherry Point and have told the Montana tribe about the anticipated disruptions to Puget Sound fishing areas, Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew said.

“We’ve done extensive fact finding with other governments, including the federal government and other tribes,” Ballew said in an interview on Thursday, March 19. “We’ve come to the decision that our treaty right cannot be mitigated.”

“We have an explicit treaty fishing right that the Corps needs to respond to,” Ballew added. “That letter and request from the Crow is not a setback.”

The Lummis  on March 5 sent the Corps details about the tribe’s fishing practices in response to a request from the Corps for more information, to support the tribe’s Jan. 5 request that the coal terminal be stopped. Ballew said Thursday the tribe had not yet heard back from the Corps.

Read more here:


Wash. state carbon emissions dropping slightly



By PHUONG LE, Associated Press

SEATTLE (AP) – Greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state dropped by about 4.6 percent between 2010 and 2011, led by reductions in emissions from the electricity sector, a new state report shows.

The latest data shows that about 91.7 million metric tons of carbon dioxide or its equivalent was released in 2011, compared to about 96.1 million metric tons the year before.

Emissions are on a downward trend, but still about 4 percent higher than in 1990.

The report comes as Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing sweeping policies to combat climate change, including a cap-and-trade program that would charge large industrial polluters for each metric ton of emissions they release.

Republican lawmakers say the cap-and-trade program would raise gas prices and hurt businesses and consumers. They say the state is already a low-carbon producing state because of its extensive hydropower, and that there are other, cheaper ways to reduce carbon pollution.

The state’s emissions have fluctuated each year, but overall have decreased since 2007, according to the inventory, which the Department of Ecology posted on its website last week. The agency is required to complete the report every two years.

The decline between 2007 and 2011 is due to actions the state has taken to reduce emissions, including requiring major utilities get a portion of their energy from renewable sources, said Hedia Adelsman, special assistant to Ecology Director Maia Bellon.

She noted that the state’s carbon emissions have grown from 1990 levels, when the state released about 88.4 million metric tons of carbon.

A state law requires Washington to reduce overall emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, make a 25 percent cut in 1990 levels by 2035, and make greater reductions by 2050.

“We still need to take action. We are making a lot of progress but there’s still work to do,” Adelsman said. “We need comprehensive policies to make sure we not only get to 2020 but 2035.”

Some leading Republicans have challenged that statute, calling them “non-binding goals.”

According to the report, yearly fluctuation is due in large part to changes in the state’s production of hydroelectricity.

A drought in 2010, for example, led to lower hydropower output that year, requiring utilities to buy more coal and natural gas power that release more carbon emissions than hydropower. In 2010, hydropower was running 60 percent, compared to about 73 percent in 2011.

Transportation made up the largest chunk of emissions with about 46 percent of the state’s emission, or roughly 42 million metric tons in 2011. On a per person basis, the state produces slightly less emission from on-road gasoline than the national average.

Wyoming Offers Northwest Tribal Leaders A Free Trip To Coal Country

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has invited Northwest tribal leaders on an all-expenses-paid trip to see the coal operations in his state. | credit: Michael Werner
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead has invited Northwest tribal leaders on an all-expenses-paid trip to see the coal operations in his state. | credit: Michael Werner


By: Ashley Ahearn, Tony Schick, and Cassandra Profita, OPB

Treaty fishing rights give Northwest tribes extra clout when it comes to the future of proposed coal terminals on the Columbia River and Puget Sound.

That’s not lost on the governor of Wyoming, a big proponent of coal exports.

Gov. Matt Mead is inviting Northwest tribal leaders on an all-expenses-paid trip to coal country in Northeastern Wyoming, according to an email obtained by EarthFix.

The governor’s invitation went out to tribes in Oregon and Washington, including the Umatilla, Yakama, Swinomish and the Lummi.

The governor’s office did not answer specific questions about the invitations, but released a statement saying the trip would “showcase Wyoming’s coal and rail industries, the benefits of low sulfur coal, world class reclamation and the economic benefits coal provides to the local community.”

The statement, sent by email from Michelle Panos, the governor’s interim communications director, says that Wyoming has been hosting policy makers from the Pacific Northwest for the last few years, and “Wyoming recognizes tribal leaders as key policy makers.”

Courting Coal’s Critics?

Tribes have been vocal critics of coal exports in the Northwest, and their treaty fishing rights give them unique power to stop terminal developments. It’s unclear whether the free trip to Wyoming is intended to change their stance.

The two-day tour would visit one of the largest coal mines in the world, a power plant and rail operations, according to a Sept. 25 email sent by Loyd Drain, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority. And the state of Wyoming would pick up the tab.


Yakama fishers protest coal exports. Credit: Courtney Flatt.


“The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, an instrumentality of the state of Wyoming, would be pleased to provide for the cost of airfare; lodging; transportation in Wyoming; and meals,” Drain wrote in one of the emails.

The invitation calls the tour “an opportunity with an up-close look at the operations being conducted in an environmentally friendly manner.”

Drain did not respond to requests for comment.

Chuck Sams, spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said the chairman of his tribal council, Gary Burke, received an invitation last week but hasn’t decided whether he will accept.

“We received an email from the governor of Wyoming inviting us out,” Sams said. “We haven’t made any decisions regarding the invitation.”

Earlier this year, the Umatilla and several other tribes argued successfully that a proposed coal export project on the Columbia River would interfere with their tribal fishing rights.

The state of Oregon denied a permit needed to build a dock for the Morrow Pacific project in part because tribal members say they fish at the proposed dock site.

Mead Sees Exports In Coal’s Future


Gov. Matt Mead visits Longview. Credit Cassandra Profita


Mead visited another proposed coal export terminal site in Longview, Washington, earlier this year to show his support for the project and tour the facility. The Millennium Bulk Terminals project would export up to 44 million tons of coal a year from Wyoming and Montana to Asia.

“That’s a lot of coal, but relative to the amount of coal we produce it’s 10 percent,” Mead said during his visit. “So this port and other ports are important to Wyoming in terms of the coal industry.”

Wyoming produces around 400 million tons of coal a year. With the U.S. tightening regulations for coal-fired power plants, Mead said he sees exports as a key part of the coal industry’s future.

Not All Tribes Agree

The Powder River Basin coal reserves of Wyoming and Montana are partly located on tribal land. The Crow Nation signed a deal with Cloud Peak Energy, giving that company the option to mine up to 1.4 billion tons of Crow coal. Some of the coal mined there would be exported through terminals proposed to be built in Washington. The move pits the Crow against tribes in the Northwest, which oppose coal exports.

“The economic viability of the Crow Nation is closely tied to our ability ship natural resources, especially coal, out of Montana,” said Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote. “Energy exports are a key piece of our future well-being and we are encouraged by this proposed rail and port infrastructure in the Northwest that will help grow interstate commerce.”


Coal tribes ashley
Lummi fisherman catching crab. Credit: Ashley Ahearn.


As for the all-expenses-paid trip to Wyoming coal country, Timothy Ballew, tribal chairman of the Lummi Nation, whose lands are adjacent to the site of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, said he will not be attending.

Chairman Ballew and the Lummi council sent a letter in response to the Wyoming governor’s offer. In it, Ballew said, “there is no purpose to be served by accepting your offer. We are well aware of the nature of the coal mining industry and its impacts on the environment.”

The letter goes on to say that the operation of the Gateway Pacific Terminal represents “an unacceptable and unavoidable interference with our treaty fishing rights … and will result in the desecration of an area of great cultural and spiritual significance to our past, our people, and our ancestors.”

Will More Coal, Oil Trains Rumble Through Northwest?

By Chris Thomas, Public News Service
PHOTO: Eleven oil-by-rail projects have been proposed for the Northwest since 2012. This car, known as a DOT-111, is the type that carries Bakken crude oil. Photo courtesy U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

PHOTO: Eleven oil-by-rail projects have been proposed for the Northwest since 2012. This car, known as a DOT-111, is the type that carries Bakken crude oil. Photo courtesy U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

SEATTLE – About two dozen projects have been proposed in the past two years to move the Northwest toward becoming a transportation hub for coal, oil and gas to Asia.

A new Sightline Institute report examines the combination of rail, pipeline and fuel terminal proposals across Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Report author Eric de Place, Sightline’s policy director, said public input is critical as local land-use agencies determine the fate of each project. Regionally, he said, he thinks Native American voices also will be important.
“It’s almost impossible to overstate the potential for the Tribes to derail these plans,” he said. “They have treaty rights with the U.S. government that allow them to, in many cases, put a stop to these plans almost immediately.”
Last week’s meeting of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians included a three-hour workshop on climate change. Last year, the coalition of 72 tribes passed a resolution opposing the transport and export of fossil fuels in the Northwest.
Deborah Parker, a council member of the Tulalip Tribes, said they are prepared to do more.
“Co-Salish Tribes, we’re in 110 percent agreement,” she said. “We do not want to see these oil trains here. Turning our region into a fossil-fuel depository and port of departure? It will not be economically beneficial – not anywhere near the degree that it’ll be economically disastrous.”
For the most part, she said, the tribes haven’t been convinced that the job potential of the coal, oil and gas projects is significant enough to offset the damage to land, fish and wildlife.
Estimates in the Sightline Institute report indicate that Washington’s ambitious plan for reducing carbon pollution can be tossed if all the fuel-transport proposals are approved. De Place said the changes would increase the Northwest’s carbon footprint by three to five times.
“I think it’s fair to say that most people are astonished at the scale of the transformation that this region is about to embark on if fossil-fuel companies get their way, and that decision is all happening within the next couple of years,” he said. “The scale is much, much bigger than most people realize.”
The Sightline Institute report is online at