Low levels of oil pollution harm herring, salmon, study finds

Researchers find oil can harm herring and salmon at much lower levels than once thought. The work raises questions about Puget Sound pollution.


By  Hal Bernton, Seattle Times 

Federal scientists based in Seattle and Alaska have found that oil — by impairing heart functions — can cause serious harm to herring and pink salmon at far lower concentrations than previously documented.

The research, published Tuesday online in Nature’s Scientific Reports, could help unravel the mystery of why herring stocks in Prince William Sound collapsed after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. Their work also has implications about the effects of low levels of chronic oil pollution in Puget Sound and elsewhere in the world.

“What this study shows is that in very, very low concentration of oil, embryonic fish … get born with a mild heart defect,” said John Incardona, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration toxicologist at a Seattle fisheries science center. He is one of 10 co-authors of the study.

Those fish may look OK on the outside, but the heart defect makes them less fit, so they can’t swim as fast. They may succumb to predators at higher rates than other fish and may be more vulnerable to infections, according to Incardona.

The findings reflect years of studies that explored the effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, compounds released by crude oil spills, but also contained in many other forms of fossil-fuel pollution such as tailpipe emissions from Puget Sound motorists that condense and are carried into the water by runoff.

The research examined the effects on fast-growing zebrafish, and then replicated the heart damage in more complex experiments that exposed embryonic herring and pink salmon to oil.

The researchers found that oil’s effects are greatest in cold-water environments, where fish embryos are less able to metabolize the pollutants. And herring, with much smaller eggs than the pink salmon, suffered the most severe effects from the polycyclic aromatics.

In the aftermath of the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill that dumped nearly 11 million gallons of crude in Prince William Sound, Alaska became the first — and so far only state — to create a water-pollution limit for the polycyclic aromatics, according to Incardona.

That Alaska state limit is 10 parts per billion, but the researchers found herring embryos could be affected at levels 10 to 50 times lower than that. At those levels, herring that returned to spawn in Prince William Sound in 1989 as well as subsequent years could have produced offsprings with damaged hearts.

Those offspring would have hatched, but few may have survived long enough to reach spawning age. That could be a big reason spawning stocks of Prince William Sound herring crashed four years after the 1989 spill.

“The thresholds for developmental cardiotoxicity were remarkably low, suggesting that the scale of the Exxon Valdez impact in shoreline spawning habitats was much greater than previously appreciated,” the researchers wrote.

In the more than quarter century since the Exxon Valdez spill, Prince William Sound herring stocks have failed to recover even as oil pollution has declined to levels unlikely to affect them.

The study published Tuesday does not try to explain the herrings’ current problems, although Incardona says once fish stocks get knocked to a very low level, recovery can be very difficult.

The situation is very different in Puget Sound, which has the highest levels of polycyclic aromatics of any estuary due to ongoing chronic pollution, according to Incardona. The Puget Sound levels are not that far below those found to have effects in the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez, and raise questions about whether this pollution is harming Puget Sound’s struggling herring stocks.

Incardona, who said that federal researchers hope to work with Washington state biologists to try to answer that question.

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.

New Oil Train Rules Get Mixed Reactions In Northwest

File photo of oil train tankers in a Portland railyard.Tony Schick/OP
File photo of oil train tankers in a Portland railyard.
Tony Schick/OP


By Tony Schick, OPB

Oil trains are getting stronger tank cars, better brakes, slower speed limits and  possibly new routes. Many in the Northwest say that’s still not enough.

Federal transportation regulators in the U.S. and Canada released a sweeping set of final rules Friday with more stringent requirements for railroads hauling flammable liquids, including crude oil and ethanol. The rules come one day after Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and four of their Democratic colleagues introduced a wide-ranging bill intended to bolster oil train safety including a fee on oil shipments made in old, puncture-prone tank cars.

“It’s a meaningful step but it doesn’t do enough,” Wyden said Friday of the federal rule. “It doesn’t move quickly enough to secure Oregon communities from the risk of flammable oil trains.”

The Department of Transportation rules would require new electronic brake systems for all trains carrying flammable liquids at speeds above 30 miles per hours by the year 2021. Current air brake technology is nearly a century old. The brake system has been involved in a number of derailments, including the deadly explosion in Lac Megantic in 2013 that set off widespread concern about oil by rail.


Aerial view of charred freight train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. The photo was taken the day after the train of crude oil derailed in 2013. It claimed 47 lives. Aerial view of charred freight train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, Canada. The photo was taken the day after the train of crude oil derailed in 2013. It claimed 47 lives. Transportation Safety Board of Canada


Air brakes have also been cited in several whistleblower complaints against railroads, in which workers claim they were pressured to skip or shorten brake tests to keep trains moving on time.

Oil trains would have new speed limits of 50 miles per hour — 40 mph in densely populated areas — and a thorough analysis of routing based on security and safety risks. Oil trains currently move through populated areas in the Northwest like downtown Spokane and Seattle.

Friday’s rules call for a decade-long phase-out of old tank cars, which have been known since 1991 to be puncture-prone. The initial replacement for those cars has increased shielding to protect against punctures, but has also been called inadequate by the National Transportation Safety Board after these newer-model tankers, were involved in a string of fiery derailments. Under the rules, these flawed models would undergo a gradual phase out until 2025.

Many of these requirements are expected to carry significant costs to railroads. BNSF Railway currently hauls more oil by rail through the Northwest than any other railroad. The railroad supports instituting a new generation of tank cars, but indicated in its response to the new rules a resistance to costly upgrades.

“Any regulatory changes that automatically take away capacity will have a devastating impact on our shippers and the economy,” BNSF spokesman Michael Trevino wrote in an email. “Most importantly, capacity is not abundant. The supply chain’s experiences with the recent disruptions at the West Coast ports is clear evidence of the negative impacts substantially reduced capacity will have on the economy.”

Oil-by-rail barely existed a few years ago. But booming North American oil production outpaced pipeline capacity and railroads offered greater flexibility and new markets for energy producers. As many as 17 oil trains per week move through parts of the Northwest, carrying crude from North Dakota, Canada and Utah to refineries and marine terminals in Oregon and Washington. Several other crude-by-rail facilities have been proposed.

Environmentalists, rail workers and safety experts called the rule a positive step, but each pointed out what they think are significant safety gaps.

Jared Margolis, a lawyer with the Center for Biological Diversity, said he thinks the speed limits are too high and the phase-out of old tank cars too dragged out.

The Center for Biological Diversity has previously sued to prevent oil trains in older tank cars from moving through parts of the Northwest, like the Columbia River Gorge.

“We’ll continue to see derailments and spills even with these new rules in place,” Margolis said.

George Gavalla, a railroad safety consultant with 37 years in the industry, including seven as former head of the FRA safety office, called the new rules “a significant improvement,” particularly for requiring improved tank car designs.

“They also put forth an aggressive, yet reasonable timetable for retrofitting (or replacing) the existing tank car fleet,” Gavalla wrote in an email. “At first blush, the tank car standards appear to go a long way toward improving the tank car safety.”

But, he added, “a big issue that the rule does not address is the volatility of the crude oil, especially the Bakken crude oil.”

Herb Krohn, legislative director for the United Transportation Union in Washington, said the rule appears to be a positive development but it ignores what he calls the “larger issue of monitoring the movement of Haz-Mat trains including adequate crewing.”

Krohn’s union has been pushing for shorter trains and minimum mandatory crew sizes, opposing a railroad movement toward one-man crews.

“The railroad carriers strongly oppose any government regulation regarding train crew size and placement;  this is clear from the complete absence of any mention of this critical safety issue,” Krohn said Friday. “The omission of this issue leaves a huge gap in public safety.”


Interior Department Issues New Fracking Rules For Federal Lands

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell speaks in Anchorage, Alaska. The Obama administration is requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.Dan Joling, AP
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell speaks in Anchorage, Alaska. The Obama administration is requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.
Dan Joling, AP

By Scott Neuman, NPR

The Department of the Interior has unveiled new regulations on hydraulic fracturing operations that take place on federal lands, requiring companies using the drilling technique to ensure wells are safe and to disclose chemicals used in the process.

The rules change follows a more than three-year review process and will affect the 90 percent of oil and gas wells on federal lands that now use so-called fracking to extract oil and gas.

“Current federal well-drilling regulations are more than 30 years old and they simply have not kept pace with the technical complexities of today’s hydraulic fracturing operations,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.

Key provisions of the new rules, set to go into effect in 90 days, include:

— Requiring strong cement barriers between the well and any water zones it passes through.

— Requiring companies to publicly disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing to the Bureau of Land Management through the website FracFocus, within 30 days of completing fracturing operations.

— Stricter storage protocols for recovered waste water used in fracking.

— Measures to lower the risk of cross-contamination from fracking chemicals by requiring companies to submit detailed information on the geology, depth and locations of wells that already exist.

“This rule will protect public health and the environment during and after hydraulic fracturing operations at a modest cost while both respecting the work previously done by the industry, the states and the tribes and promoting the adoption of more protective standards across the country,” said Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management Janice Schneider.

The Associated Press writes:


“The rule has been under consideration for more than three years, drawing criticism from the oil and gas industry and environmental groups. The industry fears the regulation could hinder the drilling boom, while some environmental groups worry that it could allow unsafe drilling techniques to pollute groundwater.

“The final rule hews closely to a draft that has been lingering since the Obama administration proposed it in May 2013. The rule relies on an online database used by at least 16 states to track the chemicals used in fracking operations.”

Native American populations ‘hugely at risk’ to sex trafficking

Sadie Young Bird, the director of the Ft. Berthold Coalition of Domestic Violence, listens during a breakout session during the 2014 statewide summit on human trafficking put on by North Dakota FUSE at the Bismarck Civic Center in Bismarck, N.D. on Thursday, November 13, 2014. Carrie Snyder / The Forum
Sadie Young Bird, the director of the Ft. Berthold Coalition of Domestic Violence, listens during a breakout session during the 2014 statewide summit on human trafficking put on by North Dakota FUSE at the Bismarck Civic Center in Bismarck, N.D. on Thursday, November 13, 2014. Carrie Snyder / The Forum


By Amy Dalrymple and Katherine Lymn, Forum News Service, Bismarck Tribune


NEW TOWN, N.D. – As the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation reels from the impacts of producing a third of North Dakota’s oil, the reservation must add human trafficking to its list of increasing hazards.

“We’re in crisis mode, all the time, trying to figure out these new ways, these new crises that are coming to us that we never thought we’d have to worry about,” said Sadie Young Bird, director of the Fort Berthold Coalition Against Violence. “No one was prepared for any of this.”

The Three Affiliated Tribes are implementing a new tribal law designed to combat human trafficking at Fort Berthold.

“I’m really hoping to send a message that we are not tolerating this on our reservation,” said Chalsey Snyder, a tribal member who helped draft the law.

Meanwhile, victim advocates and leaders of tribal nations in neighboring Minnesota and South Dakota worry about reports of American Indian women and girls being trafficked to the Bakken.

Suzanne Koepplinger, former executive director for the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, said she started to hear anecdotal stories in 2010 and 2011 about a boyfriend or friend telling women and girls, “Let’s go to North Dakota over the weekend and make some money.”

“Because of poverty and high rates of mobility with Native people, it’s not unusual for them to go up to White Earth for a party and then say, ‘Let’s just buzz over to North Dakota and see a friend of mine,’ and then she’s gang-raped over there,” Koepplinger said.

Since 2010, Indian girls in Minnesota have reported to service providers that family members or friends have tried to talk them into going to North Dakota.

“Their girls go missing and then show up in the North Dakota child protection system, or are picked up by law enforcement in Williston, Minot,” Koepplinger said.

Erma Vizenor, chairman of the White Earth reservation in western Minnesota, said sex trafficking of women and girls has been a concern there for a long time, and the proximity of North Dakota’s oil boom adds to that concern.

The White Earth DOVE Program (Down On Violence Everyday) has identified 17 adult victims of sex trafficking last year, said Jodie Sunderland, community advocacy coordinator.

The DOVE program received funding through the Minnesota Safe Harbor law and is connecting Indian youth who are victims of sexual exploitation with services. The efforts will include collaborations with Red Lake and Leech Lake reservations in northwest Minnesota.

The vulnerability of Indian populations to become victims of sex trafficking, particularly at Fort Berthold with the impacts of the oil boom, is a major concern, U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said.

“The grooming of the candidate for trafficking tends to go to lower income, tends to go to kids who’ve been victimized in the past, so automatically that puts them in a category that is hugely at risk,” Heitkamp said during a discussion hosted by the McCain Institute for International Leadership and moderated by Cindy McCain.

Mark Fox, recently elected chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes, said he hears concerns about human trafficking at Fort Berthold from law enforcement and social services. He’s also noticed it himself.

“You can’t help but sometimes, walking around the casino, you see individuals who would be highly suspect,” Fox said.

Young Bird, whose program has seen a significant increase in domestic violence victims, has assisted some sex trafficking victims, although the women and girls don’t usually identify themselves as victims. Some have returned to South Dakota reservations, she said.

“We see that most of the human trafficking victims want to leave, they just want to get out, they want to go back to where they came from, they want to go back somewhere safe,” Young Bird said.

The domestic violence program, which has a new shelter in Mandaree and a new safe house elsewhere in the Bakken, primarily serves Indian women, but also will serve non-tribal members.

A meth epidemic on the reservation contributes to the violence Young Bird sees, including more severe sexual assaults.

“You can tell when there’s no meth around and you can tell when there’s a new shipment of meth around. The severity is worse when the meth is gone,” Young Bird said. “When the new shipment comes, it’s more that they head out and they leave and they leave their family with nothing. They spend all the money. Then when the wife is asking for money, that’s when the violence occurs.”

Heroin is a major problem for the reservation, too, she said. In one sex trafficking case, the pimp kept the woman compliant using heroin, Young Bird said. The woman did not want to press charges.

“They all want to leave. They don’t want to stay around. And we can’t force them. We’re the advocates; we’re not law enforcement. We’re there to support people,” she said.

A recent law change will allow the tribal court to prosecute human trafficking cases that don’t rise to the level of being charged in U.S. District Court.

“This law allows our reservation to take back ownership and take back the prosecution and penalties,” Snyder said.

The law is called Loren’s Law in memory of Loren White Horne, a behavioral health specialist from Fort Berthold who used to deal with sexual abuse and sexual assault cases on the reservation. White Horne was a driving force behind raising awareness about trafficking and working toward a new law before she died in a vehicle accident in 2013, said Snyder, who continued her work.

The law also requires defendants to pay for any expenses incurred by the victim, such as drug abuse treatment.

“These victims can seek help and they can get help without having to worry about any financial obligations,” Snyder said, if the convicted trafficker has resources or such resources were seized.

Statistics show that minorities represent a disproportionate amount of sex trafficking victims.

That has been true in South Dakota, where the U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted sex trafficking cases involving several dozen victims. About half of those victims were American Indian women and girls.

In most cases, the victimization did not occur on the reservations, but in Sioux Falls and other larger cities.

“Most often, it is girls and some women who come from the reservation to Sioux Falls,” said. U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson. “When they are here, if they’re coming without a lot of resources, they’re often targeted by these guys.”

Leonardo DiCaprio at the UN: ‘Climate change is not hysteria – it’s a fact’

‘The time to answer the greatest challenge of our existence on this planet is now. You can make history or be vilified by it’


Leonardo DiCaprio speaks at the opening of the United Nations
Leonardo DiCaprio speaks at the opening of the United Nations


Source: The Guardian


Thank you, Mr Secretary General, your excellencies, ladies and gentleman, and distinguished guests. I’m honored to be here today, I stand before you not as an expert but as a concerned citizen, one of the 400,000 people who marched in the streets of New York on Sunday, and the billions of others around the world who want to solve our climate crisis.

As an actor I pretend for a living. I play fictitious characters often solving fictitious problems.

I believe humankind has looked at climate change in that same way: as if it were a fiction, happening to someone else’s planet, as if pretending that climate change wasn’t real would somehow make it go away.

But I think we know better than that. Every week, we’re seeing new and undeniable climate events, evidence that accelerated climate change is here now. We know that droughts are intensifying, our oceans are warming and acidifying, with methane plumes rising up from beneath the ocean floor. We are seeing extreme weather events, increased temperatures, and the West Antarctic and Greenland ice-sheets melting at unprecedented rates, decades ahead of scientific projections.

None of this is rhetoric, and none of it is hysteria. It is fact. The scientific community knows it, Industry and governments know it, even the United States military knows it. The chief of the US navy’s Pacific command, admiral Samuel Locklear, recently said that climate change is our single greatest security threat.

My Friends, this body – perhaps more than any other gathering in human history – now faces that difficult task. You can make history … or be vilified by it.

To be clear, this is not about just telling people to change their light bulbs or to buy a hybrid car. This disaster has grown BEYOND the choices that individuals make. This is now about our industries, and governments around the world taking decisive, large-scale action.

I am not a scientist, but I don’t need to be. Because the world’s scientific community has spoken, and they have given us our prognosis, if we do not act together, we will surely perish.

Now is our moment for action.

We need to put a pricetag on carbon emissions, and eliminate government subsidies for coal, gas, and oil companies. We need to end the free ride that industrial polluters have been given in the name of a free-market economy, they don’t deserve our tax dollars, they deserve our scrutiny. For the economy itself will die if our ecosystems collapse.

The good news is that renewable energy is not only achievable but good economic policy. New research shows that by 2050 clean, renewable energy could supply 100% of the world’s energy needs using existing technologies, and it would create millions of jobs.

This is not a partisan debate; it is a human one. Clean air and water, and a livable climate are inalienable human rights. And solving this crisis is not a question of politics. It is our moral obligation – if, admittedly, a daunting one.

We only get one planet. Humankind must become accountable on a massive scale for the wanton destruction of our collective home. Protecting our future on this planet depends on the conscious evolution of our species.

This is the most urgent of times, and the most urgent of messages.

Honoured delegates, leaders of the world, I pretend for a living. But you do not. The people made their voices heard on Sunday around the world and the momentum will not stop. And now it’s YOUR turn, the time to answer the greatest challenge of our existence on this planet … is now.

I beg you to face it with courage. And honesty. Thank you.

A New PNW Alliance Aims to Shield the Salish From Destruction

Native Americans, environmentalists, and fed-up citizens unite to keep corporations from turning the region into a fossil fuel corridor


The Nawt-sa-maat is fighting to save the Salish Sea from destruction. Photo by Kelton Sears
The Nawt-sa-maat is fighting to save the Salish Sea from destruction. Photo by Kelton Sears


By Kelton Sears, Wed., Sep 10 2014, Seattle Weekly


On August 4, a dam holding back mining wastewater burst open in Likely, B.C., gushing roughly 6,604,301,309 gallons of toxic waste into the nearby lakes—a spill 78 percent larger than initial estimates. Only a month after the incident, Imperial Metals, the corporation responsible, declared the water safe to drink again.

“One of my friends caught a salmon alive and kicking there last week,” Sundance Chief Rueben George from the Tsleil-Waututh Nation said to a packed Seattle crowd at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center on Sunday. “But when my friend picked it up, the fish’s skin slid off in his hands.”

Salmon have long been spiritual symbols of the Pacific Northwest—aquatic residents of the Salish Sea that have given life to Coast Salish people for 14,000 years and white settlers for 150. That the skin of the Northwest’s spirit animal is melting off is just one of many reasons organizers say they are forming the brand-new Nawt-sa-maat Alliance, a group that has vowed to defeat oil and coal corporations bent on turning the Pacific Northwest into a fossil-fuel corridor.


Photo by Kelton Sears
Photo by Kelton Sears


Nawt-sa-maat, a Coast Salish word that means “One house, one heart, one prayer,” is an unprecedented trans-border coalition of Coast Salish indigenous nations, environmentalists, interfaith groups, and youth activists that met for the first time this past weekend in Discovery Park. The Alliance’s goal? “To protect the sacredness of the Salish Sea.”

“The tribes are the original environmentalists,” Annette Klapstein, a member of the Seattle Raging Grannies and a new member of the Nawt-sa-maat Alliance, said at the initial meeting on Sunday. Klapstein was one of three protesters who sat on train tracks in Anacortes to block the controversial “exploding” oil trains in July. It was her first direct action after years of fruitless writings to the Seattle City Council and visits to Olympia to persuade politicians to do something about the influx of dangerous rail cars.

“It was always very iffy for tribes to work with environmental organizations because these organizations were arrogant,” Klapstein said. “They would tell tribes what to do, which didn’t go over very well. This new alliance, based on respect and understanding, is so important because these different groups’ goals are much the same, and we are so much more powerful together.”


Chief George (right) with civic leader and alliance co-founder Jon Ramer (left). Photo by Kelton Sears


Chief George, one of the three main founders of the Nawt-sa-maat, presided over the initial meeting and made it clear that one of its biggest enemies was the massive energy company Kinder Morgan. “We stand as one, and together we will protect and restore the sacredness of the Salish Sea,” he said. “Together, we are stronger than those who wish to use our home and waters as a mere highway for dirty oil and coal. Together, we will stop them. Kinder Morgan will not win this battle.”

Formed by Richard Kinder, an ex-Enron employee, the oil mega-corporation is proposing a massive $5.4 billion oil pipeline connecting the Alberta tar sands to the Pacific through Burnaby, B.C., tripling current capacity and creating the potential for enormous spills in the North Salish that would directly affect us in Washington. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been pushing the project despite massive backlash from British Columbian activists and the indigenous Tsleil-Waututh, who are now taking the project to court for failing to consult with the First Nations tribe on the federal review.

“You know, I’d like to thank Stephen Harper,” said Nawt-sa-maat co-founder Chief Phil Lane Jr. of the Yankton Dakota and Chickasaw First Nations, “because in his complete unawareness, he’s awakened a sleeping spiritual giant.”

The mood at the meeting was intensely spiritual at times. Four local religious leaders, a United Methodist, a Buddhist, a Sufi, and an Interspirit, came together to bless the gathering in their respective traditions, ending with an indigenous cedar-bough blessing that the crowd happily lined up to receive. Many of the religious groups present vowed to convert their houses of worship to solar energy in an act of good faith.

Being a member of the Nawt-sa-maat effectively means a couple of things. Members are expected to join in a “4 Days of Action” campaign, starting on Sept. 19, that ranges from a salmon homecoming celebration to a climate-change rally at the Canadian border and ends with an international treaty signing that will effectively ratify the new trans-border Nawt-sa-maat Alliance. Members are then expected to join in future actions and work to build the nascent network, which will soon expand its scope to tackle the proposed coal-extraction sites at Cherry Point, sacred land to the people of the Lummi Nation near Bellingham.

“I just want to make this very clear,” Chief George said as he doled out salmon to the Nawt-sa-maat near the meeting’s end, “this Alliance isn’t just for one group. It’s for everyone. The Salish Sea is for everyone, not just corporations. We will win this fight.”

“If We Cannot Escape, Neither Will the Coal”

Northwest Tribes and First Nations block fossil fuel exports.

Eric de Place (@Eric_deP) and Nick Abraham, Sightline Daily, September 8, 2014

Across the Northwest, Native communities are refusing to stand idle in the face of unprecedented schemes to move coal, oil, and gas through the region. It’s a movement that could well have consequences for global energy markets, and even the pace of climate change.

Now is a good moment for pausing to examine some of the seminal moments of resistance from tribal opposition to fossil fuel exports. Yesterday, the second Totem Pole Journey came to an end with a totem pole raising ceremony at the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Alberta. As it did last year, the journey showcased the tremendous breadth and depth of indigenous opposition to coal and oil schemes—spanning Native communities from coastal forests to the high plains interior of North America.

The journey was a reminder not only of the particular moral authority of the tribes and First Nations in the face of fossil plans, but also the fact that they are uniquely equipped to arrest these export plans.

British Columbia

Like the United States, Canada is in the midst of a natural gas boom. The industry is trying desperately to move its products to foreign markets, but concerns about public health, fishing rights, and environmental damage have First Nations raising red flags.

Many of the First Nations in British Columbia have banded together against a liquid natural gas facility at Fort Nelson in northeast BC. At what is now being called the “Fort Nelson Incident” Chief Sharleen Gale gave a rousing speech, saying:

My elders said, you treat people kind, you treat people with respect… even when they are stabbing you in the back. So I respectfully ask government to please remove yourselves from the room.

Gale later asked LNG representatives to leave as well, and the event galvanized the BC aboriginal community. Since then, no fewer than 28 BC First Nation organizations have signed a declaration to put the facility on hold.

Elsewhere in the province, aboriginal communities have been in a long standoff with proponents of the highly controversial Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline, a proposal that would move tar sands oil from Alberta to port facilities in BC where it would be transferred to tankers that would move the crude to Pacific markets. At least 50 First Nation leaders and 130 organizations have signed the “Save the Fraser Declaration.” Citing concerns over water quality, fishing, treaty rights, and sovereignty, nine coastal First Nations even went so far as to preemptively ban oil tankers in their territorial waters.

The Canadian federal government gave approval to the Northern Gateway Pipeline in June, and women of the Gitga’at Nation did not take it lying down. In protest, they stretched a 4.5 kilometer (2.7 mile) crochet chain across the narrow channel near Kitimat, where the export facility is proposed to be built.

“It’s to show that we’re prepared to do what it takes to stop them because we can’t let it happen. It’s the death of our community, our culture,” said Lynne Hill, who generated the idea.

Now, similar opposition is mounting against Kinder Morgan’s planned Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion in southern BC, and BC First Nations are challenging it in court.

Lillian Sam, aboriginal elder from the Nak’al Koh River region, put the situation in perspective:

You cannot eat money…you see the devastation of the oil sands: a huge part of that land is no good. What’s going to happen to us? What’s going to happen to our children?

The US Northwest

Like their neighbors to the north, Washington Tribes have had major concerns over fossil fuel exports, not to mention the way they have been treated by proponents of the projects.

In 2011, the would-be builder of the Gateway Pacific coal terminal near Bellingham got into hot water with permitting agencies after it was discovered that they had begun construction without approval. Not only did construction crews destroy acres of sensitive wetlands, they also damaged local Lummi Nation burial grounds.

It was a not-so-subtle “accident” and was the last straw for many in the local tribal community. The Lummi subsequently burned a mock check from the terminal proponents at the site of the planned coal terminal. It was a pivotal moment for activism in the Northwest.

Opposition from the tribes can be a tremendous barrier for the coal, oil, and gas industries to surmount. Above and beyond their sovereignty, most of the Northwest tribes have specific fishing rights guaranteed to them in their treaties with the US government, rights that were subsequently reaffirmed and clarified by the Boldt Decision of 1974. Those tribes have firm legal footing for demanding access to their “usual and accustomed” fishing grounds, which include most of the places where fuel terminals would be located.

Other Puget Sound tribes have also made it publicly clear that they are firmly against coal exports. In April of last year, tribal leaders joined then-Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn in the Leadership Alliance, a coalition against coal export.

Said Tulalip Tribes Chairman Melvin Sheldon:

When it comes to coal… the negative potential of what it does to our Northwest—we stand with you to say no to coal. As a matter of fact, the Tulalip say ‘hell no’ to coal.

Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and one of the state’s most influential Native American leaders, declared:

For thousands of years, Washington State tribes have fought to protect all that is important for those who call this great state home. We as leaders need to protect our treaty resources, our economies, and the human health of our citizens and neighbors.

The Nisqually Tribe likewise has submitted thorough public comment in opposition to a giant coal terminal planned for Longview, Washington. Beloved tribal leader Billy Frank, Jr., who recently passed away, was a persistent voice in opposition to Northwest fossil fuel exports. In one of the last things he wrote, he declared his solidarity with the Quinault Nation, who are fighting against a trio of oil terminals proposed in Grays Harbor Washington. Frank wrote:

The few jobs that the transport and export of coal and oil offer would come at the cost of catastrophic damage to our environment for years. Everyone knows that oil and water don’t mix, and neither do oil and fish, oil and wildlife, or oil and just about everything else. It’s not a matter of whether spills will happen, it’s a matter of when.

East of the Cascades, too, Native opposition has been fierce. The Yakama Tribe came out publicly and powerfully against Ambre’s proposed coal export facility in eastern Oregon, once again citing tribal fishing rights. Yakama protests and tenacity, in conjunction with other regional tribes like the Warm Spring and the Nez Perce, were a major factor in the proposal not being permitted. In Oregon, the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation also joined the Yakama in opposition to coal on the Columbia River, batting down ham-fisted attempts by the industry to buy tribal support.

Networks of tribes, like the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), also voiced their strong concerns about what the proposals would be mean for their communities. The Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission also declared its strong opposition to oil exports from the proposed site at Grays Harbor, highlighting fishing disruption in the Puget Sound, health problems in their communities, and pollution.

In fact, the 57 nations that make up the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians unanimously voted in May of 2013 to officially oppose all fossil fuel export facilities in the Northwest.

Paul Lumley, executive director of the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, may have put the tribal community’s view most clearly:

Our communities are wedged between the railroad and the river. We’ve got nowhere to escape. If we cannot escape, neither will the coal.

Lumley’s words are proving prescient. Last month, yet another Northwest coal export terminal was dealt what was likely a fatal blow. The Oregon Department of State Lands denied a crucial permit to Ambre Energy, which plans to ship coal from a site on the Columbia River. Among the most influential factors the state agency cited for its decision: tribal sovereignty.

The decision was, in some ways, recognition of the power that the region’s tribes and First Nations can exercise over the fossil fuel infrastructure projects that are cropping up across the Northwest. By asserting treaty rights and voicing cultural concerns, tribes are presenting a major barrier—are a key part of the thin green line—to a reckless expansion of coal, oil, and gas schemes.


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3 West Coast governors oppose offshore drilling

By: Associated Press

King 5
King 5 News

The governors of California, Oregon and Washington sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewel on Thursday to stress that they don’t want the possibility of drilling off of the West Coast.

The Interior Department is developing an updated plan for its Outer Shelf Oil and Gas Leasing Program, and the governors formally stated their opposition to the inclusion of any oil or gas lease sales off the coast as part of any new plan.

Govs. Jay Inslee, of Washington, Jerry Brown, of California, and John Kitzhaber, of Oregon, wrote that their three states “represent the fifth-largest economy in the world” and their ocean-dependent industries contribute billions of dollars to the region each year.

“While new technology reduces the risk of a catastrophic event such as the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill, a sizeable spill anywhere along our shared coast would have a devastating impact on our population, recreation, natural resources, and our ocean and coastal dependent economies,” they wrote.

The governors, all Democrats, also stressed a commitment to develop a strategy to combat climate change.

“Oil and gas leasing may be appropriate for regions where there is state support for such development and the impacts can be mitigated,” they wrote. “However, along the West Coast, our states stand ready to work with the Obama Administration to help craft a comprehensive and science-based national energy policy that aligns with the actions we are taking to invest in energy efficiency, Oil and Gas Leasing Program alternative renewable energy sources, and pricing carbon.”

Inslee spokesman David Postman said that while there aren’t any current plans for West Coast leases, the governors want to ensure there aren’t any in the new plan.

This doc about “bomb trains” filled with crude oil will make your head explode

By Ted Alvarez, Grist


VICE News just released Bomb Trains: The Crude Gamble of Oil by Raila 23-minute-long documentary investigating the explosive oil trains that regularly run from the Bakken shale to the Pacific Northwest. That might seem a bit long for web video, but you should watch it anyway — mostly because Thomas the Terror Engine is headed to your town, but also because Jerry Bruckheimer has nothing on the terrifying explosions at the 5:09 and 6:00 marks.


Oh, and you can find out if you live near a bomb-train blast zone right here. (Spoiler alert: You probably do.)