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.

Scientists On A Quest For Knowledge About Coal Dust Risks

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

WASHOUGAL, Wash. — Coal had been transported around the country by rail for decades before the recent push to bring it by train to ports in the Northwest.

And yet, scientists don’t really know how much coal dust could escape from rail cars, how far it might travel, and what coal-borne mercury and other contaminants might do to aquatic life.

With the permitting process moving forward for two large coal terminals in Washington, a team of scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey is trying to find out how the chemicals in coal might interact with the environment.

“We really don’t know what the effects are and whether it is an issue,” says Bob Black, a scientist with the USGS.

Black is the lead scientist on the new study, which has him squelching through the muck at the Steigerwald Wildlife Refuge near Washougal, Washington. The refuge is sandwiched between the Columbia River to the south, and train tracks to the north.

Black and his team are gathering data for a first-of-its kind scientific study of coal and its potential impacts on wetland ecosystems. As he sloshes through the shallow marsh’s waters to plant minnow traps, Black says he knows that he’s also wading into a controversial issue.

“There are communities that are economically interested in this and then there are suggested environmental impacts and ultimately I can have my own personal views but I can’t let those come into play and essentially that’s our role. We can’t let that be part of our science,” Black says.

The team fans out across the marsh as a BNSF Railway train screeches along tracks less than a quarter-mile away. This train is not hauling coal. Right now, roughly one coal train per day travels along the Columbia River before turning north and following the shoreline of Puget Sound to service Canadian coal terminals. But if terminals are built in Longview and near Bellingham, that number could jump to more than 20 coal trains per day.

Some coal does escape from trains, as BNSF has testified publicly in the past. Environmental groups have sued BNSF Railway for violating the Clean Water Act by allowing coal and coal dust to escape from trains and get into waterways along tracks in the Northwest. A judge ruled this month in favor of local groups in Seward, Alaska after they sued a nearby coal terminal for similar Clean Water Act violations. However, supporters of coal exports have called the coal escapement issue a red herring, used by anti-coal environmental groups to spark public alarm.

Looking For Coal Clues

The USGS is gathering samples of muck, fish and insects from two sites in this wildlife refuge, one close to the tracks, the other farther away. The goal is to find out whether more mercury and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are showing up near the train tracks and how those contaminants are behaving in the environment.

 

IMG_5714
Collin Eagles-Smith hunts for dragonfly larvae at Stiegerwald
Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Credit: Ashley Ahearn

 

Collin Eagles-Smith, an ecologist with USGS, stands thigh-deep in the marsh, net in hand. He’s sifting through handfuls of black muck, looking for dragonfly larvae. When he finds one, he opens his palm to display the specimen before putting it in a little plastic baggy to take back to the lab for analysis. Eagles-Smith says dragonflies can serve as vectors to transmit mercury contamination out of the aquatic environment and into land-based ecosystems because they feed on all kinds of plankton and other tiny organisms. When they grow up and fly out of the muck they are in turn eaten by birds, frogs, fish and other animals, potentially transferring mercury contamination up the food chain.

“So what we’re looking at is essentially, is there mercury in this dragonfly and then we’re going to be using a fairly sophisticated approach to fingerprint the isotope ratios of the mercury to see if we can say whether the mercury in this dragonfly was from coal dust,” he explains.

By comparing dragonfly larvae, sediment and fish samples from this site with those from another site farther from the tracks, the team hopes to see how far contamination from coal trains could travel. But Eagles-Smith says there are still a lot of questions about how active the mercury in coal might be if it gets into the environment. Mercury is believed to be inert and less harmful to the environment until it goes through a complex biological process known as mercury methylation.

“I like to think of it as activating the mercury, and it makes it more biologically available, more toxic. Do you smell that rotten egg smell?” Eagles-Smith asks from his mucky perch. “That is the smell of tiny organisms breaking down organic material. Those same organisms are the ones that take the mercury, the less toxic form of mercury, and convert it into the methyl mercury.”

Once it’s methylated, mercury has been shown to be a potent neurotoxin, Eagles-Smith explains. “It can influence stress hormones, thyroid hormones, and sex hormones so it can impact wildlife reproduction, fish behavior, their survival, their ability to hunt for prey or their ability to avoid predation.”

The unique rotten-egg decaying process that takes place in low-oxygen marshy environments like this means that wetlands could be hotspots for transforming inert mercury from coal into a more toxic and biologically-available form that can then make its way up the food chain, the scientists worry.

Emerging technology is helping scientists zoom in on more specific sources of mercury pollution in the environment. Mercury can travel in air pollution for thousands of miles. But scientists want to know if coal trains that pass through wetlands like this might serve as a sort of direct deposit of mercury pollution.

The USGS expects to have preliminary results within the next 6 months, though the researchers caution that this is a small sample size and more study is needed. The results will be shared with the state and federal agencies that are studying the environmental impacts of the two proposed coal terminals in the Northwest.

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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Coal Export Backers Appeal Permit Denial For Columbia River Project

By Cassandra Profita, OPB

The developer of the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export project, as well as two project supporters, have appealed the state of Oregon’s decision to deny a permit for a dock on the Columbia River.

The state of Wyoming, the Port of Morrow and project developer Ambre Energy have all challenged the state’s permit denial by requesting a contested case hearing before an administrative law judge, according to Julie Curtis, spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of State Lands. The deadline to request a hearing is Monday.

Leaders at the Port of Morrow and the governor of Wyoming have expressed support for the project in the past because of the economic benefits and jobs it would create.

The Morrow Pacific coal export project needs a permit from the Oregon Department of State Lands to build a dock for coal barges on the Columbia River. The project would ship nearly 9 million tons of coal from Wyoming and Montana to Asia. It would transfer coal shipments from trains to barges at the Port of Morrow in Boardman, Oregon, and load the coal onto ships at a dock downriver in Clatskanie, Oregon.

Last month, the state denied the company’s coal dock permit application, saying that the project conflicts with the state’s policy of protecting its water resources and fisheries on the Columbia River.

Everett King, president and CEO of Ambre Energy North America, explained his company’s decision to appeal the state’s permit denial in a news release.

“The permitting process for a rail-to-barge facility should be project-specific and not influenced by the commodities involved,” he said. “It’s pretty clear the politics of coal overshadowed this process from the beginning.”

In its appeal, Ambre Energy argues that the state did not fairly evaluate the company’s permit application and improperly elevated “special interests” above “long-standing” port industrial uses. It also argues that the state went beyond the scope of review it has done in the past for similar permits.

“DSL exceeded its lawful authority while ignoring its legal obligations,” the company wrote in its appeal. “The decision must be reversed.”

Gary Neal, general manager of the Port of Morrow, said the state’s permit denial could have negative implications for his port that extend beyond the Morrow Pacific project.

“Not only does this permit denial create a road block for the well-designed Morrow Pacific project – it sets new regulatory precedent that has the risk of shutting down future development opportunities at the Port of Morrow,” he said. “We are appealing so that this political decision does not limit economic opportunity in rural Oregon.”

Opponents of the Morrow Pacific project criticized the company’s decision to appeal.

“The State of Oregon and the people of Oregon overwhelmingly rejected coal export because we are choosing a better future,” Brett VandenHeuvel, executive director of Columbia Riverkeeper, said in a news release. “Ambre’s appeal is a last-minute and desperate attempt to just keep hanging on. Coal is too dirty and would degrade our salmon economy.”

The Oregon Department of State Lands allows anyone who participated in the public comment process and who would be adversely affected by the permitting decision to appeal. The Oregon Department of State Lands director will decide whether the appeals have legal merit before setting a hearing date before an administrative law judge.

The permit denial followed a dispute between Columbia River tribes and project developer Ambre Energy over tribal fishing at the proposed dock site. Members of four Columbia River tribes told the state they fish at the proposed dock site, and asked the state to deny the permit to ensure their treaty fishing rights are upheld. Ambre Energy disputed those claims and argued that the dock wouldn’t interfere with tribal fisheries.

The Morrow Pacific project is one of three coal export proposals in the Northwest. The two others would transfer coal from trains to ships in Longview, Washington, on the Columbia River and near Bellingham, Washington, on Puget Sound.

Lummi Totem Pole Journey Rallies Voices Against Environmental Destruction

Courtesy of 'Kwel Hoy: A Totem Pole Journey'A 19-foot pole carved by Lummi master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers is being taken on a journey to 21 Native and non-Native communities in four Northwest states and British Columbia. James carved the pole to compel people to speak out against coal and oil transport projects that could have a devastating impact on the environment. The pole will be raised at Beaver Lake Cree First Nation on September 6.

Courtesy of ‘Kwel Hoy: A Totem Pole Journey’
A 19-foot pole carved by Lummi master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers is being taken on a journey to 21 Native and non-Native communities in four Northwest states and British Columbia. James carved the pole to compel people to speak out against coal and oil transport projects that could have a devastating impact on the environment. The pole will be raised at Beaver Lake Cree First Nation on September 6.

 

Richard Walker, 9/2/14, Indian Country Today

 

LUMMI NATION, Washington—At each stop on the totem pole’s journey, people have gathered to pray, sing and take a stand.

They took a stand in Couer d’Alene, Bozeman, Spearfish, Wagner and Lower Brule. They took a stand in Billings, Spokane, Yakama Nation, Olympia and Seattle. They took a stand in Anacortes, on San Juan Island, and in Victoria, Vancouver and Tsleil Waututh.

They’ll take a stand in Kamloops, Calgary and Edmonton. And they’ll take a stand at Beaver Lake Cree First Nation, where the pole will be raised after its 5,100-mile journey to raise awareness of environmental threats posed by coal and oil extraction and rail transport.

“The coal trains, the tar sands, the destruction of Mother Earth—this totem [pole] is on a journey. It’s calling attention to these issues,” Linda Soriano, Lummi, told videographer Freddy Lane, Lummi, who is documenting the journey. “Generations yet unborn are being affected by the contaminants in our water.… We need people to take a stand. Warrior up—take a stand, speak up, get involved in these issues. We will not be silent.”

The 19-foot pole was crafted by Lummi master carver Jewell James and the House of Tears Carvers. The pole and entourage left the Lummi Nation on August 17 for 21 Native and non-Native communities in four Northwest states and British Columbia. The itinerary includes Olympia, the capital of Washington State, and Victoria, the capital of British Columbia. The pole is scheduled to arrive at Beaver Lake Cree on September 6.

The journey takes place as U.S. energy company Kinder Morgan plans to ship 400 tanker loads of heavy crude oil each year out of the Northwest; a refinery is proposed in Kitimat, British Columbia, where heavy crude oil from Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would be loaded onto tankers bound for Asia; and as Gateway Pacific proposes a coal train terminal at Cherry Point in Lummi Nation territory. Cherry Point is a sacred and environmentally sensitive area; early site preparation for the terminal was done without permits, and ancestral burials were desecrated.

In a guest column published on August 11 in the Bellingham Herald, James wrote that Native peoples have long seen and experienced environmental degradation and destruction of healthy ecosystems, with the result being the loss of traditional foods and medicines, at the expense of people’s health.

And now, the coal terminal proposed at Cherry Point poses “a tremendous ecological, cultural and socio-economic threat” to Pacific Northwest indigenous peoples, James wrote.

“We wonder how Salish Sea fisheries, already impacted by decades of pollution and global warming, will respond to the toxic runoff from the water used for coal piles stored on site,” he wrote. “What will happen to the region’s air quality as coal trains bring dust and increase diesel pollution? And of course, any coal burned overseas will come home to our state as mercury pollution in our fish, adding to the perils of climate change.”

James wrote that the totem pole “brings to mind our shared responsibility for the lands, the waters and the peoples who face environmental and cultural devastation from fossil fuel megaprojects.… Our commitment to place, to each other, unites us as one people, one voice to call out to others who understand that our shared responsibility is to leave a better, more bountiful world for those who follow.”

‘This Is the Risk That Is Being Taken’

Recent events contributed to the urgency of the totem pole journey’s message.

Two weeks before the journey got under way, a dike broke at a Quesnel, British Columbia, pond that held toxic byproducts left over from mining; an estimated 10 million cubic meters of wastewater and 4.5 million cubic meters of fine sand flowed into lakes and creeks upstream from the Fraser River, a total of four billion gallons of mining waste. A Sto:lo First Nation fisheries adviser told the Chilliwack Progress of reports of fish dying near the spill, either from toxins or asphyxiation from silt clogging their gills; and First Nation and non-Native fisheries are bracing for an impact on this year’s runs.

RELATED: Video: Watch 4 Billion Gallons of Mining Waste Pour Into Pristine B.C. Waterways

On July 24, a Burlington Northern train pulling 100 loads of Bakken crude oil derailed in Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood. The railcars didn’t leak, but the derailment prompted a statement from Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation and the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and Area Vice President of the National Congress of American Indians.

“People need to know that every time an oil train travels by, this is the risk that is being taken,” she said. “These accidents have occurred before. They will occur again. … The rail and bridge infrastructure in this country is far too inadequate to service the vast expansion of oil traffic we are witnessing.”

RELATED: Seattle Oil-Train Derailment Hits Close to Home for Quinault

A year earlier, on July 6, 2013, an unmanned train with 72 tank cars full of Bakken crude oil derailed in a small Quebec village, killing 47 people. An estimated 1.5 million gallons of oil spilled from ruptured tank cars and burned; according to the Washington Post, it was one of 10 significant derailments since 2008 in the United States and Canada in which oil spilled from ruptured cars.

RELATED: Lac-Mégantic Rail Tragedy Resonates in Quinault Nation as Victims Are Memorialized

Feds Call Bakken Crude Volatile as Quinault Warn Against Oil Rail Transport

Some good news during the journey: As the totem pole and entourage arrived at the Yankton Sioux Reservation in Wagner, South Dakota, word was received that the Oregon Department of State Lands rejected Ambre Energy’s application to build a coal terminal on the Columbia River; the company wants to ship 8.8 million tons of coal annually to Asia through the terminal.

RELATED: Treaty Victory as Northwest Tribes Celebrate Oregon Coal Train Rejection

One of the concerns that communities have about coal transport is exposure to coal dust; those concerns are shared by residents of Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, where proponents of a coal terminal on the Mississippi River forecast an increase in Gulf Coast coal exports from seven million tons in 2011 to 96 million by 2030.

Dr. Marianne Maumus of Ochsner Health Systems told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that coal dust contains heavy metals including arsenic, cadmium and mercury, and can cause cancer, neurological, renal and brain-development problems.

“I think the risk is real. I think there is a lot of potential harm from multiple sources,” Maumus told the Times-Picayune.

James said there are alternatives to coal and oil—among them energy generated by wind, sun and tides.

“But we’re not going to move toward those until we move away from fossil fuels,” he said.

In his Nation’s territory, Yakama Chairman JoDe L. Goudy told videographer Lane he hopes the pole’s journey will help the voice of Native people “and the voice of those people across the land that have a concern for the well-being of all” to be heard.

“May the journey, the blessing, the collective prayers that’s [being offered] and the awareness that’s being created lift us all up,” he said, “lift us all up to find a way to come against the powers that be … whether it be coal, whether it be oil or whatever it may be.”

Albert Redstar, Nez Perce, advised young people: “Remember the teachings of your people. Remember that there’s another way to look at the world rather than the corporate [way]. It’s time to say no to all that. It’s time to accept the old values and take them as your truths as well.… They’re ready for you to awaken into your own heart today.”

To Unite and Protect

The totem pole journey is being made in honor of the life of environmental leader and treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr., Nisqually. Frank, chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, walked on in May.

RELATED: The Fire That Was Billy Frank Jr.; Indian Country’s Greatest Defender

James said the pole depicts a woman representing Mother Earth, lifting a child up; four warriors, representing protectors of the environment; and a snake, representing the power of the Earth. The pole journey has been undertaken in times of crisis several times this century.

In 2002, 2003 and 2004, to help promote healing after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, James and the House of Tears Carvers journeyed across the United States with healing poles for Arrow Park, New York, 52 miles north of Ground Zero; Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 crashed; and Washington, D.C.’s Congressional Cemetery, seven miles from the Pentagon. And In 2011, James and a 20-foot healing pole for the National Library of Medicine visited nine Native American reservations en route to Bethesda, Maryland. At each stop on the three-week cross-country journey, people prayed, James said at the time, “for the protection of our children, our communities and our elders, and generally helping us move along with the idea that we all need to unite and protect the knowledge that we have, and respect each other.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/09/02/lummi-totem-pole-journey-rallies-voices-against-environmental-destruction-156696?page=0%2C2

 

Coal, oil train protest blocks Everett rail yard

By: Associated Press, September 2, 2014

 

(Photo: Emily Johnston)

(Photo: Emily Johnston)

 

EVERETT, Wash. – About a dozen protesters have blocked railroad tracks at a Burlington Northern Santa Fe yard in Everett.

Railroad spokesman Gus Melonas says some have chained themselves to the tracks. He says the demonstration that started about 6 a.m. Tuesday has blocked freight trains at the yard although the main line remains open.

Everett police spokesman Aaron Snell says officers are standing by. They’ll let BNSF police handle the situation because it’s a trespassing issue.

The demonstration was announced by the group Rising Tide Seattle to protest shipments of oil and coal by train and proposed terminals in the Northwest.

Yakama Nation to Coal: And Stay Out.

“The Yakama Nation will not rest until the entire regional threat posed by the coal industry to our ancestral lands and waters is eradicated.” ~Yakama Nation Chairman JoDe Goudy.

Yakama Chairman JoDe Goudy asserts his rights under the Treaty of 1855 to fish traditionally on the Columbia River

Yakama Chairman JoDe Goudy asserts his rights under the Treaty of 1855 to fish traditionally on the Columbia River

By: Michael O’Leary

Governor Kitzhaber’s Department of State Lands has issued a landmark denial of Oregon’s only proposed coal export terminal, keeping millions of tons of coal right where it belongs – buried in the ground.

Back in May the Yakama Nation protested that the coal terminal proposed for their traditional treaty recognized fishing grounds up on the Columbia Rover, near modern day Boardman, was an attack on the water, the salmon, their way of life, and a contradiction to the idea of living in balance with our surroundings.

The Australian coal mining company in question, Ambre Energy, denied the tribal claims in comments to the media and in filings to state regulators.

Evidently the claims by the coal company about where tribal fishing rights do or don’t apply were not pursuasive.

In their findings released on August 18th the Department of State Lands had the final word on the matter:

“The agency record demonstrates that the project would unreasonably interfere with a small but important and and long-standing fishery in the State’s waters at the project site.”

In response to this news Yakama Chairman JoDe Goudy made the following statement:

“This is only the beginning of what I expect will be a long fight. Yakama Nation will not rest until the entire regional threat posed by the coal industry to our ancestral lands and waters is eradicated. We will continue to speak out and fight on behalf of our people, and for those things, which cannot speak for themselves, that have been entrusted to us for cultivation and preservation since time immemorial. Today, however, we thank and stand in solidarity with the State of Oregon, and celebrate its decision to protect the Columbia River from further damage and degradation.”

So what’s next?

The Columbia River could still be impacted by two remaining coal export terminals.

Up in Bellingham, Washington the proposed coal terminal will rumble 9 loaded coal trains down the Columbia River Gorge every day. Up there the fight against has also been taken on by local tribal leaders.

Lummi Nation Chairman, Timothy Ballew II, had this to say about today’s good news from Oregon:

“The State’s action makes a strong policy statement by recognizing Tribal Sovereignty and the Treaty Rights of the Columbia River tribes. Such decisions are few and far between. This is important not just for the Yakama and Umatilla but all Indian fishing tribes. Together we can, and will, protect our way of life.”

And we’ve still got a coal proposal on the Columbia River, just over in Longview, Washington, that will barrel 8 loaded and uncovered coal trains a day through Portland. That one may be the most likely threat left on the radar. Just this week the Longview coal terminal supporters just threw a summer picnic for 300 of their closest supporters – for a terminal that hasn’t even seen a draft EIS yet.

According to the spokesperson for the coal company, Millenium Terminals, “We wanted to find way to say thank you to folks in the community.”

I guess it must be all about who you include in your definition of community.

Big Coal’s Plans For The Pacific Northwest Take A Major Hit

In this photo taken on July 6, 2014, a coal train is seen passing by Bellingham Bay in Bellingham, Wash. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

In this photo taken on July 6, 2014, a coal train is seen passing by Bellingham Bay in Bellingham, Wash. (AP Photo/Rachel La Corte)

By: Lynne Peeples, Huffington Post

 

Doctors, tribal leaders, business owners and concerned parents are among those cheering a potentially major blow to Big Coal.

On Monday, an Oregon state agency announced its rejection of a permit for a coal export facility on the Columbia River. The proposed Coyote Island Terminal is one of three remaining projects being pushed by the fossil fuel industry to create a coal export superhighway through the Pacific Northwest. Three previous proposals have already been dropped.

The Oregon Department of State Lands cited disruption to waterways and harm to tribal fisheries among its reasons for the refusal, which makes future approval of the port unlikely but still possible if the company pursuing the project files a convincing appeal.

Tom Wood, owner of the Rivertap Restaurant and Pub in The Dalles, Oregon, called the news a “landmark victory for our community, as well as communities across the nation.”

About three years ago, Wood and his son, Aiden, then 9, were salmon fishing on the Columbia River. As they returned to their car, Aiden spotted small clumps of coal near some railroad tracks.

“We brought a pile home and lit them on fire,” Wood recalled. “You know, the fun things you do with coal.”

He soon realized that the coal likely came from the open rail cars that shuttle along the Columbia River to Canadian ports. That recognition helped push him to join with thousands of others across state, economic and political lines who have tried to thwart the proposed increase in the number of these coal trains rolling through the region. The mile-plus-long trains originate at mines in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana and head west to meet up with Asia-bound ships. Opponents, who have been protesting and signing petitions for a few years now, worry that more coal trains could ultimately lead to problems ranging from local traffic delays and health harms due to air pollution, to faster climate change as a result of more coal-burning overseas.

Proponents of the coal ports, meanwhile, contend that greater exports mean needed jobs and tax revenues for struggling Western towns and Native American reservations.

“We do have to balance the health of our community with the need for commerce,” said Wood. But he argued that the former is more critical in the long term, including for his son’s future. Referring to the permit rejection, he said, “The win is a testament to the power and dedication of countless Northwest families to assure that these dirty, dangerous projects don’t take root for short-term gains.”

The U.S. has seen a steady decline in domestic coal use in recent years thanks to tighter federal regulations and the expanded viability of natural gas and renewable energy. But the rise of coal-hungry economies in China, India and other fast-developing nations offers a promising alternative market for coal companies. If government agencies eventually grant approval to all three export terminals proposed for Oregon and Washington, up to 100 million metric tons of the combustible rock per year could soon pass through the Pacific Northwest. The Coyote Island Terminal on the Port of Morrow at Boardman, Oregon, would account for less than 10 million metric tons of that total.

Ambre Energy, the Australian-based company pursuing the project, told The Huffington Post in a statement that it disagrees with Oregon’s “political decision.”

“We are evaluating our next steps and considering the full range of legal and permitting options,” added Liz Fuller, an Ambre Energy spokeswoman.

With the door still open for the Coyote Island Terminal to be approved, as well as for the other two port proposals in Washington state, opponents are voicing somewhat restrained optimism.

“This is a relatively small amount of coal compared to the other proposals,” said KC Golden, senior policy adviser for the nonprofit Climate Solutions. But he added that the formal permit denial is still a “very big deal.”

“It’s a terrific affirmation of what, in some ways, ought to be obvious,” said Golden. “This is a profoundly bad idea for the Northwest and for the world.”

Among the most vocal opponents have been Native American tribes whose reservations lie in the coal trains’ path.

“Yakama Nation will not rest until the entire regional threat posed by the coal industry to our ancestral lands and waters is eradicated,” JoDe Goudy, the Yakama tribal council chairman, said in a statement Monday night.

On Sunday, the Lummi Nation, whose reservation neighbors one of the proposed ports in Washington state, launched a totem pole journey — a road trip with totem pole in tow — that they hope will consolidate tribal opposition to Big Coal and Big Oil.

“Such decisions are few and far between,” the tribe stated in response to Monday’s announcement. “This is important not just for the Yakama and Umatilla but all Indian fishing tribes. Together we can, and will, protect our way of life.”

Meanwhile, there are other tribes that could benefit from coal exports. As HuffPost reported in January after the Lummi Nation’s first totem pole journey, the Crow Nation of rural Montana argues that it desperately needs to develop its coal reserves to lift its people out of poverty.

Dr. Robert Merchant, a pulmonologist in Billings, Montana, who deals with the health problems related to coal mining near his city, acknowledged the dilemma.

“There are a lot of people that would stand to have substantial gain from the extraction industry,” he said. But he also sees the high public costs associated with the industry.

Montana, Oregon and Washington are among Western states battling forest fires this summer and suffering the resulting poor air quality. Scientists warn that such blazes are becoming more frequent and intense with the changing climate and that coal plays a significant role in this shift.

Then there’s the blowback of toxic pollution from Asia’s coal-fired power plants. “Plumes come right across the Pacific,” Merchant said, noting that they can further contaminate the West’s air and water with toxins such as mercury.

Perhaps of most immediate concern to many opposed are the trains, barges and ships themselves, which block roadways for emergency vehicles, belch diesel fumes and blow coal dust. Diesel exhaust is known to worsen conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and may even raise the risk of certain cancers. The extent of the threat from heavy-metal-laden coal dust is less clear, although evidence is building.

The public health implications spurred more than 3,000 medical professionals and public health advocates to sign on to letters requesting denial of the Coyote Island Terminal permit. In Oregon alone, 165 physicians voiced their concerns to the governor.

“We are particularly concerned with the health of our most vulnerable populations: prenatal, early childhood, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions,” they wrote.

Wood and his family live within a half mile of coal train tracks. Trains pass within 300 yards of his restaurant and within 50 feet of a winery he helps operate.

“It’s been a challenging fight,” Wood said, “and it’s far from done.”

How one Pacific Northwest tribe is carving out a resistance to coal — and winning

cover_coalprotest_post

Daniel Thornton

By Amber Cortes and Grist staff, Grist, 15 Aug 2014

The Lummi Nation, a Native American tribe in the Pacific Northwest, has taken an uncompromising stand against the largest proposed coal export terminal in the country: the Gateway Pacific Terminal. If completed, it would export 48 million tons of coal mined from Montana and Wyoming’s Powder River Basin, and in the process threaten the Lummi’s ancestral fishing grounds and their economic survival. On Aug. 17 the Lummi people launch a totem pole journey — both a monument to protest and a traveling rally that will bring together imperiled locals, citizen groups, and other indigenous tribes for a unified front against Big Coal and Big Oil.

Grist fellow Amber Cortes visited the Lummis in the run-up to the pivotal protest to find out how they’ve been able to push back against the terminal. The result is a rich story about activism, alliances, and small victories that add up to a big resistance.

For the full story experience, click here.