2014 totem pole journey honors tribes’ stewardship of land, water

By Jewell James, courtesy to the Bellingham Herald August 11, 2014 

For generations, tribal peoples have witnessed the impact of faceless “persons” — corporations — on the land, water, air and human and environmental health. Though at times consulted, we have not been heard as a real voice in defending our traditional homeland territories. Instead, we have seen and experienced degradation of environmental integrity and destruction of healthy ecosystems. We suffered as our traditional foods and medicines were lost, and our people’s health plunged.

The Lummi, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, and all Coast Salish tribes, face devastating proposals that would bring coal by rail from Montana and Wyoming to the West Coast for export overseas. Indeed, the Cherry Point (in our language, Xwe’chi’eXen) proposal poses a tremendous ecological, cultural and socio-economic threat to Pacific Northwest tribes.

Xwe’chi’eXen is a 3,500-year-old village site where many of our ancestors lived and made their final resting places. Today, 60 percent of Lummis have direct ancestral ties to this site. Around it, the Salish Sea supports a Lummi fishing fleet (450 vessels) that feeds and supports tribal families.

Coal exports threaten all of this. We fear the desecration of Xwe’chi’eXen, the first archaeological site to be placed on the Washington State Register of Historic Places. 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. How will Bellingham’s recreational and commercial boaters navigate when more than 400 cape-sized ships, each 1,000 feet long, depart Cherry Point annually — each bearing 287,000 tons of coal? 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.

Already, coal export officials have shown breathtaking disrespect for our heritage. To save time and boost profits, Pacific International Terminals bulldozed what they knew to be a registered archaeological site and drained our wetlands without a permit.

This proposal is not based on economic necessity. The inflated number of jobs promised is an old, old story; one filled with promises made, and broken. At the end of the day there would be far fewer jobs created and many sustainable jobs lost or compromised. The defeat of this madness is our aboriginal duty as the first Americans, but it also speaks to the collective interest of all citizens and — most importantly — as members of the human family who are part of, not masters over, creation. But this is a new day.

To those who would sacrifice the way of life of all peoples of the Pacific Northwest, we say: Take notice. Enough is enough! This summer’s proposed changes to the site design are beside the point. Mitigation is not the issue. We will stop the development of the export terminal and put in its place a plan that honors our shared responsibility to the land and waters of Xwe’chi’eXen and all our relations.

In August we make our journey from South Dakota to the Salish Sea and north to Alberta, Canada, stopping with many of the tribal and local communities whose lives unwillingly intersect with the paths of coal exports and tar sands. We will carry with us a 19-foot-tall totem that brings to mind our shared responsibility for the lands, the waters and the peoples who face environmental and cultural devastation from fossil fuel megaprojects. We travel in honor of late elder, and leader, and guiding light Billy Frank, Jr., who would remind us that we are stewards placed here to live with respect for our shared, sacred obligation to the creation, the plants and animals, the peoples and all our relations. He guides us, still. 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.

We welcome you to the blessing of the journey at 9:30 a.m., Sunday, Aug. 17 at the Lummi Tribal Administration Center, 2665 Kwina Road.


Jewell James is a member of the Lummi Nation and head carver of the Lummi House of Tears Carvers.

Read more here: http://www.bellinghamherald.com/2014/08/11/3792147/2014-totem-pole-journey-honors.html?sp=/99/122/#storylink=cpy

Study: Coal Project Would Help One Puget Sound County But Others Would Pay

A council of governments in the central Puget Sound region commissioned a study by an independent consultant. It concluded that economic benefits of a proposed coal export terminal would be concentrated in Whatcom County, where it would be built. | credit: Katie Campbell

A council of governments in the central Puget Sound region commissioned a study by an independent consultant. It concluded that economic benefits of a proposed coal export terminal would be concentrated in Whatcom County, where it would be built. | credit: Katie Campbell


By: Ashley Ahearn, OPB


If it’s built, the coal-exporting Gateway Pacific Terminal will create more than two thousand jobs in Whatcom County during construction and several hundred permanent jobs once it’s operational.

The outlook for the the central Puget Sound region isn’t as optimistic, according to a new economic study from the Puget Sound Regional Council issued Thursday.

“It’s an economic model that creates very few jobs, certainly very, very few in the region … and has grave consequences for mobility here in Puget Sound,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in response to the study.

Low income communities in Kent and Seattle will be disproportionately affected by the coal train traffic, according to the study. Residential and commercial properties along coal train routes could decline as much as $282.3 million and $133 million, respectively.

“Communities along the rail lines will face a host of negative impacts, most of those are bad for business, with very little positive economic development from this particular activity and there’s no assurance the costs of upgrades won’t fall to us as well,” Constantine said.

With a capacity to export roughly 54 million metric tons of coal per year, the terminal would be the largest facility of its kind on the west coast. It would also have implications for the state’s rail system unlike any of the region’s other coal export proposals.

If BNSF Railway is unable to increase capacity on its main north-south line through Puget Sound, according to the study, the added 18 coal trains per day to and from Cherry Point could cause delays that hurt export-related jobs, stunt port growth and squeeze out current commodities and passenger rail.


Anticipated delays caused by Gateway Pacific Terminal train traffic
A new study commissioned by the Puget Sound Research Council anticipates the 18 additional coal trains per day to and from the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal would create delays at rail crossings.’


The Gateway Pacific project would increase delays at rail crossings between 38 and 85 minutes, according to the study. Those delays could be nearly three hours by 2035 without rail system updates. Rail traffic is expected to increase regardless of whether the terminal becomes operational, and the study did not account for the simultaneous increase in rail traffic of crude oil, which has also caused delays on the region’s rail lines.

Terry Finn, a retired BNSF Railway lobbyist who serves on one of the council’s advisory boards, said in a letter to the council that its study was the latest attempt by opponents to use scare tactics to stop the coal project.

The completed terminal could force an upgrade of existing rail lines, which would instead boost the region’s economy, according to the study.

A business coalition formed to advocate for coal exports called the Alliance for Northwest Jobs & Exports issued a statement in response to the report.

It said that the report’s overall conclusions are not supported by the facts and that “greatly exaggerated costs projected in the study just don’t add up.”

Kathryn Stenger, a spokeswoman for the alliance, said in an email that other studies have concluded that the Gateway Pacific Terminal would economically benefit the entire region. The Washington State Farm Bureau, Association of Washington Business, and Washington State Labor Council have all endorsed Gateway Pacific, she said.

A separate economic study done for the Washington Farm Bureau in 2013 concluded coal terminals would result in lower costs and new markets for other Washington businesses.

BNSF Railway says it is investing approximately $235 million in Washington state this year to expand rail capacity and to replace and maintain network infrastructure.

There are 77 crossings in cities and towns in the Puget Sound area. Kent Mayor Suzette Cook said they present a safety issue as train traffic increases.

“At grade crossings are also a major problem with deaths. We’ve had several deaths occur on our tracks within the last year,” Cook said. “Cities are not in a position to shoulder the cost because other than avoidance of tragedy, the benefits are not there.”

Regulators Discuss The Future Of Coal-Fired Power In The West

This image of the coal-fired plant in Colstrip, Mont., was made in the 1980s by Montana native David T. Hanson. It was part of an exhibit at Modern Museum of Art in New York. | credit: David T. Hanson |

This image of the coal-fired plant in Colstrip, Mont., was made in the 1980s by Montana native David T. Hanson. It was part of an exhibit at Modern Museum of Art in New York. | credit: David T. Hanson |

By Ashley Ahearn, KUOW

SEATTLE — The Obama administration’s new rules to cut carbon emissions fueled energy sector leaders’ conversations about the future of coal in the West during their gathering here this week.

The Western Conference of Public Service Commissioners on Wednesday wrapped up its conference — a gathering of the people who decide where the region’s power comes from and how to regulate it.

Now that the Environmental Protection Agency is proposing that states cut CO2 emissions from power plants by 30 percent over the next 16 years, regulators are turning their attention to coal. Does it have a future?

“The answer is a resounding yes, the question is how much?” said Travis Kavulla with the Montana Public Service Commission. He’s one of the guys calling the shots on what kind of power his state produces, and what it will cost consumers. Montana mines and burns a lot of coal. So, as you might imagine, Kavulla’s not too pleased with the EPA right now.

“The bottom line is that the EPA seems set on establishing state by state goals, based on particular building blocks, a particularly infantilizing term, I think,” he told the crowd.

The “building blocks” include boosting energy efficiency, getting more renewable energy on the grid and using less coal.

Puget Sound Energy, an investor-owned utility based in Bellevue, Washington, gets more than 15 percent of its power from Montana coal. PSE is under mounting pressure from voters and the state government to kick its coal habit, and the new EPA rules add to that pressure.

“It’s very easy for part of our country to be rejoicing after yesterday and say ‘There, we’re just going to shut it all down.’” Well, that’s not going to work,” said Kimberly Harris, president and CEO of Puget Sound Energy. “You cannot just shut down coal units and expect for the grid to continue to operate. And we have an obligation to serve.”

Harris says that transitioning off of coal is possible, but it will take time – and states will have to work together.

“Any type of a retirement has to be transitional because we have significant decisions to make and investment and planning to do as a region. This really needs to be a regional approach,” Harris emphasized.

Washington’s in good shape to meet the EPA requirements, pretty much just by phasing out its only coal plant, which operates in Centralia. But Montana is going to need help lowering its CO2 emissions and getting more renewables online.

But who will will pay for it?

“From an investor’s point of view, all of this looks like a giant investment opportunity,” said Mike Weinstein, an investment analyst with UBS Securities in New York.

Weinstein said investors will be looking to throw money at new technology to cut CO2 emissions at the smokestack or sequester those emissions underground.

Some other winners, according to Weinstein? Renewable energy, natural gas and maybe nuclear power.

He also stressed the role of energy efficiency in helping utilities meet the EPA requirements, and keep costs down.

Being Frank: Keep Big Oil Out of Grays Harbor

Billy Frank

Billy Frank

By Billy Frank, Jr., Chairman, Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission

OLYMPIA – Our environment, health, safety and communities are at risk from decisions being made now to transport and export trainloads of coal and oil through western Washington.

If coal export terminals proposed for Cherry Point near Bellingham, and Longview on the Columbia River are approved, hundreds of trains and barges would run from Montana and Wyoming every day, spreading coal dust along the way. That same coal will continue to pollute our world when it is burned in China and other countries thousands of miles away.

Now that threat is joined by proposals to use mile-long crude oil trains to feed massive new oil terminals in Grays Harbor.  Safety is a huge concern. Since 2008 nearly a dozen oil trains have been derailed in the U.S.  In December, a fire burned for over 24 hours after a 106-car train carrying crude oil collided with a grain train in North Dakota. In July, an oil train accident killed 47 people and leaked an estimated 1.5 million gallons of oil in Quebec, Canada.

It’s clear that crude oil can be explosive and the tankers used to transport it by rail are simply unsafe. These oil trains are an accident waiting to happen to any town along the route from the oil fields of the Midwest to the shores of western Washington.

Plans for shipping crude oil from Grays Harbor also include dredging the Chehalis River estuary, which will damage habitat needed by fish, shellfish and birds.  Large numbers of huge tanker ships moving in and out of the harbor would interfere with Indian and non-Indian fisheries and other vessel traffic.

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. We would have to live with that damage for many 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 whetherspills will happen, it’s a matter of when.

Thankfully, the Quinault Indian Nation is taking a stand. “The history of oil spills provides ample, devastating evidence that there are no reasonable conditions under which these proposed terminal projects should proceed,” says my friend, Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Indian Nation. “We oppose oil in Grays Harbor.  This is a fight we can’t afford to lose.  We’re in it to win. Our fishing, hunting and gathering rights are being jeopardized by the immediate and future impacts of these proposed developments.”

Right now public hearings are being held and Environmental Impact Statements are being developed for these oil export schemes. You can send comments to Maia Bellon, Director of the Department of Ecology, 300 Desmond Drive, Lacey, WA 98503-1274.

I urge you to join the Quinault Indian Nation and the many others who are battling Big Oil on this issue. Email ProtectOurFuture@quinault.org or more information.

“We have a responsibility to protect the land and water for the generations to come. Together, we can build a sustainable economy without sacrificing our environment,” says Sharp.

She’s right.

Coal Export Developer Challenges Tribal Claims To Fishing Sites On The Columbia

The Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission says the white dots in the water are tribal fishing buoys and the wooden stake marks the beginning of the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export project site at the Port of Morrow in Boardman. | credit: Courtesy of CRITFC

The Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission says the white dots in the water are tribal fishing buoys and the wooden stake marks the beginning of the proposed Morrow Pacific coal export project site at the Port of Morrow in Boardman. | credit: Courtesy of CRITFC


By Cassandra Profita, OPB

An Oregon coal export developer is challenging claims that its proposed dock on the Columbia River would interfere with tribal fishing sites.

The Confederated Tribes of The Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Confederated Tribes and Bands of the Yakama Nation have submitted letters and affidavits to the Oregon Department of State Lands indicating they have tribal fishing sites in the area where Morrow Pacific has proposed to build a dock in Boardman, Oregon for coal barges.

The Morrow Pacific project would transport around 9 million tons of coal per year from Wyoming and Montana to Asia. The coal would be delivered by train to the dock site in Boardman, where it would be transferred to barges on the Columbia River. The barges would carry the coal to another dock site downstream near Clatskanie, Oregon where the coal would be transferred onto ocean-going ships.

Morrow Pacific needs a permit from the DSL to build a dock at the Port of Morrow in Boardman. DSL rules say the state can issue the permit as long as the action would not “unreasonably interfere” with preservation of water for navigation, fishing and public recreation.

The company submitted a letter to the state Thursday arguing that its dock will not “unreasonably interfere” with fishing. It also argues that considering fishing impacts from the dock is outside the DSL’s authority for this permit.

Brian Gard, a spokesman for Morrow Pacific, says the company disagrees that tribes have proven their members fish at the dock site. He says the affidavits submitted to the state either misidentify the site geographically or they fail to show that tribal fishing has taken place in the dock location.

“We do not believe they establish tribal fishing or tribal fishing sites at the Port of Morrow industrial Dock 7 site,” Gard said. “Understanding the site context is important here. The proposed dock site is in a heavily industrial area. It’s on port of Morrow property. It’s situated between two other docks. It’s an area designated by the state as an area where docks are to go.”

The company submitted declarations from local community members, the port director and tugboat operators who say they haven’t seen tribal fishing taking place at the dock site. It also consulted a fishery biologist who says the dock area does not support a healthy fishery.

Sara Thompson, spokeswoman for the Columbia River Intertribal Fish Commission, which includes the Umatilla and Yakama, released a photo (above) she says shows a set of tribal fishing buoys in the water next to the proposed Morrow Pacific project site.

“Not only have we been fishing there since time immemorial, but we continue to fish there at the present time,” said Chuck Sams, communications director for the Umatilla tribes. “We have provided affidavits to the Corps of Engineers and Oregon Department of State Lands, and we’ve spoken directly with Ambre Energy and Morrow Pacific explaining that we have fishing sites, usual and accustomed, at their proposed facility.”

In a recent speech, Gov. John Kitzhaber noted the conflicts flagged by the tribes shortly after declaring his opposition to coal exports in the Northwest. The governor said he will do all that he can “under existing Oregon law to ensure that we do not commit ourselves to a coal-dependent future.”

Elected Officials Ask Oregon Governor To Deny Coal Export Permit

A coal mine in Wyoming's Powder River Basin. Elected officials from the Northwest and beyond want Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to stop the Morrow Pacific project, which transfer Powder River Basin coal to Asia by way of the Columbia River. | credit: Katie Campbell | rollover image for more

A coal mine in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Elected officials from the Northwest and beyond want Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber to stop the Morrow Pacific project, which transfer Powder River Basin coal to Asia by way of the Columbia River. | credit: Katie Campbell


By Cassandra Profita, OPB

Dozens of elected officials from across the region are asking Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber and a state agency director to deny a key permit for a coal export project on the Columbia River.

The request went out in the form of a letter from 86 officials including mayors, city councilors and state lawmakers from Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana.

They want the governor and Oregon Department of State Lands Director Mary Abrams to stop the Morrow Pacific coal export project. The project would ship nearly 9 million tons of coal a year from Wyoming and Montana to Asia by trains, barges and ships.

Opponents say the state of Oregon can stop the project by denying a permit project developer Ambre Energy needs to build a dock for coal barges at the Port of Morrow in Boardman. Oregon Representative Jules Bailey of Portland is one of the officials who wants to see that happen. He says Gov. Kitzhaber has “a lot of tools at his disposal” that he could to deny the project.

“I think where there’s a will there’s a way,” he said. “Folks in state government from the governor on down ought to be looking for ways we can have a more responsible, sustainable path.”

Kitzhaber spokeswoman Rachel Wray says the permit in question is issued by the state lands department “a standards-based review process.”

She says isn’t aware of any plans for the governor to get involved in that permitting process.

Earlier this week, the company once again asked the state to extend the deadline for completing its permit application.

Last month, the Oregon Department of State Lands notified the company that it will also need to lease state land in the areas where the project would operate over state-owned land submerged in water. That will require additional state approval.

The Morrow Pacific project is the smallest of three proposed coal export facilities that mining and shipping interests want to build in the Pacific Northwest. The Gateway Pacific project proposed north of Bellingham Washington would ship 48 million tons a year and the Millenium Bulk terminal in Longview would ship up to 44 million tons of coal. All three projects would receive Wyoming or Montana coal hauled in by train. The terminals would transfer the coal to ocean-going vessels bound for Asian markets.

Corps Announces The Scope Of Longview Coal Export Review

Source: Cassandra Profita, OPB

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has announced which environmental impacts it will consider in its review of the Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export project in Longview, Wash.

The Millennium project would export 48 million tons of coal a year to Asia. It would ship the coal by rail from Montana and Wyoming to a terminal in Longview, where it would be loaded onto vessels and sent overseas.

In a 12-page memo, the Corps on Tuesday outlined which parts of that process it will consider in reviewing the project’s environmental impacts to the air, water, wildlife and people.

Despite requests from the public to include broader impacts of mining, shipping and burning the coal, the Corps is limiting the scope of its environmental review to the project site.

Washington state recently announced it will include a wider array of environmental impacts in its review of the project.

The decision comes after public agencies collected more than 200,000 comments from the public. Many people asked the Corps to consider the impacts of railroad traffic congestion along the entire delivery route, as well as the pollution created by mining the coal and burning it in power plants overseas.

But in its memo, the agency says:

“Many activities of concern to the public, such as rail traffic, coal mining, shipping coal and burning it overseas are outside the Corps’ responsibility.”

Instead, its environmental review will be limited to the 190-acre project site and the immediate vicinity around Longview. It includes about 50 acres of the Columbia River, where the project would build piers and dredge for ships.

In addition to environmental impacts, the review will also look at the jobs and tax benefits created by the project as well as the demand on public services and utilities.

When the Corps completes its review, the public will be invited to comment on a draft document. A final environmental impact statement will outline what the developer needs to do to offset the impacts of the project.

Millenium Bulk Terminals: Longview, Wash.

A $640 million terminal that would eventually export 44 million tons of coal at a private brownfield site near Longview, Wash. It’s a joint venture of Australia’s Ambre Energy and Arch Coal, the second-largest coal producer in the U.S.

Longview, Wash. Locator Map

Players: Alcoa, Ambre Energy, Arch Coal

Full Capacity: To be reached by 2018

Export Plans: 48.5 million short tons/year

Trains: 16 trains/day (8 full and 8 empty)

Train Cars: 960/day

Vessels: 2/day

What’s Next: On Feb. 12, 2014 the Washington Department of Ecology announced what environmental impacts it will consider in its review of the Millennium Bulk Terminal. In September 2013, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced split from what was to be a joint review process. They will conduct a “separate but synchronized environmental review and public scoping process.” The corps’ review will be narrower in scope than that of Washington state. For more information on how to submit comments and to learn details for the public meetings visit the official EIS website.

Crow & Lummi, Dirty Coal & Clean Fishing

Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationKnown as “home to the Ancient Ones,” Cherry Point in Washington state is home to a stable fishing ecosystem that supports the Lummi Nation, and has become a recent point of interest for a Coal export for the Crow

Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
Known as “home to the Ancient Ones,” Cherry Point in Washington state is home to a stable fishing ecosystem that supports the Lummi Nation, and has become a recent point of interest for a Coal export for the Crow

Winona LaDuke, ICTMN, 1/15/14

“The tide is out and the table is set…” Justin Finklebonner gestures to the straits on the edge of the Lummi reservation. This is the place where the Lummi people have gathered their food for a millennium. It is a fragile and bountiful ecosystem, part of the Salish Sea, newly corrected in it’s naming by cartographers. When the tide goes out, the Lummi fishing people go to their boats—one of the largest fishing fleets in any Indigenous community. They feed their families, and they fish for their economy.

This is also the place where corporations fill their tankers and ships to travel into the Pacific and beyond. It is one of only a few deep water ports in the region, and there are plans to build a coal terminal here. That plan is being pushed by a few big corporations, and one Indian nation—the Crow Nation, which needs someplace to sell the coal it would like to mine, in a new deal with Cloud Peak Energy. The deal is a big one: 1.4 billion tons of coal to be sold overseas. There have been no new coal plants in the United States for 30 years, so Cloud Peak and the Crow hope to find their fortunes in China. The mine is called Big Metal, named after a Crow legendary hero.

The place they want to put a port for huge oil tankers and coal barges is called Cherry Point, or XweChiexen. It is sacred to the Lummi. There is a 3,500-year-old village site here.  The Hereditary Chief of the Lummi Nation, tsilixw (Bill James), describes it as the “home of the Ancient Ones.” It was the first site in Washington State to be listed on the Washington Heritage Register.

Coal interests hope to construct North America’s largest coal export terminal on this “home of the Ancient Ones.” Once there, coal would be loaded onto some of the largest bulk carriers in the world to China. The Lummi nation is saying Kwel hoy’: We draw the line. The sacred must be protected.

So it is that the Crow Nation needs a friend among the Lummi and is having a hard time finding one. In the meantime, a 40-year old coal mining strategy is being challenged by Crow people, because culture is tied to land, and all of that may change if they starting mining for coal.  And, the Crow tribal government is asked by some tribal members why renewable energy is not an option.

The stakes are high, and the choices made by sovereign Native nations will impact the future of not only two First Nations, but all of us.

How it Happens

It was a long time ago that the Crow People came from Spirit Lake. They emerged to the surface of this earth from deep in the waters. They emerged, known as the Hidatsa people, and lived for a millennia or more on the banks of the Missouri River. The most complex agriculture and trade system in the northern hemisphere, came from their creativity and their diligence. Hundreds of varieties of corn, pumpkins, squash, tobacco, berries—all gifts to a people. And then the buffalo—50 million or so—graced the region. The land was good, as was the life. Ecosystems, species and cultures collide and change. The horse transformed people and culture. And so it did for the Hidatsa and Crow people, the horse changed how the people were able to hunt—from buffalo jumps, from which carefully crafted hunt could provide food for months, to the quick and agile movement of a horse culture, the Crow transformed. They left their life on the Missouri, moving west to the Big Horn Mountains. They escaped some of what was to come to the Hidatsas, the plagues of smallpox and later the plagues of agricultural dams which flooded a people and a history- the Garrison project, but the Crow, if any, are adept at adaptation. The Absaalooka are the People of the big beaked black bird —that is how they got their name, the Crow. The River Crow and the Mountain Crow, all of them came to live in the Big Horns, made by the land, made by the horse, and made by the Creator.

A Good Country

“The Crow country is a good country. The Great Spirit has put it exactly in the right place; while you are in it you fare well; whenever you go out of it, whichever way you travel, you will fare worse… The Crow country is exactly in the right place.”

–Arapooish Crow leader, to Robert Campbell, Rocky Mountain Fur Company, c.1830

The Absaalooka were not born coal miners. That’s what happens when things are stolen from you—your land, reserved under treaty, more than 30 million acres of the best land in the northern plains, the heart of their territory. This is what happens with historic trauma, and your people and ancestors disappear – “1740 was the first contact with the Crow,” Sharon Peregoy, a Crow Senator in the Montana State legislature, explains. “It was estimated… to be 40,000 Crows, with a 100 million acres to defend. Then we had three bouts of smallpox, and by l900, we were greatly reduced to about l,750 Crows.”

“The 1825 Treaty allowed the settlers to pass through the territory.” The Crow were pragmatic. “We became an ally with the U.S. government. We did it as a political move, that’s for sure.” That didn’t work out. The 1851 Fort Laramie Treaty identified 38 million acres as reserved, while the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty greatly reduced the reservation to 8 million acres. A series of unilateral congressional acts further cut down the Crow land base, until only 2.3 million acres remained.

“The l920 Crow Act’s intent was to preserve Crow land to ensure Crow tribal allottees who were ranchers and farmers have the opportunity to utilize their land,” Peregoy explains.

Into the heart of this came the Yellowtail Dam. That project split the Crow people and remains, like other dams flooding Indigenous territories, a source of grief, for not only is the center of their ecosystem, but it benefits largely non-Native landowners and agricultural interests, many of whom farm Crow territory. And, the dam provides little financial returns for the tribe. The dam was a source of division, says Peregoy.“We were solid until the vote on the Yellowtail Dam in l959.”

In economic terms, essentially, the Crow are watching as their assets are taken to benefit others, and their ecology and economy decline. “Even the city of Billings was built on the grass of the Crows,“ Peregoy says.

Everything Broken Down

“Our people had an economy and we were prosperous in what we did. Then with the reservation, everything we had was broken down and we were forced into a welfare state.”

–Lane Simpson, Professor, Little Big Horn College

One could say the Crow know how to make lemonade out of lemons. They are renowned horse people and ranchers, and the individual landowners, whose land now makes up the vast majority of the reservation, have tried hard to continue that lifestyle. Because of history of land-loss, the Crow tribe owns some l0 percent of the reservation.

The Crow have a short history of coal strip mining—maybe 50 years. Not so long in Crow history, but a long time in an inefficient fossil fuel economy. Westmoreland Resource’s Absaloka mine opened in 1974. It produces about 6 million tons of coal a year and employs about 80 people. That deal is for around 17 cents a ton.

Westmoreland has been the Crow Nation’s most significant private partner for over 39 years, and the tribe has received almost 50 percent of its general operating income from this mine. Tribal members receive a per-capita payment from the royalties, which, in the hardship of a cash economy, pays many bills.

Then there is Colstrip, the power plant complex on the border of Crow—that produces around 2,800 mw of power for largely west coast utilities and also employs some Crows. Some 50 percent of the adult population is still listed as unemployed, and the Crow need an economy that will support their people and the generations ahead. It is possible that the Crow may have become cornered into an economic future which, it turns out, will affect far more than just them.


Big Metal Mine, named after a legendary Crow (Courtesy Big Metal Coal)
Big Metal Mine, named after a legendary Crow (Courtesy Big Metal Coal)

Enter Cloud Peak

In 2013, the Crow Nation signed an agreement with Cloud Peak to develop 1.4 billion tons in the Big Metal Mine, named after a legendary Crow. The company says it could take five years to develop a mine that would produce up to 10 million tons of coal annually, and other mines are possible in the leased areas. Cloud Peak has paid the tribe $3.75 million so far.

The Crow nation may earn copy0 million over those first five years. The Big Metal Mine, however may not be a big money-maker. Coal is not as lucrative as it once was, largely because it is a dirty fuel.  According to the Energy Information Administration, l75 coal plants will be shut down in the next few years in the U.S.

So the target is China. Cloud Peak has pending agreements to ship more than 20 million tons of coal annually through two proposed ports on the West Coast.

Back to the Lummi

The Gateway Pacific Coal terminal would be the largest such terminal on Turtle Island’s west coast. This is what large means: an l,l00 acre terminal, moving up to 54 million metric tons of coal per year, using cargo ships up to l,000 feet long. Those ships would weigh maybe 250,000 tons and carry up to 500,000 gallons of oil. Each tanker would take up to six miles to stop.

All of that would cross Lummi shellfish areas, the most productive shellfish territory in the region. “It would significantly degrade an already fragile and vulnerable crab, herring and salmon fishery, dealing a devastating blow to the economy of the fisher community,” the tribe said in a statement.

The Lummi community has been outspoken in its opposition, and taken their concerns back to the Powder River basin, although not yet to the Crow Tribe. Jewell Praying Wolf James is a tribal leader and master carver of the Lummi Nation. “There’s gonna be a lot of mercury and arsenic blowing off those coal trains,” James says. “That is going to go into a lot of communities and all the rivers between here and the Powder River Basin.”

Is there a Way Out?

Is tribal sovereignty a carte blanche to do whatever you want? The Crow Tribe’s coal reserves are estimated at around 9 billion tons of coal. If all the Crow coal came onto the market and was sold and burned, according to a paper by Avery Old Coyote, it could produce an equivalent of 44.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide.

That’s a lot of carbon during a time of climate challenge.

Then there are the coal-fired power plants. They employ another 380 people, some of them Crow, and generating some 2,094 mw of electricity. The plants are the second largest coal generating facilities west of the Mississippi. PSE’s coal plant is the dirtiest coal-burning power plant in the Western states, and the eighth dirtiest nationwide. The amount of carbon pollution that spews from Colstrip’s smokestacks is almost equal to two eruptions at Mt. St. Helen’s every year.

Coal is dirty. That’s just the way it is.  Coal plant operators are planning to retire 175 coal-fired generators, or 8.5 percent of the total coal-fired capacity in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration. A record number of generators were shut down in 2012. Massive energy development in PRB contributes more than 14 percent of the total U.S. carbon pollution, and the Powder River Basin is some of the largest reserves in the world.  According to the United States Energy Information Administration, the world emits 32.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year. The Crow Tribe will effectively contribute more than a year and a half of the entire world’s production of carbon dioxide.

There, is, unfortunately, no bubble over China, so all that carbon will end up in the atmosphere.

The Crow Nation chairman, Darrin Old Coyote, says coal was a gift to his community that goes back to the tribe’s creation story. “Coal is life,” he says. “It feeds families and pays the bills….  [We] will continue to work with everyone and respect tribal treaty rights, sacred sights, and local concerns. However, I strongly feel that non-governmental organizations cannot and should not tell me to keep Crow coal in the ground. I was elected to provide basic services and jobs to my citizens and I will steadfastly and responsibly pursue Crow coal development to achieve my vision for the Crow people.”

In 2009, 1,133 people were employed by the coal industry in Montana. U.S. coal sales have been on the decline in recent years, and plans to export coal to Asia will prop up this industry a while longer. By contrast, Montana had 2,155 “green” jobs in 2007 – nearly twice as many as in the coal industry. Montana ranks fifth 
in the nation for wind-energy potential. Even China has been dramatically increasing its use of renewables and recently called for the closing of thousands of small coal mines by 2015. Perhaps most telling, Goldman Sachs recently stated that investment in coal infrastructure is “a risky bet and could create stranded assets.”

The Answer May Be Blowing in the Wind

The Crow nation has possibly l5,000-megawatts of wind power potential, or six times as much power as is presently being generated by Colstrip. Michaelynn Hawk and Peregoy have an idea: a wind project owned by Crow Tribal members that could help diversify Crow income. Michaelynn says “the price of coal has gone down. It’s not going to sustain us. We need to look as landowners at other economic development to sustain us as a tribe. Coal development was way before I was born. From the time I can remember, we got per capita from the mining of coal. Now that I’m older, and getting into my elder age, I feel that we need to start gearing towards green energy.”

Imagine there were buffalo, wind turbines and revenue from the Yellowtail Dam to feed the growing Crow community. What if the Crow replaced some of that 500 megawatts of Colstrip Power, with some of the l5,000 possible megawatts of power from wind energy? And then there is the dam on the Big Horn River. “We have the opportunity right now to take back the Yellowtail Dam,” Peragoy says. “Relicensing and lease negotiations will come up in two years for the Crow Tribe, and that represents a potentially significant source of income – $600 million. That’s for 20 years, $30 million a year.”

That would be better than dirty coal money for the Crow, for the Lummi, for all of us.


Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/01/15/crow-lummi-dirty-coal-clean-fishing-153086

Northeast states pissed at Midwest states over coal pollution

By John Upton, Grist

The governors of eight Northeastern states are fed up with the air pollution that blows their way from states to their west.

In the latest high-profile move to crush the antiquated practice of burning coal in the U.S., the governors filed a petition with the EPA today that seeks more stringent air quality regulations on coal-burning states such as Ohio, Kentucky, and Michigan. That’s because pollution from those states’ coal-fired power plants reaches the Atlantic coastline, sickening residents there. From The New York Times:


[There is] growing anger of East Coast officials against the Appalachian states that mine coal and the Rust Belt states that burn it to fuel their power plants and factories. Coal emissions are the chief cause of global warming and are linked to many health risks, including asthma and lung disease.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy of Connecticut, who is leading the effort by East Coast governors to crack down on out-of-state pollution, called it a “front-burner issue” for his administration. …

Mr. Malloy said that more than half the pollution in Connecticut was from outside the state and that it was lowering the life expectancy of Connecticut residents with heart disease or asthma. “They’re getting away with murder,” Mr. Malloy said of the Rust Belt and Appalachia. “Only it’s in our state, not theirs.”

And there’s more big air pollution news this week. From the Times:

The petition comes the day before the Supreme Court is to hear arguments to determine the fate of a related E.P.A. regulation known as the “good neighbor” rule. The regulation, officially called the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, would force states with coal pollution that wafts across state lines to rein in soot and smog, either by installing costly pollution control technology or by shutting the power plants.

Bloomberg reports on that “good neighbor” court case:

The Supreme Court will hear arguments over reviving an EPA rule that would limit sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions in 28 states whose pollution blows into neighboring jurisdictions. All are in the eastern two-thirds of the country.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit struck down the rule. It said the regulation was too strict and that EPA didn’t give states a chance to put in place their own pollution-reduction plans before imposing a nationwide standard. The Obama administration and environmental groups are appealing.

Some energy companies have been powering down their coal-fired stations, citing financial losses, but plenty of coal-burning plants are still pumping out pollutants. In October, Wisconsin Energy Corp. sought permission to shutter its 407-megawatt Presque Isle coal-fired power plant in Michigan. The request was denied by the regional grid operator, which said the region couldn’t manage without the power plant’s electricity supply. The grid operator is now in talks over compensation, to help the energy company continue operating the plant at a loss.

The Supreme Court case could decide the fate of Presque Isle and many other coal plants, so it’s one to watch. Another air-pollution case is also being argued tomorrow, this one in the D.C. Circuit Court over the EPA’s mercury rules. “This is the biggest day for clean air in American courts — ever,” John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council told Bloomberg.

The united resistance of Fearless Summer — a conversation with Mathew Louis-Rosenberg

(Fearless Summer / Nina Montenegro)

(Fearless Summer / Nina Montenegro)

Bryan Farrell, Waging Non-Violence

This has been a busy summer for climate activists — with actions against the fossil fuel industry taking place on a near daily basis around the country. But busy is not the word they are using. They prefer to describe their efforts this summer as fearless. And why not? They are, after all, facing off against the largest, most profitable industry in the history of the world.

Nevertheless, this fearless action is not without strategy. In fact, the term Fearless Summer is being used to unite climate campaigns across the country that are working to stop fossil fuel extraction and protect communities on the frontlines. By coordinating collective action under the same banner, the aim is to speak as one voice against the fossil fuel industry.

To better understand how Fearless Summer came to be and what it’s accomplishing, I spoke with one of its coordinators, Mathew Louis-Rosenberg, who works in southern West Virginia fighting strip-mining — both with the community organization Coal River Mountain Watch and the direct action campaign Radical Action for Mountains and Peoples Survival.

How did the idea for the Fearless Summer come about?

Fearless Summer grew out of a discussion at the first Extreme Energy Extraction Summit held last February in upstate New York. The summit brought together an incredibly diverse group of 70 activists from across the country fighting against coal, gas, oil, tar sands, uranium and industrial biomass to create a more unified movement against energy extraction. We created shared languages, fostered relationships across the diverse spectrum of groups working on the issues and provided space for dialogue that allows innovative collaborations to form. Fearless Summer was one such collaboration.

Who are the principle organizers and groups involved? And how do you coordinate between one another?

Fearless Summer is an open-ended organizing framework and a call-to-action. So it’s difficult to say who the “principle organizers” are. There has been a core group of folks helping to coordinate and create infrastructure that includes organizers across a wide spectrum of groups, such as Radical Action for Mountains and Peoples Survival, Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, Peaceful Uprising, Food and Water Watch, Green Memes, Tar Sands Blockade, the student divestment movement and others. Coordination work has primarily been done through a listserv and open, weekly conference calls. There is no formal organizing or decision-making structure.

How does this build on last year’s Summer of Solidarity initiative and the actions that have happened since? Do you see it as an escalation?

Fearless Summer was explicitly conceived of as a next step beyond last year’s Summer of Solidarity. I think the intention and scale of Fearless Summer is the escalation. Summer of Solidarity arose out of the organizers of several large actions — the Mountain Mobilization, Coal Export Action, Tar Sands Blockade and Stop the Frack Attack — recognizing that we were all planning big things in a similar timeframe and by working together, primarily through social media, we could amplify each other’s messages rather than compete for attention. The hashtag #ClimateSOS took off and had a life of its own, but coordination never went beyond that core group. Fearless Summer was explicitly launched as an open framework intended to draw in as many groups and actions as possible and came with a clear statement of purpose. This time we engaged a much much wider spectrum of groups and actions under clear principles of unity and escalation. Fearless Summer has gone beyond social media coordination to really create some national dialogue between grassroots groups on presenting a united front on energy issues.

How does Fearless Summer compliment or differ from the many other summer initiatives going on, such as 350.org’s Summer Heat and indigenous peoples’ Sovereignty Summer? Did you coordinate with those organizers?

We see these efforts as highly complementary. We are probably most similar to Sovereignty Summer in how we are organized. Many current indigenous sovereignty struggles are deeply connected to struggles against energy industry attacks on native lands and we have been promoting many such struggles through Fearless Summer. We have also been talking extensively with 350.org organizers about the connections with Summer Heat, which is obviously different due to the central coordination through 350.org and a much more focused timeframe. Fearless Summer is an open framework for action through the summer, so any other similar organizing efforts strengthen the goals of Fearless Summer regardless of how coordinated they are with us.

How many actions have taken place under the Fearless Summer banner so far?

It’s really difficult to say. The trouble with an unstaffed, unfunded, open collaboration is that it’s hard to keep up with where people are taking things. Our kickoff week of action in June had at least 28 actions in six days and there have been dozens more outside of that. At least 50-60.

What actions are coming up?

To be honest, I don’t know. There’s still a lot going on. We’re hosting an action camp in West Virginia and I’ve heard whispers of big plans in other parts of the country, but at this point people are just taking the framework and running with it as we intended.

What are the plans for the fall and beyond?

Those conversations are happening right now. I think people want to see coordination move to the next level of acting together nationally on some common targets more and there’s also a lot of talk about connecting more with other social justice issues and talking about root causes. The second Extreme Energy Extraction Summit is coming up September 6-10 and a lot of discussion will happen there.

Are you feeling optimistic about the larger climate justice movement at the moment?

I am feeling optimistic about the movement. We see more and more communities getting active. It’s getting harder and harder for the energy industry to find anywhere to operate without resistance. And it’s having an impact. The president’s speech and climate plan, despite its deep flaws, speak to the impact we are having. Four years ago, Obama was telling student leaders that he couldn’t do anything without a large scale public pressure movement. We have that now. I think we have a long way to go still. A lot of work still needs to be done to engage a wider base, connect with other struggles around justice and root causes of climate change, and articulate a policy platform that solves the climate crisis in a just and honest way. On the action front, we are still a long way from where the nuclear freeze movement was — with thousands occupying power plants and test sites — doing jail solidarity and really creating a concrete problem for the industry beyond public relations.

If momentum continues to build in the next year, where do you see it coming from? And what might the work of activists look like next summer?

I’m not sure what the big catalyst could be. So far the growth of the movement has mostly been in a proliferation of local campaigns. I think it’s going to take a lot of national dialogue to knit those into collective action for collective wins. My hope is that by next year we will be seeing mass direct action that truly challenges the ability of legal systems to respond and corporations to operate. We need more people acting like their children’s lives are on the line. Because they are.