Wyoming lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow the state to finance the construction of coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.
On Friday, Wyoming’s state legislature sent to Gov. Matt Mead a bill that would allow the state to issue up to $1 billion in bonds to help fund out-of-state projects, including coal export terminals.
Lloyd Drain, director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, said these projects would be good for Wyoming coal and the Northwest, too.
“If I’m looking at it with my Washington state or Oregon state hat on, I think there’s a lot more benefits to be had than any risk,” he said. Wyoming plans to send a delegation to Pacific Northwest later this spring to lobby Native American tribes for support.
Coal export projects are proposed on Puget Sound near Bellingham, Washington, and on the Columbia River in Longview, Washington. A third, smaller terminal on the Oregon side of the Columbia was rejected last August by state regulators. That decision is being appealed.
The projects have had trouble with financing. In late 2014 Ambre Energy sold its interest in terminals in Oregon and Washington to a private equity firm in order to remain solvent.
This was first reported by Inside Energy, a reporting team based in energy boom states.
Riverton, Wyoming, looks like an All-American boomtown, fronted along a busy strip of hotels and fast food joints with steady traffic from industry trucks and pickups. But the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes are arguing that Riverton is part of the Wind River Indian Reservation – and the Environmental Protection Agency agrees. That determination, now before the courts, could allow tribes to have greater involvement in energy development rules and also strike a significant win for tribes after centuries of losing ground.
A 1905 Congressional act opened nearly 1 million acres of Wind River reservation lands in central Wyoming for non-Indian homesteaders, miners and new towns. Later acts restored much of that area as part of the reservation, but 171,000 acres, including Riverton, were never officially returned to the tribes. Despite the developments, the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone, who share the reservation, say the lands have always remained under tribal ownership.
The matter boiled over in 2008 after the Wind River tribes applied to the EPA for “treatment as a state” designation under the Clean Air Act, which would allow them to implement and manage air-quality programs on their shared reservation. In a region heavily reliant on the production from thousands of oil and gas wells, the additional oversight – and a change in jurisdiction – poses some uncertainty for the industry.
The EPA approved the tribes’ request in late 2013 and, as part of the proceedings, reviewed the reservation’s boundaries. After studying historical records, the EPA announced that the disputed lands are still part of the Wind River reservation.
“It’s a big deal for the Wind River tribes and for Wyoming because jurisdiction is what sovereign governments are all about,” says Debra Donahue, professor at University of Wyoming College of Law. “It’s important for the tribes just as an affirmation that the lands are still within the reservation and they are the primary sovereigns within that territory.”
If the appeals court upholds the EPA’s boundary designations, the state can still tax local citizens and businesses in the Riverton area. According to the Equality State Policy Center, non-Indian people would be minimally impacted, although some new tax advantages could benefit businesses. Enrolled tribal members in the extended area, however, would be under tribal jurisdiction in criminal or legal cases, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs and tribal courts would have more authority.
Under the Wind River tribe-as-state application, the tribes aren’t seeking all-out regulatory authority, but they would gain the right to monitor local air quality and to comment on regional projects that could impact environmental health. The state would maintain regulatory control over the oil and gas industry, and it’s doubtful the decision would affect energy development. Along with the rest of Wyoming, the Wind River tribes rely heavily on oil and gas for government revenues, but some homes on the reservation have hazardous drinking water, possibly linked to industry activity, and the EPA has even ordered some residents to ventilate homes when bathing or running taps.
Many observers expect the appeals court to overturn the EPA’s decision. Donahue says courts are typically reluctant to find in favor of tribes in such boundary disputes.
But one detail in the case could prove essential for the tribes’ argument: The century-old law behind the dispute didn’t set a single sum payment for the territory, like many other Indian Country purchases, but instead allowed for settlers to buy ceded lands one parcel at a time. “The U.S. Supreme Court has said that distinction is significant,” Donahue says, since it’s been interpreted to mean Congress wasn’t reducing the reservation boundary while the tribes retained an interest in the area. If the appeals court or the Supreme Court upholds that view, tribes with similar circumstances could pick up the strategy.
The Wyoming Governor invited 25 members of eight Northwest tribes on an all-expenses paid tour of coal operations.
The tour happened last week, and only one tribe participated.
The Wyoming government hosted three visitors from the Pacific Northwest, according to the Casper Star-Tribune: Alice Dietz of the Cowlitz Economic Development Council, Gary Archer of the Kelso, Washington, City Council and Gary MacWilliams of the Nooksack Tribe.
The tour was the latest in the Wyoming government’s efforts to promote coal as good for the economy and not as environmentally dirty as its critics in the Northwest might think. The governor and representatives of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority have also visited proposed sites for coal export facilities in the Northwest.
With more coal in the ground than the U.S. needs or wants, particularly in light of new clean air regulations that phase out coal plants, the future of the Powder River Basin’s coal industry depends on exports. Several projects have been proposed in Oregon and Washington to receive coal from Montana and Wyoming by rail, transfer it to ships and send it to Asia.
Most tribes in Oregon and Washington oppose coal exports, in part because of concerns about what coal dust and marine shipping would mean for their tribal fishing grounds. Tribes’ treaty fishing rights give them unique power to halt coal export projects.
Most refused the offer, and the tour itself didn’t appear to change any minds. Those who attended were either already in favor of coal exports or remained unswayed. But it was impressive to some. Here’s a quote from the Star-Tribune article:
“We had a prime rib dinner last night,” marveled Gary Archer, a city councilman from Kelso, Washington, a town neighboring one of the proposed ports. “These guys got it made up here. They got everything they need, except public perception.”
Coincidentally, the tour happened the same week the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued its starkest warning yet, essentially saying if we’re going to have a shot at curbing climate change, the fossil fuels currently in the ground need to stay there.
By: Ashley Ahearn, Tony Schick, and Cassandra Profita, OPB
Treaty fishing rights give Northwest tribes extra clout when it comes to the future of proposed coal terminals on the Columbia River and Puget Sound.
That’s not lost on the governor of Wyoming, a big proponent of coal exports.
Gov. Matt Mead is inviting Northwest tribal leaders on an all-expenses-paid trip to coal country in Northeastern Wyoming, according to an email obtained by EarthFix.
The governor’s invitation went out to tribes in Oregon and Washington, including the Umatilla, Yakama, Swinomish and the Lummi.
The governor’s office did not answer specific questions about the invitations, but released a statement saying the trip would “showcase Wyoming’s coal and rail industries, the benefits of low sulfur coal, world class reclamation and the economic benefits coal provides to the local community.”
The statement, sent by email from Michelle Panos, the governor’s interim communications director, says that Wyoming has been hosting policy makers from the Pacific Northwest for the last few years, and “Wyoming recognizes tribal leaders as key policy makers.”
Courting Coal’s Critics?
Tribes have been vocal critics of coal exports in the Northwest, and their treaty fishing rights give them unique power to stop terminal developments. It’s unclear whether the free trip to Wyoming is intended to change their stance.
The two-day tour would visit one of the largest coal mines in the world, a power plant and rail operations, according to a Sept. 25 email sent by Loyd Drain, executive director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority. And the state of Wyoming would pick up the tab.
Yakama fishers protest coal exports. Credit: Courtney Flatt.
“The Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, an instrumentality of the state of Wyoming, would be pleased to provide for the cost of airfare; lodging; transportation in Wyoming; and meals,” Drain wrote in one of the emails.
The invitation calls the tour “an opportunity with an up-close look at the operations being conducted in an environmentally friendly manner.”
Drain did not respond to requests for comment.
Chuck Sams, spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, said the chairman of his tribal council, Gary Burke, received an invitation last week but hasn’t decided whether he will accept.
“We received an email from the governor of Wyoming inviting us out,” Sams said. “We haven’t made any decisions regarding the invitation.”
Earlier this year, the Umatilla and several other tribes argued successfully that a proposed coal export project on the Columbia River would interfere with their tribal fishing rights.
The state of Oregon denied a permit needed to build a dock for the Morrow Pacific project in part because tribal members say they fish at the proposed dock site.
Mead Sees Exports In Coal’s Future
Gov. Matt Mead visits Longview. Credit Cassandra Profita
Mead visited another proposed coal export terminal site in Longview, Washington, earlier this year to show his support for the project and tour the facility. The Millennium Bulk Terminals project would export up to 44 million tons of coal a year from Wyoming and Montana to Asia.
“That’s a lot of coal, but relative to the amount of coal we produce it’s 10 percent,” Mead said during his visit. “So this port and other ports are important to Wyoming in terms of the coal industry.”
Wyoming produces around 400 million tons of coal a year. With the U.S. tightening regulations for coal-fired power plants, Mead said he sees exports as a key part of the coal industry’s future.
Not All Tribes Agree
The Powder River Basin coal reserves of Wyoming and Montana are partly located on tribal land. The Crow Nation signed a deal with Cloud Peak Energy, giving that company the option to mine up to 1.4 billion tons of Crow coal. Some of the coal mined there would be exported through terminals proposed to be built in Washington. The move pits the Crow against tribes in the Northwest, which oppose coal exports.
“The economic viability of the Crow Nation is closely tied to our ability ship natural resources, especially coal, out of Montana,” said Crow Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote. “Energy exports are a key piece of our future well-being and we are encouraged by this proposed rail and port infrastructure in the Northwest that will help grow interstate commerce.”
As for the all-expenses-paid trip to Wyoming coal country, Timothy Ballew, tribal chairman of the Lummi Nation, whose lands are adjacent to the site of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, said he will not be attending.
Chairman Ballew and the Lummi council sent a letter in response to the Wyoming governor’s offer. In it, Ballew said, “there is no purpose to be served by accepting your offer. We are well aware of the nature of the coal mining industry and its impacts on the environment.”
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) — American Indians in Wyoming increasingly are asserting themselves, fighting for more say on environmental issues and fielding more candidates in state and local elections.
The Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes share the Wind River Indian Reservation, a block of land in central Wyoming that’s roughly the size of Yellowstone National Park.
Rep. Patrick Goggles, D-Ethete, announced early this year he’s not seeking re-election to the Legislature after 10 years of representing a district centered on the reservation. Yet Goggles, a Northern Arapaho and the only Indian in the Legislature, said it’s critical that the tribes continue to have a political presence in the state.
“There are issues that are unique to this reservation, and to the other Native Americans that reside here,” Goggles said. “That perspective should not get lost.”
Democrat Andi Clifford, a Northern Arapaho, is running for Wyoming House of Representatives seeking the District 33 seat held by Goggles, her uncle. Clifford, 42, works as a manager at the Wind River Hotel and Casino.
“We have 2.2 million acres with a lot of resources in our land and water,” Clifford said. “We want to be sitting at the table. We want to start discussing things that impact us and start having those conversations, and people to respect those conversations and respect where we’re coming from, because we live here.”
Gary Collins, tribal liaison between the Northern Arapaho Tribe and the state of Wyoming, said he counts seven Native American candidates in area legislative and local elections this year, up from three in 2012.
Collins, a Northern Arapaho, said a victory he and other tribal members won in a Voting Rights Act lawsuit against Fremont County a few years ago has inspired greater political involvement among Wyoming Indians.
U.S. District Judge Alan B. Johnson in 2010 ruled Fremont County’s system of at-large voting for county commissioner elections left Indians disenfranchised. Despite bitter opposition from county officials, Johnson ordered the county to establish voting districts to ensure Indian representation.
“The long history of discrimination against Indians in the United States, Wyoming and Fremont County is undeniable,” Johnson wrote in his 2010 decision. “The evidence presented to this court reveals that discrimination is ongoing and the effects of historical discrimination remain palpable.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added to local tensions late last year when it ruled that lands around Riverton, a town on the reservation’s eastern boundary, legally remain Indian Country.
The EPA addressed the boundary issue when it granted a request from both the Northern Arapaho and Eastern Shoshone tribes to treat their reservation as a separate state under the federal Clean Air Act.
Wyoming, together with Riverton, Fremont County and other groups, has appealed the EPA decision in federal court in Denver. The tribes have entered the lawsuit, too, arguing to uphold the federal agency’s position.
The tribal boundary dispute also drew the attention of a national group that’s dedicated to ending tribal sovereignty. The Citizens Equal Rights Alliance held a workshop in Riverton in June, saying they wanted to instruct local officials how to fight over federal government overreach.
Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, is a veteran state lawmaker and a non-Indian. He faces Democratic challenger Sergio Maldonado Sr., a Northern Arapaho, in November’s general election.
Case said he was invited to the CERA workshop but didn’t attend. Although he said he believes the state ultimately will win on the boundary issue in court, he said he regarded CERA’s presence as unhelpful and divisive.
Case served as chairman of the legislative committee that redrew legislative districts after the 2010 census. He said the committee was careful not to dilute Native American voting strength and credits that as a factor in their increasing involvement.
Case said all voters in his district will have to assess which candidate they believe can do the best job. “I’m not native, but I really try very hard to do a good job of representing them,” Case said.
Kimberly Varilek, attorney general for the Eastern Shoshone Tribe, said she believes both the Voting Rights Act ruling and the uproar over the EPA boundary decision both have given tribal members hope that they have a chance to play a greater role in politics beyond the reservation boundaries.
“I’ve noticed that there’s more interest in regards to tribal members,” Varilek said. “Potentially, maybe they feel like there’s more access.”
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LONGVIEW, Wash. — A controversial coal export terminal proposed for this Columbia River town has a big supporter from the state of Wyoming.
Its governor was in Longview Tuesday to tour the old aluminum smelter where the The Millennium Bulk coal export terminal would move up to 44 million tons a year of Wyoming coal off trains and onto ships bound for Asia.
It’s a terminal he says is important to coal producers in his state – especially as the industry faces new regulations on coal-fired power plants in the U.S.
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead said he sees coal exports as way to expand the market for the 400 million tons of coal his state produces annually. He’d like to see more terminals like the Millennium project, which would export up to 44 million tons of coal per year.
“That’s a lot of coal, but relative to the amount of coal we produce it’s 10 percent,” Mead said. “So this port and other ports are important to Wyoming in terms of the coal industry.”
Gov. Mead on the bridge of a ship delivering alumina.
But what he calls “unreasonable” new regulations on coal-fired power plants in the U.S. are making it harder to expand coal markets here. Even before those rules came out, coal producers in his state had been looking for Asian buyers for all that Wyoming coal.
“We’ve got to have a continuation in a real way, in an economical way so these companies can keep going, and exports are part of that future,” Mead said.
Companies hoping to be part of that future have proposed a half-dozen coal export terminals around the Northwest. The three proposals still under consideration face a long permitting process and strong local opposition.
In all they would help transport roughly 100 million tons of coal annually from Wyoming and Montana to Asia.
Mead said expanding the overseas coal trade with export terminals like Millennium will be good for the U.S. and its trading partners. But not everyone sees the benefits he does.
Mead’s visit sparked a protest from opponents of the Millennium project. Outside the terminal site, about 30 people gathered with a bucket of coal.
Protesters put a bow on a bucket of coal for Mead.
Diane Dick of the opponent group Landowners and Citizens for a Safe Community spoke at the protest. She said her group has a bucket of coal that came from Wyoming, and she wants to give it back to Gov. Mead while he’s in town.
“We believe his coal should be kept in the ground in Wyoming,” she said. “We don’t want it here. We don’t want it shipped to Asia, where it will be polluting the skies in Asia and will blow back pollution and creating poisonous air for us.”
Mead followed the terminal site tour by meeting with a group of Washington legislators in Longview. He said he wanted to hear their concerns and help answer their questions to build support for the Millennium project.
Before you head to Yellowstone National Park this summer to see the real deal, stop at the National Museum of Wildlife Art in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, to see stunning paintings of bison from the early 18th Century.
The exhibit “George Catlin’s American Buffalo” opens May 18 and runs until August 18, featuring 40 paintings by the artist, who produced about 500 works based on the travels among 50 Native tribes in the 1830s, according to the museum. The show takes a “fresh look at the famous works of [Catlin] through the lens of his representation of buffalo and their integration into the lives of Native Americans.”
George Catlin, “Buffalo Bull, Grazing on the Prairie,” 1832-1833, oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
“Catlin’s paintings illuminate in great detail the close ties between Native American tribes and bison in the 1830s, and his writings about the land and its native inhabitants have informed generations of conservationists as they wrestle with sustainable ways to manage America’s Great Plains,” said Adam Duncan Harris, curator of art for the National Museum of Wildlife Art, in a press release.
George Catlin, “Hee-láh-dee, Pure Fountain, Wife of The Smoke,” 1832 oil on canvas, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. Joseph Harrison, Jr.
The exhibition, organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum in collaboration with the National Museum of Wildlife Art, is drawn entirely from the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s collection. For more info on “George Catlin’s American Buffalo” and the National Museum of Wildlife Art, click here.