Tribes welcome decision against coal export terminal in Washington

Members of the Lummi Nation exercise their treaty rights at Xwe’chi’eXen, also known as Cherry Point, in Washington. Photo by Lummi Nation

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers halted the permitting process for a controversial coal export terminal in Washington due to the negative impacts on tribal treaty rights.

According to the agency, the Gateway Pacific Terminal would affect the usual and accustomed fishing areas of the Lummi Nation, the Suquamish Tribe, the Swinomish Tribe and the Tulalip Tribes. Seattle District Commander Col. John Buck determined that going forward with the process would essentially abrogate their treaty rights.

“I have thoroughly reviewed thousands of pages of submittals from the Lummi Nation and Pacific International Holdings,” Buck said in a press release on Monday. “I have also reviewed my staff’s determination that the Gateway Pacific Terminal would have a greater than de minimis impact on the Lummi Nation’s U&A rights, and I have determined the project is not permittable as currently proposed.”

The Lummi Nation emerged as the primary foe of the terminal due to its location in Cherry Point. The area is protected by the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliott and is known as Xwe’chi’eXen in the tribe's language.

"The decision is a win for the treaty and protects our sacred sites," Chairman Tim Ballew II said in a press release. "Our ancient ones at Xwe’chi’eXen, Cherry Point, will rest protected."

Other Washington tribes were celebrating too. Fawn Sharp, the president of the Quinault Nation and the president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians , said the Army Corps has set an example for respecting treaty rights.

“There was no doubt whatsoever that the terminal would have had a negative impact on tribal fishing rights. But everyone who cares about fish and wildlife, the environment and human health should be happy with the Corps’ decision,” Sharp said in a press release.


The Crow Tribe has partnered with Cloud Peak Energy to develop a mine on the reservation in Montana. Both are now a part of the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Washington. Photo from Big Metal Coal

The ruling, though, represents a setback to the Crow Tribe of Montana. Coal from the Big Metal Mine on its reservation would be transported to global markets through the terminal. The tribe also has a small ownership stake in the terminal itself.

“The Gateway Pacific Terminal is incredibly important to Montana, the Crow, and even to the blue collar workers in Washington State because it is literally the gateway to economic prosperity and rising out of poverty," Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-Montana), a first-term member of Congress, said in a press release.

Zinke was responsible for a provision in H.R.8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, that would prevent the Army Corps from taking action until all other relevant federal agencies have weighed in on the environmental impact statement for the project.

The House passed the bill in December but similar language was not included in an comprehensive energy package that passed the Senate last month. Since the Army Corps has taken action it's not clear whether the provision would have an effect if it became law at this point.

Get the Story:
Lummi Nation Defeats Coal Export Terminal (Sightline Institute 5/9)
A death blow to coal ports in Washington? (Crosscut 5/9)
Army Corps rejects permit for coal terminal at Cherry Point (The Bellingham Herald 5/9)
Lummi Nation Wins the Fight Against Coal Terminal at Cherry Point (The Seattle Weekly 5/9)
Tribe claims victory in fight over proposed Washington terminal site (Wyoming Business Report 5/9)
Tribes prevail, kill proposed coal terminal at Cherry Point (The Seattle Times 5/9)
Army Corps of Engineers blocks giant coal export terminal at Cherry Point (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer 5/9)
‘Historic Victory for Treaty Rights’: Northwest Tribes Rejoice as Army Corps Rejects Coal Terminal (Indian Country Today 5/10)
Army Corps rejects shipping port for Crow coal (The Montana Standard 5/10)
U.S. rejects proposed coal export facility, siding with one Indian tribe over another (The Los Angeles Times 5/10)
U.S. Denies Permit for Coal Terminal in Washington State (The New York Times 5/10)
Lawmakers mobilize against corps for rejecting export terminal (Environment & Energy Daily 5/10)
One Coal Terminal Denied as Advocates Work to Oppose Another (Public News Service 5/10)
Documentary traces totem pole’s creation, journey (The Bonner County Daily Bee 5/10)

An Opinion:
Shannon Wright: Communitywise says GPT job promises didn’t add up (The Bellingham Herald 5/10)

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Documents:
Press Release | Gateway Pacific Terminal Project and Lummi Nation’s Usual and Accustomed Treaty Fishing Rights at Cherry Point, Whatcom County

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