First Nation Wins Historic Victory Over Mammoth Coal Export Terminal

US Army Corps of Engineers denies permit for proposed Cherry Point terminal, which would have been the largest in North America.

In a move being hailed as a landmark victory for the climate movement, Pacific Northwest communities, and tribal members alike, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Monday denied federal permits for the largest proposed coal export terminal in North America.

“This is big—for our climate, for clean air and water, for our future,” declared Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

For years, the Lummi Nation led the campaign against the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal in Xwe’chi’eXen (also known as Cherry Point), Washington. Last year, tribal leaders asked (pdf) the Army Corps to reject the project on the grounds that it would violate treaty rights and cause “irreparable damage to important crab and salmon fisheries” in the Salish Sea.

The Army Corps, Hitt said, “did its duty by upholding treaty rights and honoring the U.S. government’s commitment to those treaties.” The decision marks the first time that a coal export facility has been rejected based on its negative impacts to the treaty rights of a tribal nation.

Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp, who also serves as president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians and vice president of the National Congress of American Indians, called the ruling “an appropriate and just decision.”

Sharp said that “everyone who cares about fish and wildlife, the environment and human health should be happy with the Corps’ decision. This is an historic victory for tribal treaty rights as well as for everybody else who lives here.”

“Those who understand the great value of our natural resources to our health and culture, as well as the sustainable economy of the entire region, will applaud today’s announcement,” she added.

“This is an historic win, and we are grateful to the Lummi Nation for their leadership in delivering a tremendous victory for Northwest families,” said Crina Hoyer, executive director of Bellingham’s ReSources for Sustainable Communities. “The message rings loud and clear: communities will never accept the health, safety, economic or environmental impacts of dirty coal exports.”

“Everyone who cares about fish and wildlife, the environment and human health should be happy with the Corps’ decision. This is an historic victory for tribal treaty rights as well as for everybody else who lives here.”

—Quinault Nation President Fawn Sharp

The proposed terminal would have exported up to 48 million tons of Powder River Basin coal each year to markets in Asia. That coal would have been carried on coal trains—as many as 18 additional each day—through communities in Washington, Idaho, and Montana, before being loaded on giant ships which would carry the pollutant across the Salish Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

The project’s opponents cited a host of negative environmental impacts—from increased coal dust around the terminal and rail lines to the atmospheric effects of burning coal overseas.

Indeed, the denial comes amid a marked decline in the coal industry, including the recent bankruptcies of fossil fuel giants Peabody and Arch Coal.

At the same time, climate campaigners worldwide have launched a series of peaceful direct actions targeting key fossil fuel infrastructure to pressure their governments to commit to a clean energy future.

“The Lummi Nation’s victory brings even more energy to local movements,” said Cesia Kearns, who serves as co-director of the Power Past Coal coalition, an alliance of health groups and businesses, as well as environmental, clean-energy, faith, and community organizations working to stop coal export off the West Coast.

“From British Columbia, to Longview, Washington, to the Gulf of Mexico,” Kearns declared, “we will continue to stand together to say no to corporate special interests and yes to healthy, community-driven futures.”

This post first appeared in Common Dreams.

By Lauren McCauley

Lauren McCauley has been a staff writer at Common Dreams since October 2012. When not writing and editing headline articles, she spends her time producing documentary films. Her most recent project, Mississippi Messiah, is a feature about civil rights icon, James Meredith. She also co-produced the films The Hollywood Complex and Soundtrack for a Revolution, about the protest music of the civil rights movement. Previously, while writing for Newsweek, Lauren was nominated for the 2008 GLAAD Media Award for Digital Journalism.