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August 09, 2013

"Everything is Connected" - The People vs. Coal Exports in the Northwest

Coal export hearing4
In recent days, there were new developments in the fight against Northwest coal exports that stopped me in my tracks. Last week, the news broke that the official review of the largest proposed coal export terminal in Washington State will be unprecedented in scope, and will include not only the health and environmental effects of the project, but also the climate impacts of burning the coal in Asia.

This announcement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Washington State Department of Ecology, and Whatcom County comes after a blockbuster comment period on the project, where 10,000 people attended standing-room-only public hearings and more than 120,000 submitted written comments.

Coal export hearingThe agencies announced they will conduct an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Cherry Point terminal near Bellingham that will consider the human health effects from coal dust near the proposed terminals as well as in communities along the rail line. They will also assess the effects of the increased marine traffic.  And, in an unprecedented move, they also plan to study the massive increase of carbon pollution from burning the exported coal in Asia.

We cheered this response, as it's a true sign of the power of a movement, one that's been built over the past two-and-a-half-years among a very diverse coalition that includes businesses, political officials, the faith community, Native Americans, public health officials, and many more. As demand for coal is plummeting in the U.S., coal companies looking for new overseas markets for their coal are running into a wall of public opposition from local residents and state leaders, who are alarmed about the danger coal exports pose to public health, local economic vitality, clean air and water, and our climate.

On top of that, financial firms are calling coal export terminals a bad investment.

But wait – there's more!

During a press conference announcing the broad scope of the EIS, the Army Corps of Engineers said that they had not heard that the Lummi Nation opposed the project, stunning many observers. This was a strange and confusing statement from the Army Corps, given the powerful public testimony by Lummi leadership at the Cherry Point hearings, several pages of public comments by the Lummi Nation on the scope of the EIS, a resolution passed by the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians opposing this export project and others, and multiple news stories, including this gripping image of tribal members from the Lummi Nation ceremonially burning a symbolic check last year to demonstrate their opposition to the project.

So last week, the Lummi Nation issued a letter to clarify that they are officially opposing the plan to build this coal export terminal near Bellingham that invoked treaty rights, which one media outlet called the "trump card that could kill the coal terminal."

While the Army Corps has a track record of ignoring such vast public outcry, as they did in refusing to conduct a broad review of the cumulative impacts of the multiple coal export proposals in the Northwest, local communities and local decision-makers are standing up to Big Coal to protect all of our futures.  The Lummi Nation's leadership on this issue, both over the past year and with this new letter, is a powerful example of that leadership.

I found this section of the Lummi Nation's letter of opposition particularly powerful:

In developing the Lummi Nation's position on the projects, the Nation heeded the following principles:
1. "Everything is connected." As our elders conveyed through our Xwlemi'chosen (Lummi language) that cultural and spiritual significances expressed by our ancestors for the land, water and the environment are all connected.
2. "We must manage our resources for the seventh generation of our people." Our unique heritage requires us to honor our past, present and future generations. Since time immemorial we have managed resources that we are borrowing from our children and grandchildren.
3. As a tribal government, we have adopted the critical goal that we must preserve, promote, and protect our Schelangen ("way of life").
The Lummi Nation includes thousands of fishermen who would be greatly affected by coal exports.

Coal export hearing5From one recent news report: "Fishing is who we are. Fishing is our culture. And to us, culture is fish. It's just in our blood," said Jerimiah Julius, a Lummi fisherman.

The people are making a difference in this fight against dirty coal exports. Together we are demanding an end to the air and water pollution from the coal industry.

But while we celebrate this good news, the fight is not over. While it's true that the actions of thousands of people brought about this decision to conduct a robust EIS, now, the same must be done for the other proposed coal export terminals planned in the Pacific Northwest.

To that end, we continue to need the huge crowds to show up and speak out at upcoming public hearings on the proposed Longview coal export terminal:

Sept. 17: Cowlitz Expo Center, Longview
Sept. 25: Spokane Convention Center, Spokane
Oct. 1: The Trac Center, Pasco
Oct. 9: Clark County Fairgrounds, Vancouver
Oct. 17: Tacoma Convention Center, Tacoma

Will you join us in speaking out for clean air and water?

-- Mary Anne Hitt, Beyond Coal Campaign Director

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