Indian tribe opposes new Pacific Northwest shipping terminals

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The Lummi Indian tribe is voicing opposition to export terminals that are proposed along the Pacific Northwest coast as a launching point to ship coal to Asia.

“I used to travel into Bellingham and buy my sack of coal,” Lummi tribe elder Mary Helen Cagey, 94, said at a news conference, according to the New York Times.

The idea that coal producers would make a comeback bid, with a huge export shipping terminal proposed at a site where she once fished for previously thriving herring, is wrong, the newspaper reported Cagey as saying.

Many environmental groups and green-minded politicians in the Pacific Northwest are already on record as opposing a wave of export terminals proposed for the region.

But in recent weeks Indian tribes have been linking arms as well, citing possible injury to fishing rights and religious and sacred sites if the coal should spill or the dust from its trains and barges should waft too thickly.

As history has demonstrated over and over, especially in this part of the nation, a tribal-environmental alliance goes beyond good public relations. The cultural claims and treaty rights that tribes can wield — older and materially different, Indian law experts say, than any argument that the Sierra Club or its allies might muster about federal air quality rules or environmental review — add a complicated plank of discussion that courts and regulators have found hard to ignore.

Last month, the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians, a regional congress of more than 50 tribes in seven states, passed a resolution demanding a collective environmental impact statement for the proposed ports rather than project-by-project statements, which federal regulators have suggested.

Coal producers across the nation have been wounded by a sharp drop in demand in the United States — 16.3 percent in the period from April through June, compared with the same period in 2011, to the lowest quarterly level since 2005, according to the most recent federal figures.

That has made coal exports, which have increased this year in every region of the country except the West, according to federal figures, even more crucial to the industry than they were when the six terminals on the Pacific Coast were first proposed.

The first public hearings for the terminal projects, conducted by the Army Corps of Engineers, are set to begin this month in Bellingham near the Lummi reservation.

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