Lummi Nation Wins the Fight Against Coal Terminal at Cherry Point

A historic decision upholds Native treaty rights and deals a stiff blow to fossil fuels.

It's a huge day for the Lummi Nation -- and for climate activists everywhere -- as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers just announced its decision to uphold an 1855 treaty guaranteeing access to tribal fishing waters at Cherry Point in Bellingham, until now the site of the largest proposed coal export terminal in the country.

“I have ... 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," said Seattle District Commander Col. John Buck in a statement, "and I have determined the project is not permittable as currently proposed.”

The decision -- which is not without precedent -- essentially slams the door in the face of the coal project, which has been a flashpoint of climate activism in the Pacific Northwest for years. It faced local opposition from the very beginning: The Department of Ecology received more than 124,000 public comments, for instance, on the scope of the project's environmental review. The Lummi, in particular, have been holding demonstrations, hoisting totem poles, sending letter after letter to the Army Corps of Engineers, and hiring the largest law firm in the world to help battle the proposal.

"The impact of a coal terminal on our treaty fishing rights would be severe, irreparable and impossible to mitigate," said Tim Ballew II, chairman of the Lummi Indian Business Council, in a statement. "This is a historic victory for treaty rights and the constitution. It is a historic victory for the Lummi Nation and our entire region."

Today, out of six recently proposed coal-export terminals in Washington and Oregon, just one remains: Millennium Bulk Terminals in Longview.

That has a lot to do with the precipitous collapse of the coal industry; Peabody Energy, a former partner on the Gateway Pacific Terminal project, filed for bankruptcy in April. But it has a lot to do with local opposition, too, and goes far toward building environmentalists' case that the Pacific Northwest is "The Thin Green Line" where, time and again, "energy projects go to die."

For climate activists, the timing of this decision couldn't be better. This weekend, thousands of protesters head to the Shell and Tesoro refineries in Anacortes for what's expected to be the largest climate demonstration the region has ever seen. It's called "Break Free," and is one of a series of actions across the planet designed to up the ante and urge the transition off of fossil fuels.

Stay tuned for a lot more about this on Wednesday.

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