#1 cleantech news, reviews, & analysis site in the world. Subscribe today. The future is now.

Coal USACE coal Lummi Pacific Gateway

Published on May 11th, 2016 | by Tina Casey


US Army Piles On To Coal Woes, Nixes New Export Terminal

May 11th, 2016 by  

As if US coal producers didn’t have enough to worry about, now they have the US Army nipping at their heels. The Army has been contributing to the drop in domestic coal demand by transitioning to more sustainable energy, and in the latest development, earlier this week the US Army Corps of Engineers suspended the permitting process for a proposed new coal export terminal in Washington State.

Just a few years ago, coal accounted for a full 50 percent of US power generation. As gorgeously illustrated by the Washington Post, last year coal was down to roughly 34 percent. The coal industry has been counting on exports to fill the gap, but it looks like USACE has put the damper on that, at least for now.

USACE coal Lummi Pacific Gateway

The Gateway Pacific Coal Export Terminal Is Toast

The Gateway Pacific project has been sailing under the CleanTechnica radar (except for this piece), but the proposed coal export terminal has been making headlines all over the Pacific Northwest. The basic idea is to provide an economical way to get product from the Powder River Basin in Wyoming, over to China.

The objections have loud and many from communities in and around the proposed location, including Native Americans. The Lummi Nation brought its case to USACE, resulting in a determination from the agency that effectively put the coal export facility on ice:

After careful consideration of all the information available to him, Seattle District Commander Col. John Buck has determined the potential impacts to the Lummi Nation’s usual and accustomed (U&A) fishing rights from the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal are greater than de minimis.

In a press release announcing its decision, USACE emphasized that it took into consideration its obligation to deny permits for projects that would abrogate Native American treaty rights:

The Lummi Nation signed the Treaty of Point Elliot in 1855, which established the Suquamish Port Madison, Tulalip, Swinomish, and Lummi reservations and guaranteed fishing rights in perpetuity at each tribes’ Usual and Accustomed (U&A) fishing areas. The GPT [Gateway Pacific Terminal] project area is included in their U&A fishing area.

Way to shut the door, right? USACE also noted that if for some reason the Lummi Nation decides to withdraw its objections, the agency would be obligated to consider any applicable objections from other tribes:

A number of other tribes have expressed concern about effects of the proposal on their treaty rights, so if processing of the application resumes, consultation with those tribes would occur as needed to collect information and make decisions with respect to effects of the proposal on their rights.

That probably won’t happen. Speaking in support of USACE’s determination, Lummi Chairman Tim Ballew has made it clear that the weather in hell would have to be quite unseasonable before the Lummi Nation lifts its objections to the coal terminal (as cited by Indian Country Today reporter Richard Walker):

…This decision is a win for the treaty and protects our sacred site. Our ancient ones at Xwe’chieXen, Cherry Point, will rest protected. Because of this decision, the water we rely on to feed our families, for our ceremonies and for commercial purposes, remains protected. The impact of a coal terminal on our treaty fishing rights would be severe, irreparable and impossible to mitigate.

The full article, “‘Historic Victory for Treaty Rights’: Northwest Tribes Rejoice as Army Corps Rejects Coal Terminal,” includes many more details from those “other tribes” referenced by USACE. If the coal terminal backers plan on fighting USACE over its Lummi determination, they’re going to have to start the whole process again multiple times.

You can also find many more details about the GPT project at Coal Age.

For the record, Gateway Pacific isn’t the only proposed coal terminal in the Pacific Northwest to hit the skids.

USACE: #thanksbush!

On its face, the USACE coal terminal decision was narrowly focused on the agency’s legal obligation to protect treaty rights.

However, the decision also dovetails perfectly with USACE’s environmental mission, as represented in the graphic at the top of this article. USACE introduced its environmental principles in 2002 under the Bush Administration and has honed them over the years to address climate change directly.

The agency has been hammering the sustainability mindset into its DNA, even down to its new LEED certified offices in Seattle.

USACE is also playing a direct role in phasing out coal domestically, for example through its $7 billion renewable energy program.

Follow me on Twitter and Google+.

Image: via US Army Corps of Engineers.

Tags: , ,

About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Wake Up

    The American coal conglomerates are now trying to export coal from the US through Vancouver Canada’s port Terminals. Canadians don’t want dirty coal exports as much as our American neigbours

    • Bob_Wallace

      They’re probing all up and down the West Coast to find some place that will put up with their mess. Right now they’re trying to ship out of Oakland (Calif). I expect the upcoming vote will kill that option.

  • Brian

    All dirty coal exports must be banned. As long is their is a demand, their will be an excuse to continue mining for dirty coal. Also Mountaintop mining must be banned. Over 500 mountains have been blasted away in Appalachia. This is a welcome victory, but much more needs to be done.

    • Brunel

      Bloody hell!

      Were the mountains destroyed for coal?

      • Bob_Wallace

        Absolutely. They simply knocked mountains down, shoving the rocks and dirt into valleys and destroying streams. Here’s what Pickering Knob mountain looks like now….


        • Brunel

          Oh my! What a disaster. ?

          • Matt

            Go to youtube and search “mountaintop removal” it get much worst that the picture above. As if that wasn’t bad enough!

        • Adrian

          A recent court decision which held that the Clean Water Act applies to mountaintop removal mining really slowed things down, as I recall.

          Unfortunately, those mountains and the valleys and streams which were filled in will never be restored to their former state.

          Maybe they would be good sites for wind farms – up high, good road access, no nearby homeowners, and already in brownfield-status.

          • JamesWimberley

            Mordor Wind & Solar Corp. (wholly owned by Sauron Musk): has a certain cachet.

          • Calamity_Jean

            Solar farms maybe, wind farms no. The sites are at least partly surrounded by other mountains that will block the wind, plus the ground is basically packed-down loose rock and would be expensive to build wind tower foundations on.

  • Ross

    There’s a lot more coal terminals that have to be stopped.


  • Luminext

    Using less will not help if we balance out by exporting more. This is a great victory for clean energy, especially if we consider the volume that could have been exported.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The export market is disappearing. China has stopped importing coal and India is close to stopping imports.

      • Matt

        Yes, they would have spent massive to build the port, likely with tax payer support, and then had no market to sent it to,

Back to Top ↑