Coal Export Interests Spin With Everything They’ve Got: Lummi Hold Fast

by Sandy Robson

Whether you are a Powder River Basin (PRB) coal company such as Cloud Peak Energy, Inc., or Peabody Energy, Inc., both of which want to export their coal through the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal, a 48 million metric ton coal export terminal at Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point), in Washington, or whether you are Pacific International Terminals, a subsidiary of SSA Marine, the company wanting to build and operate GPT, you are facing unprecedented public resistance to the project, which includes opposition from the 57 Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.

affiliated tribes resolution

Xwe’chi’eXen is the ancestral territory of the Lummi Nation, a self-governing nation, and a member tribe of ATNI, located in Whatcom County, Washington. The Lummi people have harvested fish at Xwe’chi’eXen for thousands of years. Lummi Nation has been steadfast in its unconditional, unequivocal opposition to the project, and in its overriding commitment to protect Xwe’chi’eXen due to its cultural and spiritual significance.

Lummi Nation sent a January 5, 2015 letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (“the Corps”). In the letter, Lummi Indian Business Council Chairman Tim Ballew II asked the Corps to immediately deny the permit for GPT and stated, “The impacts on the Nation’s treaty rights associated with this project cannot be mitigated.” The Lummi Nation’s treaty rights are secured to them by our federal government in the Treaty of Point Elliott of 1855.

So, what have coal terminal interests, who have voiced their need for GPT to be approved and built in order to export PRB coal, done about the Lummi Nation’s request for permit denial for GPT?

Let’s look at some of the events relating to GPT which have occurred since the news of Lummi Nation’s January 5 letter to the Corps:

Applying pressure through public relations 

1). After the Lummi Nation’s January 5 letter to the Corps, SSA Marine and its promoters launched into a month-long public relations campaign which sought to pressure Lummi Nation representatives into meeting or negotiating with the company about GPT. The Lummi Nation, instead, continued to communicate, as is customary, government to government with the U.S. federal government–in this case, through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

$1 million state war chest, a show of force from Montana

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Montana State Representative Jeff Essman (R-Billings)

2). House Bill (HB) 244 was introduced in the House during the 64th Montana Legislature session, on January 19, 2015, by State Representative Jeff Essman (R-Billings) who is the bill’s primary sponsor. State Representative Geraldine Custer (R-Forsyth) and Senator Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip) are co-sponsors on the bill.

HB 244 would provide an appropriation of $1 million to the Montana Department of Justice, headed up by attorney general Tim Fox, to be used at his discretion, for potential litigation to ensure the “state’s access to and growth in domestic and international markets for its products and natural resources.”

Among the proponents testifying in support of HB 244 at the January 27, 2015 Montana House Committee On Appropriations hearing was Chuck Denowh, former Executive Director of the Montana Republican Party and public relations expert who is a registered lobbyist for Cloud Peak Energy which has coal mining operations in Montana and Wyoming. Speaking for Cloud Peak Energy, Denowh told committee members, “we view this appropriation bill as an important means of insuring that Montana’s interests are represented in litigation that may result from efforts to block coal from being shipped . . .”

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Anne Hedges, Deputy Director for the Montana Environmental Information Center

One of those at the hearing testifying in opposition to HB 244, was Anne Hedges, of the Montana Environmental Information Center, who said, “I don’t believe this [bill] is about anything except for trying to force Washington and Oregon to accept the fact that they should build coal export terminals in their states. What this bill really seems to do is try to force economic development through litigation.”

Among the other opponents testifying against HB 244, was Harold Hoem, a resident of Missoula, Montana, who told committee members, “All I heard today about this bill was mostly coal, and coal mining. What was missing was, why are people opposing this. The reason is pretty darn simple. People are not conducting a war on coal, they’re conducting a war on pollution.”

At the publication time of this article, HB 244 has passed both Houses. It received a minor amendment in the Senate so it has to go back for a final vote in the House the week of April 6. Then it is likely to head to the governor’s desk by the end of that week.

Crow Nation asks that Corps act as convener

3). The Crow Nation sent a January 20, 2015 letter to the Corps expressing its concern about the Lummi Nation asking the Corps to deny the GPT permit based on impacts to the Lummi Nation’s treaty rights. In its letter, the Crow Nation asked the Corps to act as a convener to facilitate a dialogue between the Lummi and other affected tribes, regulators, and project proponents [SSA Marine]. The Corps responded with a  March 10, 2015 letter to Crow Chairman Darrin Old Coyote, telling him that the Corps is not able to facilitate such discussions with Pacific Northwest Tribes, and encouraged the Crow Tribe to discuss the projects with those tribes, or to engage the Bureau of Indian Affairs to facilitate a meeting between the Crow Tribe and Washington Tribes.

The Crow Nation, also called the Apsaalooké or Biiluuke, lives in Crow County around the base of the Big Horn Mountains, in Montana. Its reservation encompasses approximately 2.2 million acres and its tribal headquarters are located at Crow Agency, Montana. The Crow Reservation’s natural resources include grazing lands, irrigated and dry-land farm ground, oil and gas, and coal. The Apsaalooké Coal Mine, a single-pit surface mine, is near (within five miles of) the Crow Reservation, and according to the Bureau of Land Management, is on “ceded area” for which the United States holds mineral rights in trust for the Crow Tribe. The mine is owned and operated by Westmoreland Coal Company, which formed Westmoreland Resources, Inc. in the early 1970s, to lease coal reserves from the Crow Nation. The mine was developed to supply PRB coal to Midwestern utilities. The evolving ownership and mining relationship between Westmoreland and the Crow is complex, and more detail on that can be found here.

Rallying legislative muscle for coal

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Montana Senator Duane Ankney (R-Colstrip)

4). On February 13, 2015, Montana coal-mongering Senator Duane Ankney, seeking to rally muscle from the state, introduced SJ 13, a joint resolution demonstrating the Montana 64th Legislature’s support for the expansion of additional shipping capacity of Montana coal through new and existing coal export ports, and for the continued use of coal-based electricity. Testifying in front of the House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee in support of SJ 13, Senator Ankney proclaimed, “There is absolutely no reason not to burn coal.”

Testifying in front of the House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee in support of SJ 13, Senator Ankney proclaimed, “There is absolutely no reason not to burn coal, and then said, “Coal mining has a long history in Montana. . .Coal has a tradition in Montana. That flag has a pick and shovel on it–the state flag. We have a tradition in this state of mining (italicized words represent Ankney’s vocal emphasis).
“I don’t have nothin’ against windmills, don’t get me wrong, but there certainly ain’t a windmill on the state flag–there’s a pick and shovel.”

Montana legislative bills and resolutions are organized by subject and it was disturbing to find that this particular resolution (SJ 13), is listed under the subject, “Environmental Protection,” although from Senator Ankney’s comment above, he may consider mining and burning coal to be protecting the environment. After all, he does sport a gold-colored lapel pin spelling out the word COAL.

Cloud Peak Energy-backed Senator gives sales pitch to Secretary of Interior

5). U.S. Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) addressed Secretary of the U.S. Department of Interior Sally Jewell at a February 24, 2015, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

Daines told Secretary Jewell the Crow Nation needs access to foreign markets for its mined coal, and he stressed the importance of Gateway Pacific Terminal approval that he said would allow the Crow Nation to access international markets with their coal.

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U.S. Senator Steve Daines testifying at the February 24, 2015, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing.

Daines went on to say to Secretary Jewell, “As the Gateway Pacific Terminal is going through this permitting process, I believe its important that the department works with all the impacted tribes; you know there are tribes on the west coast that are engaged in this process, but I want to make sure the Crow Tribe is also having their voice heard in this process.” According to OpenSecrets.org Senator Daines has received $16,000 in campaign contributions from Cloud Peak Energy since 2012, through its Cloud Peak Energy Resources PAC. Back in February 2013, Cloud Peak Energy, one of the largest coal producers in the U.S., had secured a throughput option agreement with SSA Marine, the company wanting to build and operate GPT, that provides Cloud Peak Energy with an option for up to 16 million metric tons of capacity per year through the proposed coal export terminal.

Daines pressed Secretary Jewell: “Would you agree that it’s important that we get all the tribes views on this issue of approval of the Gateway Pacific Terminal?” Secretary Jewell responded, “Senator, I’m not familiar with the Gateway Pacific Terminal, but I will tell you that I‘m very committed to consulting with tribes on anything that we do that impacts them.” It is surprising to hear that Secretary Jewell is “unfamiliar” with GPT, the largest coal export terminal ever proposed in the U.S. The video featuring Daines addressing Secretary Jewell is advertised on the front page of Count On Coal Montana’s website.

Montana Chamber blog features Crow Nation letter to Corps

6). On February 27, 2015, the Montana Chamber of Commerce Blog page featured a February 25 press release promoting the Crow Tribe’s January 20, 2015 letter to the Corps, disseminated by Chuck Denowh, a registered lobbyist for Cloud Peak Energy, and a spokesperson for Count On Coal Montana.

Wyoming ready and willing to fund Pacific NW coal port construction

7). One week later, on March 6, 2015, the Wyoming Legislature approved a bill to allow a state agency to issue up to $1 billion in bonds to finance construction of coal ports in the Northwest. Wyoming Governor Matt Mead signed that legislation on March 9.

Count on propaganda from Count On Coal

8). The Bellingham Herald Politics Blog ran a story on FullSizeRenderMarch 12, 2015, “Montana tribe wants to see Cherry Point coal terminal built.” The likely catalyst for the story was a March 11 Count On Coal press release, circulated by Chuck Denowh, who is listed as the contact on the press release. Count On Coal is a pro-coal campaign of the National Mining Association (NMA).  A quick check on Whois.net, shows the listed “Registrant Organization” for CountOnCoal.org is the National Mining Association, and the “Registrant Name” is Mike Zabko, whose LinkedIn page shows he is an IT Manager for the National Mining Association.

According to its 2012 tax return, the NMA paid $4 million to a Northern Virginia public affairs firm, Weber Merritt Strategies, to roll out the Count On Coal campaign across six states. The campaign is an effort to marshal public opinion and voters to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency regulations and policies which are now designed to reign in the coal industry’s proven polluting track record. Trade groups like the NMA use public relations and advertising firms to influence public opinion, and in turn, that public can influence legislators and government agencies.

Rebranding, repositioning, reframing

The March 11 Count On Coal press release used the term “Crow Terminal” six different times, three of which came from three separate quoted sources, in an apparent orchestrated effort to brand the Gateway Pacific Terminal as “Crow Terminal,” painting a Crow Nation versus Lummi Nation situation to the public.

In a March 27 phone interview with this writer, Chuck Denowh was asked where the name, “Crow Terminal” originated from. He first answered, “I assume from out here in Montana,” and then elaborated that he believes coal resources are very important to the Crow Tribe. “You know they’ve got—they produce some coal now, but they’ve got plans to produce more of that coal resources, and a lot of that plan kind of hinges on the ability to export coal to growing markets, so they do have a lot riding on that terminal,” Denowh said. He continued, “They’ve [Crow Nation] got right now a deal worked out with one company here to start producing more of that coal in the future.”

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Chuck Denowh, registered lobbyist for Cloud Peak Energy, United Property Owners of Montana, and spokesman for Count On Coal Montana.

That company would likely be Cloud Peak Energy, the corporation for which Denowh is currently a registered lobbyist. On January 24, 2013, during a signing ceremony in Crow Agency, Crow Nation Chairman Darrin Old Coyote and Cloud Peak CEO Colin Marshall, signed an Exploration Agreement and an Option to Lease Agreement for the potential development of 1.4 billion tons of coal. The exploratory phase of Cloud Peak’s agreement is projected to last five years.

In a follow-up question on the subject of the origination of the term “Crow Terminal,” posed to Mr. Denowh, this writer explained to him that in speaking with Bud Clinch, Executive Director of the Montana Coal Council, and Glenn Oppel, Government Relations Director at the Montana Chamber of Commerce, both of whom were quoted in the Count On Coal press release having used the term, “Crow Terminal,” they both said that term originated from Count On Coal.

Upon hearing that, Denowh admitted, “Yes, we coordinated that press release with those guys. But, you know, it’s a term that we use here quite a bit in Montana, especially, you know, we’re in the middle of a legislative session right now, so all these players tend to congregate at the capitol and such.”

So, the story on the sudden public relations birth of the term “Crow Terminal,” that materialized after the news of the Lummi Nation’s request to the Corps for an immediate denial of the GPT permit, comes to light. The term “Crow Terminal,” was coordinated by Count On Coal spokesman Denowh, who besides lobbying for Cloud Peak Energy, also lobbies for United Property Owners of Montana, and formerly had lobbied for Signal Peak Energy, a company which owns the Signal Peak Coal Mine in Montana. According to his LinkedIn page, Denowh specializes in political and issue advocacy campaign management. It is unknown who all the entities are who are compensating Denowh for his advocacy work either directly, or through the Helena Montana-based public relations firm, The Montana Group, of which he is President.

‘Crow Terminal’ messaging

The March 12 Bellingham Herald Politics blog story referenced joint resolution SJ 13 (mentioned earlier in this story) that was in the Montana House Committee on Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications at the time of the Herald story. The resolution had only had its first reading by the committee, at that time. Since then, SB 13 is now headed to the House Floor the week of April 6, and it is expected to pass.

While the Count On Coal March 11 press release opened with the sentence, “House Considers Resolution to Support Crow Export Terminal, Coal Development,” the actual resolution language does not contain the term “Crow Terminal,” nor is there any mention whatsoever of the Crow Nation in that resolution. The title of SJ 13 is: “Joint resolution supporting coal.”  It appears that Count On Coal Montana mouthpiece Chuck Denowh took an opportunity to use SJ 13, a joint resolution supporting Montana coal development and expanding coal export capacity, and attempted to make it seem as if the resolution was intended to support what he termed, “Crow Export Terminal.”

Protecting Cherry Point protects all people

Since the announcement in early 2011 of the proposed GPT project at Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point), there has been a bombardment of public relations campaigns relating to GPT, put forth by public relations flacks such as propaganda maestro Denowh, who is an instrument for multiple entities with interests in GPT. When this writer interviewed Denowh on March 27, about the March 11 Count On Coal press release he disseminated to The Bellingham Herald, in which he referred to GPT as the “Crow Terminal,” he brought up the subject of unemployment on the Crow Reservation. Denowh said, “Even with the existing coal production they have, they’ve got 47% unemployment on the reservation.”

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Lummi elder Jewell James at the Totem Pole raising ceremony at the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Canada, during the 2014 Lummi Nation’s “Our Shared Responsibility–the Land, the Waters, the People” Totem Pole Journey. Photo by James Leder

Lummi Nation elder and Director of the Lummi Nation’s Sovereignty and Treaty Protection Office Jewell Praying Wolf James, offered a broader perspective relating to the Crow Nation, poverty, and the proposed GPT, when he was interviewed by Bellingham KBAI talk radio host Joe Teehan, on the March 24, 2015 program of The Joe Show, about the Lummi Nation’s opposition to GPT.

Jewell James said:

You know we’ve seen in the local news where they’re trying to say that it’s the Lummi Nation versus the Crow Nation, and we’re at political ends; opposites.

But the thing is, is that Lummi Nation understands the Crow Nation in regards to the poverty, the suffering that their people have. The thing about all of the Indian reservations is that we’ve always suffered extreme poverty. We have the highest infant mortality, shortest life expectancy, highest teenage suicide rates.

You name the socio-economic ill, and its 100, 200, 300% worse on an Indian reservation. But still, culturally, spiritually, we’re committed to the idea that it’s our duty to protect the environment, not just on the reservations, but within our traditional territories. And, that’s the message that we’ve always advocated. It hasn’t changed in the 200 years of the relationship between us and the new people that have arrived here.

Cherry Point; let’s put it in a time focus: 1500 years before Jesus was born, we were active there. We had sacred sites there. We had cemeteries there, you know, and it’s that old. It’s actually older; we just talk about the last 3500 years.

We will protect it [Cherry Point]. We’ll continue to fight for it, because we can’t give up. To give up, means that we accept the damages and the contamination, and the destruction that’s gonna come as the aftermath of those types of decisions made by, whether it’s the local county, or the federal government, or the state.

Expressing their undaunted and unfailing resolve to protect Xwe’chi’eXen (Cherry Point) in the Lummi Nation’s January 5 letter to the Corps, LIBC Chairman Tim Ballew II wrote:

“The Lummi Nation is opposed to this project [GPT] due to the cultural and spiritual significance of Xwe’chi’eXen, and intends to use all means necessary to protect it.”

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3 comments

  1. Meanwhile, the president of the World Bank was quoted on Bloomberg News this morning saying, “The science on climate change is effectively over. There is more consensus than anything in medicine.” (He is a medical doctor.)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Tribes that get in bed with the coal industry, i.e. Crow and Navajo, become dependent on revenue derived from despoiling the environment, and suffer all the sociopolitical ills that come from it. Neighboring tribes that maintain strong environmental cultural values in opposition to strip-mining, i.e. Northern Cheyenne and Hopi, suffer the environmental consequences–e.g. destroyed aquifers, contaminated air and water. Remarkably, Crow Nation somehow thinks their pursuit of revenue entitles them to destroy the environment of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. In earlier times, the Crow partnered with the invading U.S. Cavalry to defeat their Sioux enemies. Apparently, this pattern of assimilation has repeated itself.

    Liked by 1 person

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