A Puget Sound shipping terminal crucial for exporting Crow Nation coal appears headed for denial, said U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke, R-Mont.
Zinke said he expects the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to abort a yearslong environmental study of Gatetway Pacific Terminal and reject the project as Washington’s Lummi Nation requested in January 2015.
The proposed terminal would be located near Bellingham, Wash., and traditional fishing waters of Lummi Nation, an American Indian tribe.
Col. John G. Buck, Seattle District Commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, informed Zinke two weeks ago that a de minimis determination bypassing the environmental review process would be made on the proposed coal terminal by the end of March. That decision would likely spark a lawsuit over whether the Army Corps jumped the gun on deciding the outcome of the coal port proposal.
“It’s real a question of fairness. This is why people don’t trust the government, when you have an egregious breach of public trust,” Zinke said. “There’s a process. Both sides are bound to the process and then all of a sudden the process stops and the decision is made that favors one side or the other.”
Tuesday, Zinke wrote the Defense Department’s inspector general asking that the Corps’ Seattle District, and Buck specifically, be investigated for making politically motivated decisions, a violation of military law.
Wednesday, Buck met with Zinke, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Reps. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo and Don Young, R-Alaska. Zinke said Buck informed the group that the decision was being delayed, but it wasn't clear for how long.
Normal protocol for approving a large project is for a draft Environmental Impact Statement to be developed for the project. Environmental impact statements are required reports for major projects. The reports advise the public and government agencies about a project’s potential negative consequences and presents alternatives for avoiding or reducing those consequences.
Buck “has sided with environmental interests without thorough consideration of the comprehensive data that will be revealed upon the completion of the draft EIS, which shatters existing protocol,” Zinke wrote.
The threat of a rejection like the one Zinke expects Wednesday has been hanging over Gateway Pacific Terminal since July 2015. Zinke and several other representatives wrote the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy asking that engineers follow the normal process in reviewing the coal terminal.
Last year ended with Congress using a House rider to prevent the Army Corps from calling off the EIS. In response, the Lummi Tribal Business Council Chairman Tim Ballew wrote an open in The Hill accusing Zinke and U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., of undermining Lummi treaty rights because the lawmakers benefited from corporate coal interests.
The Lummi Tribe did not respond to The Gazette’s request for comment Tuesday.
The Crow Nation of southeast Montana has also argued that it has a treaty right to profit from its land, including Crow coal. The Crow Tribe has a contract to sell 1.4 billion tons of coal to Cloud Peak Energy. The deal has paid $3.75 million so far, with the potential for another $10 million to the tribe as mining develops in the project’s first phase. However those profits were estimated before the price of coal, and coal exports, tanked.
Coal exports from the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming have all but vanished in the last few months.
The Crow Tribe’s ability to profit from coal depends on having a Pacific Northwest port to ship from, Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote has said.
Zinke said the EIS was expected to be completed this October.