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Permit Denied For Gateway Pacific Coal Terminal In Washington State

Heavy equipment loading coal at the Decker Coal Company.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Monday denied the permit for the Gateway Pacific terminal in Washington state. That's bad news for the Crow Tribe, which was hoping the port would allow them to open a new mine on the reservation and ship tens of millions of dollars worth of coal overseas.

Tribal officials were not immediately available for comment Monday, but a statement from Tribal Chairman Darrin Old Coyote says he's “deeply disappointed” in the Army Corps of Engineers. He says the Corps disregarded Crow treaty rights, failed to meaningfully consult with the tribe, and should have prepared a full Environmental Impact Statement before deciding on Gateway Pacific.

Jason Cummins is a tribal member and educator who has been following the issue closely. He says Crow people care about environmental impacts from exporting coal, but

"I would say in the immediate picture of things, if a family has an empty fridge and an empty cupboard, maybe sometimes their concerns are a little more immediate and down to earth."

Unemployment on the Crow reservation runs 50 percent or more. For decades, local coal mines have provided some of the few good, steady jobs in the area.

The tribe also takes revenues from coal sales and distributes them to tribal members several times a year.

Roberta Other Medicine works at the local hospital. She says she's concerned about climate change, and that there will be short and long-term consequences if the Crow don't export their coal.

"That would be a good thing for my great grandchildren. It wouldn't be a good thing for me and my children, if that makes sense."

Other Medicine says people on the reservation talk about a “war on coal.” She's not sure if she buys into that rhetoric, but the failure of Gateway Pacific for now is just the latest bad news for the coal industry in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming.

Domestic coal markets continue to falter, coal companies operating here are going bankrupt, and Gateway Pacific was the single largest hope coal producers in the basin had for selling coal overseas.

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