As the coal industry faces declining domestic consumption and demand, Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest join efforts to contest a proposal to build six coal export terminals near tribal land.

A collective of more than 50 regional tribes known as the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians passed a resolution calling for an environmental impact statement for the entire project. The resolution has support from Orgeon Governor John Kitzhaber, who also asked the Federal government for a broad environmental review of the proposed coal shipping stations, as well as from Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, whose leaders cite potentially wide ranging economic and environmental impacts on the area.

New technologies for drilling natural gas have been drawing electricity producers away from coal, making coal exports central to the growth and maintenance of the coal industry. Every other region in the country has increased coal exports this year except in the West. The Northwest is especially well placed to satisfy energy demand in Asian markets and to compete with other coal producing nations like Australia and Indonesia. The failure to build these proposed terminals "is an issue for the entire American economy," according to Jason Hayes, a spokesperson for the American Coal Council.

Yet with the addition of the Native American land and treaty claims, the stance to stop this project from going forward is strong. The Northwest is historically known for Native alliances and strength, "a center for Indian tribe muscle." There have been active claims upheld in court since the 1970s, centering on rights to fishing resources in the Columbia River. They also have support from an executive order passed by the Clinton administration allowing tribal access to sacred sites and respect for religious practices on the land.

A contemporary manifestation of one of this nation's most contentious and pervasive clashes, the first public hearings on the proposed terminals will be held on October 27th in Bellingham.

Image courtesy of Paul Anderson of the New York Times.